Thursday, January 25, 2018

HGB Ep. 242 - Rotherwood Mansion

Moment in Oddity - Dr. Graham's Quacky Cures

Scottish Doctor James Graham, who practiced in the mid to late 1700s, should appear in the Encyclopedia right next to the words "Quack Doctor." He pushed some very bizarre treatments. He would tell childless couples who were having trouble getting pregnant that they should do their business on a mattress filled with stallion hair. Barren women were also told to wash their delicate parts with champagne. In 1781, Dr. Graham introduced to the world his "Celestial Bed," which was a gaudily decorated vibrating bed that promised better conception. Another bizarre treatment he championed was something he called Earth-Bathing. This practice required patients to strip naked and be buried up to their necks in fertile dirt. One advertisement of the time reads, "Dr. Graham is now at Sheffield and he and a young woman were on Wednesday and Thursday buried up to their lips in earth, in order to prove the practicability and safety of the practice of Earth-Bathing, which he recommends as an universal restorative to infirm and decayed nature. The spectators were numerous, as might be expected." According to Graham, Earth-Bathing would open the pores, so that toxins could be released. He claimed it cured scurvy, gout, venereal disease, leprosy, rheumatism, cancer and even insanity. The appetite could be suppressed as well and obese patients were told to Earth-Bath for as long as 6 hours. Dr. Graham seems to have been a true believer as he charged Londoners a shilling to watch himself and a naked female companion Earth-Bathing. People began to lose faith in the doctor's quackery as they began to realize that he himself was slipping into insanity due to an opium addiction. It wasn't clear to the people of the 1700s, but it is quite clear to us now that Dr. Graham's cures, certainly were odd!

This Month in History - The Concorde Begins Passenger Flights

In the month of January, on the 21st, in 1976, the Concorde supersonic jet began passenger service with flights from London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio de Janeiro. The Concorde was jointly developed and manufactured by Sud Aviation and the British Aircraft Corporation under an Anglo-French treaty. The program was estimated to cost a whopping 70 million pounds, but due to delays and issues, eventually ran 1.3 billion pounds. Twenty of the supersonic jets were made and eventually made flights to London, Paris, New York, Virginia and Barbados. It took the Concorde half the time of other airplanes to make flights. Tickets to fly on the fast and luxurious Concorde were exorbitant, so only the wealthy could afford them. To fly from London to New York in 1997, cost $8,000. Not only could the Concorde fly at twice the speed of sound, it could fly at an altitude up to 60,000 feet. The Concorde was retired in 2003.

Rotherwood Mansion

The name bestowed upon Rotherwood Mansion really says it all. It is known as the House of Terror and Sadness. Today, it is a private residence where the inhabitants seem to live in peace, but the history here is anything but peaceful. This home was once one of the largest slave plantations in Eastern Tennessee where life for slaves was terrifying. Death came calling many times in all of its forms: accident, suicide and murder. Left behind is the spiritual residue that attaches itself to strong emotions. Rotherwood Mansion has a reputation for being haunted. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Rotherwood Mansion.

Kingsport, Tennessee is part of the Mountain Empire, which covers Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee. Kingsport was originally known as Salt Lick and was established after the Revolutionary War at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Holston River. Our Executive Producers heard about this area and Long Island that is here in our bonus episode featuring the Curse of the Cherokee. This area was very important to the Cherokee and they were the first settlers here. The settlement became important for pioneers as part of the Wilderness Road. The city of Kingsport was chartered in 1820 and became a major port on the Holston River. The Civil War brought fighting here with the Battle of Kingsport and after the Civil War the city lost its charter. The charter returned in 1917 and Kingsport grew into a garden city and was one of the first cities to introduce traffic circles. Located in Kingsport is Rotherwood Mansion. *Fun Fact: Nick Castle, actor who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween, was born in Kingsport and always makes an appearance at the local haunted houses.*

