The Vagabond – A not-so-haunted house in 1870s Gadsden

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By Danny Crownover

In August of 1878, an experience with a so-called haunted house in Gadsden was brought about by one of the most regrettable tragedies of the town’s history, which was the killing of an alleged “wild man” by the town marshal.

It was reported that women and children in the residence sections had been frightened by two “wild men” who were walking around aimlessly and making threatening gestures. They were reported to have tried to enter several homes and frighten mothers and their little children into nearby houses.

News of the men’s peculiar conduct eventually reached local authorities, who were urged to do something about it. Matters came to a head when it was reported that the men had barricaded themselves into a large two-story colonial dwelling located off Seventh Street at the corner of what is now Berea Avenue, after the women and children of the house had locked themselves in an upstairs room.

While the intruders were looking for the house’s occupants, the town marshal, armed with a double-barreled shotgun, reached the scene. He planted a ladder against the second story porch in front of the house and climbed up. He soon walked through an open door, and as he reached the head of the stairway, encountered the two men.

The marshall warned the men not to come up the stairs, declaring that he would shoot. One of the men defiantly put his foot on the lower step and the marshal opened fire. That man was killed, while the other man was wounded. A dark stain at the foot of the stairway marked the death scene for many years.

Years later, a boy who was attending a public school erected in 1880 directly across Seventh Street on the site now occupied by the Gadsden Public Library, reported that he had seen a “goat” in the two-story colonial.

Children soon began to spread the story that a “ghost” had been sighted at the residence. From then on, the house was haunted, so far as the school kids were concerned.

Years later, an annex was built on the old home to house the millinery establishment of Miss Mattie Wood and Mrs. Ella Sampler, who were sisters. Since everybody living in that house lived to a ripe old age, it was evident that the ghost business had no foundation whatever.

In any event, the town marshal’s shooting the “wild men” was regarded as justifiable under the circumstance. However, there were those who later reached the conclusion that the two men were merely drunk and most likely harmless.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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