Hauntings and other supernatural experiences are prevalent in Southern beliefs and narratives. Myths about the dead maintain their presence among the living, especially among those who choose to engage rather than ignore them. This essay, set in coastal Mississippi, relays the writer’s experiences with and memories of two specific places that have held meaning for her and for her community.
Graveyard Albinos and the Davenport House
by Rachel Toche
The South is as riddled with ghosts as Bonnie and Clyde’s car was with bullets. It’s as if every Southern postal code has at least one haunted house or ghost story connected to its roots. If the house looks old enough to be haunted, there’s a good chance it is.
I’ve lived in several cities and towns in Mississippi and Alabama to know at least one ghost story from each place. I’ve explored many haunted houses, driven down ghostly roads, even abandoned schools. In one of the schools, a student in a wheelchair is said to have died from ant bites and neglect.
As I’ve gotten older, I realize that I know more stories and urban legends about my hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, than anywhere else I’ve lived. I can name five places off the top of my head that are allegedly haunted, my parents’ house being one of them. My sister swore up and down that our house is haunted. If only I had been so lucky.
I was thirteen years old when we moved into the house in 1999, the kids at my bus stop told me that the house was empty for so long because it was haunted by the guy who lived there after he killed himself. I am a long-time, avid lover of horror, and the idea of living in a haunted house was tantalizing. The kids at the bus stop were noticeably disappointed by my array of questions and excitement. Their plan to scare me didn’t go as planned. I had always wanted to live in a haunted house, and this was my chance! Eventually, I’d be just as disappointed by my lack of fright in the house.
I went to my mom, of course, asking about the story the bus stop kids told me. She bought the house after all, so she should know its history. My mom isn’t the kind of person who will brush off a topic by saying the kids were just pulling my leg. Rather, she told me that it was partially true. The man who had lived in the house before us had indeed killed himself. He was a Vietnam veteran and was confined to a wheelchair (weird how wheelchairs keep coming up).
Shortly after I graduated from high school, Katrina hit. Our house flooded, and we had to replace walls, floors, even the furniture. As we tore out the walls, we discovered they were insulated with t-shirts, newspapers, syringes, and even pill bottles. My first thought was how bad I wanted to tell those kids at the bus stop that there was some truth to their tales.
My love for the macabre and unexplainable can be attributed to one particular memory from when I was very young. Before I get into details, let me begin with a little information for context.
There is a well-known cemetery in Ocean Springs called Rock ’N Roll Graveyard. That’s not it’s real name, but one given by visitors over the years. From what I understand the name originates from the 1950s or ’60s when teens would go out there in their cars and listen to rock ’n roll music, among other things. In high school, it was a rite of passage to drive out to the graveyard at night and walk around.
This cemetery has specific stories to each burial plot. Some people say there’s a ghost of an old lady on a rocking chair. Others claim they’ve seen a family of albinos living in the woods that surround the graveyard. There is another claim that the long, winding road that leads to the site has twelve curves when going in and thirteen when leaving, or vice versa. With urban legends, the only real way to know the truth is experiencing it yourself.
The graveyard itself is a family burial ground. There are signs, but people don’t seem to care. I’ve been maybe a handful of times. The first and most memorable time was maybe between six and eight years old. My sister hadn’t been born yet.
I was in the car with my mom, my cousin Kristen, who is five years older than me, and my cousin’s friend. It was the middle of the day, but the trees on the road leading to Rock ’N Roll Graveyard are very thick, and the road is shaded so heavily it feels like nighttime. I don’t remember why we were going there, but my mom was telling us the ghost stories as we drove towards the cemetery. We stopped in a clearing with the graves sitting before us, surrounded by a chain link fence. It didn’t look scary. We got out of the car and started looking around. I was reading headstones, probably looking for the oldest one, when I heard my mom start the car’s engine. I turned around and saw her drive away. I probably ran for the gate, but she was beyond the trees by the time I got there. I felt like the woman offered up as a sacrifice to King Kong. I wasn’t afraid of ghosts; it was daytime and ghosts only come out at night (child logic). I stared off into the tree line hoping the albinos wouldn’t come out to get us. I was only scared for a brief moment, then curiosity set in. I’d never seen an albino before, so I wondered what they looked like.
She came back shortly after driving off, my mother has that type of humor. I was in the car with her recently, and I don’t know why we were over that way, but we passed by the road that leads to the cemetery. My mom pointed it out, and it rejuvenated my curiosity about the spooky landmark. I emailed my cousin, asking her what she remembered about being left at the cemetery. I thought that because she was older, she’d remember more than I did. Surprisingly, she remembered less than I did.
I did something I probably shouldn’t have done: I searched for information about Rock ’N Roll Graveyard on the internet. If there is ever something you want to ruin for yourself, do an internet search on it. I only opened a couple of links before I decided enough was enough. It was no longer a local legend. Anyone could find out about it now. There were videos of people going there at night, but I didn’t watch any of them. I know there are tons of ghost shows on television these days, but knowing there are videos of other people’s Rock ’N Roll Graveyard experiences, I don’t know how to feel. It’s as if it can be easily debunked or made fun of. It loses some of its mystery.
