Monthly Archives: October 2015

Ghosts in the Attic at White Plains

One of the first questions people ask is if I’ve seen a ghost on the property or in the old house. Although there have been some unusual occurrences over the past two years, I can’t really say that anything has been a definitive experience. But interestingly, the house does come with a few ghost stories, passed down from generations of past residents. Here are two just before Halloween.

Halloween - White Plains

A dark road to the old house.

The Ghost Party

One of my favorite stories is of the ghost party at White Plains, as passed down through the Walker family, and finally to me over a cup of coffee in a Washington, DC cafe.

Alex and Caroline Walker stumbled across the listing for White Plains, an abandoned property from the colonial days. The manor house had been vacant for many years, passed between transient owners and developers that never found enough interest to fix up the place. Rumor has it that the house was used for cattle feed storage during the mid 1930s, a time when many of the windows were broken, the original weatherboard siding was falling off, and the roof had begun to collapse.

Having a personal interest in old houses, Mr. Walker hired a realtor to view the house for the first time. He and Caroline toured the grounds, entering on the first floor. After viewing the upper rooms, they proceeded to the basement. As they travelled to the east room that would later become the basement dining room, they heard people shuffling around in the upstairs living room just above them and the faint sound of voices. Confused that someone else would be in the house, they rushed upstairs to find an empty floor. Although further confused, they returned to the basement to continue the tour. In the same east room, they again heard the shuffling of feet on the floor above, this time it sounded more like dancing, rhythmic and strong. And there was the faint clinking of dishes and glass, as if a party were being had in the space above them. They rushed a second time to the upper floor to find, again, no one in sight, but they left with a few goosebumps.

Were there ghosts in the house that day? The remnants of a party from the 1700s? Did it unnerve the Walkers, we cannot know, but it certainly didn’t deter them from buying and renovating the old house at White Plains. In fact, it could have been Caroline Walker’s inspiration when she drew and designed their first party invitation for their new home. The photograph below is of an original invitation created by Mrs. Walker for parties during the 1940s. I am grateful to have been given one by her grandson, who told me this story.

Cocktail Invitation - White Plains

Cocktail Invitation by Mrs. Caroline Walker, ca. 1945 – 1950. Printed ink on paper, 3.5″ x 2.5″.

Cocktail Invitation - White Plains

 

A Death in the Attic

The second story that I’ve recently heard, and perhaps the more chilling of these two, is set in the attic. Renovated during 1940, the Walkers made the attic into a livable space. The children would sleep upstairs during the summer when the weather was warm. You can still see drawings along the fiberboard walls from probably the 1940s and ’50s where children used crayons when they were bored.

Attic - White Plains

The attic at White Plains

One of the Walker’s daughters recalls that she and her siblings were all quite afraid of the attic space, despite spending a lot of time there. The windows were over thirty feet off the ground, catching any extra moonlight that wasn’t swallowed by the trees. One night, the daughter awoke to see, outlined in the corner of the west room, the figure of a dressed woman hanging from the rafters. The story goes that the daughter remembered and told this story often.

Have I seen any ghosts swinging from the rafters? No, but I also don’t go looking for them! There is no doubt that many layers of history, experience, life, and death have filled these rooms. Some may find that unnerving, but I find it inspiring. If only these walls could talk.

Memories of Grandy, Georgia, & Acre Peas Make a Summer Harvest at White Plains

Just before the Great Depression began to take hold, a new baby was born in Echols County, Georgia in the mid-1920s. The oppressive August heat was no match for the competing humidity, and you could barely hear yourself think for all the gnats swarming around your head. As I would lovingly call her many years later, Grandy, my grandmother, grew up on her family farm in rural southern Georgia, a place where the pine trees grew tall like matchsticks and the baked soil yielded the most delicious vegetables.

Papa - The Farm, Echols County

Papa, my great-grandfather, and I, ca. 1982.

I remember visiting the farm often, surrounded by family and opportunities to appreciate the land. We gathered in the heat of summer to shuck and silk piles and piles of corn under the 200-year-old oak trees while Grandy and her sister creamed the ears, letting the sweet milk run from each kernel into the green plastic tubs. Others would be inside waiting to receive the tubs of creamed corn, ready to heat them over the stove, cool them, and then freeze them for a year’s worth of eating. Of course, a healthy portion was kept aside for eating that night at dinner.

The Farm, Echols County

Summer would also mean finding the rickety old ladder from the shed and the tin can creatively nailed to a long wooden pole to harvest the pineapple pears. Each pear would become a preserve, a jar of relish, a pie, or perhaps an afternoon snack as you sat in the grass, wiping the sweat from your brow.

Pear Tree - The Farm, Echols County

Grandy underneath the pear tree at the farm. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.

We gathered every February to prune rows and rows of wild grape vines, preparing them for spring growth. The muscadines, the scuppernongs, and the others we didn’t know the name for but loved to eat. The juice would run down your chin as you spit the thick skin into the grass.

My older cousin and I planted white dogwood trees at the farm. We named them Ozzy and Harriet, but I couldn’t begin to tell you why. If I remember correctly, Ozzy didn’t quite make it, but Harriet pulled through and is hopefully still growing strong.

And so, the farm was a place that held early memories of family fun and later memories of just Grandy and I. As I grew older and went to college, it was often just Grandy and I. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends all lived close, but most nights were watching television in the den and weekends meant a trip to the grocery store and always the farmers market.

The Farm, Echols County

Grandy by the grapevines. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.

Carter’s Produce, the local farm market, was the only place she’d go since she never quite trusted the source at the “other” places. It was an open-air warehouse with piles of fruits and vegetables. It was there, under skilled direction, that I learned how to pick the perfect tomato, test cantaloupe, shell acre peas, pick the least-stringy sweet potatoes, select the most tender okra, and to always grab a bag of peanuts for later boiling. I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps these transfers of knowledge would prove more meaningful than I could have imagined at the time.

Almost nine years after Grandy’s passing, when it came time to look at White Plains as a new home, it was hard to keep the farm in Georgia out of my mind. The farm that now felt lost to me could somehow be reborn. New traditions, new families, and new opportunities for the land.

Acre PeasAs I selected plants for my first year’s garden, there were easy answers – those that I remembered most fondly growing up and new ones to learn from. I excitedly  harvested my first acre peas this year and couldn’t wait to shell them. As my fingers ran along their edge, pushing the small green and white peas from their shell, I was transported back to Grandy’s round kitchen table where I first learned how to make it all work.

Acre Peas

My first harvest of acre peas. Summer, 2015.