– Thomas Carlyle
I keep meaning to ask my judicial friends at the new Ruffin Courthouse whether they have seen anything mysterious.
Here’s why: The new courthouse was built on the site of an old street with a history of mystery – in particular, it had a ghost.
The new building at James Brown and Walton Way takes up a site that used to include Talcot Street.
Talcot was always one of Augusta’s smallest streets. Named for a Mexican War hero a century and a half ago, it ran between Ninth and 10th streets. It achieved some notoriety in 1885 when The Chronicle reported that one of its rooming houses was haunted.
An editor’s note here: The Chronicle used to spend a lot of time covering ghost sightings. The old microfilm features frequent tales of haunts and haints and interviews with those who saw them. We don’t get so many reports any more, and certainly nothing as dramatic as the Talcot terror.
The identity of that 1885 ghost was suspected, The Chronicle reported. An old man, who rented rooms in a tenement house on Talcot’s south side, had died a year before in “acute agony.” He was buried and new boarders – a widow and her children – took his rooms.
Soon after, the newspaper said, he returned. The woman said she was sewing one July night when she saw the form of a man, about 50, moving silently around the room. As she watched, he walked up the stairs and soon she heard the sound of a bed falling overhead.
A short time later, the image appeared again, this time walking closer to the woman, still sewing by lamplight. She described him as stern, smooth-faced, gray-haired, slightly stooped and wearing the clothes of a workman. Her son saw the image, too. He was upstairs in the bed as it moved about the floor. He also heard the ghost mutter, “Oh, Lord,” several times before it left.
The ghost, the newspaper reported, came back often, once walking in on some neighbors next door. The widow (whom the newspaper refused to identify) said that after each visit, the doors and windows were checked and found secure. Locked and bolted.
“The family in the upper tenement where the ghost has appeared regularly nearly every week will remain for the present,” The Chronicle reported. “They are not afraid, although considerably annoyed by the continued visitations.”
The reporter or his editors probably thought this whole episode was going to raise doubts.
“We are not detailing an imaginary affair,” they wrote. “The details as given above were narrated to us by the widow, herself, whom we called on yesterday afternoon, after hearing a rumor in regard to the matter.
“We suppress the names by request, but give the true location. The occupants of the house are intelligent people. They declare they don’t believe in ghosts.”
Well, that’s the story.
I haven’t heard any recent sightings from judges or bailiffs or prosecutors.
But if they do share any, we’ll pass them along.
It’s an old newspaper tradition.