Is the Town of Jefferson Haunted?
The following article was featured in Postcards Magazine in the Gotta Get Away (Nov 2013) series, titled: Journey to Jefferson. It was my first published piece.
Located on the Big Cypress Bayou in Northeast Texas, Jefferson could (and should) be considered a portal for time travel, because once you cross over the Bayou, it takes visitors back to the Golden Era with horse-drawn carriages, steamboats, and red brick streets. If you are looking for history, then Jefferson (population 2,024), is the place you want to be.
The town of Jefferson, named after Thomas Jefferson, was settled around 1841 on land ceded by the Caddo Indians. At the time, the river had a log jam that spanned for over 100 miles, which acted as a dam on the river and rose the levels of Caddo Lake. Because of the rise of the lake, this permitted riverboat captains to reach the town from other ports as far away as St. Louis and New Orleans, making Jefferson one of the most popular ports in Texas, increasing the population to over 30,000 between 1845 and 1872. At the time, Jefferson was considered to be the 6th largest town in the Lone Star state. Stepping into the town limits, you can see that not much has changed, but instead, preserved.
It is said that people come to Jefferson for ambiance, relaxation, and activities. During my visit last week, it was jam packed with tourists, so if I’m being honest, it didn’t seem that relaxing. However, I can attribute that to the Bike Rally that was going on at a nearby lake named, Lake O’ The Pines. I have a feeling, though, that Jefferson has a constant ebb and flow of traffic, because it seems there are activities and festivals going on year round.
Does the town have ambiance? Absolutely. How about activities? You bet! There is definitely never a shortage of things to do here and don’t think you’ll be able to see everything in one day. That’s okay because there are plenty of places to stay with 60+ quaint Bed and Breakfasts in the area and the carriages seen around town only add to the charming appeal.
- Historic Homes: tour Greek Revival homes, which are open during the Historical Pilgrimage the first weekend in May or a Candlelight Tour the first two weekends in December. Most of these homes are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
- Historic Jefferson Railway: you can climb aboard an authentic steam train along the Big Cypress Bayou and relive the Golden Era of the railroad, while traveling through an 8-mile route.
- Jay Gould Private Railroad Car: (Railroad Magnate) Gould’s personal rail car, The Atlanta, has a luxurious interior with four staterooms, lounge, dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry and a bathroom.
- Carnegie Library: built in 1907, it’s one of the few libraries still serving its original purpose, with the second floor designed as an opera house.
- The Old Post Office: the original Federal Building now houses the Jefferson Historical Society & Museum, which contains four floors of artifacts from the town during its heyday.
- Jefferson General Store: what started out as a hardware store in the 1870s, is now a fully functional general store with the original soda fountain located on the north wall. It’s probably the only place in the world where you can still buy a five-cent cup of coffee.
- The Excelsior House (Hotel): opened in the 1850s, it once counted Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Oscar Wilde as guests. It is now considered to be haunted by ghosts of former guests and employees. Guests have reported seeing a headless man on the second floor and a woman wearing a black dress, carrying a baby. The woman has appeared and frightened many guests. Film director Steven Spielberg stayed at the hotel 40 years ago while he was scouting the location for a movie. He reportedly left in the middle of the night after seeing a boy standing next to his bed who asked him if he was ready for breakfast.
- The Jefferson Hotel: it was a cotton warehouse in 1861 and converted into a hotel in 1900. Guests have reported hearing petticoats rustling up and down the halls, faint sounding steamboat whistles, loud footsteps, whispering, laughing, cold spots, and the feeling of being watched or actually touched by ghosts. Guests can ask to see the, “Death Book” located at the front desk; however, the staff will warn you that the Death Book is the least of your worries, because during your walk through some of the hallways, you might hear orchestra music coming from the Dining Hall when nobody is else is present, a strong smell of cigar smoke despite not seeing anyone smoking, or hazes appearing before your very eyes.
Room 5: overnight guests have reported seeing an apparition, presumably that of a former steamboat captain, in a long black coat and heavy black boots pacing the floor.
