A stately, Greek-revival style Southern mansion with tall, Doric columns sits off Springhill Avenue in Mobile, Alabama. Built in 1855 by Judge and Congressman John Bragg, brother of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is a simple, yet elegant example of antebellum architecture. Today it is a museum that carefully preserves its antebellum splendor for weddings and events, but visitors say something intangible has also remained. Some have reported chance encounters with the willowy fur of a phantom feline–as well as a forlorn and mysterious lady of the manor.
John Bragg purchased this 3 acre plot of land, then on the hinterland of Mobile, in May 1855 for $7,500. The mansion he built was 13,000 square foot and served as a seasonal home for his wife, Mary Francis Hall, who hosted parties and entertained guests from Mobile’s high society. They spent the remainder of the year at their plantation in Lowndes County, Alabama. Mary was 21 years younger than her husband, and the couple had six children. She was 42 years old when she died in 1869, just four years after the end of the Civil War.
During the war, Judge Bragg had all the oak trees on the property cut down so that the Confederate defenders of Mobile could more effectively fire on advancing Union troops. On Mary’s insistence, they moved all their most valuable possessions out of the mansion to their plantation. Ironically, Union soldiers burned the plantation and all their possessions, but left Mobile largely unscathed. Their oak trees were replanted in 1865 using acorns Judge Bragg had saved. Today these trees beautifully decorate the front lawn.
The mansion has had several owners, but the Mitchells were instrumental in preserving it for posterity. According to the mansion’s website, A.S. Mitchell purchased the property in 1931 for $20,000. His family lived there until 1965. The mansion was abandoned for several years, but was thankfully spared from vandalism. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and opened to the public in 1987.
Although the mansion is ambivalent about opening its doors for ghost tours, stories have circulated for decades. One of the most unusual involves a phantom feline that has startled guests and residents since the 1970s, when it was mentioned in a news article. Virginia McKean, manager of the mansion for two years, told Elizabeth Parker, author of Haunted Mobile: Apparitions of the Azalea City, “I’ve never had any experience with the ghost cat. I’ve worked here at night a couple of times. My office used to be upstairs, and I’ve heard sounds come from one of the bedrooms. Like voices. But there was no one here but me, the house was empty.”
She also heard what appeared to be a vibrant conversation, and although she could not pick out any individual words, it was vivid enough for her to think there were real, living people in the house. Some tour guides have reportedly encountered the ghost of Judge Bragg himself. Like other allegedly haunted buildings, a service elevator installed in the mansion is said to move on its own, although there is nothing mechanically wrong with it. Others have felt an unseen presence in the elevator.
One of the most romantic tales from Bragg-Mitchell Mansion concerns a young woman known only as “the lady.” According to legend, she fell in love with a slave–a forbidden affair in the antebellum South. The two eventually died and the slave’s spirit was bound to the property. The lady’s ghost is said to appear in the upstairs window, staring out into the field behind the mansion, trying to catch a glimpse of her lost love. That story has long been told by families on Springhill Avenue.
Like the bronze statue of a beautiful, carefree Southern belle frozen in time, the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion stands as a majestic monument to a storied period of Mobile history. Like Judge Bragg’s sturdy oaks, the mansion connects residents of Mobile, as well as thousands of yearly visitors, with that history. It would be a lifeless reminder, however, if not for the specters floating through the halls. If you visit the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, perhaps you will be lucky enough to come face to face with this living history.