Ghostly Encounter at Belmont Plantation Leaves No Doubt About Delta Mansion's Playful Spirits
“If only these walls could talk!”
That is usually a figure of speech, representative of wonder about a dwelling’s stature, age, and likely breadth of experiences. Then again, maybe some walls do speak or at least seem to be holding on to murmuring voices from the past.
Sit down, boys and girls. I want to tell you a story.
Belmont Plantation in Greenville, Mississippi, built in 1857 is considered one of the finest antebellum mansions in the entire Delta region. The fact that it even exists today is remarkable, given the Civil War strife, the region’s many catastrophic floods over the years before the mighty Mississippi’s comprehensive levee systems were in place, and the land taken for levee construction as flood control measures gained ground. The flood of 1927 supposedly saw the great house filled with 9 feet of water!
Nearby Greenville, just a few miles north, was the major support hub for a collection of tough, fearless people who decided the lands around the cypress-laden, oxbow-shaped Lake Washington was a good place to carve out a living. It was burned during the Civil War.
According to the history of Belmont Plantation, the sale of Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian lands brought an influx of settlers, among them the Worthington brothers of Kentucky. Each of the four brothers bought vast acreage and established huge plantations. Only William Worthington’s Belmont has survived.
Worthington was a physician. He was also a slave owner and at one time 80 slaves worked the plantation’s hundreds of acres. He began building the house in 1855 and finished around 1861. The style married the Greek Revival and Italianate styles, then popular when it came to mansions. The main two-story block is red brick with a full-height portico featuring square Doric columns, turned balustrades, and a pediment pierced by a circular window. The cornice line is heavily bracketed. The roof is of shallow pitch, hipped and crowned with molded chimneys. Windows are tall and narrow, capped with stone lintels. It remains an impressive structure.
Belmont remained in the Worthington family into the 1920s when the Worthington heirs suffered the flood of 1927. The cost of repair was too much to handle and the insurance company foreclosed on the plantation by 1928. The Weathers family bought the severely damaged property during the Great Depression and began restoring the estate. According to Belmont’s history, they repaired plaster, installed indoor plumbing and modern electricity, purchased new furniture, and even created closets between the bedrooms by salvaging doors and moldings from Wayside Plantation which was going to be surrendered to the River across the new levee.
In 1940, Governor Dennis Murphree bought the house from the Weathers and converted it into a hunting lodge. Over the next half-century, it was occupied only by hunters and sportsmen. The stories go that the place steadily lost its restored grandeur. Another owner in the 1990s, Mr. and Mrs. Fernando Cuquet (New Orleans attorney and casino developer) again restored the property and lived in it until 2012.
Maintaining an old mansion is a never-ending challenge and expense. Belmont Plantation was foreclosed by the bank in 2014 and was subsequently put on the market at a dramatically reduced price, according to the plantation’s printed history. Extensive restoration work was needed to bring the home back to its former glory. Porches were collapsing, the plumbing system was a wreck, the roof leaked, and mildew and mold plagued the interior.
Enter Joshua Caine, Mississippi borne and a conservationist of his native state’s historic places. He purchased the home and has been restoring it since. Camille Collins, a relative, is the onsite manager and CEO of this now beautifully restored mansion. It now serves as a bed and breakfast, a valued location for filming period movies and television shows, and a venue for festivals and celebrations of all types around the Greenville area. To say that they have “done a lot with the place” is a huge understatement (photos below - keep scrolling...). The interior restoration is fabulous with many furnishings including pieces from previous owners dating back to the Worthingtons. Collins cheerfully jokes, sort of, that she has be a manager, a hostess, a plumber, electrician and more to keep up with the demands.
These walls – obviously – have seen a lot during their more than a century and a half…
Cue Spooky Music
Many old houses have a ghost story or three to share. Belmont, it seems, has plenty. The mansion was a host venue for a recent outdoors writer fishing camp on nearby Lake Washington. Four of us stayed in the house. Others stayed at nearby Linden Plantation, a later version of an opulent plantation house. Others, still, stayed at cabins right on the lake at Southern RV campground.
