Florida Ex-Governor Thomas Brown tells a Ghost Story

Florida Ex-Governor Thomas Brown captured this rendition of a ghost story in his unpublished memoirs in 1863, now in the possession of a descendant and published here with her permission. It appears to be the same ghost story that Brown related to Goodrich on July 16, 1860 at his home in Bel Air, Florida.

There was a very distinguished lawyer by the name of James Mound who, while pleading in a very important case, fell at the bar and was taken in the tavern where he soon expired. The tavern was at that time kept by a man who had two daughters just growing up and subsequently kept by the bachelor with whom I boarded. He slept in the room in which Mound died and was personally acquainted with him. We were often in the company of these two young ladies, the daughters of the former tavern keeper, who told wonderful stories of strange appearances in the room in which Mound died and often asked the bachelor if he had not seen or heard strange things in that room. At first he laughed at these stories but they began to make an impression on his mind. He had heard some things that he could not well account for and one night at the death hour, Walker, who was the old bachelor, made a terrible outcry in his room, which soon roused the servants and many of the young men besides, and when we entered the room we found him enveloped in the bed clothing and unable to stand. After we got him up and he became himself again, he told us that he awoke with strange sensations. It was light enough in the room to discern objects, for it was a full moon and the window shutters were not closed. Looking up he saw Mound bending over him with his eyes fixed fully on him. He knew him well—his large eyes and full flowing locks. It was no imagination. He was fully satisfied of his identity and could not be mistaken before he cried out and gave the alarm. Some believed his story for he was a sober, firm and brave man whose veracity could not be questioned.

I was young and giddy and foremost in expressing my disbelief in supernatural appearances. My father was very particular in impressing on the minds of his children the absurdity of all ghost stories. He reminded us that ghosts, if there were such things, must be very great cowards for they only appeared at night and only to one person, and if investigated, would be found to be some very natural thing which our imagination had magnified. He told us many instances which had occurred in his own experience to support his own opinion. Among others was his own. As his mother was at the house of a neighbor who had a sick child, and he was with her about midnight the child died. His mother sent him home for some purpose about the burial. The distance was not more than two miles. The moon was bright and full. He was too old, about seventeen years old, to express fears to go alone. He therefore obeyed his mother’s orders and started off. He could not draw the image of the child from his mind. He had seen it die and its little hands folded on its breast. There was a near way through a broom-straw old field a half-mile wide, through which a narrow path led. When he had gotten about midway in the old field, he saw before him immediately in his pathway a milk white object which under the light of the moon threw out rays that were almost dazzling. He was immediately riveted to the spot. He could not attempt to go back. He felt too much the pride of manhood to go around it and knew it would be folly. If it had the power to place itself before him where it was, it could do so in any other direction he might take. While pondering these reflections in his mind he was unconsciously getting nearer the object until he stood right over it, an oval thing without the form of any living creature. Without any chance of retreat he mustered up courage to project his foot forward to feel if the thing was tangible when it suddenly exploded with a terrific squall and he fell as if he had been shot. When he recovered from the stunning effect he found that he had disturbed the slumbers of a gander who had become detached from the flock and had chosen that position as the safest for escape from his prowling enemies, which is the invariable custom of the goose.

I was very forward in criticizing Walker’s story of having seen Mound’s ghost until he bantered me to sleep alone in that room and I as promptly took the banter and was brave enough till night came. At supper all the young men began to try my firmness. Some said I would back out. Sam took formal and doleful leave of me saying Mound would carry me off that night, but I stayed firm to my agreement, though I had some trickings of conscience that there might be something like temerity in the act, but I firmly went to bed, and they saw that the candle was taken away. I confess that I did not sleep very soundly that night. We all have a trait of superstition in our nature, which will betray itself under dubious circumstances. I was watchful and every little thing aroused me from my nap, but I passed the night and came off triumphantly, but that was to be my future sleeping room. Things went on for a little while very well, but I had not gotten over my watchful habit, and one night I awoke and looked around and there was Mound standing by my side looking me full in the face as Walker had described. I could not be mistaken. I looked him in the face as fully as he looked me in the face. These were his large black eyes, his full flowing black hair almost resting on the bedclothes. I could not be in a dream. It was reality. To describe the thoughts that rushed through my mind would be impossible. The most horrible one was that I was bound hereafter to believe that the spirits of the dead could visit this earth in their own forms. To give alarm would make me hereafter an object of ridicule. To attempt to escape would be folly. For if it had the power to come there and could enjoin me, it had the power to prevent my escape so I came to the determination as I had the temerity to get into this scrape I would fight my way out of it. I never thought of addressing a word to it but summoning up all my resolution I raised myself up in the bed and as I raised my arm to grapple him by his full flowing locks and as my arm and hand descended I had the sensation as if all the flesh on my arm and hand had perished away and I was grappling with a skeleton arm and hand. They descended upon my coat and vest on a high back chair, which I had drawn up to the side of a low single bed. Of course I fell on the bed so completely exhausted and prostrated from such intense excitement that Mound and all the dead clients he ever had might have danced around the bed until daybreak without moving me. The coat was a blue cloth with a high full cape, the fashion of that day, and a white Marsales vest. The coat was with the vest taken off together and so thrown over the back of the chair as for the cape to show above the vest, and facing to the bed, the dark cape gave the outlines of the full flowing hair, and the white vest, which showed inside of the cape with its fold and shades, gave the face and large black eyes, and my excited imagination finished the picture. The chair with the coat on it was high enough to give the appearance of a man stooping over the bed.

When I told the story the next day the old bachelor got into a furious position and decided that I had made up the story to make him appear ridiculous. He died in the belief that he had seen the ghost of Mound. This is a true statement of the facts without any imagination or embellishment. It is related here not for any interest there may be in the story itself but for the purpose of showing that ghost stories from combinations of circumstances have grown into such importance as to demand belief. If they had been properly investigated, they would have been found to end as my story of Mound’s ghost did. If I had given way to my fears there would have been two creditable witnesses, for Walker was a man whose veracity no one would question, to the fact, at different times, that the ghost of a man had been seen in a room in which he died. Without other collateral circumstances, I would have lived and died under the belief that the ghosts of men can and do appear on this earth.

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