|General Braxton Bragg|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Ghosts of old Southern mansion are mischievous” was originally published in the March 11, 1993 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
As I parked in the driveway of the Denmark house near the community of Belleville, a certain air of mystery seemed to hang over the place. I had been given an invitation by Luther Upton, who lives there, to visit the old Southern mansion built in 1834 and witness for myself some of the unusual happenings that took place there.
The full-length front porch stretched across the entire house with the usual swing and a couple of rocking chairs. The unusual front doors numbered three instead of the usual two found on most of the old plantation homes that yet remain throughout the South.
The front yard was filled with the usual flowers of the old South, such as azaleas, camellias and various other kinds too numerous to mention. A very large hydrangeas grew close to the long porch as though planted there for some special reason. Perhaps, so that it could be viewed as it bloomed and grew from year to year from the swing or from one of the large rocking chairs. As we sat there on the old porch, I thought I detected someone smoking a pipe. The smell of burning pipe tobacco was heavy in the afternoon air. There was only three of us on the porch: my wife and I, and over on the swing, sat Luther.
Smoking a pipe
I knew that I wasn’t smoking a pipe, and I was reasonably sure that my wife wasn’t. I looked toward the swing to see if Luther had lighted a pipe. He did not have a pipe either. Then, I noticed a smile on his face; he knew what I was about to ask. Yes, he and my wife were smelling strong tobacco smoke.
Then he told me that this was quite common to smell a smoking pipe on the porch and inside the house. I then asked him if he had a fire going in one of the large fire places; I had also smelled wood burning before coming up on the porch. Luther stated that this was quite common also.
As we sat in one of the large rooms discussing the unusual goings on in the house, a noise on the stairway was noticed by the three of us. “That’s them,” stated Luther. “Sometimes they get so loud until I yell at them to get quiet. It is not unusual for my television to come on during the late hours of the night. Most always, the volume will be turned so loud that it will almost shake the whole house. One time, after giving them a piece of my mind about the loud noises and their playing with the television, I returned home from work to find several pictures had been taken off the wall and thrown down in the floor. Also, a jelly jar had been thrown across the kitchen.”
As we continued our conversation, there in the large room, more mysterious noises were heard toward the back of the house. “You should be here during the night hours,” stated Luther. “That is when the noises are the worst. Doors in the upstairs rooms can be heard opening, then to slam shut with great force. My two pet dogs, Thelma and Louise, are harassed all day long. They won’t hardly come up on the porch in fear of being bothered by whatever that is here.”
Walking around the old house, we stopped at the large soap-rock chimneys. There in the soft stone was carved numerous initials of those who had perhaps visited this old plantation home during the early years. The name “Luke Bragg” stood out in bold letters. The words, “J.D. Elder lived here,” were also carved in the soft stone. Due to the age of the old soap-stone, many of the initials could not be read.
I had heard at an earlier date, when I first became interested in the old house, that President Jefferson Davis had spent the night here in April 1865. Confederate General Braxton Bragg had also stayed here for two days.
It is believed that the community of Belleville was named by Jefferson Davis during his stay here because of many beautiful young ladies he had seen while visiting here. President Davis stated that he had never before seen a small community as this with so many beautiful young ladies living within and around it.
Used as a hospital
Luther stated that he had information that the old mansion had been used for a hospital for Confederate soldiers during the closing days of the war. In one of the upstairs rooms is an old hospital bed from the middle 1800s. This probably bears witness because Luther also stated that he was told that several of these type beds had once been in the upstairs rooms. Over the years, they had been hauled away by unknown persons, prior to his getting the place.
As we continued our conversations, what appeared to be the sound of heavy furniture being moved came from across the hall. “There they go again,” stated Luther. “This goes on at all hours of the day and night.”
As I glanced across the hall and into the other large room, there was no evidence of anything being moved or out of place. As I returned to my chair and sat down, the sound of footsteps could be heard in the hallway. Again, no one was there.
As our rather exciting visit came to a close, I began to experience an unusual and strange feeling that I had been in this house before. I mentioned it to my wife as we rode toward Belleville and Highway 84.
As we had visited each of the rooms of the old plantation home, I became aware that there was nothing strange about the place; all the rooms seemed familiar. I was seeing everything just as I was expecting to see it.
My friend, Luther, had stated that he too had experienced this same feeling, the first time he had entered the old house. There are not many feelings that I have had that I can’t explain, but here was one that had me stumped. I had never entered the old house before until this day. I had viewed it from the road several times when passing this way. But until today, I had never even entered the front yard.
Who are these spirits that roam the old Denmark plantation home near the community of Belleville? Could it be the spirits of dead Confederate soldiers who departed this life in rooms of the old house when it was used for a hospital? Or perhaps it could be the spirits of some young children who had lived and played and romped the house and grounds here many, many years ago.
What secrets lie beneath the old house at the end of that hidden staircase? Or, perhaps the spirits of President Davis or General Bragg have returned to the old plantation for reasons not known, perhaps in search for someone or something known only to them.
But as for now, whoever they are, or whatever it may be, the true mystery remains.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)