Anne Lowry stared at the note, hardly daring to believe the words she was reading. "I'm going to try to come to you. Douglas."
Her face flushed as she thought about the last time she had seen her husband. It had been almost two years earlier, in 1862, and they had been married for only a month when he came home one day and announced he had joined the army. She remembered how she had cried, begging him not to go, and how he had laughed, saying the Yankees would be whipped before Christmas. She remembered how he had leaned down from his horse and kissed her for the last time before leaving to join his unit.
They had lived near the small town of Winchester, Tennessee at the time and for a while after Douglas left it was easy to forget there was a bitter war raging. Time seemed to crawl as Anne tended the farm and waited patiently for letters from her husband. Christmas came and went and the war dragged on. Slowly, however, the conflict grew closer to home. At first it was just partisan bands, both Union and Confederate, who would appear suddenly at the front gate asking for food. Then, as the Union troops began their advance toward the Tennessee Valley, the countryside became overrun with irregulars, deserters and all the other flotsam of war.
The chickens were the first to go, followed by the pigs and cattle. The barn was burned and the corncrib looted. Next to go were Douglas' two slaves, Jim and Bo, who simply disappeared one day leaving the plow still hitched to the mule in the field. Anne was not really surprised. Slaves everywhere were walking off the farms and flocking to the Union lines in search of freedom.
That left only Anne and Aunt Missy to run the farm. Aunt Missy was a very large woman who probably weighed 250 or 275 pounds, with ebony black skin. She had belonged to Anne's father and had raised her since she was a baby. Although Aunt Missy was a slave, she was quick to point out that it was "her" farm, "her" mule and even Anne belonged to "her." As if to back up her point, Aunt Missy carried an ancient muzzle loading pistol in her apron. It was against the law for a slave to own a gun but no one wanted to argue with Aunt Missy.
By the summer of 1864 conditions had gotten to the point where Anne and Aunt Missy were forced to take turns sitting up at night trying to guard the house. After one particularly harrowing night when a group of irregulars, frustrated in their search for loot, set the house on fire, Aunt Missy realized it was just a matter of time before they would be burned out.
Early the next morning Aunt Missy walked to the nearby mountains where she had hidden a mule. After hitching it to a wagon she returned to the house and told Anne that they were leaving. Anne protested, saying she wanted to stay and wait for her husband to come home, but Aunt Missy wisely pointed out that the farm was no place for a lone woman with no man to protect her.
Aunt Missy had decided they were going to Huntsville, where Anne had family. Anne's second cousin, John Tate Lowry, was a successful businessman who owned a large home where Anne and Aunt Missy could seek refuge. Also, Huntsville was occupied by Regular Army Union soldiers who, Aunt Missy hoped, would be less tolerant of the looting and mayhem they were escaping from.
Although it had been years since she had visited her relatives, Anne still felt a surge of pride as they turned the horse and wagon off Meridian Pike and onto the long drive leading to the Lowry House. Her great uncle had originally purchased the land in 1809 and had settled in a log cabin. As the family and plantation grew more prosperous they had torn down the cabin and built a large two story home on the site in 1850. The plantation had grown into a self sufficient community with barns, blacksmith shops, slave cabins, carriage houses and smoke houses, with large fields of cotton and wheat radiating out from around them.
The homecoming was joyful but tinged with sadness as Elizabeth, John Tate's mother, filled them in on the current state of affairs in Huntsville. Her husband and two nephews had fled south, across the river, to keep from taking the hated Union oath. She had decided to stay on the plantation with her son John Tate and her grandson Samuel, but with each passing day it was becoming harder to survive. The slaves had mostly fled and there were none to work the fields and gardens. Merchants in town were demanding greenbacks for supplies and Elizabeth, like thousands of other Southern women, was forced to barter for whatever food was available. The only bright ray of sunshine was that the Union army was finally able to stop the wanton looting that had plagued Huntsville for months.
Despite the hardships, Anne and Aunt Missy were relieved to have found a refuge. Anne was installed in an upstairs bedroom and Aunt Missy, in a manner reminiscent of a latter day drill sergeant, took control of "her" plantation and "her" family. After taking stock of the meager food supplies she turned her attention to the rear of the house where a group of ex-slaves had gathered waiting for their evening meal. In her normal curt manner she asked the men what kind of work they did on the plantation.