High on a hill above the Holston River sits a beautiful red brick, dark shuttered mansion built by Reverend Frederick A. Ross in 1818. Reverend Ross was born in 1796 in Cumberland County, Virginia. He entered the Presbyterian ministry in 1818. He moved to Kingsport that same year and built his mansion. He became the pastor of Old Kingsport Presbyterian Church in Kingsport in 1826 and remained there until 1852. He moved to Huntsville, Alabama in 1855 and finished out his evangelical and physical life there, dying in 1883. Many may wonder how a reverend was able to build himself a large plantation in Kingsport. Ross came from a wealthy family and they owned a large acreage along the North and South Forks of the Holston River. And even though he was a reverend, he owned many white indentured servants and black slaves. He even wrote a book in 1857 entitled, "Slavery as Ordained of God." And while he writes in the preface, "And let the Southern Christian-nay, the Southern man of every grade-comprehend that God never intended the relation of master and slave to be perpetual. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species," he also writes, "Let him learn that slavery, like all evils, has its corresponding and greater good; that the Southern slave, though degraded compared with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa." Biographies say that Ross was good to his slaves and they enjoyed working for the family.

Rotherwood Mansion is breath-taking and the first item one notices about the plantation home are the large Doric columns that line the front porch. There was a garden and pool on the roof. There were large french doors and beautiful gardens all around the home. The heating in the house came from hot water radiator heat and it was throughout the mansion. The house has three floors and it is our understanding that the current house is actually two houses that were joined together in the 1840s. There are several fireplaces and every mantle is completely different with carved wood and the dining room has the most elaborate mantle with lattice work and scrolls. The name Rotherwood came from Sir Walter Scott's book "Ivanhoe." There is a guest house on the property as well and we're not sure when it was built.

Reverend Ross married a woman name Theodocia Vance and they had fifteen children together. Five of them died in childhood. His first and only daughter to survive to adulthood, Rowena, was born in 1824 and she was his favorite child. He sent her to the finest Northern schools. In 1842, she returned to Rotherwood and she was the most eligible belle in the area, so suitors were knocking down the door. It wasn't just that she was the daughter of a rich and influential man, she was beautiful and had an outgoing and mischievous personality. She had a friend named Mag that she would write to about her suitors. About one she wrote that he had an "outrageous impertinent request" for her to secretly meet him "at the upper gate" and that her father was "so perfectly outraged" by it all that he threatened to "horse whip" him. She finally settled on a young man that she referred to as "Dr." when writing Mag. She wrote, "Tell Dr. that the field is clear," but he had "two rivals who are determined to tilt a lance with him at the same Christmas tournament, which he doubtless remembers and if he is not forthcoming on the occasion it will be truly distressing!"

He asked for her hand in marriage and Reverend Ross was thrilled. He decided to build them a home on the property and it was the same design as Rotherwood only instead of red brick, it was entirely done in white. It was across the river from the main house. His daughter would never get to enjoy the home as it burned completely to the ground soon after it was finished. It was only the start of tragic circumstances for Rowena. On the morning of their wedding day, Rowena's groom decided to go fishing with his friends and so they took a small boat out onto the Holston River. Rowena was watching them from the porch of her childhood home. The Holston can have dangerous currents and on this particular day, a current capsized the boat and pulled the young men under the icy depths of the river. Three of them managed to break free and pull themselves to the shore, but one of those young men was not Rowena's fiance. His body was never found. Rowena was devastated and became a recluse, locking herself away in her third floor bedroom.

Rowena finally stepped out again after two years and met another man named Edward Temple to whom she became engaged and then married. They moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was a wealthy man and she was happy again, until yellow fever struck and took his life. She once again slipped into a depression. It took her ten years to recover and she remarried. The couple had a daughter and things seemed to be going well, but one night, Rowena slipped into her wedding gown and made her way outside, slipping silently beneath the water of the river. Some say that she heard the call of her first love and was going to meet him. This was tragic for the Reverend, but more bad circumstances would follow. A mill that he operated went bust and other businesses suffered losses and many of his investments failed. Just before the Civil War, he had to sell his beloved Rotherwood. The man to whom he would sell it, would add the "terror" part to the house's nickname, "House of Terror and Sadness."

