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The Spook House

On the road leading north from Manchester, in eastern Kentucky, to
Booneville, twenty miles away, stood, in 1862, a wooden plantation
house of a somewhat better quality than most of the dwellings in
that region. The house was destroyed by fire in the year following-
-probably by some stragglers from the retreating column of General
George W. Morgan, when he was driven from Cumberland Gap to the Ohio
river by General Kirby Smith. At the time of its destruction, it
had for four or five years been vacant. The fields about it were
overgrown with brambles, the fences gone, even the few negro
quarters, and out-houses generally, fallen partly into ruin by
neglect and pillage; for the negroes and poor whites of the vicinity
found in the building and fences an abundant supply of fuel, of
which they availed themselves without hesitation, openly and by
daylight. By daylight alone; after nightfall no human being except
passing strangers ever went near the place.

It was known as the “Spook House.” That it was tenanted by evil
spirits, visible, audible and active, no one in all that region
doubted any more than he doubted what he was told of Sundays by the
traveling preacher. Its owner’s opinion of the matter was unknown;
he and his family had disappeared one night and no trace of them had
ever been found. They left everything–household goods, clothing,
provisions, the horses in the stable, the cows in the field, the
negroes in the quarters–all as it stood; nothing was missing–
except a man, a woman, three girls, a boy and a babe! It was not
altogether surprising that a plantation where seven human beings
could be simultaneously effaced and nobody the wiser should be under
some suspicion.

One night in June, 1859, two citizens of Frankfort, Col. J. C.
McArdle, a lawyer, and Judge Myron Veigh, of the State Militia, were
driving from Booneville to Manchester. Their business was so
important that they decided to push on, despite the darkness and the
mutterings of an approaching storm, which eventually broke upon them
just as they arrived opposite the “Spook House.” The lightning was
so incessant that they easily found their way through the gateway
and into a shed, where they hitched and unharnessed their team.
They then went to the house, through the rain, and knocked at all
the doors without getting any response. Attributing this to the
continuous uproar of the thunder they pushed at one of the doors,
which yielded. They entered without further ceremony and closed the
door. That instant they were in darkness and silence. Not a gleam
of the lightning’s unceasing blaze penetrated the windows or
crevices; not a whisper of the awful tumult without reached them
there. It was as if they had suddenly been stricken blind and deaf,
and McArdle afterward said that for a moment he believed himself to
have been killed by a stroke of lightning as he crossed the
threshold. The rest of this adventure can as well be related in his
own words, from the Frankfort Advocate of August 6, 1876:

“When I had somewhat recovered from the dazing effect of the
transition from uproar to silence, my first impulse was to reopen
the door which I had closed, and from the knob of which I was not
conscious of having removed my hand; I felt it distinctly, still in
the clasp of my fingers. My notion was to ascertain by stepping
again into the storm whether I had been deprived of sight and
hearing. I turned the doorknob and pulled open the door. It led
into another room!

“This apartment was suffused with a faint greenish light, the source
of which I could not determine, making everything distinctly
visible, though nothing was sharply defined. Everything, I say, but
in truth the only objects within the blank stone walls of that room
were human corpses. In number they were perhaps eight or ten–it
may well be understood that I did not truly count them. They were
of different ages, or rather sizes, from infancy up, and of both
sexes. All were prostrate on the floor, excepting one, apparently a
young woman, who sat up, her back supported by an angle of the wall.
A babe was clasped in the arms of another and older woman. A half-
grown lad lay face downward across the legs of a full-bearded man.
One or two were nearly naked, and the hand of a young girl held the
fragment of a gown which she had torn open at the breast. The
bodies were in various stages of decay, all greatly shrunken in face
and figure. Some were but little more than skeletons.

“While I stood stupefied with horror by this ghastly spectacle and
still holding open the door, by some unaccountable perversity my
attention was diverted from the shocking scene and concerned itself
with trifles and details. Perhaps my mind, with an instinct of
self-preservation, sought relief in matters which would relax its
dangerous tension. Among other things, I observed that the door
that I was holding open was of heavy iron plates, riveted.
Equidistant from one another and from the top and bottom, three
strong bolts protruded from the beveled edge. I turned the knob and
they were retracted flush with the edge; released it, and they shot
out. It was a spring lock. On the inside there was no knob, nor
any kind of projection–a smooth surface of iron.

“While noting these things with an interest and attention which it
now astonishes me to recall I felt myself thrust aside, and Judge
Veigh, whom in the intensity and vicissitudes of my feelings I had
altogether forgotten, pushed by me into the room. ‘For God’s sake,’
I cried, ‘do not go in there! Let us get out of this dreadful

“He gave no heed to my entreaties, but (as fearless a gentleman as
lived in all the South) walked quickly to the center of the room,
knelt beside one of the bodies for a closer examination and tenderly
raised its blackened and shriveled head in his hands. A strong
disagreeable odor came through the doorway, completely overpowering
me. My senses reeled; I felt myself falling, and in clutching at
the edge of the door for support pushed it shut with a sharp click!

“I remember no more: six weeks later I recovered my reason in a
hotel at Manchester, whither I had been taken by strangers the next
day. For all these weeks I had suffered from a nervous fever,
attended with constant delirium. I had been found lying in the road
several miles away from the house; but how I had escaped from it to
get there I never knew. On recovery, or as soon as my physicians
permitted me to talk, I inquired the fate of Judge Veigh, whom (to
quiet me, as I now know) they represented as well and at home.

“No one believed a word of my story, and who can wonder? And who
can imagine my grief when, arriving at my home in Frankfort two
months later, I learned that Judge Veigh had never been heard of
since that night? I then regretted bitterly the pride which since
the first few days after the recovery of my reason had forbidden me
to repeat my discredited story and insist upon its truth.

“With all that afterward occurred–the examination of the house; the
failure to find any room corresponding to that which I have
described; the attempt to have me adjudged insane, and my triumph
over my accusers–the readers of the Advocate are familiar. After
all these years I am still confident that excavations which I have
neither the legal right to undertake nor the wealth to make would
disclose the secret of the disappearance of my unhappy friend, and
possibly of the former occupants and owners of the deserted and now
destroyed house. I do not despair of yet bringing about such a
search, and it is a source of deep grief to me that it has been
delayed by the undeserved hostility and unwise incredulity of the
family and friends of the late Judge Veigh.”

Colonel McArdle died in Frankfort on the thirteenth day of December,
in the year 1879.

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