Friday, October 18, 2013

Lovers Even After Death

Juliette Gordon Low who founded the Girl Scouts of America was the second daughter of William Gordon ll and Nellie Gordon. She married on her parents’ 29th wedding anniversary but her marriage was not a happy one for she divorced her alcoholic husband fifteen years later when she discovered he had a mistress. Her parents on the other hand remained devoted to each other for decades--some state even after death.

William Gordon ll or Willie as he was affectionately known lost his father William Gordon l at the age of eight to malaria. His father was a native of Savannah, Georgia and was at one time this cities’ major. When his father died his mother, Sarah moved the family to New Jersey in order to give her children a good education. 

While attending Yale Willie met his future wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Kinzie in 1853 when she was a classmate of his sisters. The story goes that these two fell in love at first sight over a squashed hat. The adventurous and high- spirited Nelly slid down a stair banister and literally landed on Willie crushing his new hat.

Nelly at around the
time of the Civil War
Despite their differences, Nelly was from Chicago and staunchly against slavery, Willie in contrast born in Savannah remained loyal to Georgia's ideals--his family were slave owners. But as the saying goes true love conquers all for the two married in 1858. The couple settled in Willie’s family home in Savannah. By the time the Civil War began they had three children. The only time they were separated during their marriage was when Willie left to fight for the Confederacy. Nelly lost a brother that fought for the Union Army.

After the war the couple had three more children. Willie served as president for the Savannah Cotton Exchange and Nelly kept busy working for a variety of good causes. Willie was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and in 1878 Willie returned to service during the Spanish-American War. He rose to the rank of brigadier-general and was stationed in Miami. Their children now grown Nelly was able to be with him. During this time she became known for her efforts on behalf of veterans.

The couple spent fifty-four blissful years together. When Willie died in 1912 Nelly was inconsolable. Juliette her second daughter who I mentioned above wrote that her mother’s marriage had always come first, her children second. Nelly lived to the age of eighty-one but she missed Willie everyday. One note she wrote expressed her feeling best: “…here I remain very much against my will…”

Nelly falling ill after several heart attacks told her daughter-in-law Margaret who was married to her son Arthur that “I shall be happy to be with my Willie again.” On February 22, 1917 as Margaret sat waiting for word of Nelly’s condition she was surprised to see the late William Gordon ll walk out of his wife’s bedroom. He wore his favorite grey suit and he appeared to be grave but glad. She watched as he descended the stairs to the front of the house. Shortly after this Arthur informed her that Nelly had passed.

When she told her husband what she had seen he chastised her gently. But later a family butler, a former slave that had been with the family for years confirmed what she saw. He asked if the missus had passed for he stated he saw the general walk down the stairs and out the front door as if heading toward a waiting carriage. He said that he had the biggest smile of his face.

Family that was in the room as Nelly faded stated that she sat up and stretched her arms out as if joyfully greeting someone. They said her features softened and she seemed to become young again. Because of these witness accounts the belief was that Willie had indeed returned to escort his beloved Nelly to the other side.

Wayne-Gordon House
Willie’s ghost has never been seen at the home again but Nelly’s ghost has been spotted on several occasions. Many docents and staff that work at what is now called the Wayne-Gordon House * have seen her ghost in the home’s garden and she has been seen sitting at the kitchen table in her dressing gown. Guests at the house have seen her wandering the halls. Staff and guests have also heard and seen her playing her old piano.

* This house is also known as Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace since its carriage house was the location for the first Girl Scout headquarters. Today it is a museum that offers daily tours.

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