Spirits make themselves heard -- and sometimes seen -- at this century-old Midtown residence.
When Steve and Tina Davis bought their home in the Annesdale-Snowden neighborhood, they were attracted by the mix of old architecture and young families — not by things that go bump in the night. But since they moved there from Cordova in 1989, Tina has heard plenty of bumps and knocks, seen apparitions glide past her, and once fled the house in the wee hours of the morning when 33 antique clocks started chiming at once. "We don't wind them," she says, "but they woke me up just bonging like crazy. Steve was out of town, so I took the dog, my purse, and just drove around all night."
After years of unsettling scenarios, with several neighbors telling their own spooky tales, the Davises — he's a graphic designer and sign engraver and she's a Shelby County deputy court clerk — accept the spirits that seem to share their home.
The neighborhood grew up in the shadow of an 1850s-era Italianate mansion on what is now Lamar Avenue. After the Civil War, during which the mansion served as a hospital, it was bought by Robert Snowden, who named it Annesdale in honor of his bride. In 1903, two of Snowden's sons started developing the surrounding acreage. Among the professionals and businessmen buying houses was William Arthur Lee.
"He was a sales manager for Orgill Brothers," says Tina, who has researched the home's various owners. "He bought this house in 1910 and lived here about four years. I think his wife is one of our ghosts."
But let's first give credit to the Davises' dog for alerting the current owners to possible energy they couldn't see. During their early years in the house, their Westie, Chivas, would sit on the living room sofa and stare at the ceiling, as if he saw something moving around.
Then a couple came to visit the Davises. "A friend of Steve's brought his new girlfriend," recalls Tina, "and she asked if she could see the house." Soon she was saying, "You know your house is haunted, don't you?" She went on to tell Tina that two women dwelled here: "One is a former housekeeper who was treated well here and doesn't want to leave. The other is the lady of the house and she is guarding a secret, something to do with a birth, and she's afraid the secret will get out."
The visitor also asked Tina if her dog stared at the ceiling. "When I told her yes, all the time, she said, 'That's because spirits hover up there.'"
Tina can't vouch for any "secrets," but she can speak of one female presence. Several years ago, on a summer afternoon, she was in the kitchen reading her mail, when a lady floated past the doorway coming from the staircase. She was thin and regal, her long hair pulled up, wearing a high-necked ruffled white blouse over a long dark skirt. She didn't look at Tina, just moved on toward the entryway. "My heart was beating 100 miles an hour," she recalls, "until I thought, 'That's not a real person. It's one of my women.' I really believe she was the lady of the house, very statuesque."
Tina never saw her again, but years later she learned that her stepdaughter Beth had. As a teenager, Beth told Tina someone was walking around her bed at night. "Beth is 30 now and pregnant," says Tina, "and she called not long ago and said, 'I've been waking up with the woman standing by my bed.' And when she described her, I knew it was the same woman I'd seen."
Tina could fill a book with other eerie occurrences: mysterious footsteps and slamming doors; a portrait (left), bought at an auction, of a "dour" woman who seemed to drive Chivas into a barking frenzy; a paunchy man who drifted from the guest room one day wearing suspenders, vest, and hat; the knocking on a stairwell wall where Tina had tucked away a Ouija board. And the wall-banging that resounds whenever musicians record at the couple's third-floor studio.
Alexis Grace, of American Idol fame, spent two weeks recording there. "The group finally got a song just the way they wanted it and were clapping and carrying on," says Tina. "The banging really got loud that time; it sounded like World War Three on the stairwell. I think the spirits were telling us they don't like the racket."
Steve, though he's never seen an apparition, has heard enough to make him a believer: "That wall-banging was one strange deal."
While at the house, a member of Grace's group took pictures of the dining room and staircase. "It showed a large orb near the fireplace," says Tina, "and lots of smaller orbs throughout." According to some theories, orbs in photographs suggest the presence of spiritual energy.
Michael Einspanjer, who owns Memphis Paranormal Investigators, regularly receives calls to check out possible hauntings. First he rules out natural causes — leaky pipes or a large power line nearby — before delving into the supernatural. Then he uses an electromagnetic field meter to detect electric energy in a house. "We unplug everything and sit in the dark. [At the Davises' house] the equipment showed things I couldn't explain, including fluctuations on the meter. We also smelled a scent like rose hips, and Tina was not wearing perfume."
Einspanjer believes lingering souls "have unfinished business and don't want to leave." He has been called on to exorcise ghosts by "using a voice of reason and authority, telling them it's time to go."
But Tina says of her spirits, "They startle me, but I don't really mind them being here. I love the house and the neighborhood."