Follow up a bit of grue with a bit of romance, shall we? 🙂
One of the finest homes in Springfield, Massachusetts was known as the Alexander-Phillips House. Built in 1816, it was for some years the summer home of a southern widow who came north during the hot months of summer with her two sons and daughter. One of the sons had, eventually, died in the house.
After her son’s death, the southern widow sold the house, which now held such sad memories, to a family named Alexander. The father, mother and two sisters, Julia and Leila, moved in when Julia was seven and Leila a bit younger. Julia, by her own account, was a hardheaded, practical sort; Leila, the younger sister, a dreamer and a romancer, which tendencies only grew stronger as she grew into her teens.
In the western wing of the house there was a large library, with a small bedroom just off it. The Alexander sisters were told by neighbors that the southern lady’s son, the one who had died in the house, had spent a good deal of time in that library, and slept in the little bedroom. No doubt, the neighbors said, he was a scholarly sort–but he was also a notorious carouser, fond of drinking, gambling and chasing women. Those last pursuits–probably the alcohol consumption in particular–led to his early death.
Dreamy Leila, recorded Julia many years later, spent a good deal of her time, especially as she grew from child to romantic–and possibly a bit unstable–young woman, in that library.
In June, when Leila was sixteen, she was standing in the garden just outside the library when she happened to look into the window. There, against a backdrop of bookshelves, sat a devastatingly handsome young man. He and Leila, who had never seen a man so handsome, stared silently at each other for some minutes. Leila then rushed into the library, only to find there was no man there.
And when she asked the rest of the family who was visiting in the house, she learned that no one other than she, Julia, their parents and the servants were in the house that day.
Some weeks later, Leila came to Julia in a state of intense excitement. She had seen the young man again. This time, she had stepped out onto a side porch to get a breath of air when she saw a black horse on the driveway. The same young man she had seen before was standing beside the horse. He had come up to her, and without a word took one of her hands in his and lifted it to his lips, pressing a kiss on it. Startled, Leila could only watch as he dropped her hand, leaped onto the horse, and galloped away.
It was around this time that Leila began to walk in her sleep, something she had never done before. Julia, who slept in a room near Leila’s, was awakened several times deep in the night by sounds of her sister leaving her room. She would dress and follow, invariably finding Leila in the garden outside the library, walking along the paths in the trance of sleep. She would lead her sister back upstairs and put her back to bed with Leila none the wiser. She was always surprised to find that Leila was never dressed in a nightgown on these occasions; she was always dressed in her favorite white cashmere dress, and, when spotted, always seemed to be speaking with someone, her face upturned and smiling and her arm linked through another’s–someone Julia could not see.
When Julia told her mother about this sudden affliction of Leila’s, Mrs. Alexander shrugged it off. She herself had been a sleepwalker in her teen years, she told Julia, and had outgrown it; she was sure Leila would do the same.
For some reason, Julia could not bring herself to tell their mother about Leila’s strange encounter with the man who had kissed her hand, then rode away on the black horse.
She became so accustomed to Leila’s nocturnal ramblings that she slept through most of them through the last summer of Leila’s life.
One hot night in August a thunderstorm blew in, in the wee hours of the morning. Julia was awakened by rain blowing in her bedroom window. She closed it, then ran frantically through the house closing others–only to find that Leila’s room was empty.
Screaming Leila’s out in the storm!, she managed to rouse a couple of the house servants, who accompanied her out into the storm.
They found Leila halfway down the driveway. She had been killed by a lightning bolt.
It was not until they managed to carry her into the house that they found that she was not wearing the white cashmere dress she usually wore when she walked in her sleep; she was, this time, wearing their mother’s wedding dress and veil.
She was buried in a family plot.
A few days after Leila’s funeral, Julia found a letter in her sister’s handwriting, tucked away in a little writing desk in Leila’s room. Addressed to Julia, it said that Leila’s handsome stranger–whom Julia had begun, reluctantly, to believe a ghost–had, on those nights when she walked in her sleep, come to her in the garden, and he had, at last, spoken to her.
He had told her, Leila wrote, that he loved her, that this love had drawn him to her from a far-off land, and asked her if she would be willing to come with him to that place from whence he came.
Leila said, by way of farewell, that she was indeed going with him to that far-off country, and that it would be many years before she would see her family again.
No one save Leila had ever seen the young man. He and she may, indeed, have met in that far country.
Julia Alexander eventually married, and she and her husband lived in the house. Some years after Leila’s death, the house had to be moved from its location to another in the same large lot. During the relocation, the skeletal remains of a young man were found under the library wing.
Julia had the remains buried beside Leila.
Julia Alexander Phillips wrote this story of her sister’s strange death in a letter to her son in 1886. In 1911, the son presented the story at a meeting of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, where it was taken down and published, with the son’s permission, by Richard Garvey of the local Springlfield Daily News. It was on Garvey’s published paraphrase that Nancy Roberts based her account, in her 1988 book Haunted Houses: Tales From 30 American Homes.
Sorry this story is less coherent than usual. I have a severe sinus headache today and it shows in my writing. 😦