Joshua Phipps acquired not only Rotherwood Plantation, but the Reverend's slaves as well. Phipps had been the overseer at the plantation and he was known for being a cruel man. For this reason, Ross freed many of the slaves and a fun fact about one of those slaves is that they were an ancestor of Diana Ross and that is where he last name comes from as many slaves would take on the surname of their owners. Phipps had abused the slaves when Ross was on the property, but once he was owner, the abuse intensified. Slave cells were installed in the basement of Rotherwood. They were windowless with dirt floors, save for one window that had iron bars set into it with no glass. The field slaves slept here at night. A woman who grew up here when her parents worked on the property as a cook and chauffeur, Jill Ellis, wrote of the basement, "As a child, I had to go into this area almost every day because the food Mother canned was stored in the basement, and the laundry facility was also in this area. The stench was embedded in the ground--the darkness and dampness was sometimes overpowering. One could imagine hearing the moaning, the wailing, the crying of slaves.. their misery and despair. If a slave was maimed, he was shot like an animal because he was of no more use. In the front room of the 3rd floor facing the river, was the whipping post. Slaves were shackled to the post to be whipped. The blood stains are still embedded into the wood floors of that room. Days of heavy moisture, the blood stains appear!"

Phipps was cruel to more than just the slaves. His own daughter Priscilla fell in love with a young man during the Civil War and her father did not approve. He arranged to have that man killed in action. It is said that his daughter died from grief at the age of 20. Phipps had a mistress who joined him in his cruel treatment and some say she was more evil than he was, even though she herself was a former slave. Edward Stewart wrote about a slave named Aunt Vic who was owned by Phipps, in an article published in the Kingsport Times-News in October of 1975. He wrote, "Aunt Vic was a slave at Rotherwood before the Civil War, and [she talked] about hiding in the reeds and culverts when the slave traders would come through, so she wouldn't be sold. Aunt Vic described Richard Netherland as a workmaster for Joshua Phipps, who made the slaves work harder. She said that both Netherland and Phipps were cruel and beat the slaves all the time." Aunt Vic also claimed that Phipps would say he wanted to be buried standing up on the hill at Rotherwood, so he could supervise the slaves working.

And that death would come in 1861. Phipps fell ill and no doctor could figure out what was wrong with him. Out of fear, he was moved to the carriage house, so that he would sicken anyone else. He presented with fever and delusions and a young slave boy was assigned the job of fanning him to keep him cool. Phipps breathing became more labored as the days went by and when death finally took hold, it came in a very strange way causing some to think that he was cursed. The slave boy claimed that Phipps came out of the fog of his fever and his eyes fixated on a spot behind the boy. The boy turned and let out a blood curdling scream of horror. The child described seeing a thick cloud of hundreds of buzzing flies. The thick cloud of wriggling flies descended upon Phipps, covering his entire face and they pushed their way into the openings there, his nostrils, ears and open mouth. Phipps began to suffocate and convulse and the boy bolted off to the main house to get help.

The boy returned with a doctor and family members and they found Phipps dead with his eyes staring up and a look of terror frozen upon his face. Everyone was confused because the boy had told them about the swarm of flies and there was not one fly in the carriage house. It was as though they had never existed. The funeral that followed is a part of Kingsport legend. His coffin was put on a cart that was pulled by two horses. As the horses made their way up a hill, the wheels of the cart got stuck and two more horses were brought to try to pull the cart out. The four horses managed to get the cart moving forward, just as lightning started to flash across the darkening skies and thunder clapped.

One bolt of lightning hit a tree near the path to the cemetery and knocked that tree into the path, blocking the way. The pallbearers had to carry the casket the rest of the way to the open grave. People started murmuring that the circumstances were due to how evil Phipps had been. The pastor began to conduct the graveside ceremony when the nearby river began to bubble and churn. The thunder and lightning grew more violent. And then, the casket under its dark cloth, began to move. Inexplicably, a large black dog hurled itself out of the casket and ran down the hill. The terrified group of onlookers quickly closed the casket, lowered it into the ground and buried it over. They then ran home.

A Uneca Company acquired the property and several men, including Jeffrey Johnson and John B. Dennis, farmed the land. Rotherwood Farms covered 2,000 acres of the original 6,000. They had Jersey Cows, riding horses and prized bulls. Rotherwood Farms was bought by the U.S. government in 1940 and a Colonel Ryan moved into the mansion with his family. The government occupied the farm until the end of World War II. And then Rotherwood sat empty for many years and it began to fall into disrepair. A man bought the property and fixed up the outside and then he sold to a couple named the Stones. Today, Rotherwood Mansion is owned by Lenita Thibault whom we think bought the property in the 1980s. She was a doctor and Kingsport was desperate to have her and after she visited the town and saw Rotherwood Mansion from a distance, she was sold as long as the money could be worked out. There is a video that we have posted a link to featuring her talking about the restoration and she clearly loves this home. She doesn't seem to believe in all the ghost stories told about Rotherwood, so we are thinking that she has not had any experiences.

