Built in 1860 in ornate Italianate style for steamboat captain Charles G. Richards and his wife, Caroline Elizabeth Steele, the Richards DAR House is located in the De Tonti Square Historic District at 256 N. Joachim Street in Mobile, Alabama. Over the years, this picturesque brick home has gained a reputation for being haunted. With its historic roots, this comes as no surprise. Even the sidewalk in front of the home is historic–it was made from discarded ballast stones brought over from Europe on wooden cargo ships. The ships would fill their hulls with the stones on their way to Mobile Bay, then discard them on shore when they picked up their cargo for the return voyage.
The Richards DAR House is a beautiful antebellum home, complete with a marble and granite veranda surrounded by a cast iron railing featuring ornate figures representing the four seasons. The Ideal Cement Company purchased the house in 1946, ending nearly a century of ownership by the Richards family. ICC converted the home into an office, but took pains to preserve the original architecture and woodwork as much as possible. The City of Mobile took ownership in 1973.
Most of the ghostly tales center on the Richards family. Charles and Caroline had twelve children, four of whom died young (two were newborns, one was five years old, and another 10 years old). Caroline herself died in 1867, shortly after giving birth to their twelfth child. One of the bedrooms, which was actually a guest room built when the Ideal Cement Company owned the home, has been decorated as a child’s bedroom. Many unusual things have been encountered there. Marbles laid out on the bed are said to appear in different configurations every morning. When I visited the home earlier this summer and asked our tour guide about them, she expressed frustration that “someone” kept putting them there. “Maybe it was our ghost,” she said.
Several years ago, a photographer named Dennis Holt captured what appeared to be an image of a shadowy figure standing in the corner of an upstairs bedroom near the curtains. The photo appeared in the July issue of Mobile Bay Monthly. According to the article, Holt is a two-time Emmy-award winning photographer and a board member of the Gulf Coast Professional Photographers Association. He and other experts examined the photo, but could not find any explanation for the figure.
Mary McDonald, then President of the Richards DAR House Governing Board, told the magazine, “People say doors slam and open. They’ve heard footsteps and the voices of children playing under the stairwell. One employee saw the reflection of a man, in 1860s period dress, sitting on the couch behind her.” In 2013, the Alabama chapter of Delta Paranormal Project investigated the home. They claimed to record the sound of a woman screaming, and said the marbles on the child’s bed moved from where they had placed them the night before.
Today, the Richards DAR House is maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The ladies who conduct the tours are very knowledgeable, and point out many of the interesting artifacts throughout the house (including wall displays made from human hair). Tea and cookies are provided at the end of the tour, so pull up a seat and learn about this piece of Mobile history. Don’t forget to ask about its ghosts.