Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Yancey House


The Yancey House


My friend Johnny Justice introduced me to one of the spookiest places I knew as a boy in Marion, NC. I had never heard of the Yancey House, even though my dad had taken me and Roy fishing several times at the pond nearby. The Yancey House was an old Civil-war era house situated between the modern Airport Road and the Yancey Road, close to where the Catawba River flows into the upper end of Lake James.

I don’t know much about the history of the house or the lands around it. I imagine in its glory days, it was an impressive estate. By the time I got to know of it, it was run down and beginning to fall apart in places throughout the house.

It had been a huge white mansion with columns on the front porch and a broad front entrance. It was two tall, high-ceilinged stories up, and a cellar that was about twelve feet deep underneath. A wide, front-to-back hallway led from the front door to the back of the house, with the remains of a broad stairwell to the right. The stairs were completely gone, stripped away by some scavenger who wanted the wood for something, no doubt. Near the center of the house, a narrower hallway ran longitudinally down the center of the house. To the left end there were two large rooms and an extended back sitting room of some kind that was only one story. Turning right would take you down a hall with a set of rooms on the left and right, then an open room with a smaller room branching off it. It had a chimney and we thought of it as some kind of kitchen. In this room, part of the floor was missing and you could see directly into the basement.

The basement was dark, deep and was divided into several small rooms that to our young eyes looked remarkably like cells. Though now I see them as storage areas. We imagined slaves or servants being quartered there whether or not they wanted to be. I remember wondering aloud how many people might have died in captivity down there. Me and Johnny climbed down there once. Once. There were no stairs and we fashioned a makeshift ladder to go down into that creepy, dark, dank place to check it out. I expected at any minutes to trip over a skull or an old dried skeleton. Then I was afraid our ladder would break and leave us trapped to become the next pair of dried up old skeletons in that haunted mansion.

Getting upstairs from the main floor was a lot of work. Roy and I managed to make it climbing the edge of the remaining stair runner still fastened to the wall. It was tough because one wobble and your balance left you and you had to jump back down to keep from falling. We finally made it. Meanwhile, Johnny had gone outside and climbed a tree and out on the roof of the sitting room, then climbed in the window to the upstairs. He outsmarted us on that one. I think he knew from prior visits about climbing the tree.

The second story, near as I can remember, was basically six rooms situated with two on one end of the house with a hall between that matched the entrance hall downstairs. The other four were on the end above the kitchen end. The upstairs covered the whole downstairs, but I don’t recall the details of it as well since we only went up there two or three times all together. I do recall the empty windows that looked out on what was probably once a rich estate. From those windows you could see a pretty decent view of what used to be the front lawn, now grown up in pine trees and tangled vines.

I don’t recall a third floor or attic, but as high as the roof was I think now that there must have been an attic above the second floor.

There was one old outbuilding still semi-standing behind the house. Johnny and I got to digging around in it once and found trunks and boxes full of old letters written many years ago by the one-time residents of the Yancey House. We were not interested at the time so after looking at them for a few minutes we left the letters to the ghosts who wrote them and went on playing. I wish now I could go back and dig through them, just because of historical interest.

I often have a single thought when I see an old house standing somewhere alone, with the weight of the years folding it in upon itself. I always wonder what the stories are which that house could tell if it could speak to me of the people who lived and died there; the joys, sorrows, celebrations; the drama of real life that took place within those walls. It’s more than just a building to me when I see an old house like that. I think that started with the Yancey House. Who lived there? What did they believe? What hardships did they face? Why was this house eventually abandoned? All questions that go through my mind, but which I will never have an answer for.

I mentioned that the Yancey House was one of the spookiest places I remember as a boy.

There were a number of ghost stories that were told about the crumbling old house. Looking at the place automatically moved your mind to the superstitious side. It looked haunted. Almost every window in the place was broken out, and wispy tatters of the remains of curtains wafted in the breeze around the edges of the blank frames. The front door was missing altogether and the ones that remained hung on rusty, creaking hinges that sometimes would shift in an indiscriminate breeze, filling the old house with random sounds. The irregular bumps and creaks seemed to echo from another time.

One ghost story I recall roughly had a daring group of young men with plans to stay in the House over night. I don’t have all the details at hand, but it seems the early hours were all laughs, jokes and pranks, but as the hours stretched toward midnight and the moon was shining in the windows, the young men began to notice shadows that shouldn’t be there. Movements out the corners of their eyes would catch the attention, but investigating revealed no one was there. Curtains moved and doors swung on hinges without the aid of a breeze. Footsteps were heard in the upstairs hallway and rooms. Whispers were heard in adjacent rooms when all the young men were together in one place. The house developed a chill, though the weather was warm and humid outside. These sounds, apparitions and movements began to close in on the huddled men, getting closer and more pronounced until one man felt the ice cold touch of a hand on his arm, and felt a cold breath on his neck. He jerked and ran for the door with the rest right behind him. They all claimed to have heard a rasping laughter as they ran down the path away from the old manse.

One thing I had heard was that often people were seen standing looking out the window. One second they were there and the next they were not. On two separate occasions I saw someone. Once when we were coming up to the front of the house I saw someone. As clearly as I could see Johnny in front of me there was someone there, in an upstairs window.

