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An Oxford house ghost visit

By Jack Mayfield

Recently I was doing some research on the Stone Law Office for Visit Oxford as it opened its new headquarters on East Jackson in the former building that housed the law office.

I found an interesting ghost story that involved the home of  “General” James Bates Stone on Washington Avenue across the street from the Oxford city pool.

The home was built in the 1850s by Tomlin Avant (sometimes spelled Avent). The stately home was destroyed by fire in January 1942. Avant came to Oxford in the early days of the formation of Oxford and Lafayette County. He had constructed the home for his new wife, Fanny Brown.

For many years the home was called the “Bride’s House.” Avant’s wife was the daughter of one of the owners of the Mississippi Central Railroad that had just been built through Oxford. Her father, James Brown was also a trustee of the University of Mississippi. His home, which was on a lot across the street from the present day Burns Belfry, was used by Grant as his headquarters while he was in Oxford in December 1862.

Avant was a controversial man given to lavish entertainments and having his own way. It was said he was a man with a “champaign taste and a beer pocketbook.” After Jacob Thompson triumphal return to Oxford in 1869, Avant held one of his famous parties in honor of Thompson at his home on Washington Avenue. A large crowd met Thompson’s train at the Oxford-University Depot and the university students unhitched the horses from Avant’s carriage. They then pulled the carriage around the Square passed the ruins of Col. Brown’s home to his son-in-law’s home for a lavish reception.

Due to financial setbacks after the Civil War, Avant was forced to sell the home. Just before the turn of the century, Edward Mayes purchased the home and lived there after his tenure as chancellor of the University of Mississippi. Mayes’ wife was the daughter of L.Q.C. Lamar. In the home, Mayes housed a rather large collection of books. Some of which had been given to him or his father-in-law by Jefferson Davis.

When Stone purchased the home, Mayes for some reason left behind his collection of books. The books would play a large role in the young life of William Faulkner. He would use the books for information and enlightenment. Much has been written in biographies of Faulkner about his use of this extensive collection of books left behind by Mayes.

Stone was not a military general. There are two stories as to why he used the term “General” in his name. One, because he was general counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad, and the other because he was a general on the staff of the Mississippi governor. He moved to Oxford from Batesville where his family had extensive holdings in farmland. His hunting lodge was used by Faulkner and his friends for their annual bear hunt.

The main reason Stone moved to Oxford from Batesville was for his children to attend the University of Mississippi as he had done. Also his wife felt that the hill country was better suited for raising a family. It was healthier than the swampy Delta at the turn of the century. Another reason was the Federal Courts were in Oxford and Stone argued many cases as an attorney in the courts.

Stone had attended the Kentucky Military Institute as a young man and later the University of Mississippi Law School. He did not graduate from the law school but read for the bar exam after a few semesters at Ole Miss.

One interesting story I found about Stone was his departure and return to KMI. His father had wanted his son to have a good education and not be made to work as hard as he had.

He sent his son to KMI but he didn’t stay long and returned to Batesville. As the story goes his father put him to work, plowing from sunup to sundown and when school opened in the fall, Stone was there ready to study.

Not long after the Stone family had moved to the “Bride’s House,” the general encountered a ghost that he and his wife had been warned about. After the Stones had moved into the home, some of his neighbors spoke to him and his wife about the meetings with a ghost. Strange lights appeared there at night, doors creaked open, ghostly apparitions appeared in mirrors while ladies sat at their dressing tables.

One day the general was helping his wife hang some draperies and while he was standing on a ladder he turned to discover a man had silently entered the room and was staring at him.

Stone inquired what the man wanted and at first he refused to answer. Finally he did answer, “Ain’t you skeered to stay in this house with all them haints?” When Stone replied, “No,” the apparition said, “Well, I guess you’re a lawyer and haints can’t harm you.”

The ghost then turned and left the room.

Jack Mayfield is an Oxford resident and historian. Contact him at jlmayfield@dixie-net.com.