Thursday, December 23, 2021

HGB Ep. 415 - The Ramsey House

Moment in Oddity -The Great Windham Frog Fight (Suggested by: Bill Richardson)

In May of 1754, the French and Indian War broke out and tensions were running high all throughout New England. That summer, something peculiar occurred in the town of Windham, Connecticut. In the middle of the night, residents were awakened by a horrifying scream. Not just a scream. A shrieking roar. There were many voices in the sound. Some thought it was an attacking group of Native Americans. Others thought enemy forces were coming. Windham's militia leader, Eliphalet Dyer, called the militia to form. They fired their muskets into the darkness until daylight broke. Then a scouting group was sent out to see how successful they had been. What they found were hundreds of bullfrog bodies laying belly up everywhere. A large group of bullfrogs had descended on a large puddle, which is all that remained of a pond on Dyer's property. The people of Windham realized that the cries they heard were bullfrogs crying out for water. The incident is known as the Great Windham Frog Fight. Three ballads were written about it and even an operetta was performed in 1888. The Windham Bank even issued banknotes with an image of a frog standing over the body of another frog and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Debuts

In the month of December, on the 12th, in 1967, the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" debuted. The movie starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as the parents of Katharine Houghton's character, Joanna Drayton. This was the last film Hepburn and Tracy made together. It was a pivotal film for its time because it showcased an interracial couple in a positive light. This was a romantic comedy-drama from director Stanley Kramer and Sidney Poitier starred as Joanna's fiance. In 1967, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states until the Supreme Court passed anti-miscegenation in June of that year. In 2017, the film was added to the National Film Registry as being culturally, historically and aesthetically significant. Joanna's parents disagreed with each other about how they felt about the relationship. Poitier's character tells the  parents he will leave the relationship unless the couple gives their blessing. Joanna invites her future in-laws to dinner and they are shocked to find out that their son is engaged to a white woman. In the end, both sets of parents support the marriage.

 The Ramsey House (Suggested by: Tammie Burroughs)

The Ramsey House has also been known as Swan Pond and is located in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was built by a prominent man in the town, Colonel Francis Alexander Ramsey in the late 1700s. The house has a unique stone look to it and was the main home on a plantation that was held by the Ramseys until the Civil War. Today, it is a historic museum on 101 acres that includes gardens and a visitor center. And apparently this is still home to several family members in the afterlife. Join us for the history and hauntings of the Ramsey House!

Knoxville, Tennessee is located at the headwaters of the Tennessee River in the heart of the Great Valley of East Tennessee that was once the hunting grounds of the Cherokees. A burial mound is evidence of an even earlier indigineous group James White founded the town in 1786 and he built several cabins and a fort he named White's Fort. The Knoxville name came in 1791 and the city grew quickly becoming the first capitol of Tennessee. Early on the town had seven taverns and no church, so that tells you a little something about how raucous it could get around there. The railroad and river made Knoxville into a distribution center. The city found itself split during the Civil War and was occupied at different times by both the Confederacy and the Union. The University of Tennessee was founded here as well, starting as Blount College. Francis Ramsey would move here and build his home.

Francis Alexander Ramsey was of Scotch-Irish decent and was born in Pennsylvania in 1764. He joined the cause during the Revolutionary War, fighting alongside General George Washington and working his way up to Colonel. When he was nineteen, he set his sights on East Tennessee and relocated to Greene County. Ramsey joined an exploration group that included James White to search out new areas of settlement and he helped found Knoxville. On one of the trips to the area, Ramsey found a pond that had been dammed by a beaver and it was full of fish. He named the pond Swan Pond and asked for a land grant in 1786. He served as an official with the early State of Franklin that failed in 1788. Ramsey would continue his work in the government of the Southwest Territory and the State of Tennessee, which earned statehood in 1796. 

In 1789, Ramsey married Margaret McKnitt Alexander, whom everybody called Peggy. In 1792, he decided it was time to move Peggy and their children to Swan Pond and they built a log cabin to live in while the mansion was being constructed. The mansion was completed in 1797. During the construction, Ramsey had the pond drained because he was worried about malaria. Possibly a bit of precognition because malaria would be what eventually took his life. Architect Thomas Hope designed the house. Construction began in 1795 and local pink marble was combined with blueish-gray limestone was used as the main material. The house is two stories and done in the Late Georgian style. This included hand-carved cornices and window arches that have nine narrow stones each. The kitchen is attached to the main house via a dogtrot, which is a breezeway between two wings of a house. The house has six fireplaces, but only three chimneys. This was the first house in Tennessee to have an attached kitchen.

The interior is similar to many historic mansions with a front door that opens into a hallway with a dining room on one side of the hallway and a parlor/library on the other side. There are two bedrooms on the second floor and mysteriously, there is another door on the second floor that is an entrance. There are two stories on the kitchen wing. We don't know this for certain, but the house slaves probably lived on the second floor of the kitchen wing. The Ramsey slaves didn't work the land. They had indentured servants from the North for that. 

Peggy didn't get to enjoy the house for long. She died in 1805 at the age of thirty-nine. In 1806, Francis married his second wife Ann Agnew Ramsey. She died in 1816. In 1820, he married for the third time to a woman named Margaret Christian Russell. This was also her third marriage. Francis died that same year from malaria. Five months after his death, Margaret gave birth to their son, Francis Alexander Ramsey, Jr. Ramsey had three other children that made it to adulthood: James Getty McCready, William Baine Alexander and Eliza Jane. Another son, who had also been named William Baine, died when he was eight years old. Eliza Jane became one of the few women in the area to be college educated. William became Knoxville mayor and later the Secretary of State. 

