Highway 30, the main artery between Etowah and Athens, Tennessee, runs through some beautiful countryside. Just inside the Athens city limits, if you look off up to the left, you’ll see a remarkable and unexpected sight: a four-story brick mansion, complete with gigantic two-story-high porch columns, hard by the side of a red-mud, rocky hill that peeps through a massive spread of kudzu, that invasive vine introduced in this area in the 1930s to control erosion and uncontrollable ever since. The great house is known as the White mansion, for the family who has owned it in the direct line of descent since it was built in the 1830s. It has, over the years, been all but overwhelmed by the curtain of kudzu, but is presently, slowly but surely, being refurbished by area chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy.
The White mansion looks as if it should be haunted—and, like a number of locations in Athens, it is.
HAUNTING #1: The Confederate Soldiers.
There were a number of skirmishes in the Athens area during the Civil War, part of the campaigns around Chattanooga and in north Georgia. The White mansion, like a number of the larger private homes and buildings in town, was commandeered for some months, c. 1863-4, as a hospital. The entrance hall of the house has marble floors, and those marble floors still bear bloodstains from men who were wounded and died there. Blood can never be completely cleaned from marble.
These soldiers have left traces of themselves, but not inside the house. Not even the White mansion, huge through it is, could hold all the wounded, and many of them were treated in a sort of hospital camp set up around the lawn and in the fields. The story goes that, on misty mornings, the spirits of some of these soldiers are seen, shadowy figures in the fog, walking out of the tangle of kudzu and vanishing as the sun rises.
HAUNTING #2: The White Lady.
There have been reports of a woman who appears as the traditional White Lady at the foot of the main staircase, which runs up to the second floor and splits into landings at that level. She is said to have been a servant, and possible mistress, of the member of the White family who owned the house in the 1880s. She was found dead at the foot of the staircase, and her death was never explained. She has haunted the house ever since.
And HAUNTING #3: The Little Girl at the Window.
On one side of the house, there was a shed built under a first story window. Nobody knows, now, what the shed’s purpose was, nor yet can put a date to the accident that made that spot haunted. A best guess would be that sometime in the 1890s or early 1900s, a daughter of the house, only seven or eight years old, climbed out that window for reasons lost to time, onto the sloping roof of the shed. She tried, apparently, to slide down from the roof to the ground, but fell and landed on her head, breaking her neck and dying instantly. Since then, she has been seen outside the house, near the shed, and also at the window she climbed out of, at irregular intervals.
All houses wherein men have lived and died/Are haunted houses. Longfellow was right about that. Sometimes they are only heard, smelled, or their presence felt by the psychically gifted among us. At the White mansion, they’re seen. They don’t seem to be frightening when they appear; mostly, they’re poignant, as are their stories.