"Oh, we don't have to work no more," one of them replied. "We're free now!" Aunt Missy paused a moment before finally replying. "No work - no food. If you ain't going to work then get off this place!"
As she began to walk away, some of the men began muttering threats, saying she had no right to order them around. Suddenly turning around, she pulled the ancient pistol from her apron and repeated her previous warning. "If you ain't going to work then get off this place!"
Within a few minutes most had wisely decided to leave. The remaining ones were put to work plowing a patch of land. "At least we'll have turnip greens to eat this winter," she thought. Days, weeks and months passed and life settled into a pattern. Elizabeth and Anne would walk to town every few days trying to find supplies they could purchase or barter for. About once a week Aunt Missy would hitch the mule to the wagon and disappear into the countryside. Oftentimes she would return with a few chickens or maybe a couple bushels of corn. When asked how she acquired them, Aunt Missy would reply, "Honey, don't ask no questions. Just eat."
The worst part for Anne was the waiting. She lived for the few letters from her husband that would occasionally be smuggled through the lines. She learned he was at Chattanooga and had taken part in a great battle. She heard he was in Georgia and had been captured after being wounded. And then, late one evening, a paroled soldier knocked at the door with the news that Douglas had escaped, leaping off a train near South Pittsburgh, Tennessee. Before he had jumped he had given the soldier a note to give to Anne. "I'm going to try to come to you. Douglas."
For the first time in almost two years Anne was bubbling with happiness. A hundred times a day she would rush to the front window, looking hopefully down the long drive, praying she would see her husband.
Several weeks later, toward the end of November, rumors began spreading about the Union army leaving Huntsville. A large Confederate force was supposed to be threatening the city and the Union forces had decided to retreat. At first everybody discounted the stories but within hours it appeared to be true. Anne, Elizabeth and Aunt Missy stood on the front porch of the Lowry house watching the army and its sympathizers fleeing Huntsville. What had at first been just a few wagons or a couple stray units quickly turned into an unruly mob as Meridian Pike became choked with shouting and cursing teamsters and soldiers.
Occasionally small groups would break away from the congestion and make their way up the drive where they would demand food, jewelry, or money. Most would leave after they were told there was nothing of value in the house but a few were more persistent and had to deal with Aunt Missy who would angrily order them off the property. Several times, when all else failed, she was forced to threaten them with her ancient pistol.
Late that evening they were visited by a friend from town who warned them they had to flee. The retreating army had turned into a unruly mob and no one was safe. They were burning and looting at will and a house full of women would be a prime target. As if to emphasize his point, he motioned toward town. Even from a mile away they could see the flames from Greene Academy which had been set on fire. Other smaller fires dotted the horizon.
Elizabeth quickly made a decision to leave. As Aunt Missy began to gather extra clothing in a small bag Anne suddenly announced she was not leaving: she was going to wait for her husband. Despite their best efforts they were unable to convince her to leave.
Shaking her head, Aunt Missy finally decided the issue. "I'm staying too." As soon as Elizabeth and the visitor left, Aunt Missy began to gather buckets and pans, filling them with water in case of a fire. Next she turned her attention to the back door which she barricaded with pieces of heavy furniture. As she turned to leave the kitchen she noticed an ax standing in the corner which she carried to the front of the house and placed next to the door.
As Aunt Missy stood wondering what else she could do, Anne asked, "Do you think it will stop them?"
"For about two minutes," Aunt Missy thought but didn't say. Instead she turned to Anne and wrapped her in her massive arms, saying "We're going to be fine, but I want you to stay in the house. If that bunch sees a young white woman all by herself, we will both be finished."
Thus began a night of terror unimaginable for anyone today. As darkness began to sink over Huntsville, more and more people crowded the roads trying to escape. Deserters, irregulars and camp followers swarmed the neighborhood, determined to steal anything they could and wreak havoc on the city they were fleeing from.
Aunt Missy stationed herself on the porch using every imaginable trick to keep the crowd at bay. Sometimes she would threaten, other times she would plead. A few times she claimed that Confederate soldiers were only a few hundred yards away.
Despite the best efforts of Aunt Missy, it was not enough. It started with a few drunken soldiers throwing rocks through the windows followed a few minutes later by the barns being set on fire.
