Columbus, Mississippi is an old town on the Tombigbee River in the eastern part of the state. As with most of the old southern river towns, it got its start, and prospered, shipping cotton from the numerous area plantations down the river to Mobile. The state capital was moved from Jackson to Columbus during the Civil War, making it a location filled with both history and southern lore. The city is one that hangs onto its past and because of this, is well-known for its colorful resident ghosts.
"I'm not sure that I believe in ghosts," said Carl Butler, the owner of the antebellum mansion called Temple Heights, "but there are noises and things that occur in this house that we can't explain."
From the time they moved in, the Butler family was baffled by the strange noises in the house. They would hear the sounds of crashing objects and breaking glass, only to find that nothing was wrong. The sounds of murmuring voices were also heard echoing in the corridors of the house.... even though the house would be empty of visitors and guests.
The Butlers began to wonder if the house might be haunted and so they searched through the history of the place, looking for the most likely candidate for the ghost.
The house had originally been built in 1837 by General Richard T. Brownrigg as a townhouse for his growing family. But they lived in the house only about 5 years before moving back to their plantation outside of Columbus.
The house then changed hands several times before being purchased in 1887 by a retired Methodist minister named J.H. Kennebrew. He and his wife had five children named Daisy, Laura, Jessie, Ruth and Elizabeth. After the reverend died, the girls went on living in the house because according to his will, the house could not be sold until all of the daughters had married. As fate would have it, only two of the sisters ever found a husband and the others turned into spinsters, living on in Temple Heights until the last one died in 1965.
All of the sisters had been brilliant, although somewhat eccentric. It was said that Miss Elizabeth, one of the unmarried girls, was the most eccentric of all. It was said that she wore chalk dust for facial powder, Mercurochrome (the orange stuff that burns which you put on your cuts and scrapes as a kid) for lipstick and rouge and dyed her hair a flaming red color. She was every bizarre southern character from Faulkner's novels come to life!
The Butlers decided that Miss Elizabeth was probably the most likely character to still be hanging about the house and they dubbed the ghost "Miss Elizabeth" in her honor.... they would have no idea until later just how right they were!
For many years, the Butlers lived in the house and got used to the strange sounds. It would not be until several years later that they actually got a glimpse of their spectral resident. It would be a guest in the house who would actually catch a glimpse of the ghost for the first time. "An older lady saw a white wispy thing pass by the door to the upstairs guest room and then continue on up the stairs to the top floor," Mr. Butler recalled later.
Since that time, the house has been a regular stop on the Columbus Pilgrimage tours and visitors often report strange events. One afternoon, a tour guide passed the Butlers bedroom and saw the ghostly figure of a woman standing in the middle of the room. Startled, she went back downstairs and described the apparition. "You have just described Elizabeth Kennebrew perfectly," said an older friend, who remembered the eccentric old woman from her time at Temple Heights.
Temple Heights is located in Columbus, Mississippi, on the east central side of the state. The mansion is a private residence but is part of the annual Pilgrimage Tours. Contact the Columbus Chamber of Commerce for more information.
Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor
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