Jerry A.G. Ericsson
© Jerry A.G. Ericsson 8/23/2000
Hickory Wood Plantation stood on a high hill overlooking the Golf of Mexico. In the waning light of dusk it appeared so tall, so ominous, so evil that I nearly turned the car around and headed back for Atlanta. In retrospect, I wish I had.
It was three months ago that we received the telegram from Georgia telling of the death of my wife’s great uncle Harold. Harold it seemed had left his estate, including Hickory Wood Plantation to his last living heir, my loving wife Judith Cartright Anderson.
I drove to the front of the Plantation and parked the rental car. Hand in hand we entered the huge archway that lead through the wall and into the courtyard of our new home. Crossing the courtyard, we came to the main door, a very large wooden affair, made of what appeared to be bridge planks some eight feet in height and over eight inches thick built to withstand the assault revolting slaves. I lifted the knocker and released it. The noise of my knock echoed through the mansion and after a short time the huge door swung out towards us. Standing in the now open doorway was Otis, the caretaker of the Plantation, and former manservant to the dear departed Uncle.
“You must be the Andersons.” He said, with a deep southern drawl.
“Arthur,” I said, extending my hand, “And this lovely lady is my wife Judith.”
Otis took my hand after a short hesitation, then shook it gently, his grip seemed quite weak for such a large man.
“Let me show you to your rooms, sir, we can go on a tour of the Plantation in the morning after you have had a good rest. Jason, come take the Masters bags up to the master bedroom.” He ordered, turning to the servant standing back in the shadows of the great hall, just beyond the door.”
With this, he led us through the great hall, to a wide curving stairway, which lead up to another hallway. We followed past many ornate doors, until we came to the most decorated door of them all, through this door was the master bedroom; our bedroom. The Bedroom itself was larger then our entire house back home. In the center stood the largest canopy bed I have ever seen. It would take two king-size beds back home to furnish this much space. Along the north wall stood several ornate dressers, and wardrobes. There was a large window in the west wall that furnished a view of the woods that seemed to reach out from the Plantation forever.
“All you can see from that window belongs to you.” Explained Otis, “And as much in the east and north from the mansion.”
I was thrilled, all we ever owned back in the Minnesota was a small house situated on a very small lot, not more then five feet between our house and the neighbors to the left and right of us. We kept a small garden in the back yard that yielded a few fresh vegetables in the fall and that was about it; now to be a landowner in the deep South, and with our very own Plantation no less. It was more then I ever dreamed of. The money left in the estate would allow us to live in the Plantation and keep up the grounds. There was plenty, and if we managed it properly we would be able to live very comfortably for many years to come. This would give Judith her large garden area, and room enough for the many flowerbeds she always spoke of. It would give me a chance to devote much of my time to my writing, as I always dreamed.
That first night as we slept the sleep of contentment, around 2:00 AM, someone whistling down the hall from our room woke me. It was a very loud whistle, and the tune they were whistling was strangely familiar.
I slipped out of our great bed and lighting a candle, made my way to the door. Once in the hallway, the volume of the whistling increased. I can not imagine that any one man could whistle so loudly, yet it sounded as it were only one person making the noise that disturbed my rest. I followed the sound down the hall, down the stairs and into the great hall. The sound was coming from a branch hallway that we had yet to explore, but I continued on my quest, thinking it must be one of the servants, and if I could find out which, I would insure that it never happened again, even at the cost of the servant. I needed my sleep, the trip was long and I was very tired. I followed the sound down the hall, and came to the door to the room from which the sound was coming. I tried the door, but it was locked fast. The whistling was much louder now, so loud that it sounded like a demon screaming from the depths of hell. What had sounded like a song from our bedroom now became a shrill monotone of a whistle. I began pounding on the door, but to no avail. The whistling only grew louder and shriller. My pounding must have wakened Otis, who walked up beside me. Motioning with his hand, as he could never out shout the maddening whistle indicated that I should follow him back to the great hall. Once there, the sound was muffled enough that I could hear him.
“Should have warned you of that, terribly sorry. What you hear is the Ghost of Hickory Wood Plantation. He doesn’t whistle every night, so I hoped to be able to inform you of his presence before he did it himself. Please, I will explain in the morning, why don’t you go back to your room and try getting some sleep. He usually quiets down after an hour or so. Better get back before your lovely wife wakes and finds you gone.”
He was right, nothing I could do about it tonight anyhow. Ghosts I thought no such thing as ghosts. I knew that, but the sound definitely came from somewhere. Probably the wind whistling through one of the many nooks and crannies that were all over the old mansion.
When I got back to the room, Judith was still asleep, must be those sleeping pills she likes to take at bedtime. I usually give her hell for taking those drugs, but tonight I was thankful that she had. I used the candle to find her bottle, and helped myself to two of the lovely little capsules. I would need them tonight.
