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Hello everyone, and welcome to the start of a brand new year! December was a whirlwind; we survived Jefferson's Candlelight Tour of Homes, where The Grove was one of the four featured houses; we celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary on December 23rd (which seems impossible, since I CAN'T even be thirty-two years old; we attended several wonderful Christmas parties here in Jefferson, and then celebrated the big day with our family. And I ate way too much... oh, Lord, did I eat too much. We had a New Year's party at The Grove to welcome in 2011, and at this point, there are only a few Christmas decorations left to be put in the attic. Whew! Anyway, I've been looking forward to the New Year for some time, because I truly believe that 2011 is going to be an incredible year - perhaps the best ever! Of course there will be both ups and downs, but I was excited to see it arrive.
It was great to start our regular tours back up this month, but we had to cancel our second one - a winter storm hit that froze all of East Texas solid! The Grove was warm and toasty on the inside, so we went ahead that Sunday morning, getting things ready, starting to make the house perfect for our guests, and preparing to grab a shower. That's when the electricity went off - all over the western side of town! It was so cold outside that the interior temperature began to fall immediately, and we were left in the dark. We had little choice but to hang a sign in front: "No Power.. No Tour... Sorry!" Fortunately, it came back on later in the day. We hated missing the second tour of the year, though!
So what did Tami get me for Christmas? I got a bottle tree! I've wanted one since we visited south Louisiana where they're common, and Tami found one by a sculpture in Natchez, Mississippi. The name of the sculpture is "Katrina," probably because the tree is windswept. It's now in the garden of The Grove, and I'm trying to find unique colored/shaped bottles to put on it. Bottle trees are supposed to ward away evil spirits, but since I don't believe that there are any here (only good ones - although they're mischievous and sometimes annoying), the tree's only task is to look interesting... and that it does. I was only halfway joking when I told Tami, "From now on we'll be choosing wine not by the type or vintage, but by the way the bottle looks!"
I'd also like to say a big "thank you!" for all of the kind words about the new book Jefferson: The History and Mystery of the City on the Bayou. It was a fun book to write, especially since it's all about the little town that I love so much. Along with the history of the old riverport, I included a few new ghost stories, a murder or two, the town's most famous gunfight, and even the story of the monster of Round Pond. if you'd like a signed copy I'd be happy to take care of that for you. I have all the ordering information available at this special website: www.23house.com/jefferson. All you have to do is click on that link, and you can get all the info about the book. I'm delighted that folks are enjoying it.
Jefferson had a great turnout for the annual Candlelight Tour of Homes, and things were hopping around here. The Grove was one of the four tour homes - only the second time that it's ever been on the Candlelight Tour. We had docents comprised of friends, family, GroveZine readers, and a few spirits who made their presents known (more about that later). The photo here is something that visitors don't get to see - something that happens after the candles are blown out and the front door is locked. It is the official "counting of the tickets!" We break out a few glasses of wine and some snacks, and then count all the tickets that the visitors gave at the front door over the course of the evening. Each house turns its nightly number into the Candlelight Chairman. I thought that this was a great photo, showing all the docents in their costumes and hats, counting tickets around the kitchen island at The Grove. By the end of the last night, a few thousand people had been through the house!
And speaking of events in Jefferson, we have one coming up in the next week that's always a favorite: Quilts on the Bayou, the annual quilt show. Now, I'm the first one to say that I've never been into sewing or quilts. I most certainly lack the skill set to appreciate all the effort that goes into the works of art that are on display. Still, I've been a show volunteer every year, though, and as I'm wandering through the maze of quilts, I never ceased to be amazed at how beautiful they are, and at the amount of craftsmanship that must have gone into each one. Whether you're driving up for the day, or making a weekend of it, you'll have a great time at "Quilts on the Bayou!" For more information, just visit their Jefferson Quilt Show website with a click.
I mentioned in the last GroveZine that in honor of the 150th anniversary of The Grove, we're going to place a time capsule in the garden this year to be opened in 2111... one hundred years from now. During the next few months while we're planning that, I'm adding a GroveZine section for news and info on it. I'll be looking for suggestions and info from GroveZine readers, whose broad knowledge of different subjects always seems to dwarf my own.
Last month I mentioned that I wanted to put a bottle of spirits in the capsule (the kind that comes in a bottle, not the ones like we have at the house) and received some great idea, recommendations, and pointers. I shared them with the proprietor of Cooter's Spirits here in Jefferson, and we've narrowed the field down considerably, to most likely a cognac.