Room 19: a female ghost with ice cold hands likes to freeze its female guests from the room by touching them.
Room 20: ghosts like to turn the water on and off all night.
Room 23: scraping and banging noises (like furniture moving) can be heard from the location of the ceiling.
Room 24: a cowboy from the wild west has been seen walking around aimlessly from the room to the hallway, making his way to rooms 20 and 21 before vanishing.
- Oakwood Cemetery: earlier documentation indicates that bodies were removed from the local graveyard near the Big Cypress Bayou to this location. The oldest headstone is that of Rev. Benjamin Foscue who died of cholera on January 1, 1850. However, Oakwood Cemetery’s most famous resident is Bessie Moore (aka Diamond Bessie).
On Friday, January 19, 1877, a couple arrived in town and checked into a local boarding house under the names of, “A. Monroe and Wife.” They were seen all around town the next couple of days, flashing their expensive clothing and jewelry, acting like a happily married couple. The woman was introduced as Bessie, but locals referred to her a Diamond Bessie because of her flashy jewelry.
On Sunday, A. Monroe purchased two picnic lunches from a local restaurant and the couple was seen walking across the bridge over the Big Cypress Bayou. It was the last time Bessie was seen alive. A. Monroe was seen walking back to town alone using a different path and was still alone when seen in town for the next few days. When asked about his, “wife” he replied that she was visiting with friends in the countryside.
On Tuesday, A. Monroe fled the town of Jefferson, leaving by himself.
After a recent snow storm melted, a local woman who was gathering firewood found the deceased body of a well-dressed woman with the remains of a picnic lunch nearby. The coroner reported that the woman died from a single gunshot wound to the head. All of her jewelry had been removed. Bessie had no known family, no real identity, and no money, so the citizens of the town took up a collection to bury the woman.
It was later discovered that A. Monroe was actually Abraham Rothschild, the son of a wealthy Cincinnati Jeweler. Abraham was a traveling salesman who pitched his father’s wares around the country. He apparently met Bessie in a brothel in Hot Springs and she began to accompany Abraham.
Abraham was tried by a jury of his peers and sentenced to hang; however, after a successful appeal, he was released. He was arrested again to stand trial for the murder after new evidence was found, but it was ultimately declared a mistrial.
My Experience at Oakwood Cemetery
After photographing the gravesite of Diamond Bessie Moore, my mom and I drove over to some headstones located on the north side. They resembled those of Civil War soldiers, and in fact they were. I jumped out to grab some quick photos before we left. She stayed in the car.
As I completed the photographs and was reading some of the headstones, I heard whispering over my shoulder. I looked around, but saw nothing. For a second, I thought my mom was trying to tell me something, but when I looked over at the car, she was looking toward the other side of the cemetery (away from where I was standing) and the car windows were rolled up. I looked around again, but saw nothing. I thought nothing of it and turned back around to photograph the other headstones.
When I was done, I heard a loud laughter from that of a woman. I turned around, and again, nobody was there. I walked over to the car and knocked on the window, startling my mother. She rolled down the window and I asked, “Are you trying to be funny?” She said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I explained what I had heard, but she said she hadn’t heard anything.
I then looked up on the hill to verify that we were alone and, in fact, we were. I decided to take a picture of the location where I heard the laughter.
Obviously, there is nothing in the photograph except for more headstones and monuments. I guess I was hoping to catch some orbs or something, but was disappointed. Needless to say, the experience not only left me bewildered, but also with goosebumps and the feeling of being watched.
As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, so we departed and headed toward The Grove, which is considered the most haunted house in Texas and the 8th most haunted house in the United States.
I will be doing a separate post on The Grove, because there is simply too much to tell. I will, however, tell you that while touring The Grove, I had mentioned what I heard at the Oakwood Cemetery. Another tourist said she heard the same whispering and laughter earlier that morning.
Coincidence? I think not!
Click here to read about The Grove, where I had another little “ghostly” experience.