Saturday, March 11, 2017

Singleton recounts the story of house haunted by ghost of Old Man Roberts

Battle of Lookout Mountain.
(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 “Old man Roberts’ ghost recalled from the shadows” was originally published in the March 8, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

A few days back, I decided to visit the old home place where I grew up until the death of my father. At his death, the farm life as we knew it came to an end. My brothers were away in the war, fighting the Nazis and the Japanese, trying to help stop the aggression of the storm troops of Hitler and the armies of the Rising Sun.

I was not old enough to go off to war, so I was the only child left at home to help look after what we had, and to help look after my mother. Since it was just the two of us, we moved into the small town of Sweet Water so that I would be closer to the school and my mother would be near several friends.

Nothing much is left of the old place where I spent many a happy day roaming around the countryside, looking for something to get into. Where there were fields that grew cotton and corn and other crops, only pine trees now grow. The old swimming hole in the nearby creek has all but disappeared. Dead timbers and trash has just about filled the place in the small creek, where many a delightful hour was spent during those lazy days of long past summers.

As I left the creek and what remained of the old swimming hole.  I took the path that I had taken a thousand times, around the edge of what used to be the cow pasture. I knew that if I could find the path, it would eventually lead me to the old house where my dear friend and running buddy used to live. I remembered how we used to race down the path to the swimming hole, and the loser had to serve the winner a slice of watermelon, even if it had to be gotten by borrowing a watermelon or two from the patch of our neighbor across the fields. That friend is also gone now, like much of the others whom I remember so well; he died while serving his country.

Old home place remembered

I remembered that if I followed the path far enough it would take me by the old Roberts home place. As I walked along, looking for the faint signs that told me that one day barefoot boys had tread this way, my mind searched out the memories of the many tales about this old place.

Old Man Roberts had come home from the Civil War a broken and crippled man. During the fierce fighting around Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, he received a serious wound in his left leg. When serious leg wounds were confronted by the poorly trained and overworked army doctors, the damaged limbs were usually amputated.

So it was with Old Man Roberts; only a miracle saved him from a horrible death. But he finally made his way south to his old home place. Here he, with the help of his neighbors, put together a large, two-story log house. The house had a hallway or what was called a “dog trot” running through the middle. Upstairs were the sleeping rooms, except for the bottom room, which was located to the left of the hallway as one entered the front porch. This was the guest bedroom.

The top of the front porch came out beyond the porch floor far enough that one could drive a horse and buggy under the protection of the top. This enabled the lady folks to dismount a riding horse or a buggy, even in the rain, while being protected from the elements by the overhang of the porch eve.

During the building of the house and the kitchen that sat behind the house, the old man carved from a small piece of timber a rough, crude wooden leg. This was to replace the one that he had left some years back on the battlefield of Lookout Mountain, Tenn.

Years take their toll

The house was finished, and the years came and went; Old Man Roberts became quite successful as he farmed and raised his livestock, making his way around his house and farm on the wooden leg that he had made for himself. He could be heard walking around in the upstairs bedroom all times of the night, his wooden leg making a loud, thumping noise as he made his way across the rough-hewn planks of the wooden floor. But the years and the loss of his leg gradually took their toll; the crippled old man began to be seen less and less.

Then, one cold January morning, the old man with the wooden leg called all his neighbors together and bade farewell to his friends and the world that had demanded so much from him. His body was dressed in the uniform of the Confederacy, and his wooden, homemade coffin was draped with the flag that he had fought for and almost given his life to defend. The old man was laid to rest in a place that he had himself set aside. His wooden leg was buried with him.

The years rolled by; the old two-story house and farm were rented to various families, who would move there in hopes of raising a crop on the rich farm land. But no one ever stayed for long in the old house. Some families stayed for only a few days; others were known to have planted their crops; only to be seen one morning loading their belongings in their wagons, moving hurriedly away.

Always the story was the same, Old Man Roberts had been heard or seen walking around the upstairs rooms wearing his wooden leg. He would walk out of the bedroom in which he had slept, then he would make his way to the stair steps that led to the back porch located between the old house and the kitchen.

Finally, no one would live in the old house because of the fear of seeing or hearing the old man with the wooden leg. The years came and went; the ghost of Old Man Roberts walked alone across the floors. Then the old house died too, just like the old man who had built it.

Rotten boards and weeds

Nothing remains of the old house and kitchen now but a pile of rotten boards and logs. One has to look closely even to find the remains of the two large stone chimneys that stood at each end. The fields are grown up in large pine trees, but if one knows where to look, there still stand two old, half-rotten chinaberry trees not too far from the house. Under the protection of the dropping, rotten branches, the Confederate tomb of the old Rebel warrior leans drunkenly in the tall weeds.

As I stood beside the faded granite marker, the memories came to mind of the many times when, while I was a teenager, my friends and I would slip away to the old Roberts house and sit in the hallway and wait for the old man to start his descent to the back porch. The loud thump of his wooden leg on the crude floor caused the best of the group to run, and their blood to freeze.

I remembered, too, that the bravest present never waited for the old man to reach the back porch. And always if there were young ladies in the group (and many times there were), none had the desire to wait and see the old man, as most all had sworn they would do prior to going there.

Many a young lady had come away from a visit to the old Roberts house wide-eyed and scared breathless – a victim of a prank by two or three country boys and girls who knew beforehand what was going to take place there in the hallway and upper bedroom of the haunted old house. The ghost of the old man with the wooden leg seemed to enjoy it as much as we teenagers did. He never let us down.

Linger awhile and walk with me into the shadowy mist that was yesterday.
Stroll across the faded pages of history, and know of our struggle for a good life.
Pass me not, for I am the spirit of the departed.
Linger awhile, if only for a moment, and through your thoughts, I will know that I am remembered.

(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.)

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