Literary pilgrimages…the name conjures images of Canterbury Tales, of men and women in brown pilgrims’ robes and sandals crossing the rocky mountains of Europe.
I’ve had two unique experiences that I suppose count as a literary pilgrimage. This particular “literary pilgrimage” involved us staying in one of the plantations that had inspired Margaret Mitchell’s “Tara” from Gone with the Wind.
The story includes a ghost.
It happened like this…
Back when I was in the corporate workforce, my husband and I took a journey each summer to a new destination. My husband planned the entire vacation. My job was to sit in the passenger seat of the car and navigate. We saw much of the United States this way tooling down the highways and byways, crisscrossing the back roads and staying in small towns to look for America.
On this particular trip, we journeyed to Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, the Bayou country. I touched Spanish moss dripping from old oak trees in an arboretum in Louisiana and almost fainted like a real Southern Belle in Mississippi when the temperature soared to 105 degrees with 100% humidity. I ate alligator meat for the first time and can vouch that no, it doesn’t taste like chicken, and do not, under any circumstances, try to eat cold alligator meat leftovers. It’s like chewing on an old rubber boot.
I love bed and breakfasts so my husband arranged for a room at one in Natchez, Mississippi. This particular house had quite the history. The original home had been built in the late 1700s, with additions up until the Civil War. The exterior photographs of the front of the house had been used on the cover of the soundtrack album to “Gone with the Wind” for the home resembled Tara, the plantation in Gone with the Wind, to an astonishing degree.
Our room in the B & B was in the oldest section of the house. It was an L-shaped room with a brick fireplace and an en suite bath. I felt as soon as I walked into the room an odd energy near the fireplace. In front of the fireplace was a small twin bed which the hotel owner said was often used when parents stayed in the room with children; the parents had the queen-sized bed while the child took the twin. We slept in the four-poster queen bed on the opposite side of the room.
Around 2 a.m. on our first night in the hotel, I awoke abruptly. The room was pitch black. My husband slept on. As I lay in bed, I heard the floor creak. It wasn’t the simple sound of old oak boards expanding and contracting – I know that sound well from living in many older homes. No, this was the clear creak-creak-creak of footsteps across the floor.
I held my breath. Was someone in the room? I couldn’t see anything. Creak-creak-creak. I realized that the steps weren’t coming near the bed, but seemed to be near the fireplace.
The footsteps stopped at 2:10 a.m. I screwed up my courage to creep to the bathroom. I checked the door to the room. It was closed and locked from the inside. No one had entered or left the room.
The next night, I was again awaked near 2:10 a.m. Creak-creak-creak. The same tread, as if someone paced in front of the brick fireplace.
We were leaving the next morning, and our hostess came up to our room to present the bill. Casually, I asked her, “Was this fireplace always here?”
“Yes,” she said. She walked over to the narrow, L-shaped bumpout that contained the twin bed, fireplace, and bathroom. She pointed to the wall behind the bed. “But this wall wasn’t always here. You see, this was actually the kitchen in the original 1700s house. This was the original cooking hearth. It’s bricked up now, but this is where the woman of the house would prepare the meals, dry the clothing, and probably spend much of her time.”
I looked at the area where I swear I heard footsteps two nights in a row and sensed an energy change when we had entered the room. It was the area where I imagine a woman, carrying a child red-faced with crying, might pace in front of a flickering fire in the wee hours of the night, comforting an infant with colic or trying to hush a baby with scarlet fever back into a fitful sleep. Or perhaps a woman had paced here once, worrying about a loved one away on a trip.
I never ‘saw’ my ghost, but I heard and felt her just as surely as I heard my husband’s rhymic breathing and felt his warm, steady, comforting presence in the bed behind me. My literary pilgrimage to one of the many mansions that inspired Margaret Mitchell’s “Tara” also inspired me to write more ghost stories, since ghosts can, and do, walk among us.
(Thank you to The John Fox website for the great author prompts that inspired this post!)
My latest novel is I Believe You, a thriller novel.
It’s available in paperback and Kindle e-book on Amazon.