Thursday, July 28, 2016

HGB Ep. 139 - Brice House

Moment in Oddity - Ozark Spooklight

On the border of Missouri and Oklahoma is a peculiar phenomenon known as the Ozark Spooklight. This spooklight was first seen over a century ago by the Native Americans walking along the Trail of Tears. The light is described as a glowing ball of supernatural energy that gives off colors ranging in hues from orange to blue to green. Some witnesses claim that it pulsates and changes colors and others say that the light appears as a cluster, rather than just one single orb. The orb is between the size of a baseball and a basketball and it spins down the center of the road at high speeds. Some claim it is almost like a lantern swinging back and forth.The light usually appears between ten and midnight at night. No investigators, including the Army Corps of Engineers, has been able to identify why the light is appearing. It is nor reflecting headlights, nor some form of swamp gas because it is unaffected by wind or rain. The mythical will-o’-the-wisp has been suggested,but the light is too bright for that. So what is the story behind the spooklight? If we look to science, it could be an electrical atmospheric charge. Deep below the earth's surface, rocks grind and shift and an electrical charge is created. The spooklight resides in an area where there is a fault line where four earthquakes occured during the eighteenth century. A more interesting story claims this light represents the spirits of two Native American youths who had fallen in love, but the woman's father forbade the marriage and the two jump off a nearby cliff when the father sent his men to keep them from eloping. Another story claims that a family had lived in a cabin nearby and when the father, who was a miner, was away, the family was killed and the light is his lantern as he looks for his lost family. Some claim an Osage chief was decapitated here and this light is his spirit. Whatever the true story is behind the Ozark Spooklight, it certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Battle of Ezra Church
by: Richard Schaffer

On this day, July 28th, in 1864, the battle of Ezra Church took place. It was part of the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman led his troops, the Union Army of the Tennessee, against Gen. John B. Hood and his Confederate troops, the Army of Tennessee. Two prior attempts had been made to break Atlanta from the grasp of the Union Army, but had failed. Gen. Sherman sent Gen. Oliver O. Howard to destroy the Macon and Western Railroad, which was one of the only remaining rail lines into Atlanta. Gen. Hood sent Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee and his troops to stop the Union advance. Lee’s army attacked at Ezra Church. The ensuing engagement went poorly for Confederate forces as they thought despite possessing smaller numbers they could surprise Union forces. Union forces had erected barricades using the church’s pews and logs. Unbeknownst to Lee, he was not attacking the Union flank, but actually the Union center. Lee’s army was pushed back several times, finally retiring after losing 3,000 men. Union losses totaled 630 men. This would later open the door to Sherman’s March to the Sea. An important note to make about this affair would be the actions of 24 year old Sergeant, Ernst R. Torgler of the 37th Ohio Infantry, who saved his commanding officer from capture. He would later receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

The Brice House (Suggested by listener Amanda Prouty, Research Assistant Steven Pappas)

At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay sits the home of the United State Naval Academy, the city of Annapolis, which claims to have more original structures dating back to the 18th century than any other city in America. One of those structures is The Brice House. A house that exudes a malevolent energy that might be carrying over from the corrupt family that once inhabited the residence. Tales of skeletons in walls and other legends have lead to claims that the mansion is haunted. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Brice House. (Amanda will join us to share a bit about the supernatural experiences at this location.)

The capital of the state of Maryland, Annapolis, is known as the "Athens of America." The city was originally a small seaport that held the distinction of being a colonial capitol. Annapolis was originally named "Providence" when the Puritans first settled there in 1649. The proprietary colony was owned by Lord Baltimore and the name Providence was changed to "Anne Arundel's Towne," after his wife. Royal Governor, Sir Francis Nicholson, changed the name to its current name of Annapolis in honor of Princess Anne, heir to the throne. When Anne became queen, she charted the seaport as a city and this happened in 1708. It is her royal badge that features a crown over the entwined thistle of Scotland and Tudor rose of England that is depicted on the official flag of the city of Annapolis.

Sir Francis Nicholson designed the city in a similar grid as that used in many European capitals, which incorporated circles with radiating streets that would draw the focus to certain structures. An example of this would be St Anne's Episcopal Church, which is the spiritual center of Annapolis. The State House is another example. This historic location is where George Washington tendered his resignation as General of the Continental Army after the Revolutionary War was over. Washington so liked the design of Annapolis that he asked Pierre L'Enfant to incorporate it in the design of Washington, D.C. The architecture found throughout the city is beautiful and as mentioned earlier, many historic properties have been saved and restored from the William Paca House that was home to one of Maryland's four signees to the Declaration of Independence to the James Brice House.