Now for another question. In doing research on time capsules, I found that in 1968 four time capsules were sealed in Amarillo Texas commemorating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of helium. Each one will be opened after durations of 25, 50, 100, and 1000 years. One of the items in the 1000 year capsule is a passbook for a $10 savings account from an Oklahoma City bank, which draws 4 percent interest compounded annually until 2968. When the 1,000-year capsule is opened the account will be worth over $1,000,000,000,000,000 ($1 quadrillion bucks). I wish the people that open the capsule good luck in claiming it from the bank! Now then - for all of you financial gurus that are GroveZine readers, how do I do something similar (although a little more realistic) in The Grove time capsule? After all, it will only be 100 years, so a $100 savings account would be unimpressive after that time using today's interest rates. But since there are no longer passbooks, I don't know how the person opening the capsule after 100 years could walk into the bank and claim the $$ anyway - the account would be in the name of the person opening it. I could buy a few shares of stock, but picking the one that would mature profitably would be a roll of the dice. Does anyone have any ideas? Stocks, bonds, accounts, etc? If you do, please let me know. I'd be great fun to drop a few bucks now to make a future owner of The Grove a happy person when he or she opens the time capsule! Send me those ideas by just replying to this ezine, and I'll be happy to share them.
Everything's coming together, though. The time capsule itself has been ordered and I've located a company that will do a cast bronze plaque for it. I just need to get some info back on building the structure for it, and we'll be in business. Stay tuned for more news on the time capsule!
Ahhh, ghost story time. You may recognize the photo here from the movie "Poltergeist," which is a very entertaining film. It's one of those big-screen ghost stories that freaked me out in the cinema, and I still enjoy watching it every now and then on the small screen. Definitely a fun-filled, frightful couple of hours. Having said that, I'm unfortunately finding that movies like that set the tone for what people expect out of real-life encounters with ghosts. We keep running across people who say, "Tell us a SCARY story!!!" While we are talking about Grove experiences that are tangible evidence of life after death, and events that push the envelope of our own beliefs and understanding, we are constantly asked by folks about "scary stories"! It is truly maddening. Sometimes we're asked why we aren't more open with the house (other than the weekly tours), but we have no better example of why we're so guarded than something that happened recently. We've been contacted by several television shows in the past few months, all national programs that you would recognize immediately. There's one that we're working with that we'll probably be on in the near future - things are coming together well. There was another, however, that kept asking for "scary" things. When we suggested one or two particular stories, they came back with a suggestion of re-doing one of the stories to give it a more "scary" element... hinting that the experience was something that it was not. Needless to say, we bailed right away. We find the wealth of supernatural activity to be incredibly interesting - not frightening - and in many cases the events have become quite a spiritual experience for us, and not something that we want to falsely sensationalize.
Getting down to real stories, though, I have to say that the spirits of The Grove were certainly active in December - perhaps more so than at any other time in the past year We don't know why; maybe it was all the people passing through the house on Jefferson's Candlelight Tour of Homes, or even the fancy decorating that we did in every single room, but for whatever reason, the spirits here definitely made their presence known.
During the Candlelight Tour, folks would line up out in front of the house and we'd send them in 8-10 people at a time. There was a docent in every room to tell a little bit about the room, answer any questions, and keep the flow going. I spent all six nights on the porch at the front door, greeting folks and giving them a little history about the house. Unlike the regular tour, we didn't tell ghost stories, unless people specifically asked. It was amusing, though - there were people who came back around front every night who said "The strangest thing happened in your house - I was tapped on the shoulder, but when I turned around, no one was there!" We also had folks to get pinched, touched on the arm, and various other mischievous things. The docents weren't immune, either - several of them, including my mother-in-law, reported supernatural occurrences in the house.
There was one group that came up onto the porch, and as the door opened, one of the ladies said, "I can't go in there. I'll wait for you outside." She then turned and stood out in the street, away from the house. I have no idea what all that was about.
If you've been reading the GroveZine for a while, or have taken the regular tour of the house, you know that there is one corner in the front parlor that is especially active. A psychic once told us that a former lady of the house was very attached to that location, and spent time there every time she came back for a visit. Well, on one evening a lady and her husband who'd been on the Candlelight Tour came back around front - the man stood out in the garden, while the lady came up onto the porch. She said, "You're going to think that I'm crazy, but I just have to tell you something. My husband didn't want me to say anything, but I had to. When the group that I was with went into the front parlor, there was a lady standing in the corner where the mirror is." I asked her if it was the docent, but she just smiled. "No - a spirit." I asked what the woman was doing, and she said, "Just standing there smiling - she's happy!" I'm glad to know that at least some of our spirits enjoyed the house being decorated for Christmas, and all of the people enjoying it.
