|“Nashville Banner,” May 13, 1905, via Newspapers.com|
Accounts of families being pestered by ghosts often achieve an immediate fame, only to be soon forgotten when the haunting ends. It takes a special ghost indeed to achieve enduring local celebrity. The following case is a perfect example; it was such a prolonged and violent supernatural episode, that even though it took place over a century ago, it is as well-remembered in Appling County, Georgia, as if it had happened last week.
Allen Powel Surrency lived with his family in a fine two-story farmhouse in Surrency, a small hamlet he founded about sixty miles from Savannah. The sawmill operator was, in the words of a contemporary journalist, “a gentleman well-to-do in the world, and is universally regarded as one of the most honorable citizens in the county.” Long-time readers of this blog will immediately recognize those words as cue for some first-class mischief.
The trouble began in late October 1872. One evening, the Surrencys were alarmed to see sticks of wood flying into the house and falling about the floor “from directions they could tell nothing about, and without any human agency they could see or find out.” Stranger still, the room in which the wood was falling had all the doors and windows closed. This was followed by a succession of brickbats, which continued to regularly fall throughout the night.
Then, all the bottles, vases, and glassware in the house were swept by invisible forces from their usual places, shattering on the floor. Seeing the wholesale destruction of his house, Surrency had a servant move bottles of kerosene oil to the front yard. No sooner had the man set them down when one of the bottles flew back and fell into the front room, scattering the contents. The bedlam continued until sunrise, when it suddenly ceased, leaving the house in a shambles of broken glass and cutlery, with brickbats and wood carpeting the floor.
That afternoon saw an identical repeat of the previous night’s activity. The family--which had by now been joined by a host of inquisitive neighbors--examined every corner of the house to find the source of the weird antics. However, “so quickly would pitchers, tumblers, books and other articles jump from their positions and dash to the floor the eye could not follow, and broken fragments were the first things seen.”
Chairs, shoes, and items of clothing flew through the house. A bunch of clothes hooks somehow escaped a locked bureau drawer and fell on the floor without the drawer ever being opened. During all this, the hands of the old family clock began spinning madly at the rate of about five hours a minute. At about eight o’clock at night, the commotion again abruptly stopped until noon the next day, when the daily performance opened with a pair of scissors jumping from the kitchen table to the floor. A neighbor sitting in a chair was startled to have a large brickbat appear from seemingly nowhere and fall at his feet. When he picked it up, he found it was red-hot.
Soon after this, the Surrencys and a number of guests sat down to dinner. They were greeted by an ear of corn falling from the ceiling and striking the floor with such force that the kernels scattered all throughout the room. Later that day, another ear of corn fell in another room. While some of the guests were standing in the front room, a mirror smashed into fragments in the center of the room. Although all the men were closely watching every item in the room, nobody saw anything move until after the mirror was broken.
By this point, the fun and games at the Surrency house had become so well known that the Macon and Brunswick Railroad had to add an extra train to handle all the eager lookyloos and would-be paranormal sleuths. Within three days after the haunting began, some five hundred people had visited the home.
All this attention seems to have merely encouraged the pandemonium. The family cook was terrorized by knives, skillets, and crockeryware flying about the kitchen. Little piles of sugar--of a type not used by the family--suddenly appeared in the floors. One of these piles contained a few pins and steel pens.
One evening, the Surrency’s teenage daughter Clementine was in their front yard, looking for the lights of the expected train. Instead, she saw an object in the form of a man approaching her. Not knowing who--or what--this was, she walked back to the house. When she reached the steps, she heard something come whizzing through the air and fall on the ground near her. She immediately looked in the direction from where she had seen the apparition, but it had disappeared. She was then surrounded by more things falling about her in rapid succession. Although they all came quite close to her, none of them struck her. After she went inside the house, everyone could hear the noise of brickbats, bottles, and stones falling in the yard and against the end of the house. The men present went outside and made a thorough search of the grounds, but even though the objects continued falling all around them, no one was anywhere in the vicinity. The disturbances transferred to inside the house, with the now-familiar routine of books, glasses, knives, crockery, etc., flying through the air and scattering themselves on the floor.
Whenever the family sat down for meals, milk, water, tea, or soup was flung into their faces, on a few occasions causing painful scalding. At the same time, the spoons were broken or suddenly twisted out of shape in their hands. Sometimes, the tablecloth, with the entire dinner upon it, would be yanked from the table and flung to the floor, leaving the meal ruined.
After a few days of this bombardment, Mrs. Surrency was so frazzled that, on the advice of her husband and friends, she and Clementine went to stay with friends, a family named Patterson who lived some two miles away. However, as soon as they arrived, the supernatural mayhem simultaneously ceased at the Surrency home and broke out at the Patterson’s. After a few hours of this, Mrs. Surrency, not wishing to see all her neighbor’s household items destroyed, conceded defeat and returned home. Her daughter remained behind with the Pattersons. As soon as Mrs. Surrency arrived at her residence, the pandemonium broke out afresh there and stopped at the Patterson home. It was noted that throughout the ordeal, Mrs. Surrency seemed to be the focus of the disturbances. Both she and her husband were staunch materialists, with no interest or belief in spiritualism, but they, as well as all the other witnesses to the activity, were at a loss to find any way to attribute it to human agency.
One day, as some six or seven visitors sat in the front room, a large hog calmly walked in at the door and advanced to the middle of the room.
It was a true conversation-stopper.
After a moment of humans and hog staring silently at each other, the creature walked into an adjoining room. Everyone followed it. As they stared at the intruder, the hog suddenly vanished.
Another visitor was “an old sea captain” who was determined to solve this mystery. He sat down in one room to await events. Nothing happened. After a while, the captain began to get bored, and his thoughts turned longingly to a bottle of whisky he knew was in an adjoining room. No sooner had he thought of this that the bottle fell from the ceiling. He picked it up, poured a glass, and set it down. Before his eyes, the bottle disappeared as abruptly as it had appeared.
In contrast to other poltergeist cases, which usually are of fairly short duration, the paranormal persecution of the Surrencys went on for months. The family felt they could endure no more of the nervous strain and the fears for their physical safety, not to mention the cost of constantly having to refurbish their home. They began to speak of moving to another farmhouse they owned, several miles away. The final straw happened when one of the Surrency sons, Samuel, entered the sitting room where his brother Robert was reading by the fireplace. Samuel saw an andiron which was on the hearth lift itself and move swiftly across the room, striking Robert a heavy blow on the temple. As the startled, bleeding Robert sprang up, Samuel grabbed the andiron. The object wrenched itself from his grip and again hit Robert on the head. As he fled the room, the andiron followed him, hitting him repeatedly until he was unconscious. Then, it floated back to the sitting room and took its usual place on the hearth.
The next day, the family fled to their second home, taking nothing but their clothes. For a week or so, they enjoyed their longed-for peace and quiet. Then, the manifestations started up with even greater power, as if angered by this attempt to escape them. Years later, Herschel Tillman, a man who had known Allen Surrency personally, told a reporter, “That place was possessed by something evil.” He added, “That thing haunted old man Surrency until the day he died [in 1877.] But when he was buried, the haunting stopped.”
The Surrency house stood deserted until one morning in 1925, when it mysteriously burned to the ground, putting an exclamation point to one of Georgia’s eeriest stories.
[Note: since the turn of the 20th century, the town of Surrency has been the site of a “ghost light” phenomena commonly known as “the Surrency spook light.” Whether or not it has any connection to the famed haunting is anyone’s guess.]