In the morning Otis gave us the grand tour of our new home. When we got to the door where the whistling came from, it was locked, and in the daylight, I could see that large spikes held it closed.
“Never been able to find a key for that door sir.” The servant explained. “Don’t think it has been opened for over a hundred years. Seems the owners felt they had room enough without it and never bothered to open it up for general usage.”
The explanation was for my wife, I knew damn well why it was locked, and as far as I was concerned it could remain locked for another hundred years.
I never allowed Otis to explain about the ghost, as I wanted to break this news to my wife myself, no sense in getting her excited over nothing. I decided to explore the grounds latter to see if I could find the source of the whistling.
We spent the rest of the morning out on the grounds, exploring our new estate. There were, I learned, several small cottages spread around the estate, a few of them occupied by grounds keepers, and our own private warden to protect our wildlife from poachers who came down from the city. Overall I was very happy with our new property, and I could see by her smile that Judith was too.
That afternoon, Angus McBride, our chief game warden paid us a welcoming visit. Angus was quite a fellow, lived on estate all his live, and had never left Lincoln County. We had drinks then he lead me down to the local creek, where he said, the trout jump right out of the water and into your creel if you held your fly rod at the proper angle. While exploring the shores of the creek, he told me the tale of the ghost of Hickory Wood Plantation.
The tale took place over a hundred years ago, when Hickory Wood Plantation was indeed ruled by an evil slaveholder. Master Cartright, it seems was married to the most lovely lady in the entire South. Her hair the color of the sun, eyes the crystal blue of a summer sky. So striking were her features that all who saw her pass by stopped dead in their tracks and stared at her incredible beauty. While she was indeed beautiful, she was not the chastest woman in the world, and as happens from time to time, she became infatuated by the slave overseer. When Master Cartright discovered the affair, the overseer was hung from the great archway leading to the Plantation by his thumbs, and promptly whipped to death. Normally this would be the end to such a tale, but in this case, there was a slave, who was quite talented as a singer. The slave wrote a song mocking the mistress and the overseer which he sang in the slave quarters. One day the Master passed by, and heard the taunting words of that song. The Master was so angry about the song that he ordered that the slaves tong cut out so the words would never be repeated. This horror was carried out by the new overseer. Several weeks after the punishment, the slave was caught whistling the tune to the song; the Master was so furious that he ordered the slave locked in the room just off the great hall. It was ordered that the room be locked and secured, so as to keep anyone from feeding or helping the slave in any way.
The next morning, the slave still whistled his tune; the whistling grew ever louder and more mocking. The mistress of the house took pity on the poor slave, and using the key entered into the room and gave him food and water. The Master of the house caught her doing this, and in front of the slave, beat her to death. Her body was left in the room, and the Master and his Overseer nailed the hands and feet of the slave to the floor, then using the large spikes that are still in the door and frame, sealed the room. As far as he knew, the door has remained sealed to this very day.
I could feel the chill down my spine at the horror of this story. Yet I do not then believe in ghosts, they are just, I thought, figments of the imagination. Ghosts were just a child’s answer to things that go bump in the night. There was no doubt that something terrible happened in that mansion, but ghosts – I knew better.
That night we retired early, as it had been a very tiring day. Again at preciously 2:00 AM, the whistling began. This time it began very quietly, at first I thought I was dreaming, but the volume and pitch rose quickly until it rang throughout the mansion. I knew that my lovely wife would awaken soon, if the shrill whistling continued, so I again made my way down to that horrible door, and began pounding with all my might, in hopes of getting the attention of whatever was making such hellatious sounds. It might have been my pounding, or maybe whatever was making the sounds tired, I do not know, but the whistling stopped, and all was quiet in the house. After the nerve wracking piercing whistling, the silence was deafening. Again for two nights in a row, the chills ran up and down my spine. I met up with Otis on my way back to my room, and we went instead to the kitchen and had a cup of warm milk. We sat there, at a small table in the corner of the kitchen, sipping warm milk, and making small talk, when the whistling began again, this time it came very loud, and very shrill, it echoed through the hallways of the mansion. Blending in with the shrill whistle a piercing scream, so loud that it overshadowed the very whistle that caused it. It was my wife; she must have wakened at the sound of the whistle. We ran down the hallway, and to that horrible room. There at the doorway lay my lovely wife, her skin as white as that milk I had been sipping just seconds before. As we approached the door, the whistling changed in intensity to a low almost peaceful whistle, and the tune one that echoed satisfaction, as if the very spirit of the room changed. When I reached Judith, I bent down and picked her up in my arms and carried her to our room at the head of the stairs. Judith slept through the night, I was glad as she needed the rest after that horrible evening. When she did not awaken by 10:00 AM, I became worried and went to our room to wake her. She was still as pale as she had been last night. I shook her in an attempt to wake her up, but to no avail.