James became a doctor and wrote “The Annals of Tennessee,” which was a historical documentation of the state’s early years. He also founded the East Tennessee Historical Society and established the region's first medical society. James also got into banking and became president of the Bank of East Tennessee. It was in this position that James got into some trouble. Parson Brownlow was publisher of the Knoxville newspaper and he accused the bank's directors of defrauding clients of the bank. He also accused James' son John of creating false pension funds for employees and Brownlow described him as "a few degrees removed from an idiot." The accusations really hurt the family and cost James' son the district's Congressional seat.

James and William both lived in the house at various times up until the Civil War. They supported the Confederate cause and when the Union took the city of Knoxville, they burned James' house, Mecklenburg. It is believed that Brownlow convinced the Union to do this. He not only was a anti-secessionist, but James' son John had Brownlow arrested on charges of conspiracy to burn railroad bridges and he pushed for him to be hanged. The Confederate Army was worried about backlash, so they didn't do that. After James' house was burned, he lost his spirit and the Ramsey family left the city for South Carolina. The Ramsey House was sold in 1866 by a Ramsey grandson, who shared the same name as his grandfather, to a man named William Spurgien. The house started to fall into disrepair after that. In 1927, the Bonnie Kate Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a historical marker at the Ramsey House in honor of it being James Ramsey's birthplace. The Historic American Buildings Survey documented the house for a decade. Despite this attention, it wouldn't be until 1952 that the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities would purchase the house.

The APTA began the process of restoring the house. They started with the windows and roof and then restored everthing else to its former glory. They also hauled an old log cabin onto the property to represent the first Ramsey home. They filled the house with period furnishings that included two original Chippendale chairs given to Francis Alexander Ramsey and his wife, Peggy, as a wedding present. In 1969, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is a museum that also hosts weddings and other events. 

At Halloween, the house has hosted an event called "The Spirits Within." And for good reason because apparently this house is haunted. There are stories of a Revolutionary soldier walking by a window and members of the Ramsey household continue to live here in the afterlife. The house was formally investigated and had a documentary produced about the findings. This investigation took place in May of 2013. J-Adam Smith and Lindsey Whatley of Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours conducted the paranormal investigation and Patrick Watson of Mapletree Productions produced the documentary. It is called, "Historic Hauntings - A Paranormal Study of Ramsey House." The film features Smith and Whatley communicating with spirits in the second-floor master bedroom with a flashlight. They ask the spirits to turn on the flashlight and it blinks several times on its own. They also play several EVP that they captured. 

Kelley Weatherly Sinclair was the Executive Director in the house in 2019 when WATE 6 visited for a Halloween segment. She told the reporter that they have experienced many things in the house. "It can be anywhere from seeing a shadow walk by to hearing footsteps. There are several that we think we have identified. One is Billy, the 8 year-old. Another is Anne, Francis' second wife. Another we think is Reynolds and another one is Seth. And those are all different walks of life: a child, a mother, a grandfather and we think one of the slaves that was here."

Sue Jones was a museum assistant and she said, "I heard the guy in the other room go, 'Oh my.' I go 'What's the matter?' 'Well, somebody just swore at me.' I said, 'Oh that's just Seth. Don't worry about it.' So we go, 'Seth, what do you want?' And the box said 'stairs' so we all go over to the stairs." Those stairs are the ones that lead up to a dormitory, but no one ever goes up there anymore. The door there will shut on its own and Seth has something to say. Jones also said that Billy has occasionally tapped her on the arm to let her know he is there.

Cars driving past the house when it is closed have called saying that they think someone has broken in because they'll see a figure looking out of a window. After the security company received calls four times for the same thing and each time finding nothing and no one at the house, everyone finally had to admit it was a spirit. The spirit is described as a tall, thin woman with her hair up in a bun. They believe this is the second wife of Colonel Ramsey, Anne. There are also descriptions of a woman in black looking out a window. Not sure if this is the same entity.

The Ramsey House is a very unique looking home. A definite one-of-a-kind. Is the Ramsey House haunted? That is for you to decide!

Another interesting haunted location in Knoxville is a bridge. This isn't like the Cry Baby Bridges all over the country. The Gay Street Bridge crosses the Tennessee River. It was completed in 1898 and is the oldest vehicle bridge in the city. The bridge was designed by Chief Engineer Charles E. Fowler with a steel spandrel-braced arch and a concrete deck. The deck is 42 feet wide with two vehicle lanes, although when it was first installed, it had trolley tracks. Those were removed in 1938. This was a challenging spot for a bridge. There had been four other bridges here previously: a temporary pontoon bridge, a stone bridge washed away by a flood, a covered bridge blown down by a tornado and a wooden Howe truss bridge that was demolished when the Gay Street Bridge was completed. During the construction of the final bridge, the plans had to be altered because getting materials was hard during the Spanish-American War. Major repairs were performed from 2002 until 2004.

One of those repairs was to the electrical system on the bridge because it seemed something was haunting the bridge. The story goes that in 1815, on one of the previous bridges, a man was running from a lynch mob. We're not sure what he did, but he ended up falling off the bridge. And for that reason, he haunts the bridge and usually shows his presence by playing with the electricity. The third light on the bridge has continually gone out for over one hundred years. The city has tried different methods to keep the light from going out, but nothing has ever worked. They rewired everything when they made the major repairs, but it still goes out to this day and even when it doesn't go out, it flickers.  The light likes to flicker especially when tours go by and talk about it. 

And not too far from the bridge is Knoxville's City County Building. The structure is located at 400 Main Street. Knoxville was a rough city at one time and the Old City area was full of saloons, brothels and crime. The area where the building sits was once the site of hangings. That past has left a residue. People see shadows around the building and doors inside the building slam open and closed on their own. Disembodied footsteps are heard. It's unnerving enough that people dislike working there at night. 

Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours

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