There was at least one spirit who was a little perturbed by something, though. You see, one of the most interesting things that came from the season involved a couple of the six live Douglas Fir trees that we had. In preparation for the Candlelight Tour of Homes, we bought six live trees, all about the same size (although I guess the one in the front parlor was a little larger than the others). We put each of them in large, two-foot diameter circular tree stands that hold a reservoir of water to help keep them green throughout the season. The stands were heavy-duty to support large trees. The six trees had been up for about a week, and Tami & I have been decorating in a frenzy. We did the one in the kitchen first, with a gingerbread theme, then the Texas tree in the den, the puppy tree in the hall, and the travel-themed tree in our bedroom. As Candlelight approached, a couple of friends volunteered to decorate a couple of the rooms in the house. Lisa took the game room, which would have the Santa tree, and Diana tackled the parlor, with the largest tree and the glass-blown ornaments. When we were done for the day, Lisa, Tami and I had walked to the back of the house with us to look at one of the other trees, and Diana was in the dining room. We heard a crash up in the front parlor, and we ran up there to find that the parlor tree had fallen over - which, given the huge stand that it is in, seemed impossible. About a third of the glass-blown ornaments were broken, which was devastating to us - we'd collected them over thirty-two years of marriage in our travels. We were so disappointed that we just stopped for the day. Our friends left, and Tami and I were in the den speculating on how in the world that tree could have fallen over (the glass-blown ornaments weigh nothing, and we use them every year; the stand was heavy-duty as I described). You can see from the Den into the game room through the sheer curtains, and as we watched, the Santa tree in the game room fell right over as well. We went in, stood it back up, and started trying to salvage whatever ornaments we could. The weird thing is that all trees have been standing and watered and in the huge stands all week with no problems - yet when people other than us helped with decoration, the two they did fell down and had to be re-done from scratch. None of the others have even wavered. Tami and I stayed up late tonight to completely re-do them. I went around and tied every single tree to a wall... just to make sure.
The whole time that we were re-decorating, I tried to find every way possible to rationalize the two trees falling, but I couldn't. You had to see how sturdy the tree stands were. The next day, Lisa and Diana, along with a few more friends, came back over to continue decorating. The six of us were in the game room: Lisa & her husband Nick, Diana, Lisa from Falling Leaves B&B, and Tami & I. We were standing by the door to the dining room - across the room from the Santa tree. We were talking about whether the spirits might have knocked down the two trees, and Tami started relating some other ghost stories that someone had told her from the restaurant days, and then turned to go into the dining room. The rest of us saw some movement across the room, and right there in front of us, a single limb on the Christmas tree across the room - one limb, not the entire tree - started shaking. The ornament on it flew off and shattered on the floor. We all witnessed it, and although we convinced everyone to stay and keep decorating, it freaked everyone out more than a little bit.
I don't know what it was about those two trees, but I stood up in the parlor and yelled at the house about it. I told the spirits how much the ornaments meant to us, and how much the loss hurt us. I have no idea whether it did any good, because even though no more trees fell, the same branch-shaking, ornament-dropping thing happened on an evening of Candlelight with a docent standing there watching. I noticed that the tree in the parlor always looked like it was falling over - first one direction, then another. Each time I'd tie it off further, to the wall, to the staircase railing, to anything that I could use as an anchor. By the end of Candlelight you could have climbed that tree, it was secured so well... yet it always looked like it was trying to fall. Toward the end of the season as I was watering the parlor tree one night, I saw that the trunk had started splitting in half. We decided that the corner by the stairs simply wasn't supposed to have a Christmas tree in it, and we'll never put one there again. Candlelight season was interesting, to say the least.
Well, 2011 is here in full swing, and I can't wait to see what it has in store. I know that there will be a few sad times, but I also know that it's going to be the best year ever!
If you'd like to check any of my books, you can find them at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon.com, or
at The Grove's website if you'd like to order a signed copy of anything.
If you missed any issues of the GroveZine, you can find them at the GroveZine Archives.
01/21-23/2011 8th Annual Quilt Show "Quilts on the Bayou"
03/4-6/2011 22nd Annual Mardi Gras Upriver "History on Parade"
03/12/2011 5th Annual St. Patrick's Day Celebration & Irish Stew Cook-off
04/9/2011 Spring "History, Haunts & Legends" Conference
05/6-7/2011 Battle of Port Jefferson" Civil War Re-enactment
05/6-8/2011 64th Annual Pilgrimage Tour of Homes & Spring Festival
05/5-8/2011 Diamond Bessie Murder Trial Play
05/28/2011 Cypress River Airport Fly-in
07/04/2011 "Jefferson Salutes America" 4th of July Celebration
10/7-9/2011 13th Annual Boo Run Benefit
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