Natchez, Mississippi Mississippi is a state known for its beauty, culture, and history. It has been the setting for some of the most well respected works of literature and movies. But past the beauty there are shadows, hidden secrets, and a different history that paints old Mississippi in a singular light. Some history is better off forgotten, but there are always things that remind of times past. Sometimes the dead refuse to stay buried ? especially when the dead are victims of murder.
The city of Natchez boasts a great history. With more antebellum houses and plantations than any other place in the United States, it is easy for a traveler to get lost in the grace of the architecture and the scent of the warm breeze as it blows in off the river. When in places like Natchez, it is the norm for travelers to seek out restaurants and taverns that are housed in historic buildings, adding to the experience of the place. Imagine their surprise, however, when the experience turns chilling, when glasses fly off walls and phantom laughter can be heard, and the cold prickles the hairs on the neck. It isn’t their imagination, nor is it the beer. It’s just Madeline, one of the resident spirits of King’s Tavern, making her presence known.
King’s Tavern is the oldest building in Natchez, Mississippi, having been built in the latter half of the 1700’s. The first U.S. Mail that came to Natchez, in fact, was delivered to the tavern’s doorstep, where the townsfolk would gather to get their letters. The fellow who owned the tavern, Richard King, prospered and enjoyed his status in the town as something of a celebrity. By most accounts he and his wife led normal lives and held a position of respect and prominence in the community. With such prominence, however, came temptation.
Around 1789 a young girl named Madeline came to work in King’s Tavern as a serving girl. She was beautiful and flirtatious and soon caught the eye of Richard King. It wasn’t long before Madeline noticed and became attracted to her employer as well. They engaged in a brief, although steamy affair that was cut short when King’s wife discovered them. Enraged, she sought out the services of unscrupulous men and had the girl murdered. Then, to keep her good name clear, she bricked the body and the murder weapon up into the fireplace in the main room of the tavern.
Up until the 1930’s the story of Madeline was thought to be purely legend. However, when the building was taken over by new owners and a renovation began, a grisly discovery was made: Inside the chimney wall workers found the mummified remains of not one, but three, bodies. Two of the corpses were men. One, however, was that of a girl, just the right age to have been the lovely Madeline. Lying next to her body was the dagger that was used to end her life.
Though the bodies were removed and given a proper burial, questions remained. Who were the other two bodies, and who put them there? The first question was the subject of rumor and conjecture, with everyone seeming to have their own theories as to the corpses? identities and trespasses. Of the second question, however, there was little doubt. King’s wife seemed to have taken exception to more than just poor Madeline.
Following the discovery, people began to notice strange things going on in the tavern. Waiters would find wet footprints across the upstairs floor, and lights would flicker at the most inopportune moments. Most startling, however, was that the old, out-of-commission fireplace would be warm, as if having been lit. This was the same fireplace in which Madeline and the other two were entombed.
Madeline may be the most recognized of the ghosts inhabiting the King’s Tavern, but she’s far from the only one. Many have reported seeing things that are "out of character" for the mischievous ghost, things that seem too aggressive. While dishes move by her unseen hand, it is rare for her to throw them.
Other phenomena that are reported include sightings of long, flowing shadows that pass through the stairwell; footsteps in empty rooms; and guests that experience a tightness in their necks and shoulders as well as an immediate heaviness in their chests. Video cameras with fully charged batteries often wind up drained in only a few minutes, and often still cameras will stop working completely, only to resume normal function outside the tavern walls.
In November of 2000 a news crew from Natchez decided to do some investigating of their own and discovered the old tavern was just as active as it had ever been. The investigative team witnessed several flowing shadows for which there were no identifiable sources. Many of their cameras mysteriously malfunctioned, one of which only did so while trying to focus on a portrait of Madeline. In one of the bedrooms the voice of a woman was captured on tape even though the room was empty. One of the team even experienced what he described as something dragging down his neck and poking him in the back.
One of the most significant phenomena recorded was a twenty-degree temperature drop in one of the bedrooms. The reporter, who was attempting to take a nap, was shocked when alarms on the temperature sensors went off. She watched at the temperature fell steadily in front of her eyes.
King’s Tavern still operates today as a restaurant and tavern and is a popular site on tours of historic Mississippi. They are open year-round, and the employees never seem to mind answering questions about Madeline or any of the other disturbances that occur there. The wait staff have, in fact, grown quite used to the tavern’s spectral residents and regard them warmly.
Most occurrences seem to happen at night, starting just before closing time and continuing until the staff member arrive the next morning. Investigators have noticed an increase in activity and electromagnetic energy fields when the customers have gone home. Though it’s not typical of this, or any business for that matter, to let just anyone spend the night in their haunted establishment, it is a very nice place in which to sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
See you in two weeks!
Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson