Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clarksville’s Haunted Widow’s Walk

The Smith-Trahern Mansion stands on a bluff overlooking the Cumberland River in Clarksville, Tennessee. 

A wealthy merchant Christopher “Kit” Smith built this home in 1858. Kit wanted to provide his lovely young bride, Lucy Dabney Smith with all the most up to date conveniences. He had Adolphus Heiman design his home. 

It reflects the Greek and Italinata styles popular at the time. Besides the home’s grand hallways and exquisite curved staircase Kit also had indoor plumbing installed. The house became known as the “ Queen of the Cumberland”. This mansion today, fully restored to its original splendor is a house museum and is haunted by one specific ghost.

Kit Smith was one of the leading tobacco merchants in Montgomery and Robertson counties. Farmers would haul their cured tobacco to Clarksville where Kit would buy their crops. Smith would then ship these fired leaves downstream by paddlewheel steamboats. 

Lucy was upset to find her new husband often had to travel. Kit always in search of the best price for his tobacco would spend weeks in Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans. His young bride pined for him during these absences.

Kit had a Widow’s Walk or wooden walkway built atop the front of mansion in order to satisfy one of his bride’s whims. Lucy had proclaimed to him that she must be the first to see the boat that returned him to Clarksville and her. 

Widow’s Walks are a rare sight in the South. They are much more common in New England where the wives of seafaring captains often stood and waited to catch a glimpse of their husbands' ships return from long voyages. They are called Widow’s Walks because the sea often claimed these captain’s lives. 

When Lucy received word of Kit’s impending return she would run up the steps to her Widow’s Walk. She was often seen wearing pretty white frocks standing atop the mansion anxiously waiting to greet her husband.

Typical Widow's Walk

Life was comfortable for the couple despite Kit’s long absences but then the Civil War broke out. The normal river trade routes that Kit used to ship his tobacco were interrupted. Boats were raided and even commandeered. Kits’ tobacco was stolen or destroyed by both sides—the Union and the Confederacy. His profits disappeared putting a strain on his finances. 

In 1863 after the Union took control of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Smith a businessman first without sympathy for either side knew that this meant the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland rivers would be once again open. Trade now could resume solving some of his financial woes.

In 1865 at the end of the war Kit decided to travel to New Orleans in order to expand his trade. Securing papers from the Federalists for passage he bid Lucy a sweet farewell and headed downstream on a packet boat. 

His story at this point becomes blurred because history didn’t record for sure what happened next. Kit never saw Lucy again for he died during this trip. Locals reported seeing Lucy almost constantly on her Widow’s Walk during this time—Kit’s return weeks overdue.

Some speculate that he contracted Yellow Fever while in New Orleans and died within days. Other stories claim that he was in a hurry to return home so he booked a passage on an over crowded steamboat. It is stated that the extra weight and the captain’s need to travel quickly caused the boat’s three boilers to explode violently just north of Memphis. Many on board were killed, including Kit.

Lucy hearing the news of Kit’s death was inconsolable with grief. She was seen slowly walking back and forth on her Widow’s Walk. In mourning, she was now clothed all in black. 

Lucy lived at the mansion for the next thirty-seven years until her death in 1905. She never remarried. It is stated that daily, weather permitting she would spend time on the wooden walkway atop the mansion. In honor of Kit she wore mourning black for the rest of her life.

Soon after her death people in Clarksville started to report seeing Lucy’s ghost on the mansions’ Widow’s Walk—dressed always in black. In 1919 a man by the name of Joseph Trahern bought and partially refurbished the mansion. 

Locals continued to see Lucy’s ghost over the years. She was often described as a solitary dark figure that would stand quietly gazing into the horizon. At other times she was seen pacing back and forth.

By 1988 the mansion now fully restored was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The home is open for tours and is used for special events, such as, weddings. The mansion still displays many of Lucy Dabney Smith’s furnishings. 

Volunteers state that Lucy’s presence is evident inside the mansion as well. Often, when they have come into work they find items that belonged to Lucy, furniture or knick-knacks, out of place. These volunteers joke that it is just Lucy redecorating again.

Today, a dark shadow is seen on the mansions’ roof at night. It is stated that this is Lucy still waiting for her beloved Kit.


V- The teen with too much to say!- said...

I love the topic of the paranormal, Have you done any thing in Michigan?

Virginia Lamkin said...

My group is based out of New Mexico. We have never done an investigation in Michigan. But I did share a ghost story that took place in Michigan. It is entitled, "The Ghost of Minnie Quay."