By Julia Gabbard, Tour Guide
Throughout her nearly twenty-year tenure there, the Frances Coleman who took the photo, reported several mysterious incidents, which she herself witnessed or were experienced by visitors to the site. There were the common tropes of haunting, such as rocking chairs rocking on their own, doors opening or closing without assistance, and the sounds of other people in the house when there was no one else there.
But perhaps the strangest incident which left behind tangible evidence was when Coleman found two gold bracelets, left on the bedside table in the haunted room. She knew they weren’t part of the Liberty Hall collection, and there had[i] (Spoiler alert: the bracelets have since been dated to the mid-20th century.)been no recent visitors, due to inclement weather. Upon checking with other staff members and the Colonial Dames, she could not determine to whom they belonged. She took them to a jeweler, who told her they appeared to be early 19th century pieces. She brought the mysterious ornaments back to the site, where they remain, unclaimed to this day.
[ii] The child--Hal Sparks now a comedian and actor--recalled that he had been in the bedroom to the right, at the stop of the stairs, and was surprised to learn it was the haunted bedroom, the very place where old Aunt Varick had taken her last breath.In the late 1970s, during a restoration of Liberty Hall, a young boy played by himself and wandered the rooms of Liberty Hall while his architect father, Harry Sparks, worked. After a while, his father went in search of his son and could hear him chatting away in one of the upstairs bedrooms. The boy was alone, but stated that he’d been talking with an old lady, though his father had heard no other voice. The incident stuck with the child, who grew up near Frankfort, and as an adult had heard other stories of the Gray Lady. Just a few years ago, he shared his experience with staff members.
Another incident occurred in the late 1980s. Art historian, Estill Curtis Pennington, was working in the parlor, when he was startled by the sudden onslaught of a terrible odor, along with a movement that caught his eye. He saw that a quill pen was spinning rapidly in circles inside the ink jar where it sat. He then noticed an indistinct figure in the hallway, but upon searching, could find no other person in the house, and the phenomena subsided.
There is an apartment at Liberty Hall, on the “L” wing behind the back of the house, over the kitchen. After the Brown family was gone, it was occupied by various caretakers and tenants over the years, many of whom have reported ghostly activities.
Another resident of the apartment reported that while she was taking a bath one evening, she wished aloud that she had closed the bathroom door, whereupon it slowly swung shut on its own.
In 1991, Bob Norman, a caretaker who lived in the apartment, had a more dramatic experience. He was studying quietly, and was startled when pages began to be torn from his wall calendar, and flung to the floor. He’d been told that one should speak to spirits, and, assuming it was Mrs. Varick, he addressed her by name and asked that she stop, which she did, but not before removing the months of September through December from his calendar. He also told of candles being removed from a candle stand, and flung to the floor.[iv] He thought perhaps, for some reason, the Gray Lady did not approve of his presence.
A more recent tenant I spoke with told me of being awake in bed late one night, knowing she should get to sleep, but engrossed in some reading. Suddenly, clear as day, she said, she heard a woman’s voice gently say her name and tell her to go to sleep.[v] She said she wasn’t afraid, and the voice sounded motherly. On another occasion, she had to rise before dawn. She had locked her bedroom door, as always, upon retiring, as a safety precaution. When she got up in the dark, to begin her early day, the bedroom door swung open on its own. Again, she felt no threat or fear.
There have been several other fairly recent occurrences reported by staff members. A former director was alone in Liberty Hall. Suddenly she heard loud footsteps coming up the stairs, and calledout, thinking a co-worker had come in. No one answered, and there was no one else in the house, but there was no mistaking the loud sounds she’d heard.
Other staff have reported hearing the distinctive sound of the back door opening and closing, only to find that no one is there, but we always keep the doors locked while we’re inside.
In 2014, one of the tour guides was giving a tour to a group that included a mother and her young son. The guide had made no mention of the Gray Lady yet, but the boy kept asking to go upstairs, so she took them up. They went into Mame’s bedroom, and she began to talk about Mame, but the boy quickly pulled his mother back out into the hallway. The guide continued speaking to the other guests for a few moments, then went to check on the mother and son. The child seemed distressed, and his mother explained that he said he’d seen a ghost and was ready to leave. The guide tried to reassure them that there was nothing to be afraid of. His mother then confided that he sees ghosts often but always gets a little shaken up. He had been told nothing of the resident Gray Lady.[vi]
Another guide had a guest who shared the story of touring Liberty Hall many years before, with her since deceased husband. As they both exited the parlor, their eyes were drawn to the top of the stairs, then they looked at each other in surprise, asking “Did you see her?!” They both caught a glimpse of a shadowy gray figure on the landing, and they had never forgotten it.[vii]
[viii] Due to the alarm system and limited availability of keys, we knew that no one had been in the home. The curtains were re-hung on their rod, but the incident was repeated about three weeks later. It took great effort to hang the heavy drapes near the high ceilings, and an unknown force to remove them, but after they were hung for the third time, they stayed put. Perhaps a former resident objected to their style, but finally gave up fussing with them, and they’ve hung, unbothered, since that time.In 2014, our curator had been overseeing the installation of new curtain rods and heavy curtains in the Liberty Hall parlor. The curtain rods are heavy duty and securely attached to the walls. They had been hanging for a few weeks when she arrived one day to find that one of the curtains had been lifted up out of the brackets and flung to the floor, with the brackets still attached to the walls.
As someone who has spent many an hour within that graceful house, I can report with some measure of dismay that I have yet to have my own experience with the Gray Lady of Liberty Hall. I’m not sure what I would do if it did happen, but I know I’ve felt nothing but peace there, and wish for all the former residents to enjoy their eternal rest.
[i] Zuercher, Rick “The Ghosts of Liberty Hall,” State Journal, October 26, 1980
[ii] Conversation with Hal Sparks at Comedy on Broadway, Lexington, Kentucky, December 2016
[iii] Norman, Margaret, “Real Ghost Stories,” Buyers Guide 9: 41, October 30, 1991
[iv] Case, Philip “Grey Lady of Liberty Hall making her presence felt,” The State Journal, October 28, 1991
[v] Conversation with current tenant of Liberty Hall, ca. 2019
[vi] Benson, Christina, “Yes, Little One, There Really IS a Grey Lady,” unpublished document, 2014
[vii] The document “2011 Liberty Hall Historic Site Ghost Stories,” quotes tour guide Becky Shipp as describing a visitor who toured the house with her husband twenty years before and saw the ghost.
[viii] Conversation with Kate Hesseldenz, Curator, 2014