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Today is October 29, 2020

Spirits and Splendor

Lead to legends at Longfellow House

By Nancy Jo Maples

Spirits and Splendor

Whether or not the legendary Longfellow House is haunted is less important than the fact it is inhabited.

The grand antebellum mansion, a place where if walls could talk the tales would be endless, sits on the east end of Buffet Beach in Pascagoula overlooking the Mississippi Sound. In its 170 years, few families have actually lived in it. Today, its walls witness the ramblings of a busy family. For Drs. Randy and Tracy Roth and their six children, Longfellow House isn’t haunted, it’s home.

Storms and stories, including the legend of its name, add romanticism to the majestic 9,000 square-foot, three-level structure. At times it sat abandoned igniting tales of apparitions. At other times it set the scene for elite socializing. Its ghost stories include a baby falling from a third-story window and bloodstained floors. Yet the stories the Roths hear most often revolve around its time as a grand resort with cottages, elegant dining and lounging attended by white-coated waiters, a golf course, clay tennis courts and a celebrated swimming pool where local children splashed and teenagers sparked, sometimes leading to love, marriage and a baby carriage.

“About once a week someone will see us on the front porch and stop to share a story. Sometimes they bring things from the restaurant like a menu or ashtray. Not having grown up here, we love hearing the stories,” Randy said. “Longfellow House means a lot to this city. People tell us they like seeing a swing hanging from a tree and children playing in the yard. They have thanked us for living here.”

Even its name evolved through legend. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was believed to have drawn inspiration to pen “The Building of the Ship” while vacationing there. The poem mentions trees “Brought from regions far away, from Pascagoula’s sunny bay” leading to local lore. Although Pascagoula is known for shipbuilding, literature scholars found Longfellow never visited Mississippi and the poetic reference merely identified the city as a source for ship-making lumber.

Originally called Bellevue, French for “beautiful view,” the home was built circa 1850 by wealthy slave-trader Daniel Graham whose reputation for slave cruelty resulted in the bloodstain story. The Roths never saw bloodstains, yet admit renovations could have erased them, allowing story rights to anyone who wants to hold onto that tale.

“The room that’s supposedly haunted is where the triplets were raised so if there was a ghost in there, he or she didn’t have a whole lot of room,” Randy said. The Roths moved in 14 years ago when the triplets were one. Prior, they lived in another historic Pascagoula beach home completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Greek Revival structure is powered by Singing River Electric. Gulf breezes make pleasant year-round sitting on the expansive front veranda accessible by a grand exterior staircase. The home features 14-foot ceilings, eight-inch crown molding and original Mahogany pocket doors on its center, living floor. The top floor houses four bedrooms. A grandmother suite occupies the lower level.

In addition to the Roths and Grahams, other inhabitants were W.A. Pollock, 1902-1938, and former mayor Frank Canty who resold it in the early 1940s to Ingalls Shipbuilding. Ingalls converted it into the resort. Following the resort’s closure, it deteriorated until Dick and Dianne Scruggs bought it in 1993, restored its grandeur and donated it to the University of Mississippi as a special occasion venue. After Katrina dumped eight feet of water in it, Ole Miss sold it to the Roths.

 

Award-winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples has written about Mississippi people and places for three decades. Contact her at nancyjomaples@aol.com.​

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