Polly Brewington, the story goes, showed up in Putnam County, Tennessee in company with her two brothers, sometime after the Civil War. No one ever learned where they came from or who they might be related to, always important information to the natives of small southern towns. The three simply arrived in tiny Monterey one day, moving into a small house near an abandoned sawmill.
Polly Brewington was a small woman, dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark- eyed, middleaged and unmarried. Her chief eccentricity was that she always dressed, head to toe, in black. The only leavening in her wardrobe was an occasional white collar or cuffs. Her bonnets were black, and so was the purse she always carried.
The Brewingtons were desperately poor, and to earn money Polly hired out as a maid. She worked for several families in the area before taking a job with a couple called Alec and Margaret Buckner.
Alec Buckner was some years younger than Polly, but that did not stop the woman in black from falling in love with him with all the passion and jealousy of a much younger woman. She tried, with all her might, to break up his marriage, by whatever means necessary. She had her brothers, at one point, threaten Margaret Buckner with violence if she didn’t leave Alec; that failed. Polly may even have tried casting a few spells; they didn’t work.
Alec Buckner wanted no part of the intense, and possibly unbalanced, older woman. She scared the living crap out of him, and in any case he was in love with his wife. Polly was eventually dismissed from their employ.
Margaret Buckner gave birth to a son in December of 1881. A few days after this blessed event, while visiting with neighbors, Margaret interrupted an animated conversation with a non sequiter: “Well! The old witch is dead!”
The ladies, startled, asked her to explain. Margaret’s face grew somber as she told them that she meant Polly Brewington. Polly was dead. Then she added, “And now she’s come to haunt me.”
Nobody ever figured out how Margaret, still bedfast after her son’s birth, knew that Polly was dead, but dead she was; she had died just about the time Margaret made her announcement, in the proverbial mysterious circumstances. Some days later, Polly’s brothers left Monterey. They took their sister’s body with them, and were never seen in the area again.
Whispers–never more than whispers–hinted that Margaret Buckner had had something magical to do with Polly Brewington’s sudden demise; she certainly hadn’t left childbed to confront and kill her rival, so it had to be some spell or other–right?
Of greater interest, though, was the fact that Margaret’s second statement also proved true. From that day on, and for many years after, Monterey was plagued by the appearance of an obviously ghostly woman in black: the image of Polly Brewington. The person most affected, of course, was Margaret Buckner. She would see the ghost walking up the path to her front door, only to vanish. The woman in black would appear while Margaret did household chores; more than once, it was reported that Margaret would take a broom and smack under the bed she shared with Alec–not to kill dust bunnies but to make sure Polly’s ghost wasn’t under it! It was even reported that the ghost would appear in the marital bed, snuggling in between Margaret and Alec. In her later years, Margaret was forced to use a walking stick; frequently, when the ghost appeared in front of her, she would whack it with the stick–which always passed right through it.
After Alec’s death, Margaret moved in with one of her sons-she had had several more children after Polly’s death–but even there she was haunted by the spirit of Polly Brewington.
After Margaret Buckner herself finally died, Polly did not rest. She simply broadened her territory. She would appear in the bedrooms of other couples, who would wake to find a haggish woman in black standing over them, giving them a cold stare. Others complained of being followed through Monterey’s streets at night by the woman in black.
Even the old Buckner homeplace, deserted after Margaret moved to town, was still on Polly’s rounds. Neighbors reported for many years afterward that the empty house would, on certain nights, be lit up with lights from no known source. They blamed Polly’s ghost for the lights.
The story of the Buckner Witch is told in Christopher K. Coleman’s Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee (2011). Coleman says there is another version of the story of the woman in black which indicates that, far from being the witchy Polly Brewington, the woman is actually a Buckner, the spectral guard of treasure hidden by the family during the Civil War and never reclaimed.
Nor is Monterey the only town in the US with a tradition of a ghostly woman in black who walks at night. These spirits seem to have only one thing in common with Polly; they mostly are said to be spinsters thwarted in love.
None of them, though, have ever tried to join people in bed. Just sayin’– 😉