December 11, 2013

The Gillis House ~ Tales and Remembrances, Part 2

The Gillis House, 1923-1933

The following transcript is from the recollections of Flora Kathryn Crawford Eschenburg who lived with her family in the Gillis House from 1923 to 1933.  Flora was born in 1912 and passed from this life in 2004. She was the ninth of twelve children born to the marriage of Samuel Cooke Crawford and Rachel Victoria Seal.  It is believed by family members that the scene in the above photograph was probably on a Saturday afternoon with the help waiting to be paid before going into town.

The Crawford family moved into the Gillis House near Sicily Island, Louisiana in 1923.  Papa was always a bit superstitious.  He would never begin a new job on a Friday, believing that if he did, something would happen to prevent him from finishing it.
Among his other superstitions, I think he believed in ghosts.  Mama, however, always believed that there was an explanation for everything.  Nevertheless, as we grew up, many an event took place in our new home that Papa attributed to ghosts, and for which Mama could never find her explanation.
Some might think that living in a haunted house would be a trial, but Papa said that any ghost that could survive the twelve Crawford children was welcome to share the place.  We spent some of the happiest years of our lives in the Gillis House.
The house had been a showplace in its time, but it had been vacant for several years.  The main floor of the house consisted of four 20' by 20' rooms and a kitchen, each with sixteen foot ceilings and fireplaces.  
The kitchen contained two very large pantries which seemed to be a necessity when feeding a family of fourteen.  There was a main hall with a cross hall at the end forming a T.  The house had porches on every side which were accessible from every room except two.
The second floor contained four 20' by 20' rooms with fireplaces, a main hallway, and an attic that opened at the end of the hallway.  In all, there were eleven fireplaces in the house.
A long stairway containing twenty-two steps led from the first to the second floor.  I know there were twenty-two steps because I counted them every time I had to climb them which seemed to make the climb shorter.  The banister was made of a beautiful wood we always thought to be mahogany.  There was also a back stairway that led from the attic down to the back porch.
Of course we had heard stories about the house.  When a new family moves into a long-vacant, reputedly haunted house, the neighbors are only too happy to share the tales.
Former residents of the house had not been a happy group.  When we noticed a large stain on the floor of the room we were to use as our living room, we were told that a man had been stabbed to death in that spot.  The blood had soaked into the wood and no amount of cleaning could remove the stain.  
Upon further inspection of our new home, we noticed bullet holes in the wall of the porch outside the living room.  Mr. Peck [William Smith Peck, II], the owner of the plantation which my brother Bud was the foreman, told us that a former resident had been enjoying a summer evening when he was shot by a man who stood outside the yard fence.
Then there was the well-known fact that Mr. Nichols who had lived in the house at one time had committed suicide.  Apparently he had been despondent, mounted his horse, and solemnly told his wife goodbye.  He rode the animal down to the lake and into the water where he cut his throat.
At one time, the house had been used as an entertainment hall.  Many dances were held there with music provided by famous name bands and guests coming from far away places.  Names and addresses were left on the white walls all over the house.
One band came from New Orleans many times, and the house was the stage for the famous Bud Scott Band
When we moved in, Mama made us scrub all the names and addresses off the walls.  Our oldest brother Dub, however, insisted that they be left on the walls of his room.
These tales did not deter us, and we completed our move late one fall evening.  After supper our first night in the house, we all gathered about the fireplace in our parents' bedroom.  We heard a horrible noise which seemed to have come from the horse lot nearby.  
From the sound, Papa thought one of the horses had his head stuck in an empty feed bucket and was banging it about trying to free himself.  Papa and my brothers rushed to the lot only to find everything quiet and peaceful.  The horses were enjoying their evening feed.  It seemed as if the ghosts were unhappy to have their home invaded and were trying to frighten us away.
The "ghosts" made their presence known in a variety of ways those first few months.  
Mama was cooking the noon meal when she heard a noise that sounded as though the bookcase at the top of the stairs had been overturned, scattering the books down the stairs.  When she went to investigate, the books were all in place and the noise could never be explained.
One night after we had all gone to bed, we were awakened by a loud noise from what we thought was the kitchen pantry.  Empty jars used for canning the vegetables grown in our garden were kept there.  The sound convinced us all that perhaps the family cat had inadvertently been locked in the pantry and in his desperate struggle to get free had knocked every jar from the shelf.   Mama and Papa hurried to free the cat and right the damages.  No cat was found and all the jars were in place on the pantry shelves.
Our landlord, Will Peck, would drop by from time to time and visit.  We would share with him the strange things we were experiencing.  He would in turn tell us of the tales he had heard through the years.  We were convinced they were true.  
One story he told was about a local woman who died and was buried wearing her diamond ring. Grave robbers exhumed her body to steal the ring.  In their haste to leave the scene, they neglected to rebury the body.  It was rumored that the woman's fretful spirit wandered the area seeking her final rest.
To Be Continued...


Special thanks to Joan McLemore, daughter of Dell Crawford Meadows, for allowing me to share their family history and memories of the Gillis House on Roots from the Bayou.

Note:  Part 1 of the 'Gillis House' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of this blog.


  1. I have enjoyed reading these stories. My great-grandmother, Allena Hopkins Stafford, lived in the Gillis Home for a brief time at the turn of the century with her husband, Dave Stafford and their young children, Mary and Dave. She wrote in her book of recollections about hosting Bud Scott dances at their home and how much fun she had. I'm so glad to hear of others' accounts. Thanks for sharing these!

    1. Hi There! Glad you are enjoying the Gillis posts. I have a copy of Mrs. Allena's book. My father also visited with her a few years before she passed away. They had a great conversation about the history of Sicily Island.