The person I saw seemed to be a woman, perhaps in her fifties, with dark grey hair and grey-white clothes, just looking at us as we walked up the path. Johnny and I had walked down through the woods to the Yancey pond dam, for whatever reason, and were coming back up toward the house. It was one of only a few times I came toward the house from the front. I looked down: “Johnny, someone is here, do you think we could get in trouble for being here?”

“Who’s here? Where?” he asked quickly.

I replied pointing toward the window, “I just saw an old woman looking out that window at us.”

Johnny looked and no one was there. I couldn’t see anyone by then either. So I figured they had moved away so we wouldn’t see them watching. We went on in before it occurred to me there was no steps for an elderly lady to climb to get upstairs where I had seen the person. Johnny began to poke fun at me about seeing ghosts, so I made up something about it must have been a curtain moving in the wind. I was sure I had seen someone, but started talking myself out of it. Maybe it was my imagination working overtime due to the stories I had heard. I guess that’s what it was, maybe…

The other occasion was the last time I can recall ever going out there.

Johnny and I were there again, and we had come in from the back and found some of the floor supports were failing underneath, the floor was buckling and sagged way down through the center of the long hallway going back toward the part we called the kitchen. It was barely holding together and I should have stayed off that floor, but I was young and stupid. I walked one way toward the kitchen while Johnny went toward the rooms on the opposite end of the house. I got just past the first set of rooms and saw a movement behind me. I glanced and thought I saw a figure disappearing into the doorway a few yards behind me. I shrugged thinking Johnny had changed his mind and was coming toward my end of the house.

I heard footsteps that seemed to come from that room, along with another noise of some kind: something dragging maybe. Then it crossed the hall to the other room. I looked back and saw nothing again, and my nerves began to sing a tinny little tune that made my hair stand up. I walked on a few more steps.

A word about Johnny: He was one of my best friends ever, but he was a prankster and loved to play jokes on people.

That thought entered my mind as I walked down the last few feet toward the old kitchen. I smiled and calmed down a bit, though not completely. It was about then I felt a cold breath on the back of my neck.

“DANG IT JOHNNY! CUT IT OUT!!!!” I yelled as I spun.

There was no one there.

That was when Johnny stuck his head around the corner all the way at the other end of the house. “What?”

My nerves shattered like a glass, but I tried not to show it.

“Never mind. I’m getting thirsty; you want to head back to your house?” I knew if I admitted to being scared I would never live it down. Not with Johnny. I wish that spook had scared him instead of me.

I don’t think I ever told Johnny about the “ghost” that haunted me that day, and I’m glad we never had the opportunity to go back. I had had entirely enough of that creepy place, and besides, it was getting terribly dangerous.


I wonder yet: Was it all an over-active imagination? Maybe it was, but it did, and still does, seem so real that my heart speeds up when I think about it in depth. I guess I will just continue to take it all at face value: Something was there, and it scared me thoroughly, and that's enough for me.

The Yancey House is gone now. I suppose there is nothing left but an old hole in the ground where the basement used to be. I wonder where the ghosts are now. Maybe the story continues as the story of a haunted cellar…

James Lee Frady (c) March 3, 2009

18 comments:

  1. great story I remember going in that place at least one time. it was creepy.and mom used to tell some wicked old stories about that place.

    crystal

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  2. Our minds seem to be travelling the same paths. Just last week I google earthed the Yancey Pond and Yancey House. It must be your writing. Well done James, well done.

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  3. The old house and its grounds are as much a part of our past as the river that flowed before our old home. I can not remember a Halloween or family get together (with Moms family) that it doesn't turn to ghost and then the Yancy House.
    I think those stories are some of the most teasured memories that I have. Thank you.

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  4. Good ol Johnny Justice...He probably would not have let you live it down had you admitted to being scared. Great Story

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  5. Has anyone ever heard that the small pond near the home was somehow "haunted?" As a small boy, my father would take me out there at night and we would see a light come up out of the water. i've seen it many times.

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    1. I have heard a few references to that, but I'm not real familiar with the stories associated with the pond

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  6. Are there still members of the Yancey family living in the area?

    I would like to know more about the history of the house and the family.
    Dennis Yancey
    dyancey @ miami.edu

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    1. I know some Yancy's but not sure if they are related to the Yancey's of the house in the story. I'm sure a search of the archives of the McDowell county courthouse might reveal some relatives. Good luck in your search.

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  7. Is the paiting of the house at the top - a real paintng of that actual Yancey house???

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    2. No. I found the picture online and it reminded me of the Yancy House, so I used it. I have an old picture of the actual house if I can find it. I will look for it and repost it.

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  8. My comment about the picture reposted itself about six times. I had to delete some of them.

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  9. where was this house located?

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    1. In McDowell County near the Catawba River between the upper end of Lake James and the Marion Airport.

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  10. Find Yancey Rd. on Google maps. You will see a pond on the map view that is kind of squareish. On the satellite view it is not there. That was the old Yancey Pond. The house was in the woods due north of the pond. A few years ago you could look on the satellite view and see a depression in the woods where the basement used to be. I can't make that out in the newer pictures, due to the leaves on the trees I suspect.

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