Tuesday, September 23, 2014

13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey

A book entitled, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey is a beloved volume widely read by both the young and old in the South.

Kathryn Tucker Windham * who wrote this book along with Margaret Gillis Figh wrote for the Selma Times-Journal and was an acclaimed folklorist. She once said:

“I don’t care whether you believe in ghosts. The good ghost stories do not require you believe in ghosts.”

These co-authors share a variety of suspenseful ghost legends in their book. Amidst these eerie tales, they manage to also share quite a bit of Alabama’s history.

Windham includes the name “Jeffrey” at the end of the title because this is the name of a friendly ghost that lived in her home. She stated Jeffrey actually was her “unofficial collaborator” in writing this book.

This collection includes a story about the Unquiet Ghost at Gaineswood, a story about a ghost named Evelyn Carter, who fills a Demopolis antebellum mansion with midnight musical interludes because her body wasn’t returned to Virginia.

Another story, The Phantom Steamboat of the Tombigbee, which I wrote about here, is about the wreck of the steamboat Eliza Battle. People still state they see this boat rise on cold nights --its cargo of cotton on fire.

Kathryn Tucker Windham
* Windham passed away in recent years.

The following is one of my favorite tales from this book.

Mobile’s Pipe Smoking Sea Captain

To his neighbor’s chagrin, a grizzled old sea captain moved into a home on their street. It was rumored he had been forced to leave his beloved sea because of a disagreement he had with another officer.

The Captain received few visitors and he had made it clear to his new neighbors that he could not abide landlubbers.

The neighbors watched with disdain as he puttered in his garden or sat smoking his pipe staring into space.

His longing for the sea drove him to visit the docks almost every day. He would smoke his pipe and watch the freighters load and unload their cargoes. In the afternoon, he would salute the last ship leaving the harbor and then sadly head home.

Eventually this sadness overtook the captain and after returning from the docks late one day his neighbors heard a gunshot followed by someone falling down stairs.

The neighbors forced their way into the house and found the Captain dead, his pipe still warm from his last smoke.

After the Captain's death an Englishman, Charles Smallwood bought the home. When he died his son William Smallwood and his family moved in. This was when the Captain’s ghost began to appear.

One night Charles and his wife heard someone falling down the stairs, sure it was one of their sons they checked to find both boys asleep in their beds. They found nothing near the stairs.

After this, they heard similar sounds night after night. They like their neighbors came to believe the home was haunted.

One morning Mrs. Smallwood discovered who the ghost was. She saw the figure of a strange man holding a stub pipe and wearing a Captain’s cap standing in her flower garden.

As she stared at him, he vanished.

She began to smell tobacco smoke near the home’s back entrance and in the garden. At first, she felt it was her sons sneaking a smoke. But she never discovered their hiding place.

One day she challenged them to come out and admit their guilt. Instead, she saw a nautical cap disappear among the trees.

Another time when she smelled the smoke and called out she heard a deep chuckle followed by a “salty oath.”

As time passed the smell of tobacco smoke became stronger, and Mrs. Smallwood realized this aroma announced the presence of the Captain.

She put up with his presence until one day he appeared to her valued cook. This lady had a nervous disposition, and when she saw the Captain standing at the doorway to her kitchen, she quit.

This was the last straw for Mrs. Smallwood. Shortly afterward, the family moved out.

For years after this the home remained empty--except for the smell of the Captain’s pipe smoke.

Windham and Figh followed up their popular first collection with six additional volumes of ghost stories.

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