I ran back down the stairs, and found Otis, who was working outside trimming one of the hedges. He came in and found me the number of the local doctor.
The doctor arrived in less then a half-hour, and after examining Judith determined that she suffered some sort of shock, and had withdrawn into a coma. He had no idea how long it might last, and wanted to make arrangements to move her to hospital in a small town just south of our plantation. I agreed, but the ambulance could not come and pick her up until the next morning. He left a nurse to care for her until that time, then went back to his office.
I spent the rest of the day going over records left by my wife’s ancestors. There were some very interesting records indeed, including a full listing of all the slaves who were owned by the Master of the plantation. One, named Joshua Cartwright was listed as having died around the time of the appearance of the ghost. I determined that this must have been the slave who was tortured to death in that horrible room. I decided that I must open that room, and try to rid this house of that horror.
Having no idea what-so-ever how to rid a house of an apparition, as I now believed do in fact exist, I decided that I must first make entrance to the room then just go from there with what ever I found. Since the whistling only occurred at night, I determined that the entrance must be made at that time, precisely, it must take place at 2:00 AM. Not wanting to go into that room alone, I sought out Otis, and asked that he come help me with my mission. Otis agreed to accompany me to the room, but said there was no way he would enter, and did everything in his power to persuade me not to enter myself. Yet I knew that I must get rid of the ghost if I ever wished to see my lovely wife come out of her coma.
That night, I made preparations for my entrance into the whistling room. First, I would need a dependable light. The candles I had been using were out of the question, as I determined that there would probably be quite a draft in a room having been left to deteriorate for over a hundred years. I went out to the rental car and found a flashlight in the glove box. The batteries appeared new, so I would use that for light. I would need something to plug or cover my ears, for this, I found an old pack of cigarettes, from which I removed two filters, and formed them into plugs for my ears.
There was nothing left to do then, except to wait for the clock to strike 2:00 AM. I joined Otis in the library, where we sipped some wonderful Napoleon Brandy, and Otis regaled me with tales of the Deep South. Around midnight, I made the trek up the stairs to our room to check on Judith, she remained the same and her nurse was napping. I left them that way, as I knew the nurse would be disturbed when the whistling began at 2:00 AM.
I decided to get some fresh air, and went outside. Once out there, I began walking around the mansion, using the flashlight to examine the windows of the old house. As I neared the whistling room, I saw a faint green light glowing from the window. I made my way over to that window, and using an old wooden box, peered through the glowing glass. At first I saw nothing, as a hundred years of dirt blurred my vision, but after wiping the glass with my kerchief, I could make out the inside of the room. As I looked on, the whistling began again, early tonight, but I guess there are no rules for spirits. Using the flashlight, I looked closer into the room. In the very center of the room was what appeared to be a pile of debris yet the very center of the pile moved in time with the whistling. As I watched in horror, the center of the pile formed a huge pair of lips, puckered in a whistlers pose. I moved my beam of light across the floor, then my heart stopped. There near the door was my lovely wife, still in her coma but lying inside that horrible room. Using the flashlight, I broke the thick glass out of the window frame, and dived through the opening. Once inside the room, without my hearing protection, the whistling was unbearable I tried to cover one ear with my hand, as the other held the flashlight. The flashlight began to dim, then went out completely, but I could still see in the green glow that engulfed the room. I felt in my back pocket and found the stub of a candle from earlier in the evening. Using my cigarette lighter, I lit the candle, then quickly made my way to my wife’s side. When I reached her, I found that she was not there, it had been my mind playing tricks on me, or maybe the spirit had the power to befuddle my mind, I do not know, but I was alone in the room with that horrible whistle. The whistling changed from a tune to a scream, which echoed through my head. In horror, I put both my hands over my ears, and dropping the candle, leapt back out of the broken window.
Once outside the room, the scream turned from one of fear to a scream of pain, I looked at the window and saw that the entire room was engulfed in flames. Quickly I made my way back to the front of the old mansion, and rushed inside, where I found Otis carrying my wife down the steps followed by the nurse. The rest of the servants followed, and once we were all safely outside the mansion, we stood back and watched it all go up in flames. Just when the flames seemed to burn their hottest, the whistling finally stopped, and with the cessation of the whistle, my lovely Judith awoke. She would be all right now, now that the horror was gone.
One year later, we celebrated our first anniversary of freedom, and moved into our new home, built on the very foundation of the old mansion. It has all the conveniences of a modern home, yet was built to blend in with the old plantation on which it was built. We will be very happy and I can only hope that Joshua Cartwright will be the same.