One small group of men tried to force their way through the front door. Aunt Missy tried to threaten them with her pistol but it was useless - the gun had never worked since the day she found it years earlier.
Determined to stop the intruders, Aunt Missy grabbed the ax and began wildly swinging. A soldier began beating her in the head with his rifle. Anne, watching from inside the house, saw what was happening and ran outside. Screaming, shouting and in a blind rage she began beating and clawing at the soldiers trying to make them stop beating her Aunt Missy. A shot was fired and a second later Anne fell to the ground.
Something changed in those few moments. Perhaps it was the sight of a beautiful young woman lying lifeless under the evening's dew. Or perhaps it was the sight of a huge black woman clutching an ax in her hands, her head battered and bleeding and her body convulsing with sobs as she stood guard over her mistress' body. We don't know.
But for whatever reason, the Lowry House escaped any further damage that night.
Anne was buried somewhere on the grounds of the plantation; the exact location is not known. Aunt Missy recovered and continued living with the Lowry family until her death a few years later.
The Union Army reoccupied Huntsville shortly afterwards and life returned to almost normal. After the war several attempts were made to try to rebuild the plantation to its former glory, but none were successful. And there our story would have ended had it not been for the eerie legends associated with the home.
Almost immediately after the war, rumors began to circulate in the neighborhood about alleged supernatural things occurring in the home. Lanterns would flicker in an upstairs window late at night but no one would be there. Footsteps were heard in an empty room. Sometimes a ghostly scream would pierce the night air but no one could tell where it came from. Even more eerie was the shadowy form of a woman who would occasionally be seen watching from an upstairs window. Locals, familiar with the homes history, said it was Anne, still waiting and watching for her husband to come home.
Perhaps the strangest thing was the ax that kept appearing near the front door. Family members would carry it back to the wood shed, sometimes even placing a padlock on the door, but a few days or weeks later it would once again be back where Aunt Missy had placed it many years Ago. Over the years, parts of the farm were sold off and the house became almost hidden by new residential and commercial developments around it. By the late 1900s the home had been largely forgotten, its once beautifully landscaped yard filled with rubble and the house sinking into decay. Some people still talked about the home's history but for most it was simply the haunted house.
In 1998 a local businessman, Louie Tippett, purchased the home. He had always been fascinated with the home's history and when it came on the market he jumped at the chance to preserve a part of Huntsville's history. By this time the house had deteriorated to the point where the city was talking about condemning it.
Perhaps it was because the spirits of Anne and Aunt Missy were being disturbed, or maybe it was just coincidence, but for whatever reason the next few years proved harrowing for the people doing the renovation. Construction workers told of power tools that would suddenly start running even though they were unplugged. Women's voices would be heard from an upstairs bedroom but no one would be there.
One of the workers wore a replica of a Union soldier's cap to work one day. At lunch he went out to his truck to listen to the radio, leaving the cap lying on a work bench. Minutes later he heard loud crashing noises coming from the house. When he rushed to see what was happening he found all the work benches overturned, tools scattered all about the room and the Union cap lying in a corner crumbled and torn as if someone had purposely tried to destroy it.
The worker walked off the job, refusing to ever enter the house again. Strangely, as the home slowly began to regain its former grandeur, the ghostly occurrences seemed to take on a more benign nature, almost as if the spirits approved of the work being done. There are still footsteps coming from nowhere and a shadowy figure can still occasionally be seen in the window, but if one listens carefully one might also hear the soothing voice of a young woman singing softly in some far-off dark corner of the house. An ax still mysteriously appears next to the front door sometimes. After moving it dozens of times Tippett has chosen to just leave it in place. Patrick Brooks, a well known researcher of supernatural phenomenon, recently spent time investigating the rumors surrounding the Lowry home. In his final report he wrote:
".... To deny the existence of the unknown is to deny the immortality oJ man. Whether this unknown factor is called spirits, ghosts or angels, it remains ajact that we have all, at some point in our lives, been affected by something we can not explain.
.... When Anne Lowry died her greatest desire was to be with her husband. Perhaps her love was of a nature powerful enough to transcend a mortal death. If so, her spirit will continue to linger on earth until time immortal or until she is finally reunited with her husband in another world, the existence of which we cannot begin to fathom.
And until that time comes, Aunt Missy will always be there to protect her."