Category Archives: House Museums

Storm over Stone

Belle Grove Historic Plantation, Northern Shenandoah Valley, Middletown, Virginia. (540) 869-2028

Southern Belle

Bragg–Mitchell Mansion, 1906 Spring Hill Avenue, Mobile, Alabama 36607. (251) 471-6364

Do Tortured Dead Stalk the Beauregard-Keyes House?

An architect from Baltimore named Francois Correjolles designed this historic Greek-Revival style New Orleans home at 1113 Chartres Street in 1826. Over the decades, it has had many residents, including Confederate General Pierre Gustav Toutant Beauregard, hero of the First Battle of Bull Run. Since 1970, the Keyes Foundation has opened the house for tours and events. Today, visitors come to view its beautiful gardens and author Frances Parkinson Keyes’ rare doll and porcelain teapot collection. Some have gotten more than they bargained for, as rumor has it a number of tormented and restless spirits stalk the house.

The antebellum history of the Beauregard-Keyes House was mostly uneventful, aside from being the birthplace of 19th Century chess champion Paul Morphy. PGT Beauregard lived there after the war, from 1865 to 1868. His sons and he rented the home from its owner, Dominique Lanata. In 1904, a Lanata descendant sold it to Corrado Giacona, who operated a wholesale liquor business there called Giacona & Co.

In the summer of 1908, the Sicilian Mafia tried to extort $3,000 from Giacona, with disastrous results. On June 18, 1908, Corrado and his father Pietro gunned down three mob soldiers on the back gallery. Another was wounded. After a lengthy investigation, New Orleans authorities dropped the charges.

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Tinker Swiss Cottage in Rockford, Illinois

Disembodied footsteps, a rocking chair that moves on its own, and phantom figures would be enough to spook anyone. For Steve Litteral, Executive Director of Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens, however, it’s just another day on the job. Located at 411 Kent St. in Rockford, Illinois, Tinker Swiss Cottage is rich in local history and home to a few hair-raising reminders of the past.

The museum sits on a bluff overlooking Kent Creek, where Germanicus Kent and Thatcher Blake built a sawmill and grinding mill in 1834. This settlement steadily grew until it developed into the bustling city of Rockford, which was incorporated in 1852. Kent’s original retention ponds, which he used for his grinding mill, are still on the museum grounds.

Tinker Cottage’s ornate gables cast a shadow on a far older remnant of the area’s past: a Pre-Columbian burial mound, which is located a few yards from the mansion. It has been archaeologically dated to 1000-1300 AD, and contains the remains of an unknown number of Amerindians from the Oneota culture.

The mansion itself was built in 1865 by Robert H. Tinker, husband of Mary Dorr Manny Tinker. Mary was the widow of John H. Manny, owner of the Manny Reaper Works. Robert and Mary met in 1856 and married in 1870. Robert Tinker designed his home to resemble the Swiss cottages he had seen during his European travels.

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Richards DAR House Museum

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.

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Bragg-Mitchell Mansion’s Stately Lady and Phantom Feline

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.

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Beauvoir: The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library

As I was driving with my dad from Columbia, South Carolina to Pensacola, Florida in the summer of 2014, we decided to stop at some historic sites along the way. Both being Civil War buffs, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library in Biloxi, Mississippi seemed like a good choice. Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. After touring the mansion and nearby cemetery, we checked out the newly completed Presidential Library. There, sitting on the desk, was something that caught my interest.

A building with a history like Beauvoir (as the Davis home is called) usually has a few ghost stories, so I wasn’t surprised to see an article called “What’s that in the window at Beauvoir?” sitting on the main desk in the research library. Written by Charles L. Sullivan in 2004, it told the story of a photograph taken by Charlie Brock, a Confederate re-enactor, in 1984. The photograph was of his wife and two of her friends, dressed in period clothing, on the east side of Beauvoir. When the photo was developed, two figures mysteriously appeared in one of the windows.

At the time the picture was taken, the house was closed to visitors, locked, and the security motion detectors were in place. Never-the-less, two humanoid forms stand in the window. One is noticeably taller than the other. The shorter of the two figures is also the easiest to see. “She” appears to be wearing a white dress. Two of the three women walking on the lawn were wearing blue dresses, and one was wearing a dark red dress. The window was also at porch level, above the heads of the three women, making it unlikely (unless the window was angled downward) that this was a reflection.

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A Christmas Story House Offers Holiday Spirits

Largely overlooked upon its release in 1983, A Christmas Story has since become a beloved holiday classic. Set in the fictional Indiana town of Hohman during the 1950s, the film is based on stories from the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd. This simple tale of a boy who wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas was filmed at several locations, including a single-family home in south Cleveland, Ohio.

This 1895 Victorian home is located at 3159 W. 11th St. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood and is open to the public year round  for tours. In 2004, Brian Jones, a San Diego entrepreneur purchased the home on Ebay and restored to appear as it did in A Christmas Story. Jones, a fan of the movie, had already created a profitable company selling replica “leg lamps,” also from the film. Directly across the street from the house is the official A Christmas Story House Museum, which features original props, costumes and memorabilia from the film, as well as hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos.

In January 2014, a team of paranormal investigators sought to determine whether the famous house was haunted. According to Cleveland.com and Fearnet, paranormal investigators filming a new TV series called American Haunts investigated the house and claimed it would appear on the seventh episode of the series. Co-hosts and lead investigators Dave Rhode and Craig Gozzetti formed their paranormal team, Investigating American Haunts, in 2012.

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