Schedules on these trips are usually packed, leaving little time to get things squared away for the inevitable early morning activities. We arrived back at Belmont after a group dinner and enjoyed a short nightcap. I briefly sipped a wee dram of Jameson’s Cask Mates stout with Collins and Lisa Winters of the Greenville-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. I bid the ladies “Good evening,” and retreated soon after 10 p.m. up the staircase to the spacious bedroom now called “The Debutante Suite.” This, naturally, summoned a grin as I unlocked the door. The room has two queen-sized beds and is adjacent to a room called “The Matriarch Suite.” Fellow outdoor writer Kenny Kieser was sleeping in the room at the front of the building known as “The Captain’s Suite,” a designation that I’m sure brought a similar smile to his face. His room also shared a common wall with The Matriarch Suite.
I hurriedly tried to lay out the things I needed for the morning – clothes, camera gear, etc.
Things got weird – fast.
As I pulled the covers on the bed to turn them down from the pillow, I thought I felt the bed bump back at me. I chalked it up to the bed, maybe, shifting a little as I tugged the covers. Now wandering around in just my underwear, I turned to sit on the bed while I set the alarm on my smartphone for the six-hour-distant wake-up. I sat down and within seconds felt a heavy weight plop down on the bed a couple feet to my right, as in right next to me! Maybe it was one of those debutantes…
Incredible as we humans are at rationalizing, I deluded myself into thinking, “Awe, the bed just shifted…old bed, yadda, yadda.” I set the phone on the table and laid down, turning out the light. About 5 to 10 minutes later, there came three pushes on the bed to my right, sort of like a big dog walking there. That summoned my best Scooby-Doo “Ruh Roh” and I flicked on the light. It was then I heard the voices, women’s voices, having a muffled, engaged conversation. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. The sounds were filtered like they were coming through a wall or up from the ground floor. “Aha, that has to be it,” I thought, “Camille and Lisa are simply downstairs talking and I can hear them.” To be sure, I pressed my ear against the walls of the adjoining suites. Nothing to my west, but clearly the sound was more pronounced near The Matriarch Suite, which was unoccupied. The living room where I had left the ladies was below that suite.
An hour later they were still yakking. I wadded up toilet paper and stuffed it in my ears, laid down and waited for the bed to do its thing again. Thankfully, I didn’t perceive any more action and fell asleep, waking up three times during the night – one a call of nature and two to make sure there wasn’t some ethereal being floating over me or lying beside me.
The next morning, as I came downstairs to leave for the fishing trip, Michael Jones, Mississippi’s outdoor tourism honcho, and Kieser were at the base of the stairs. “Anything interesting happen to you last night?” Jones asked. “As a matter of fact, yes,” I said outlining the story. Kieser, incredibly, had the same bed experience, albeit no conversation, simply weird sounds. He had independently shared his story with Jones before I arrived on the scene.
The defining spook-confirming moment for me was when I learned that Winters had left Belmont about 5 minutes after I headed upstairs to bed. No one was talking downstairs or anywhere in the house for that matter. But, I know what I heard...
The Rest of the Story
We learned that The Matriarch Suite is the site of considerable paranormal activity and sightings, by both guests and staff.
Collins said a girl with red hair had been seen roaming the grounds on occasion. She also shared that a girl with red hair opened the door for a delivery driver looking to see the lady of the house. He took his eye from her for a moment and when he looked back, she had vanished. Winters said a housekeeper also witnessed a young woman with red hair exit one of the upstairs rooms, cross the foyer and enter another room.
Paranormal researchers have also investigated Belmont and uncovered all manner of spooky activity, recording disembodied voices, photographing shadow figures, and coaxing spirits to activate devices such as unattended flashlights.
Kieser spent a second night, uneventful, in The Captain’s Suite. Jones, this time, reported the unexplained sounds. After my one night, chicken that I am, I grabbed my stuff and retreated to a hotel, but not before talking aloud to the ghosts and telling them that I hope they weren’t offended and that I was sure they were nice people.
Collins said any paranormal investigation has showed that Belmont’s ghost are merely playful and friendly. As that famous group of spook investigators, the Ghostbusters, declared, "We're ready to believe you."
For a more detailed history of Belmont, including photos at various stages of its existence, go to http://www.belmontplantation1857.com.
