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American Roads Travel Magazine

Cedar Grove Inn~A Vicksburg Tradtion

Story and photos by Kathleen Walls

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Cedar Grove Inn

 

Cedar Grove is a buff-colored Greek revival-style home. Galleries and columns grace both front and back. I approached it with my rolling suitcase bumping along the brick path from the back parking lot and circling the swimming pool. It felt warm and welcoming. Nothing like what you expect in a haunted house. Yet the history of this Vicksburg home is a series of fabulous highs and devastating lows. It survived Vicksburg’s darkest hours and has the scars to prove it. This cheerful sunny fašade is home to many souls who have lived through both personal and national tragedies.

Cedar Grove was never a working plantation; rather it was a showplace; a gift from a loving husband to his young bride. It is an elaborate token of a love story that stood the test of time and remains a marker in Vicksburg’s turbulent history.

John Alexander Klein had moved to Vicksburg from Virginia a young man of 24. He was a jeweler by trade and did well in his new hometown. He diversified his earnings and grew wealthy very quickly as he had a finger in many pies: cotton plantations, sawmills, railroads, banking and investment property. In 1838 he was well-respected in Vicksburg and felt he lacked only one asset: a wife.

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Just a sample of the oplunt furnishings at Cedar Grove

When he met Elizabeth Bartley Day, a beautiful, young, Ohio girl visiting nearby relatives in 1838, he knew he had found the one for him. The fact that Elizabeth was only 12 years of age did not deter him. He was a patient man. In 1840 he began construction of Cedar Grove with the intention of gifting his bride-to-be with the most magnificent home in the city. The home was set on eight acres of land, which he had landscaped in elegant style. One of the high points was his 9-foot-deep catfish pond; today it houses darting goldfish. The back yard was a grove of 25 cedar trees, thus the name.

By 1842, the central part of the home was completed and, at 16, Elizabeth was deemed old enough to marry her 30-year-old suitor. He presented her with the gracious home and took her on a year-long honeymoon trip to Europe, where they searched out the rarest of furnishings for the mansion on the bluff. Money was no object.

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The Bohemian glass transom
is reflected in the hall mirror

The newlyweds returned by way of New Orleans and contracted Prudent Mallard, one of the best furniture builders in the country, to make several pieces of furniture for Cedar Grove. They also brought some treasures from Europe: gold leaf mirrors which are dusted with 24 caret gold, Italian marble fireplaces, Paris window treatments, French Empire gasoliers which burned carbide and water, creating the equivalent of today’s natural gas, and one of the most innovative and expensive treasures, Bohemian glass to place above the exterior doorways. It reflects the sunlight to help with insulation; it appears black when viewed from outside and red from within and is mixed with 24 caret gold.

The Kleins began their family, which would eventually number 10 children, and the fairy tale ended and real life stepped in. Of the 10 children Elizabeth bore, only six grew to adulthood. Then there was that worst of Southern ghost makers, the War Between the States.

 

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Cannonball embeded in wall

The siege of Vicksburg found Elizabeth pregnant with her last child. She was six months along, huge and terrified – the house had already been struck by more than 40 cannonballs, one of which is still embedded in the floor of John’s Smoking Parlor -- when the opportunity to get to safety presented itself. General Sherman was related to Elizabeth; an uncle by marriage. He offered to transport Elizabeth, her mother and children back East until the war was over if he could use Cedar Grove as a hospital. Elisabeth agreed and thus saved her home from the torch.

The downstairs portion of the present-day Library Suite was the original wine cellar for the home, and, because of its cool temperature, it was used as the morgue during the time the home was a Union hospital. This suite is haunted by many spirits. Many guests note a smell of decay here as if the bodies are still making their presence felt. Others have heard the sound of men marching. But the departed Union soldiers are not the only specters here. Ninety percent of the books in the bookcase are original to John and Elizabeth. Two books, “How to be a Lady in Modern Society,” a favorite of Elizabeth’s, and “Notes on Law,” one of John’s favorites, are frequently rearranged in the bookshelf by some unearthly presence. Tour guides will frequently attempt to show them and find they have been moved from their normal places.

This is not the only place where you might encounter John or Elizabeth. They still seem to inhabit much of the house, as do the spirits of several of their children. The master bedroom, called the Grant Room as the general stayed in this room for one day after the siege of Vicksburg, is on the first floor near the foot of the stairs, with the adjourning room to the front of the house, now the Bay Room, acting as the nursery. It was in these two rooms that three of the Klein children died. They can be heard playing nearby still. One spirit that is seen occasionally is a young girl bouncing her ball up and down the front stairs between the first and second floor.

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Fountain in Cedar Grove back yard

Their youngest child met a horrible fate. Born during the siege just months after General Sherman had moved Elizabeth to safety, the grateful mother named him William Tecumseh Sherman Klein. Horrified neighbors swore any child bearing the name of the most-hated general in the history of warfare would be cursed. But Willie grew to young manhood as an intelligent and handsome boy. He was 16 and had just returned from a hunting trip with a friend when disaster struck. He and a friend rested under a magnolia tree in the back yard then, but when his friend tried to get up from the ground, he accidentally discharged his gun. The bullet slammed into young Willie’s chest. The wounded boy tried unsuccessfully to seek help by climbing the black iron staircase but only made it part of the way up and fell dead at the foot of the stairs. Guests still hear the footsteps and the thump mostly in the middle of the day.

John’s presence is sometimes seen in his original smoking parlor. Many people have smelled cigar smoke in there. More impressive is the story of the employee who was cleaning the room and felt someone standing behind her. When she looked into the pier mirror in front of her, she saw the reflection of a man, but when she turned around, no one was there. Others have had a similar experience.

The back porch, now the Wicker Room, looks out on John’s catfish pond. This was also the scene of a terrible tragedy. A small child was playing one day and fell into the pond and drowned. His body was not found until hours later floating in the water. One employee was leaving the office one evening and heard a child scream followed by a loud splash. When she checked the fountain, she found nothing there. At least nothing she could see with mortal eyes.

This room also served as the functional “front” of the house. It was here that carriages dropped off guests for the lavish balls. The carriages then proceeded to the Carriage House just across from it to stable the horses. Guests who stay in the Carriage House suites often hear horses whinnying and stamping their hooves.

The room that parapsychologists agree has the most activity is the ballroom. The cause of this activity occurred many years later after the home had been sold out of the family. The third owners of Cedar Grove were Doctor Podesta and his family. They loved to entertain with fancy balls. Unfortunately one of their daughters was mentally handicapped. To avoid embarrassment, they locked the girl in her room when they were entertaining. During one lavish ball, the daughter escaped from her room. She somehow got a gun and went into the ballroom. There, in front of the shocked guests, she pulled the trigger and ended her unhappy life. It is said that she appears in the ballroom on the anniversary of her death.

I stayed in the Bonnie Blue Room on the second floor and enjoyed it immensely. I had a great view, and the huge old-fashioned bed was comfortable. No bumps in the night awoke me.  The inn is so welcoming, and the breakfast in the dining room downstairs is first-rate.

If you enjoyed this article, you will enjoy my book, Hosts With Ghosts: Haunted Historic Hotels in the Southeast, of which this is a partial excerpt.

 

 

Cedar Grove Inn
2200 Oak Street
Vicksburg, Mississippi 39180
(800) 862-1300
www.cedargroveinn.com

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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