The haunted history associated with the Gaineswood Mansion in Demopolis, Alabama is probably most recognized from the book “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffery” by Alabama folklorist and author Kathryn Tucker Windham. In its infancy, the frontier property started out with a simple dog-trout cabin built by the Indian Agent, George Strother Gaines. Gaines was most noted for his meeting with the Choctaw chief, Pushmataha. Their meeting, regarding the surrender of Indian land in the region, apparently took place on the Gaineswood estate under a large post oak that would later be known as the “Pushmataha Oak”.
In 1842, the 480 acre property was purchased by General Nathan Bryan Whitfield. Construction expanded the existing log cabin into a large home and thriving plantation. Like most southern plantations, the homestead had beautiful gardens, Iron fences, stables, and slave quarters. In 1843, the Whitfield family named their home “Marlmont”. It took Twenty years to complete construction and in 1856, General Whitfield renamed the estate “Gaineswood”, after its original tenant.
Nathan and Elizabeth Whitfield lived in the home for many years and raised a family. In 1846, tragedy struck when Elizabeth died, leaving behind her husband and young children. Out of necessity, the General searched for a live-in Nanny and house keeper to help with the children and their daily needs. He met a beautiful, young, woman named Miss Carter and offered her the job. Miss Carter was from a prominent Virginia family and her father was a Greek Ambassador working in Europe at the time. Because her family was so far away, the General allowed Evelyn Carter, (the sister of his housekeeper and nanny), to spend the winter at Gaineswood with them.
Evelyn and General Whitfield shared a love of music, especially Irish folk tunes. She played the piano daily and occasionally General Whitefield would rouse his bagpipes and belt out tunes so loud the entire countryside could hear them. Evelyn was a welcome and pleasant presence at Gaineswood and the whole family loved and adored her. She and General Whitfield became great friends and she brought cheer and joy back into the home that would have otherwise been dreary for the widowed family.
As the months passed, and fall changed to winter, freezing temperatures from an unusual Alabama ice storm brought blankets of snow and ice that covered the ground. The frozen countryside looked as if it had been dropped into the artic. During this time, Evelyn had fallen in love with a local man - a Frenchmen. He was most likely part of the Louisiana exiles that settled in Demopolis, growing olive crops. He courted Evelyn Carter for some time and the couple planned to announce their engagement that spring. Sometime before the happy couple was to make their announcement public, an argument over an unknown issue caused Evelyn to become very upset and she flung her engagement ring across the garden at Gaineswood. Her French lover left and did not return. Evelyn soon fell very ill with Phenomena and died shortly after contracting the deadly infection.
Because of the frozen ground and unusually cold temperatures, Evelyn’s body could not be buried. The sharpest shovel, nor horse plow, could break the icy ground. During the Victorian era, it wasn’t uncommon for a corpse to be stored in a cool cellar or basement at home until the ground thawed for burial. Like many funerary traditions of the early 1800’s, Evelyn’s body was placed in a pine coffin and stored in the cold, dark cellar at Gaineswood.
Burial didn’t come soon enough for Evelyn and her spirit could not be contained despite the fidget winter. Shortly after her body was placed in the basement, the children and her sister could hear the faint sound of the piano playing in the parlor. When they investigated the sounds, no one was found. Perhaps even more disturbing were the footsteps coming from the cellar. The haunting sound of pacing feet seemed to get louder and louder as they gathered momentum toward to basement door, at which point, the sound would stop. At night, when the house should have been quiet and still, Miss Carter would often get up to see if the children were out of bed due to the sounds of running up and down the hallways. When visitors or guests stayed overnight at Gaineswood, loud thumping throughout the mansion would often wake them, and they were forced to endure the ghostly torture until dawn when they would promptly pack up and leave.
Evelyn’s body was eventually returned to Virginia and buried in her family’s cemetery. But the paranormal phenomenon didn’t stop at Gaineswood. Her spirit is still haunting the mansion, turned museum, today. Her ghost is often seen roaming the hallways of the Greek revival style mansion, as well as the surrounding grounds outside. The ghostly piano still emanates from within the parlor and the footsteps from the cellar still manage to spook the hardest nonbelievers when they visit this Alabama landmark. After a hundred years of burial, Evelyn’s corpse rest quietly in the Virginia ground but her spirit will always be at Gaineswood in Demopolis, Alabama.