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Greetings once again from Jefferson, Texas, and The Grove! I can definitely tell that Spring is here - the flower beds are starting to sprout up day lilies and tiger lilies, all from descendants of bulbs that former owner Daphne Young planted over 100 years ago. The garden is going to be an explosion of orange here in the next month, and is simply beautiful at that time. We can hardly wait!
I guess that the biggest news about The Grove is that the Historic Jefferson Foundation has invited us to be on the Candlelight Tour of Homes in 2010. The last time that we were on the tour was 2006, and we had a wonderful - although exhausting - time. There's even a ghost story from one of the Candlelight weekends, but I'll wait a few moments before sharing it. We're already making plans for decorating The Grove for the tour, and we're going to go all out. All the greenery in the house has to be real, and 85% of the lighting must be by natural candlelight, so we're going to try our best to make everything beautiful. There will be a docent in every room in period costume to tell the history of the house, and if it's been a while since you've taken our tour, you may even find a few surprises. Anyway, the Candlelight Tour of Homes is the first two weekends in December, Thurs-Fri-Sat nights, and this year it is going to be awesome. I'll keep you posted as things develop, but the details are on the website for the Historic Jefferson Foundation.
Getting to more current topics, though, I just had a very interesting Friday. It all started on Pilgrimage Weekend, when just down the street from two of the tour homes, The Homestead, a 1851 Jefferson house, was open for a preview to an estate sale. Tami and I were working as docents at The Manse, so as I was out on the front porch, I watched people going in and out of The Homestead all day long. Now, that place was the home to Mrs. Dannaly, a sweet, sweet lady who recently passed away at the ripe old age of 98 years. Her heirs were holding an estate sale for some of the most incredible family heirloom antiques that you've ever seen, and so we walked through the house that weekend to see if there was anything that caught our eye. As it turned out, there was a "corner chair" that we both fell in love with, but alas, there were many, many people going through the house, and crowds were going to be a certainty on the sale weekend.
To make sure that we had a chance to get the corner chair, I did something that I haven't done since back in my college days when I was trying to buy concert tickets. On the morning of the sale - the Friday after Pilgrimage - I set the alarm clock for 4 AM. They were going to give out numbers that could be used to enter the house at 7 AM, and the sale would begin at 9. I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, grabbed a lawn chair, and headed for The Homestead. When I arrived, I found that the first guy had arrived at 11 PM the night before, and had spent the night on the front porch. Two ladies had shown up after him at 11:30 PM, and they'd all spent the night there. I was the fourth person in line, and I hoped that it was a good indication that we'd get the chair. As the sun rose, more people joined us, and the numbers were assigned at 7. After two more hours, the doors opened and people ran in according to the numbers that they'd been given. If you remember the Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman movie Far and Away about the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893, well, the scene of opening sale morning was a lot like that. There were a few other pieces that we'd looked at that were snapped up in a jiffy, but I bolted up the stairs to find our corner chair. Alas, it was gone. While most everything in the house was in the same place from the preview weekend, the chair was missing. A mad search revealed that it had been placed in an out-of-the-way corner, and no one had claimed it yet. I quickly snatched it up, and the treasure now holds a proud place in the dining room of The Grove. Looking back, I don't think that concert tickets from my youth were ever that much trouble... but we sure love this antique chair, and it makes a great addition to the house.
Jefferson had a successful Pilgrimage this year, even though a little rain came in and out during the course of the weekend. We had the annual tour of homes, the crafts and plant sale, the re-enactment of the Battle of Port Jefferson, and of course, the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial play that's put on every year. I've been in the play seven years now, for the first five playing a juror, but the last two I've had the role of Sheriff John Vines. Actually, my friend Bill Smith and I split the role - most of the parts have two actors that play them over the course of the five performances. Anyway, I love the part of the rough-and-tough sheriff, because I get to yell at everyone. This photograph is of Abe Rochschild, the alleged murderer of Diamond Bessie, played by David Hamm; Diamond Bessie's ghost, played by Becky Palmer; and then me in the role of Sheriff John Vines. It's a fun little play - you should put it on your calendar when you come to Pilgrimage in Jefferson. Just make sure to get tickets long in advance by calling the Excelsior House Hotel - every performance is usually a sell-out.
