Photo by Alaina Busch, Southeast Missourian
Southeast Missourian librarian Sharon Sanders came to my desk recently with three sheets of paper printed from her microfilm machine. I knew this was going to be good.
It was an article titled "Historic walls fall to ground" from front page of the Wednesday, June 29, 1910, Republican. The night before the story ran, the north walls of the the Sherwood house collapsed; several people narrowly escaped harm.
But the interesting thing is that about 2/3 of the way through the article is a subhead reading "The House Is Haunted." Say what?!
Of course there have always been stories about this house and its ghostly guests, mostly believed to be the spirits of soldiers nursed at the house while it served as a hospital during the Civil War. But it's unusual for a newspaper to just come out and call something haunted.
I read on:
"The appearance of ghostly visitors at frequent intervals made the house an undesirable one for a home. Many nights the tall, white form of a departed soldier was seen moving about through the trees of the park surrounding the house, either disappearing into the ground, into the abandoned house or fading into the darkness of the somber grove of the park, The ownership of the house passed into the hands o fa family named Morris, whose heirs had become scattered throughout the union; it therefore stood untenanted and uncared for, and the fact that t was haunted by the spirits of soldiers dead and gone made it all the more undesirable for a home.
"Members of the Justi post, G.A.R., hearing of the visits of the ghostly soldiers, decided to make an investigation, a committee was appointed and a watch was set. The members of the committee concealed themselves in the shrubbery about the place one night in June in the year 1867, and began their watch for the coming of the restless spirit.As the clocks about the village were striking the midnight hour, they saw a sight which caused their hearts, although they were the hearts of veteran soldiers, to thump within their breasts. From the cemetery across the way there glided toward them a tall specter, white clad, moving silently and slowly among the trees. Nearer it came, the faint moonlight giving it an uncanny appearance. The tree men crouching breathlessly behind the shrubbery were almost spellbound with awe as the specter glided toward them, and in all probability would have fled, but that the ghost, unfortunately for himself, and probably owing to the dampness of the night air, was so un-ghostly as to sneeze.
"That sneeze was the undoing of his ghostship, for it broke the spell which had held the watchers in check. A dash was made, and a few minutes later the ghost was flat on his back, and the familiar features of Philoh Smith, a well-known contractor and builder of Cape Girardeau, were lying uncovered in the light of the moon, which had come merrily out from behind the clouds. Philoh Smith, who owned adjoining property, had long desired to acquire the Sherwood place, and had resorted to the ghostly method of beating down the purchase price."
What a great story.
One thing that struck me as I read it was the absence of any mention of the alleged tunnel at the house that was supposedly used to transport soldiers to Old Lorimier Cemetery. This story makes no mention of such a tunnel, even though the date is much closer to the time it's believed the hauntings might have originated.
Also, Sharon tells me she believes this is the first mention of the Minton house ghost to appear in the newspaper. Though the story appeared in 1910, the tale of the ghost hunters was from 1867, meaning there was already talk of the soldier ghosts by that time. I've wondered at times about when a place becomes "haunted." Is it at the moment of the tragedy? Does it take time to "sink in?" Does it only get stirred up during alterations to the home? It appears that, at least in this instance, there couldn't have been too much of a delay after the deaths of many suffering soldiers. The war ended in 1865 and these men were investigating by 1867.
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