There are many stories of hauntings on the property of the former Rotherwood Plantation. Rowena's apparition is a common occurrence. She is seen walking towards the banks of the Holston River, wearing her wedding dress, making her our Lady in White at this location. Sightings of Rowena's ghost started when her family still lived on the site. Her first love is also said to haunt the banks of the river due to his tragic death and the fact that his body was never recovered. Now the interesting piece of this story is the actual history because it is our understanding that Rowena committed suicide in Huntsville, Alabama. So has her spirit just decided to haunt here or is this just a piece of ghost lore?

Phipps daughter who died from grief is said to be an apparition seen sitting in one of the front windows of the mansion. The black dog that sprung from the casket of Phipps is referred to as the "Hound of Hell." People claim that this large black dog roams the area around the Rotherwood Mansion. It gives off a low and mournful howl, particularly on stormy nights. Joshua Phipps himself is said to be an apparition at the mansion. He enjoys removing the covers from people when they are sleeping and gives off a disembodied sadistic laugh. His evil mistress is here as well and the reason for that is because after Phipps died, the slaves rose up and killed her. They buried her in an unmarked grave, somewhere on the grounds of Rotherwood Mansion. Objects are said to move throughout the house and people claim to have been poked or pushed.

During one of the renovations, some workmen were working on replacing the plumbing and the wiring in the basement. One of the workmen looked up from his work and froze, with his eyes fluttering open wide and he went white. He began to scream and ran upstairs as his co-worker looked on in confusion. The co-worker followed him upstairs and outside, where he watched him jump into the work van and peal out as he drove away from the mansion. The man returned the next day as he had left his tools behind and he was calm enough to tell the owner and his co-worker what had happened. He explained that he had felt as though someone were staring at him and when he looked up, he saw an apparition materialize right out of the wall. The spirit was male and wearing a suit and had gigantic black dog with him that had glowing red eyes. The beast was snarling and the man gave the workman a sadistic smile and pointed at him. The dog leapt at him and that is when he ran out of the house. He claimed that the dog followed him upstairs and even followed the van down the road for a bit. And, of course, the other workman had seen nothing. That man never set foot in the house again.

The Sensbaugh Tunnels are just a few miles up Big Elm Road from Rotherwood Mansion. These tunnels are said to be incredibly haunted. The tunnel was widened in the 1920s and during that work 16 men working for the Clinchfield Railroad were killed. The tunnel was made from a natural tunnel that had been used by runaway slaves waiting for a ferryman coming down the Holston River. A slave owner once found two of his slaves and their three children hiding in the tunnel. He killed the woman, who had been his mistress, her husband and two of the children by shooting them. The baby he crushed against the inside of the tunnel. It is said that the baby's mournful cry is heard coming from the tunnel. Rumors of Satanic rituals taking place in the tunnel have been a popular part of the legend and people claim that car engines die when near the tunnel.

While there are only claims of three ghosts, Rowena, Phipps and his mistress, and the Black Dog, one has to wonder if some of the spirits of the slaves who were treated so badly, remain here in the afterlife. Could there be some trapped negative emotional energy? And while the current owner and friends who have visited the property claim that there is nothing haunting the property, has that always been the case? Could the spirits be at rest because the home is loved and taken care of now or do people in the modern era just ignore the supernatural activity? Is Rotherwood Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Video featuring the current owner and her story of acquiring Rotherwood Mansion:


  1. Loved this episode and enjoyed the video of the current owner. It would be spectacular if the house were open for tours.

    Regarding the Sensbaugh Tunnels haunting: There has to be a word other than “mistress” to describe a slave repeatedly sexually abused by her master. Don’t know what that word is, but I think mistress implies mutual consent, which would not be possible in a master/slave situation.

  2. Nobody never said she was repeatedly sexually abused or anything like that,at least in nothing I read,where did you see that or are you just insinuating because your mind is that way

  3. According to the current owner,
    Dr Thibault, Rowena never lived at Rotherwood. She lost her next (first) husband to yellow fever. Then married again. She did commit suicide, but she lived in Huntsville AL at the time.

  4. Very nice, a lot of information. Love it!