Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Hurricane's Haunted House Lives On
The mansion was originally known as the McCallister mansion, and was built by slave labor for John McCallister and his wife, Matilda (Tillie). It was built around 1847 when the McCallisters were already well into life--around 53 years old to be precise. Some say it was the first brick home built in Teays Valley and it was a showpiece of the McCallister family's wealth. John was a wealthy landowner and farmer, and Tillie is said to have been independently wealthy herself, owning two chests filled with gold coins. In addition, the McCallister's operated a brickyard and tannery, located approximately where the A&L Hardware building sits--across from the Hurricane City Park.
John McCallister died in 1865 at the age of 70 years old, and Tillie lasted until 1871, when she died at the age of 76. The McCallisters had no living heirs and since Tillie died without having left a will, the house was put up for a commissioner's sale, where it was bought by Dr. George L. Nye in 1872. Oddly, the 1870 census has Dr. George Nye and his wife living with Tillie in the home a year before she passed. In September of 2012, I found out a little more about this arrangement. The Nye's came to Teays Valley from Wytheville, VA in the 1860s and Dr. Nye opened up his own practice, boarding with Tillie. When Tillie died, Dr. Nye was actually the one to sign her death certificate, but inexplicably left the Teays Valley area. He didn't stay away long...When hearing that the house would be put up for auction, he came back and bought it.
In any event, the Nyes were also considered a very prominent family in the area. Unfortunately, while living at the home, the Nyes lost at least two children, a ten-month old, and an infant that only survived two days after birth. But, several children did survive into adulthood, including a son named (Norman) Luther. Luther's daughter Lois Nye would go on to become one of the home's most well-known residents.
Lois Nye was born in Virginia, and at the age of thirty, married into the Umberger family. Previously, Lois had been involved with a man by the name of Homewood, and bore a son in the early 1920s named Max. She married William Isaac Umberger in the early 1930s. She was William's third wife, and would eventually bear him two additional sons, Henry and William, Jr.
After William's death, Lois Nye Umberger continued to live in her grandfather's home and continued a career in teaching. Locals remember Mrs. Umberger being a wonderfully classy southern lady who rode her horse side-saddle down Cow Creek Road to the Oakdale School where she taught. Electricity didn't reach the mansion until the 1950s. Lois died in 1964; she was 65 years old.
William Umberger was the last owner of the old homestead and the last in the family line to have actually lived in the old brick mansion. The property was sold in the mid-1980s and the house was razed in 1986. The land would later be the site of the Southbrooke Subdivision. William Umberger is now deceased.
Shortly after Lois' death, the house quickly became a local legend and was known colloquially as the old haunted house; many of Hurricane's youth got their first taste of ghost hunting/legend tripping over the next twenty years by daring each other to go up to the door and knock. Stories abounded of an accidental hanging on the property which led to such hauntings, but details of such an event would not be uncovered for many years. According to a 1994 History of Hurricane publication, the ghostly activity at the house included anything from strange noises, faint lights moving about the home at night, and shadows passing by the windows. It is even reported in a volume of WV paranormal literature (which, due to its high rate of inconsistency, shall remain nameless here) that Henry Umberger's trailer on the property was also haunted in the 1970s, causing him to flee and move away.
The legends of the haunting, however, were so pronounced that when a local paper, the Hurricane Breeze, ran a story on the mansion's history complete with accompanying photograph shortly before it was torn down, at least three independent readers called in to the paper to report seeing a ghostly figure in the photo.
The property was also a favorite spot for treasure hunters, as another local legend sprung up concerning gold being buried on the property. These rumors, which probably stemmed from stories of Mrs. McCallister's chests of gold coins led to plenty of folks perusing the property with metal detectors shortly after the mansion was torn down. The gold coins were of no secret to anyone living in the community, as it is rumored that Tillie allowed her nephews to play with the coins, and even local people would come over on Saturday evenings and use the coins as checkers. However, they could not be found upon her death...is it possible they are the reason Dr. Nye temporarily LEFT the Teays Valley area?
In the early years of the 1990s, the Southbrooke Subdivision sprung up on the old McCallister/Nye/Umberger property thanks to developer Roger Gibson and as Teays Valley was being flooded with new blood, many forgot about the old mansion and its ghostly legends. However, the legends of the old house refused to die. People living in the Southbrooke Subdivision started reporting that their brand new homes shockingly had paranormal activity...and shockingly, different homes were reporting basically the same thing. At least four families came forward in 2005 with tales of a seeing a little girl in a white dress. This little girl was spotted by one lady in her front entrance, putting on her shoes. Others have seen her wandering the subdivision, late at night.
It is believed that this little girl is somehow tied to the old mansion, but details are sketchy as to her correct identity. In researching this case, I didn't find much of substance concerning any children dying on the property, or really, much of any female children even living there. The McCallisters had no children of their own while staying on the property, but they did have at least one slave die there...a 2 month old baby girl named Sarah who died in 1854. As stated previously, the Nye's did have two male children die in infancy, but I was unable to uncover any little girls who died there at this point. Over different census years, the Nye's had several female servants and various boarders, including extended family, living with them, so its possible that any one of these may have resulted in a little girl living on the property.
And while we don't know WHO the little girl is, Mrs. Umberger may have provided a clue as to WHY the little girl is still there. A former resident of the Hurricane area wrote in to a local newspaper about a story Mrs. Umberger had told her in the late 1930s/early 1940s. This lady, whose aunt was a friend of Mrs. Umberger, went to visit Mrs. Umberger in her home and commented on the beautiful old chandelier in the foyer. Mrs. Umberger went on to tell her that years before, a young girl who lived in the home loved to play on the bannister, sliding down it from the second floor to the first. Somehow, an accident occurred, and the little girl fell off the landing at the second floor. She hit the chandelier, and her neck became caught up in the mechanism used to lower it, resulting in her accidental hanging.
Today, the people of Southbrooke are still reporting the occasional creepy experience, but interest in the former McCallister Mansion is quickly waning, as the older generation is dying off, only to be replaced with a new generation too young to have remembered the creepy old haunted house on Teays Valley Road.
Photos were scanned from a June 1989 edition of Hurricane High School's Warrior newspaper. They were taken by Rod Farley.