From the Quapaw tribe who first inhabited the land to the first French settlement in the early 1700s, Little Rock's history predates the founding of America. Yet the people and events that shaped this historic legacy refuse to disappear into the pages of history books, and voices from the past still echo on Little Rock's streets. Join author and tour guide Linda Howell as she recounts history that is as fascinating as it is frightening. From the harrowing tale of how Curran Hall came to be haunted to the story behind the spirits that linger in historic Mount Holly Cemetery and much more, this collection covers the breadth of Little Rock's chilling history.
|Publisher:||History Press, The|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Linda Howell owns and operates Haunted Tours of Little Rock.
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The Haunting of Curran Hall
On July 4, 1843, Colonel Ebenezer Walters and his young wife, Mary Eliza, visited the construction site of their future home. It had been nearly a year since the work began, and the couple was anxious to move in and get settled before the birth of their first child. It was a very hot, steamy day, as was typical for Little Rock in July, but the Walterses disregarded that fact because they wanted to see their house.
They left after walking the property and were very happy with the progress. It would be finished in a few months, just in time for the birth of their baby. During the carriage ride back home, Mary was beginning to feel very weak. They were living with Chester Ashley, Mary's uncle, and upon arriving at his house, she went to bed.
The colonel thought his wife was suffering from the hot humid weather — he did not recognize that she was about to go into premature labor. It would be a long night, but he stayed by her bedside the entire time. She continued to get weaker, and for the next several days, her condition grew worse. No longer able to continue holding on, Mary and the baby died, leaving the colonel devastated. No one would have suspected at that time that Mary would one day haunt what would have been her home.
She and the baby were placed together in the same coffin and taken to Mount Holly Cemetery for burial. Located on the outskirts of town, the land had just been donated to the city by her uncle a few months earlier. She and her baby would be among the first burials in the new public cemetery.
There was sadness throughout the small community, and the colonel was so distraught that he felt the need to move far away from Little Rock. He was a member of the local militia and decided to join the forces in Texas and fight in the war against Mexico.
He asked the bank to sell the house, which it did to a local attorney. David Baldwin was a newlywed man and happy to bring his young bride to the Walterses' house. As sad as it was, the Baldwins were very happy and lived there for several years until a job change took them out of state.
The lengthy battle took its toll on Colonel Walters, and he suffered from the wounds he received in the war. Upon returning to Little Rock, he sought the comfort and care of family and friends. Although back home, he never returned to see his house. Death came knocking at the door on August 14, 1849, almost six years to the date of Mary's death. He was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery, beside his beloved wife and child.
The Walterses' house is known today as Curran Hall — so named for the second family who bought it from the Baldwins. Most of the owners were distinguished citizens of Little Rock and are part of our state's history.
During the mid-1800s, Arkansas was a bustling river port and heavily involved in the riverboat traffic. The city became a popular business and pleasure stop for those making their way up and down the Arkansas River. Little Rock was the state capital, and people were enthusiastic about the town's new growth. The small town had a reputation of being a nice place to live and settle down; that feeling is the same today.
The new citizens were busy constructing homes and buildings. Everything being built faced the river, and Curran Hall was no exception. Situated on a hillside several blocks from the river's edge, this house had a glorious view.
Since the Walterses and Baldwins were members of Little Rock's society, the house and surrounding grounds were in keeping with their status in the community. It was a small estate with a main house, detached kitchen, gardens and livestock, which were housed in the barn.
In 1849, another attorney, named James Moore Curran, and his wife, Sophie Fulton, bought the house and were looking forward to spending their lives together while raising their family. Sophie was the daughter of Arkansas' last territorial governor, William Savin Fulton.
They lived in the house for several years, raising their two children and enjoying the good life — and unaware that their lives were about to change. Mr. Curran traveled extensively throughout the state providing legal counsel to his clients. He was a prosperous pioneer attorney, and his wealth was increasing as he accepted payment of land for services rendered.
After returning from one of his road trips, he became very sick, and although all attempts were made to nurse him back to health, he succumbed to pneumonia and died on October 6, 1854. His death was the first to take place in the house, and his young family was overwhelmed with grief.
Sophie was pregnant with their third child and gave birth to a daughter about four months later. She eventually married Curran's law partner, George Watkins, who was a widower with children of his own. They lived with their combined families at Curran Hall for several years, and Mr. Watkins became a chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court during that time.
The children from this union all became some of Little Rock's most prominent citizens and held positions as attorneys and doctors. The Curran daughters married into the "Dynasty," a name given to a group of people who were members of one of the four Arkansas politically powerful families. Known to dominate politics from statehood to the Civil War, they intermarried in order to maintain political control.