Speaking of Diamond Bessie, her story is part of the lore of the city. Entire books have been written about the murder trial, because in its day it was covered as much as the O.J. Simpson trial was a few years back. In fact, it is said that every lawyer in East Texas was working for one side or the other in the trial. To make a long but interesting story very short, here's what happened. Back in 1877, a flashy, well-dressed couple arrived in Jefferson, dripping with diamonds and jewels. The man left town alone, and the lady - "Diamond" Bessie Moore - was found shot to death in the woods. A nationwide search was held for the man, who turned out to be Abe Rothschild, heir to the Rothschild diamond fortune. Sheriff John Vines of Jefferson went to Ohio to bring him back for trial, and in the course of things Abe tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the eye (hence the eyepatch in the theatrical photo above). Abe was found guilty in the first trial, but was found innocent upon appeal. It is said that years later a one-eyed man came to Oakwood Cemetery in Jefferson, asked the groundskeeper where Diamond Bessie was buried, and then laid flowers upon her grave. To this day, flowers can always be found on the grave of Jefferson's adopted daughter, Diamond Bessie. If you want a more detailed story, just click here.
Ah, it's now time to move into the realm of the spirits - my favorite part of the GroveZine! I love these little peeks into the other side - across the void and through the veil. Can I explain all of the interaction and encounters? Certainly not. But I do enjoy studying them, sharing them, and waiting to see what happens next.
We were just talking about Diamond Bessie, and there are more than a few ghost stories attributed to either her or the gentleman companion, Abe Rothschild. In fact, in the August 4th, 1974 edition of the Marshall News Messenger, reporter Mac Groves wrote that a specter of a man appears in the courtyard of the Excelsior House Hotel, and then wanders upstairs – some women have even awakened from a sound sleep to see him standing at the foot of their bed. Sissy McCambell, president of the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club at the time, was quoted in the article as saying, "Well, that could be Rothschild. He was known for his ways with the ladies." That's one of the few times that the Garden Club has publicly acknowledged any "spirited" activity at the Excelsior House. Was it old Abe coming back for a visit? Personally, I don't think so. They stayed at the Brooks House, which burned years ago and is now just a vacant lot north of the Catholic Church. Bessie was killed in the woods across the Bayou, so while either one of those places might have some activity that could be attributed to Bessie or Abe, I don't think that the Excelsior House does. Of course, based on my own personal experiences, there are definitely strange things that happen at Excelsior, and I believe that it has its own set of friendly spirits to contend with.
Switching gears to The Grove, I'm thinking that I may very well have to start a little section of the GroveZine that's called "What's happening in the den on tours lately..." You may remember that last month I wrote about a woman whose earring was pulled while she was standing there listening to me tell some stories. We've had all sorts of other encounters there, ranging from people who got tapped on the shoulder, to those who felt someone rubbing their leg. We've been blaming it on a guy spirit who still has an eye for the ladies, and maybe that's the case. As we were walking from the den into the kitchen on a tour this month, one lady had her ponytail pulled rather strongly, and it momentarily startled her. She was fine after a moment, more amazed than anything else, and she didn't definitely didn't feel threatened by it. I guess that it was just a prank of the supernatural sort. She did say that the same thing had happened to her at Excelsior House a while back, walking along the sidewalk that is covered by the overhang there. At that time she felt very threatened, and to this day won't walk on the sidewalk in front of Excelsior. At the Grove, though, she felt like it was much more playful, and that's very much more in line with the antics of the spirit that seems to show up in the den of the house.
Earlier in the 'zine I mentioned that we had a ghost story from when we were on the Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes back in '06, and it's one of my favorites about the house. You see, since we were on the tour with three other homes, we wrote scripts for our docents that told the history of the house, and not the ghost stories... we wanted to be more in line with the other homes. Well, after the first weekend (Thurs, Fri & Sat nights) we celebrated being halfway through by going to eat breakfast Sunday morning at one of the restaurants downtown. In the course of our meal, a couple came over to our table and asked, "Aren't you the owners of The Grove?" When we told them that we were, the lady said, "I thought that someone pointed you out as the owners - we toured your home last night on the Candlelight Tour." I thanked her, and told her that I hoped that they'd had a good time, but she then said, "Is your house haunted?" Now, I'm not sure how comfortable that I am with that term, because it has so many negative connotations thanks to Hollywood, but I told her that we did have our share of ghost stories in the house. When I asked why she was inquiring, she said that while standing in the den during the candlelight tour, someone had swatted her behind. She saw that her husband was across the room, so she assumed that a stranger had touched her bottom! She was going to slap the nearest person, but no one was close enough. When she told me that, I was horrified. As soon as we finished their meal, we went straight back to the house, and I went into the den and fussed at the room. I told whatever spirit might be listening that that was NOT acceptable behavior, and never to do anything like that again. Thankfully, it hasn't happened since. I don't know what might be in store for this coming December, though.
As I always say this - and I sincerely mean it - thanks for taking the time to read the GroveZine, and I love to hear your comments. I'll talk to you next month!
You know that I usually write non-fiction about history and the supernatural, but on a few rare occasions I like to dabble in fiction. I recently contributed to a new anthology of zombie fiction, which I've enjoyed being a part of. The book has some outstanding stories in it. If you want to get really creeped out by some outstanding horror-fiction, just Click this Link.
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