December 12, 2013

The Gillis House ~ Tales and Remembrances, Part 3

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.
With a family as large as ours, it was necessary for everyone to carry out their assigned chores. Our regular fall job was to pick the dried black-eyed peas, shell them and sack them.  The filled sacks were then stacked on the back porch near the attic steps.  
One night we were awakened by the sound of peas being scattered all over the porch floor.  Papa was certain that the cows had gotten into the yard and had been successful in stretching their necks and tongues to reach the pea sacks for a midnight snack.  When Papa checked, not at all happy that his sleep had been disturbed, no cows were to be found and the peas were still neatly stacked.
The family cemetery for the early settlers of the area was about two hundred yards from our house.  I had an occasion to attend a funeral at the cemetery before we moved into the Gillis House.  A relative of the owner who lived in Natchez, Mississippi, died and his body was brought to the Gillis place for burial.  
Since he was someone prominent and was related to the owner and one of the most important members of our small village, school was dismissed so that anyone who wanted to could attend the funeral.  Being of a curious nature, I went along with others. 
The funeral was conducted by a Catholic priest from Natchez.  To my young mind, he was dressed in a peculiar robe and cap and spoke in a language that I could only suppose was Latin.  I had heard of the Catholic Church, but had never seen a priest or attended any of their masses. Therefore, it seemed strange to me to see him sprinkling Holy water and making the sign of the cross.
The experience stood out in my mind for a long time.  I never dreamed I would so soon be living as a neighbor to the cemetery where the burial had taken place.  My brothers and sisters and I loved to roam through that cemetery and read the headstones and wonder about the people who had lived and died so many years back.
It afforded entertainment for friends who visited us, and we would spend Sunday afternoons exploring.  Some evenings, as we looked from our house toward the cemetery, we would see one or more light moving around.  We were never able to determine who or what caused these eerie lights.
Much to the regret of the community, the present owners demolished all the tombstones, even though they were burial sites for relatives and certainly held much history.  Now the cemetery is nothing more than an enlargement of the field that once joined it.  Crops grow there just as though the cemetery never existed.  Bits and pieces of tombstones are scattered around, but not enough to piece together the history of the place. [*See footnote]
Unexplained footsteps were a common occurrence around the Gillis House.  We usually gathered in our living room to do our homework.  Sometimes we would hear steps walking along the long side porch past the room.  We would get up to see who was missing from our group that might be trying to frighten us, but everyone was always accounted for.  
The front doors to the house were big, thick double doors that opened near the long stairway.  On more than one occasion, footsteps were heard climbing the stairs.  Our brothers had their rooms upstairs and it would have been easy to dismiss the steps as being theirs, but often they were either studying with us, or they were not at home.
One fall evening, Mr. Peck [William Smith Peck, II] was driving home from town and was stopped by strangers.  After satisfying their curiosity as to his identity, they released him unharmed.  When he reached his home, he called for our father, brothers and friends to help search for the unknown assailants.  
The search took place at night and Mama and the younger children were left alone.  We closed ourselves up tight in Mama's room and huddled together for comfort.  Papa had been gone some time when we heard footsteps in the hall.  Mama called to them, but got no answer.  
She went to Papa's closet, got his gun, and called to the intruder again.  Again she received no answer.  We will never know if the footsteps were those of the strangers, or those of our resident spirits.
We often heard the piano in our living room play with no one at the keyboard.  I recall that I was home recuperating from surgery when my landlady and her two daughters came to pay a call.  I shared some of the tales about the house, including the one about the playing piano.  
As I was telling the tale, the piano began to play.  The lady and her daughters made their excuses and left.  I know they were dreading the drive home.
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.

*Footnote:  The great-granddaughter of William Smith Peck, II, requested that a footnote be added to this post.  Per their family records, the original Gillis Cemetery has never been in cultivation.  Over the years, cows broke through the fence and stampeded over many of the tombstones.  Several years ago, the granddaughter of William Smith Peck, II, had all remaining tombstones cleaned and the original cemetery is still intact.

Note:  Parts 1-2 of the 'Gillis House' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of this blog.

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