The Curran's youngest daughter, Alice Curran Conway, inherited the house but never lived in it with her family. She sold it to Jacob Herrmann Frolich and his wife, who resided there while he served as Arkansas' secretary of state. It was rumored that he created several trapdoors in the floor leading to secret chambers under the house.
Some of the townspeople seriously believed that Mr. Frolich was practicing magic at the house. This legend was probably based on Mr. Frolich's relative, Dr. Samuel Herrmann, known to be a famous magician called "Herrmann the Great." He traveled around the country performing his magic in front of large audiences.
By the late 1880s, Mary Eliza Woodruff Bell purchased the house. She was the widow of Colonel Samuel Bell, a Confederate officer, and brought her daughters with her to live at Curran Hall. Her granddaughter Averell Tate was born in the house and she eventually inherited it from her aunt.
Alden Woodruff, a brother of Bell, was renting from his sister while his own house was being repaired after a fire. During his stay, he became aware of a ghost and believed it to be Mary Walters. He was so convinced that she existed that he painted the beautiful cypress floors and plaster walls black in hopes of seeing her against a dark color.
Woodruff was desperate to communicate with her. Bell discovered what he had done after a visit and was upset to find her house in such disarray. She asked Woodruff to leave immediately, and once he had done so, she and her daughters moved back, where she remained until her death in 1911.
Bell's granddaughter Averell Tate was an adult with her own family by the time she inherited the house. She and her husband raised their two children at Curran Hall, and she remained there until her husband's death and the children were grown and out on their own. The house became the Little Rock Visitor Center years later.
Tate loved the house; it was a part of her from the time she was born. People close to her loved to hear stories about the legends and myths surrounding the history of the place, and she loved to talk about it.
There was a story about a ghost that occupied the house — one of the tales she liked to talk about. She also remembered a place in the floor located in a corner of the front parlor that looked similar to a trapdoor — perhaps the stories about Frolich were true after all.
When Tate was a teenager, she had already spent most of her life at Curran Hall and loved to go ghost-hunting in the neighborhood every Halloween with her friends. She said she never personally encountered a ghost herself while in the house but she did notice some unexplained, spooky things that happened through the years.
When someone died, for instance, visitation time with family and friends was the night before the funeral. This gave people a chance to come by and pay their respects. The coffin of the deceased was on display in the main parlor of the house. At Curran Hall, this setup was located in the front parlor by the big set of doors separating that room from the dining room or in front of the fireplace. Tate always thought her cats and dogs knew that because they would never lie down in these two locations.
Cats are fascinated with death, and some believe that they are attracted to the flesh of the deceased. For many years, stories have been told about cats circling a house when a death occurs. Felines seem to have a natural mystique about them anyway, so it's easy to accept this belief as fact, especially when people relate the story over and over again.
Curran Hall once had a resident cat that lived on the premises. His name was Scout, and a mysterious-looking woman would come to feed him on the corner of the property. A shed in the backyard provided shelter for him, and he was often seen crawling under the foundation. His caretaker was very private and didn't care to talk to anyone.
With stories and sightings about the ghosts who haunt the house, a resident cat added to the mystery of it all. When I was an employee of the visitor center, I attempted to ask the mysterious woman about the cat. Reluctantly, she told me the story.
The cat was born on the property seventeen years previously and was the guardian of Curran Hall. It was his job to watch over the place, and she had been taking care of him all that time and was his protector. So, what do you say after that explanation?
A few years after this encounter, Scout was attacked by some dogs and died from his wounds. The distraught caretaker came to tell me what had happened and later wrote a nice card thanking me for allowing her and Scout to stay around the house. A few days later, after this episode, some people who knew her said she became ill and disappeared — never to be seen again.
Curran Hall was built almost two centuries ago, and even today, people talk about the ghost(s) who occupy the place. In 2002, after it reopened as the visitor center, a young woman who lived across the street remarked that at night she could see something through the windows moving around inside the house.
Sometimes, the image appeared to be a woman walking back and forth, but the young woman across the street never saw her looking out the window. The neighbor initially thought it to be someone who worked there, but considering that the occurrences took place after-hours, she knew the image couldn't be an employee.
One day, I was approached by a visitor who could see spirits. He told me that I was being followed by a young woman dressed in nineteenth-century attire and that her name was Mary Eliza. Two women by that name were associated with the house, and I explained who they were.
I showed him a picture of the older Mary Eliza Bell that was hanging in the parlor, but he said she was older than the spirit following me. I told him the story of Mary Eliza Walters, the original owner who died before living in the house. He confirmed that she was the spirit. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was about to experience some paranormal activity.
