“So,” I said. “Why do you think there’s a ghost in here?”
“Stay right there,” said founder and director of Mountain Challenge Bruce Guillaume as he stood, walked across the room and traversed the Crawford House staircase. His journey up the stairs was followed by a series of echoing bangs and disconcerting rattling, all of which faded into the subtle slither of his hand on the stair railway as he came back down a few moments later.
“Hear all that?” asked Guillaume.
I nodded and began writing.
The sources of rattling were the upstairs windows that were originally erected when Crawford House was built in 1876; the noise can only be produced when someone is walking on the second floor. In the nearly 30 years of Guillaume’s work in Crawford House, the strange rattling has occurred six times without a living soul in the upper parts of the house— always in the evening and always when no one was upstairs.
With no outside forces (such as a passing car or the wind) or inside forces (such as machinery or a living person) influencing the rattling, the employees of Crawford House came to the conclusion that the building’s second floor is haunted by a spirit— that preternatural instances of the occult are taking place on Maryville College campus.
After finishing up my interview with Guillaume, he guided me from his office to a picture mounted in the hallway of the man who the employees of Crawford House believe the ghost to be: founder of Crawford House, Gideon Stebbins White Crawford. The black and white photograph depicted a frowning white man in a suit, the bottom of his face masked in a grand, bushy beard, the piercing gaze of his eyes staring beyond onlookers to a point one cannot comprehend.
Below this photograph was gold-framed snippet on Gideon Crawford’s life and his involvement with Maryville College, reading:
“Crawford House, this is the home of Gideon Stebbins White Crawford and his bride, Margaret Elizabeth Jane Duncan Crawford. Both Gideon and Jennie attended Maryville College, and Gideon graduated with the Class of 1871. They were married on July 24, 1874 after Gideon’s graduation from Lane Seminary. Gideon and Jennie moved to this house built by Gideon on College Hill in 1876. Gideon served Maryville College as Professor, Registrar and Assistant Treasurer. Funds for the 1987 restoration of Crawford House were provided by the descendants of Gideon and Jennie Crawford.”
After taking a few pictures of the portraits, I explored Crawford House for myself by heading straight for the second floor.
The stairs were a dark, wooden color and creaked with each step, so I treaded lightly. Bright sunlight filtered through the windows and reflected off the glass-framed pictures hanging from the walls. The skeptic part of me felt this was another ordinary house that made strange noises the way a lot of old houses did.
But the paranoid part of me felt all the eyes in the pictures were following my every step—particularly the haunting eyes of Gideon Crawford’s portrait, which patiently awaited me at the base of the staircase I had just left behind.
There were three offices on Crawford House’s upper floor. The first contained a cracked wooden floor whose paint was peeling off in some areas and gone altogether in others. Aside from the floor, there were no telltale signs of the room’s age. One corner housed a couch and yoga balls that were pushed against a bookcase. On the other side were a desk, a printer and a chair.
It was the same in the other two offices, with minor differences in decor: chairs, couches and a small array of athletic equipment. I took pictures of all this and waited, though I wasn’t quite sure for what.
Computers and books didn’t start whirling around the room. The room’s temperature didn’t suddenly drop 50 degrees. There was no severed hand scrawling “turn back” in blood on the wallpaper.
I returned to the first floor, glanced at Gideon’s portrait and took a few more pictures of Crawford House’s interior before saying goodbye to Guillaume and leaving.
With its picture perfect layout in a small copse of trees, a manicured lawn and a white picket fence, Crawford House seems the apt place for a haunting, but no supernatural event occurred during my visit.
It’s simple to say that there is no spirit and that the source of the rattling could be explained given enough time and study; however, the fact that several employees of the House believe there to be an otherworldly presence gives the case enough merit to be more than the imaginations of the human brain.