The original inhabitants of Gaither's Plantation may be long in their graves, but if dozens of visitors are to be believed, the dead still walk the halls of this 159-year-old plantation home.
The home was built by William Hulbert Gaither, who lived there with his wife Cecelia and their children. The cotton plantation sat on 875-acres of property in Newton and Jasper counties and was home to more than 130 slaves. The area was so large it was once called the "Gaither's District." The home was a site of multiple parties and the Gaither family was a popular one throughout Newton County. That is, until tragedy struck.
In 1888 Gaither's son Henry killed a neighboring farmer with a blow to the head from a stick after an altercation over a fire that destroyed several of the neighbor'sturkey nests. He fled Newton County when a warrant was issued for his arrest, never to return. According to records, this was the catalyst that began the decline of the Gaither family. The couple's eldest daughter Clara died at the age of 9, in 1890 the family patriarch died and in 1900 the family's crops were wiped out by the boll weevil. By 1929 Cecilia - who had endured so much - lost her home and land to the bank over the inability to pay a mere $28 owed in taxes.
With so much misfortune, it should come as no surprise that rumors of ghostly happenings have swirled around the home for years. Newton County took control of the plantation in 1996 and several events are held there annually. According to Jerry Love, the chairman of the Friends of Gaither's committee, at every event - from the Hummingbird Festival to Civil War reenactments - at least one person would ask who the person was watching out the windows.
"Every time someone would ask me, I would unlock the house and go and look for the person they were seeing. Sometimes it was the face of a woman in the attic window. Other times they would say they saw someone looking out of the downstairs window. There was never anyone there when I went to look."
Deciding to squelch the rumors once and for all, Love contacted a paranormal organization and asked them to investigate the home expecting to hear that they had found nothing out of the ordinary. Instead they came back and told him they had found a lot of activity in the home. He decided on a second opinion and was told once more of the same activity the first group had found, plus more. After a third separate group was called out to investigate and found still more evidence, Love was convinced.
The Gaither's lore has continued to spread and more than a dozen paranormal research groups have visited the home. None have gone away empty-handed, according to Love, and the interest in the other-worldly happenings at Gaither's Plantation continues to grow.
In the dining room on the main floor, the doors on the buffet open and close periodically and caretaker Marty Roberts has reported seeing shadows while cleaning. In the attic, where the Gaithers were said to hide Confederate soldiers, music can be heard, as well as footsteps and there have been reports of hearing women arguing in the attic area. One ghost hunting society reportedly recorded a voice saying "don't go up the stairs," as they were headed up the steep attic stairs hidden in a bedroom closet.
The well handle on the indoor well located on the ground floor of the home has been seen turning without assistance and in the second floor bedroom which belonged to Cecelia, the pages of her Bible have been seen turning and the rocking chair in the corner is rumored to rock with no provocation. Occasionally there have been reports of people who have seen Cecelia sitting in the chair and rocking a baby. Judy Gaither Dial, who Love says is very in-tune with her ancestors, reported that once while in Cecelia's room she felt the comforting hand of her great-great grandmother on her back.
Other people have reported hearing doors open and close, that a pair of boots that belonged to William Gaither will move from one room to the other, and that "shadow people" - believed to be the spirits of soldiers - can be seen walking the grounds. And, on occasion, people have reported smelling pipe tobacco and a flowery perfume in the upstairs bedrooms.
The Tyler Perry movie "Madea's Family Reunion" was shot at the home and on the grounds and on one particular day the director had quieted the set to begin a scene when he heard footsteps on the widow's walk upstairs. He ordered an assistant to tell that person to come downstairs but no one was found. They tried to shoot again and once more, as soon as the camera began to roll, the sound of footsteps could be heard, this time coming down the stairs, according to Love.
Understandably upset, the director yelled at the person who was on the stairs to come down and quit walking around. But again, there was no one found. On the third try, the director reportedly yelled for everyone to come downstairs and allegedly said "and will the ghost of the house please cooperate!" According to Love, the scene went off without a hitch on the third try.
Additionally, a church on the property is said to be haunted after a murder-suicide occurred there when the pastor caught his wife with another man and killed her then himself. According to Love the church was moved to the property from its original location.
"I started out being a total nonbeliever and a skeptic and would prove there was nothing going on at the plantation and it kind of backfired on me," said Love.
But for all of the visitors to the historic plantation home, none have reported feeling threatened by its ghostly inhabitants. It seems that 80 years after losing Gaither's to the bank, Cecelia still stands sentinel over her beloved plantation, the eternal matriarch of a great legacy.