About that time, unusual and unexplained things began to happen, and the staff and I were wondering what was going on. One night after an event, we were cleaning up when the commercial coffee maker, already turned off for the night, began hissing and producing steam that sounded like an old railroad steam engine.
Coffee dripped into the carafe — what appeared to be an impossible task was happening before our very eyes. We couldn't believe what we were seeing; coffee being made with neither water in the reservoir nor coffee grounds in the basket. We had to unplug the unit in order to get it to stop.
Unexplained events continued to happen, such as a rocking chair rocking by itself on the porch and a glass bottle moving back and forth inside the curio cabinet. A picture was thrust to the floor from its location on the wall with such force that the glass shattered into pieces.
Also, numerous false security alarms were triggered by "something" in the shed. Another employee sighted a man dressed in a Civil War uniform sitting in one of the dining room chairs. Visitors sensitive to the paranormal have mentioned cold spots, an unusual feeling or a presence in a certain location of the house. One visitor remarked about feeling the presence of someone in one of the rocking chairs.
On one occasion, during an outdoor wedding, the door to the shed slowly opened with the greatest of ease — a feat not normally possible since the floor is uneven and the door sticks along the way. One night, a shadowy figure was observed as it moved across the mantle on the dining room fireplace.
All of this paranormal excitement gave us cause to find out who might be haunting the house. After several investigations, we found out it was Mary Walters and Averell Tate, both of whom have left voices on recorders. Mary's voice was especially haunting as she said in a whisper, "Mary, that's who I am."
Tate was the last private owner and moved out of the house when it became too cumbersome for her to take care of. The city of Little Rock bought it in 1996 and, along with a group of well-meaning people, made plans to save it.
They felt it was historically important and embarked on a mission of raising money and tackling the massive overgrowth of shrubs and vines, thus transforming it into the beautiful Little Rock Visitor Center. It was a six-year project, and everyone met the task with enthusiasm and pride.
In 2002, the house opened its doors and since then, it has welcomed thousands of people from all over the world. It is a peaceful place, and one is drawn to the rocking chairs on the porch. Many a tired traveler has taken the time to rock their stresses away from their journey.
Listening to the birds chirp in the surrounding trees and gardens adds to the experience. Although it is haunted and has a few resident ghosts, it is truly a beautiful building, restored to the likeness of its earlier days.
The time had come for me to leave Curran Hall and begin a new adventure. I told the staff my plans and gave my notice. I walked into the parlor and glanced over at the grandfather clock. It began to chime and run. I was mesmerized — the staff had not been able to get it to work since it was placed in the house — yet now it was running.
I continued to work for the next two weeks, and the clock continued to run, surprisingly chiming on the hour. My final day arrived, and as I turned to close the door for the last time, the clock stopped and hasn't worked since.
The Little Rock Visitor Center is a beautiful and serene place to visit. If you get the chance, stop by and sit in one of the rockers. Close your eyes, and listen to the sounds around you. Perhaps Averell will sit in an adjoining rocker, Scout will rub against your leg or Mary will whisper softly in your ear, "Mary, that's who I am." Then you will know that you have been welcomed by the spirits who occupy Curran Hall.CHAPTER 2
The Tower Building at the Little Rock Arsenal
One of the most haunted places in the South is the building that houses the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Once known as the Tower Building at the Little Rock Arsenal, it is today home to a variety of military-related exhibits.
The museum opened its doors on May 19, 2001, for the primary purpose of displaying military artifacts. Arkansas, and specifically Little Rock, has a proud military heritage and is fortunate that pieces of the past are viewed in such an environment, because the building itself is a major part of our military history.
The Tower Building was built in 1840 and was one of several buildings that comprised the Little Rock Arsenal. According to the director of the museum: "By 1855, the arsenal had been designated as a Class 3 'Arsenal of Deposit' under the control of the U.S. Army's Ordnance Department," and it was one of the richest depositories in the United States.
The primary purpose of the arsenal's existence was to house ammunition and weapons for local militia in case of mobilization. The Capital Guards were Little Rock's militia company and kept their own weapons and armory in their basement headquarters near the intersection of Markham and Main streets.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Haunted Little Rock"
Copyright © 2012 Linda L. Howell.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Haunting of Curran Hall 13
2 The Tower Building at the Little Rock Arsenal 22
3 The Empress of Little Rock 31
4 Paul's House 40
5 Mount Holly Cemetery 48
6 Taborian Hall 56
7 Little Rock City Hall 63
8 Robinson Center Music Hall 70
9 Argenta Historic District 77
10 Baker House Bed and Breakfast 84
11 Jacksonville Museum of Military History 90
12 Reed's Bridge 94
13 The Vanishing Point at Woodson Lateral 100
Works Consulted 109
About the Author 111