James Brice was born in Anne Arundel County, Maryland in 1746 to Sarah and John Brice. He would go on to become a Lawyer in Annapolis, as well as a farmer and a politician. James married Juliana Jennings in 1781, and the couple had six children: Julia, Sarah, Anne, Thomas, Elizabeth, James and John. Sarah died shortly before her first birthday. In 1782, he was elected as the mayor of Annapolis and he held that position for one year. He served as mayor of the city once again for a year in 1787. George Plater was the sixth governor of Maryland and during his time, Maryland ceded the land that would become Washington, D. C. He died in office in 1792 after only serving for three months and James Brice took over the governorship, in which his only act of governance was to convene an election for the new governor. He was a prominent figure in Maryland's history, even serving as a president elector, both times voting for president George Washington. In addition, he served as treasurer for the city of Annapolis from 1784 until his death in 1801.

James Brice's father John began construction on a Georgian styled mansion that was completed by James between 1767 and 1775. This home would become known as the Brice House. James Brice kept a detailed logbook of the construction, which later provided details to historians. The cornerstone of the house, marked with the words "The Beginning," was laid on the first day of construction. According to the logbook, the construction took six years and materials included 326,000 bricks and 90,800 shingles. Total cost to build was $4,014 in Maryland colonial currency. When finished, the James Brice House was considered one of the most elegant of the Annapolis five-part mansions and it was the largest. Some of the interiors have been attributed to William Buckland. The Historic Annapolis website describes the home in this way:
"The first floor of the central block is laid out similarly to a nearby house built by James Brice’s father, with a stair hall just inside the entrance and three adjoining public rooms. The main staircase is crafted of rich mahogany. The drawing room is the home’s largest and most lavishly decorated space, featuring a plaster cornice and paneling, a carved mantel and overmantel, and interior window shutters. A hidden service stair, similar again to one in the house where James Brice grew up, provided access to the second floor, where private family chambers are arranged to the front and rear of a transverse passage."
First floor Ballroom

Several dignitaries visited the house included George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette and James Madison. Thomas inherited the house and lived there as a bachelor. The house remained in the possession of the family until 1874 and was eventually purchased in the 1920s by St. John's College as a residence for school faculty. In 1953, the Wohl family took control of the property and began restorations on the home. The Brice House was added to the National Registry of Historic Places on April 15, 1970. In 2014, the city of Annapolis purchased the property from the masons who had used it as a headquarters for many years. Now it is the Historic Annapolis office headquarters.

During the restoration, peculiar things were found within the walls of the house. The Brice family had black servants, many of whom came with their own superstitions and beliefs from their regions of origin. Those beliefs included Hoodoo and Voodoo. Part of the practices with those spiritual beliefs is the use of talismans for protection. Several of these talismans, which also included crosses, were found in the walls. No one is sure if they were meant to serve as protection or as a curse on the family. Something more sinister was found as well. The skeleton of one of the servant girls was in the wall down in the basement during renovations. And rumors have circulated from that time that the Brice boys had something to do with her death. Many think she was walled up while still alive. This theory was tested by TAPS by putting an opera singer within the wall and it proved to be basically sound proof. Amanda Prouty shares with us the tales that are told about this on the show. (The tale that goes with this is that either the servant was raped and killed or that she became impregnated and then killed.)

Many people think the Brice House is the most haunted place in the city of Annapolis. The fact that the house sits at a crossroads in the city has added to the mystique. Amanda also shared with us that talismans and crosses were found beneath the cobblestone of the crossroads. One guide working for one of the ghost tours in the city claims to have witnessed at least 15 different entities in the home. People have often reported seeing the full bodied apparition of James Brice in the house. These sightings date back all the way to his wife, who claimed to see him after he died. He is seen wearing black period clothing with long white hair. Sightings continued when the house was used by St. Johns College. As hard as it is to believe, Professors of all people, detailed their supernatural experiences from the house in interviews and articles.

Another spirit rumored to haunt the location is James' son Thomas. He was bludgeoned to death in the home by his valet and now people claim to see a spirit resembling him walking through the house. On occassion, witnesses have seen Thomas and his valet re-enacting the murder in the library. While it is argued that the following aspect of the story is embellishment, it is creepy nonetheless. Some people claim the ghost is clearly bleeding from the head.

There are the standard claims of cold spots and things moving on their own, but one apparition seems to be more terrifying than the rest and that is the ghost of the Crying Girl. This spirit is believed to belong to the servant girl who was walled up in the house. She was given a proper burial after her remains were discovered, but she does not seem to be at rest. The sounds of screams and crying can be heard coming from the basement in the evenings. Reports say it sounds like someone screaming for their life. The cries are so realistic that police have responded to calls about it and found no cause for the screams.

There is a lady in white here, but no one is sure who she is, but she is usually seen waling by the ballroom mantle. Lighting candles in the room causes her to vanish. Whenever tour guides are asked about the house, they mostly clam up not wanting to talk about the spirits there or the malevolent energy within the place.

Did the Brice boys do something unthinkable? Was there a reason why Voodoo talismans were hidden around the house or did those artifacts bring something evil to this location? Have spirits from the family decided to remain at their former home? Is the Brice House haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Ancestry records for James Brice: 
Pictures courtesy of the Library of Congress

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