The Greenville and Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is a good one-stop shop for all things to see and do in this part of the Mississippi Delta. I was surprised to learn that the area is famous for “hot tamales,” sporting a Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail. Food festivals such as the Southern Food Festival, usually staged in October and next scheduled for Oct. 14-16, 2021, feature tamales front and center. Belmont has hosted tamale fests in the past. The festival features a hot tamale cooking contest, a tamale eating contest and a “Miss Hot Tamale” contest (wonder how one gets to be a guest judge in that one…).
See www.mainstreetgreenville.com, for more on these tamale doings!
Tamales and Steak – Great Steak!
Greenville is also home to one of the most unique steakhouses in which I’ve ever had the pleasure to sink my teeth into a ribeye. Doe's Eat Place was established in 1941 by Dominick "Doe" Signa and his wife Mamie. The building was previously a grocery store owned by Doe’s dad Big Doe. Like many homes and ventures around Greenville, the great flood of 1927 devastated the business, including Papa's Store. Big Doe transitioned to the role of bootlegger and whiskey maker.
The story goes that Mamie got a recipe – or at least part of a recipe - for hot tamales around 1941. Her hot tamales soon became popular and Doe’s restaurant was launched. In the segregated South, this converted grocery store was a unique operation. The front of the store was a honky tonk with a strictly black clientele. White customers, listed as part of the “carriage trade” on the restaurant’s web site, came in through the back door. In this back room, diners feasted on Doe’s incredible steaks. Word-of-mouth was powerful advertising. Demand grew and the back room became a thriving restaurant. The honky tonk closed; the “Eat Place” opened, expanding into the full building.
Now, when we parked and walked into what seemed to be a back or side door to an old white house, I didn't know what to expect, but I could sure smell the meat grilling. It was intoxicating! To my surprise, as soon as I walked in the door a young chef was to my left, deftly working two broiler grills loaded with dozens of steaks. Over on a nearby table, massive ribeyes and porterhouses, as well as beef tenderloins (filet mignon) sat raw with cooking instructions atop them. As soon as you walk past the dizzying display of delectable beef, you pass the French fry station with its mountain of homemade, thick fries.
“Grab a beer from the cooler on your way through,” one of the hostesses called out as we headed toward our dining room. “Gladly,” I responded, picking out a Texas-born Shiner Bock. Once in the dining room, platters of appetizers began arriving, including those famous tamales, along with some chili to use as a topping if desired. Shrimp (boiled and fried), salads and garlic bread also came through the door. Steak, though, is the superstar.
Customers can order ribeyes weighing nearly three pounds uncooked, incredible filet mignons that looked about three inches thick, massive porterhouse/T-bones, and sirloins big enough to feed an infantry squad. Our table of four benefited from having Wesley Smith of the Greenville and Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau with us. He advised that the steaks were so huge that rarely can a person eat one alone. We ordered two ribeyes to split. Simply, they were delicious, the best, thickest ribeyes I’ve ever eaten. And yes, we had leftovers, even with four of us. Incredible, and a must-eat place in Greenville.
Another Plantation Option
Further south from Belmont and along the shore of Lake Washington is Linden Plantation, home to Esperanza Outdoors, which offers prime waterfowl hunting, preserve quail hunts and a host of other outdoor experiences. Guests stay in a couple guestrooms plus some “shotgun” cottages on the property. These long, narrow homes are characteristic of the Delta region all the way into New Orleans. The main mansion house is spectacular, incredibly well-appointed with period furnishings and dripping with an ambiance that says, “Sportsmen and women live here.”
We had a breakfast and lunch there. The food was elegantly prepared. Hosts Whitney and Cameron Dinkins have an incredible operation going. I wouldn’t mind returning to give the waterfowl and quail a shot, plus work in some great Lake Washington crappie fishing.
Lake Washington Fishing
Speaking of fishing, this oxbox lake, cut off from the main Mississippi River some 700 years ago, is one of America’s top crappie fishing destinations. The fish are plentiful and big, and no one stays more on top of things going on at Lake Washington than Mike Jones, owner of Southern RV Park and the Bait-N-Thangs tackle shop. Jones coordinates multiple tournaments annually and knows all of the lake’s serious anglers. If you want the lowdown on some of the best slab-sized crappie fishing in America, you need to give him a call. ‘Nuff said.