The Haunts of Gaineswood Plantation
Something about the Deep South just lends itself to haunted houses. Whether it’s the heat, humidity, or the inborn ability of its people to remember and protect the stories of the past, almost every town has that one place that about which people tell spooky stories. In Demopolis, Alabama, that place is Gaineswood Plantation.
Though property records show that a house was built on the grounds in 1821, the house that is known as Gaineswood Plantation was started in 1843 by one Nathan Bryan Whitfield, a wealthy corn planter from North Carolina. The mansion was completed in 1861, with Whitfield acting as his own designer and architect. Nathan Whitfield died in 1861, and his descendants owned the house and 480 surrounding acres until 1923. Two other families owned the property after that, until the Alabama Historical Commission bought it in 1966. In 1971 the plantation was opened as a house museum, and remains so until this day.
The most often-told story about Gaineswood Plantation concerns the ghost of a woman named Evelyn Carter. Nathan Whitfield’s first wife died in 1846, and Ms. Carter was hired from Virginia to help with chores and keep the Whitfield children. She often entertained the family by playing various musical instruments and singing songs.
There came cold winter’s day, however, when Ms. Carter died after a long battle with an unspecified illness. She made it known before she passed that she be buried in the family cemetery back in Virginia. Due to a particularly bad winter, there was no way to send her body home, either by coach or riverboat, so he did the only thing he could do – seal her up in a pine casket and place it under the house until such time as he could get the body home. The story goes that Ms. Carter’s spirit stayed at Gaineswood Plantation because it never found its proper, preferred resting place.
The paranormal activities that have been attributed to Carter include disembodied voices, ghostly wisps of song, and beautiful tunes playing on the house’s piano (which currently had very few keys that work, and those that do are far out of tune). Visitors often hear footsteps on the mansion’s guest stairway, as well as the sounds of silk skirts rustling out of thin air. One hearsay report even lists Ms. Carter playing the piano at midnight during the 1970s restoration of the plantation.
The other famous ghost story about the Gaineswood Plantation doesn’t concern the house, but the Tombigbee River that flows past it. In December of 1858 the steamboat “Eliza Battle” caught fire and sank just downriver of the Plantation. Most of the 200+ passengers drowned or died from hypothermia. Nathan Whitfield went to the site to see if he could help, and eventually painted a portrait of the fire, which hangs at the plantation to this day. It is said by some locals that on occasional cold, foggy winter nights the “Eliza Battle” can still be seen, burning for eternity.
Most of the paranormal activity at Gaineswood Plantation is centered on the house itself, but a few reports of activity close to the river have been reported.