Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Florida: Haunted Bellamy Bridge

For over 100 years the ghost of a female wearing white has been seen in Marianna, Florida. She is seen in a swamp and on the Bellamy Bridge that spans the Chipola River. This story is Florida’s most well-known ghost tale. 

The story behind why this ghost haunts this old steel bridge is actually just a legend that over the years has been confused and mixed with the real story. Both the legend and the real story behind this haunting are about tragic lost love.

The legend states that a restless ghost of a young woman Elizabeth Jane Bellamy roams the swamps around the bridge on dark and foggy nights. Elizabeth was betrothed to a prominent antebellum planter and political leader in Florida by the name of Samuel Bellamy. 

The story goes that Elizabeth tragically on her wedding day was dancing with her new husband in a lovely mansion he had built for her when her long gown suddenly came in contact with a candle. The folds of the fabric quickly were engulfed in flames. Before any of the guests or her new husband could react Elizabeth ran screaming from the house. Overcome by the flames she sustained horrible injuries.

Another version of the legend states Elizabeth had actually gone upstairs to rest after her wedding and her dress caught fire from sparks from the lit fire in the room--she then ran from the mansion screaming and before anyone could reach her she was burned over most of her body.

In incredible pain Elizabeth lingered for two days before finding peace in death. He body was buried in a grove of trees near the Chipola River.  

It is said that her new bridegroom was so overcome with grief that he never recovered from her death. He eventually committed suicide. 

It appears Elizabeth’s spirit was too restless to stay at peace for her ghost soon after her burial was seen often late at night on the banks of the river. In later years, after the Bellamy Bridge was built at the site her ghost was seen on the bridge as well and in the swamps surrounding it.

This legend actually evolved from a fictional novel that Caroline Lee Hentz wrote in the 19th century about a young slave women who was given a large wedding by her mistress in the “big House” because she was held in high regard. 

In this story it is this black bride whose dress catches fire and then she dies of her injuries. Over time people came to believe that Hentz’ story--that she placed on a fictional plantation called “Bellamy Plantation” was actually Elizabeth Bellamy’s story.

The real story is that Elizabeth Croom first met her future husband Samuel Bellamy in North Carolina as a young girl. Samuel went to the University of Pennsylvania to study medicine-- when he returned home despite a nine- year age difference Elizabeth agreed to marry him. Their marriage took place in North Carolina in July of 1834 three years before the supposed Florida wedding and fire of the legend.

After they married the couple did move to Florida drawn by its vast lands and the romance of settling in a new territory. Samuel’s older brother Edward Bellamy and his wife who was Elizabeth’s older sister Ann had already migrated to Florida. 

The young couple took 80 African slaves and purchased land they called the Rock Cave Plantation near Edward and Sara’s plantation close to Marianna. Florida. This area was ideal for growing cotton and sugar cane.

However, the swamps were a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Both malaria and yellow fever hit many of the early settlers in this area. 

It was fever not a fire that killed Elizabeth. She was just 18 years old in May of 1837 when she died. She left behind a young son and her husband. At the time of her death she was being cared for by her older sister Ann at her plantation that was near the Chipola River so Elizabeth was buried in a grove of trees near where the old Bellamy Bridge stands today.

Just one week after Elizabeth’s death her son Alexander also died from fever and was buried next to her. Samuel Bellamy never remarried and he actually built the mansion on his plantation after Elizabeth died. 

The old legend did get one thing correct because Samuel did take his own life by cutting his throat with a razor in 1853.

As time passed people superimposed Hentz’s fictional tale with Elizabeth’s story and this mixed story then evolved into Florida’s most famous ghost story. 

Despite this, it is believed that Elizabeth does haunt the Bellamy Bridge. Over the years many people have seen the apparition of a young woman walking through the swamps on the west side of the bridge. 

Other witnesses have reported seeing a ball of fire that descends from the air straight down through the framework of the old bridge. Witnesses have also seen mysterious white lights appear in the surrounding swamp at night.

Here is a link to one photo taken near the bridge of what some feel is Elizabeth’s ghost--the unusual mist in the lower right corner is pointed out.

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