A friend of mine suggested I drive out there to get a new sense of the place. I said, “I’m not going to Rock ’N Roll Graveyard at night . . . by myself.” It was nearly dusk at the time, and I wasn’t about to drive that far just for aesthetics. Yet there I was, thirty-four and afraid of a graveyard I’d been to many times. Difference was, I was never alone. Maybe if I was alone, the albinos would finally take me in and show me how they lived in the woods, or sacrifice me to the ghost of the lady in the rocking chair. More so, I’m afraid of the people who live around the cemetery. I’ve heard they have guns and aren’t afraid to use them.
Aside from spooky graveyards, haunted houses are also ubiquitous in the South, every town has one. There was one in Ocean Springs that not many people knew about, because there’s absolutely no presence of it online that I could find. I call it the Davenport House mainly because it was on Davenport Lane. I wouldn’t find out until later that the road was named after a doctor who lived in the house. Dr. Davenport’s ghost was said to have been seen standing on the staircase. That was before they tore it down due to termites.
I was introduced to the Davenport House while I was in elementary school, and my bus would stop near the house. Davenport Lane is lined with live oaks that hang over the road, creating a tunnel of shady foliage. There aren’t too many houses, but it ends in a cul-de-sac where the house (once) stood. While the bus made a three-point turn, I would marvel at its beauty.
The Davenport House was a plantation style house, two stories, painted a bright canary yellow with white trim and shutters, and a wrap-around porch that almost went around the whole house. In the front yard leading up to the house were massive azalea bushes.
I wasn’t friends with the girl who lived there until fifth grade. I was a shy kid, so I spent a good three or four years gawking at the house until we finally became friends. I admitted to her right away that I loved her house and asked if it was haunted.
“Oh yeah,” Amy replied. “Of course it is.” She was more than happy to invite me to sleep over. I’d spent years looking at the house and wondering what happened inside. There are some rooms that deserve to be documented.
In the foyer, there was a dual fireplace that opened into the living room. Above the pit were two years etched into the brick. One was the year they began building and the second was the year they finished. I don’t remember the exact dates, but I think it was sometime in the 1700s.
In another room, opposite the fireplace was a soft pastel yellow room with a painting that still haunts my dreams. Amy told me it would watch you wherever you went. Optical illusion, of course, but as an impressionable youth, I was anxious to believe in the supernatural.
Upstairs, the bedrooms had stories to tell. In the master bedroom, there were knife holes in the walls. In Amy’s bedroom, there were bullet holes near the ceiling. I was in awe, and she explained that the house had changed several times over the years. Most notably it had been a brothel and a dance hall. I assumed the bullet and knife holes had come from the brothel times and disagreements over women.
It was a dream come true! She had a bunk bed and a separate twin bed in her room and would periodically move them around the room. Once, the top bunk was near the bullet holes, and I jumped at the chance to sleep there that night. Nothing spooky happened that time, but there was another time when I encountered something that made me question
The twin bed was against a window that looked down on part of the yard with the azalea bushes. They were large windows, nearly floor to ceiling in length. The window was open that night, when I chose to sleep there. I woke up in the middle of the night, with a sudden urge to look outside. There, I saw a woman in a fancy dress with a parasol walking in the azaleas. She was mist-like, surrounded by a white haze. I jumped out of bed and got in the top bunk next to the bullet holes! Perhaps I was still half asleep and my brain was showing me my dreams in real life.
I’d gone through a witchy phase early in my life, first in third grade when The Craft came out and again in middle school. I bought a tarot card deck and brought it to Amy’s house for a Halloween party. I’d only just started learning how to use them, so I had to read the meanings from the book. It was all fun and games until I made a friend of Amy’s little sister cry. I must have accidentally said something that really hit home or something was working through me to tell her something in the cards. It doesn’t sound like it was much, but it was spooky at the time. I guess it was one of those “you had to be there” situations.
There was definitely something (or things) in that house. I wasn’t the only one with stories. Amy’s mom saw things moving on their own, claiming it was the poltergeist of a little girl. Her little sister also saw a little girl and other specters around the house. The ghost I saw could’ve been a guest at the house when it was a dance hall. Perhaps she was the woman the men were fighting over, when they left the bullets in the ceiling. My imagination is getting ahead of itself. I wonder if they’re still there since the house has been torn down.
Amy’s family moved up north to Massachusetts about three years before Katrina hit. The property was right on Fort Bayou and probably had extensive water damage. As I mentioned before, our house also had water damage and because we had to tear down walls for repair, we also learned we had a termite problem. I don’t doubt that was what led to the fate of the Davenport House.
It was torn down around 2007, but the doctor – history repeats itself: another doctor – who bought the property used the salvageable wood from the original house to build a new house. I was told he kept the wood with the bullet and knife holes. I hope he kept the bricks with the years on them too.
I wonder if the spirits still roam the property. The Davenport House has become a ghost in itself, in my memory and hopefully in the memories of those who had the opportunity to experience it. I haven’t driven down Davenport Lane. to see the new house built there. I feel that would destroy my memory of it, seeing a new house where one I knew well used to be. Something in me says that, if I go back, the Davenport House and the ghosts will be there. Ready for me to return, like walking into an episode of The Twilight Zone. I’m letting my imagination run amok again, or maybe that’s what I hope will happen if I take that drive down memory lane.
Rachel Toche is a short fiction writer from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. She graduated from the Mississippi University for Women with a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing in 2011. She has a fifteen-year-old dog she loves very much. His name is Buster. She has a blog about writing.