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Posted: October 24, 2010 12:30 a.m.

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Phantom Folklore: Orna Villa

Photo by Brittany Thomas/

Orna Villa

The oldest home in Oxford is currently for sale. It's Orna Villa, and it stands a bit off the main road through the small town. A peek inside the windows of the Greek Revival mansion show peeling wallpaper and a home in need of a loving family to bring it back to life. But although the home is devoid of furniture, if the rumors are true, it does come with its own ghosts.

Built in 1820, Orna Villa was the home of Dr. Alexander Means, a Methodist minister, professor, physician and one of the founders of the city of Oxford and Oxford College. Means served as president of the college for a year (1854-1855) before resigning to serve as president of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Means was enamored with electricity and conducted experiments in his home. It has been said that on occasion, a light can be seen in one of the rooms upstairs where Means had his home laboratory.

The more popular theory is that the spirit that lingers in Orna Villa is that of Means' son Tobe. According to lore, Means was insistent that his children receive a college education but his son Tobe was uninterested and wanted to travel. Several heated arguments were had over this issue and Tobe would stomp and fume through the house. Some say Tobe left one day out of anger. Others, like Jim Watterson, a former owner of Orna Villa, have heard that he became infatuated with a redheaded woman who was working at a carnival that was passing through Newton County, and ran off with her. Many have said they hear stomping in certain parts of the home, as if Tobe were once again venting his frustrations at his father.

"That (rumor) held water for awhile," said Watterson. "Until one summer afternoon when the family was all out in the backyard cooking out. I heard footsteps on the driveway and I looked up and saw a young man. He had driven from Atlanta and said that he wanted to see where his great-grandfather had lived. When I asked him his grandfather's name, he said it was Tobias Means... He was very surprised to hear that we'd made a ghost out of his grandfather,"said Watterson chuckling.

Watterson and his family owned the home for about a decade in the 1960s. According to Watterson, strange things occurred in the home, but he paid them little mind.

"I always said that no self-respecting ghost could ever be seen in the hustle and bustle of our kids in that house, they were the ones who scared the living daylights out of a lot of people," he said in a phone conversation Friday morning.

The Watterson family patriarch gave any ghosts who may have resided in Orna Villa with his family a run for their money by playing on the rumors and legend of the supposedly haunted house.

"The son of the sheriff of Clayton County came to visit," he recalled, "and my cousin who brought him over knew that he was - let's say - a believer. When he came in I just unloaded all the tales and stories to him, and he was already uneasy. He asked me if there were any cold spots in the house, well of course you get a house as old as Orna Villa and there's bound to be cold spots. When I told him there were, he screamed 'I knew it!' and ran out the back door and refused to come back inside," said Watterson.

One Halloween, Watterson took it upon himself to scare the neighborhood trick-or-treaters. He installed a black light at the front door, dressed in dark clothing and rubbed Vaseline - which will fluoresce - all over his face. When children came to the door for candy and saw him, they took off.
"When I opened the door kids flew everywhere," he said. "The whole yard was full of candy. One woman actually brought her child - kicking and screaming - back to the house to make sure he knew there was no such thing as ghosts."

The family had fun with their "haunted" house, but Watterson admitted that odd things would happen when they lived in the home. Doors would open and close for no reason, and there was, what he referred to as "a spooky feeling" at times, but said he was never frightened.

"It was and it is a loving home... It was a delightful house and we loved living there," said Watterson. "As a matter of fact, I was very disappointed I never saw a ghost."

He may not have seen a ghost, but he did find something underneath the house once when he went in search of the reason for a lack of heat: At least two graves belonging to Native Americans. Watterson said he never disturbed the graves, but believes that any odd occurrences in the home could probably be traced to it being built on the graves.

Also under the house, the material used to seal different portions of the house has turned red over the years and appears, according to Watterson, very much like blood, adding to the creepiness of things.

The Wattersons enjoyed the stories. Their children enjoyed hiding in the house and scaring any babysitters they ever had.

"We never could get a babysitter to come and stay more than one time," said Watterson.

The family that moved into the home after them had a far less entertaining time.

"They saw ghosts and they believed it," said Watterson of the family that he declined to name on the record. "They even had an exorcism to get rid of the ghosts."

But in what seems pure Watterson fashion, he said that when he heard of the exorcism, he and his wife felt sorry for poor Tobe, or whoever was haunting Orna Villa.

"I felt so sorry for poor Tobe, that he had been exiled from his own house, that we went out of the porch and had an anti-exorcism," said Watterson, laughing. "We invited Tobe to come live with us since he was such a good ghost, and he's been here with us on Wesley Street ever since."



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