Tahlequah Daily Press

October 30, 2013

Chilling tales told at Murrell Home

Annual event delights visitors of all ages

Special Writer

PARK HILL — With All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, just around the corner, area revelers are preparing their jack-o’-lanterns and costumes.

None best describes better the ghoulish delight in the macabre more than the real tales of ghosts, especially the ghosts who haunt the places we know and love.

Hence the 21-year-old tradition of the telling of ghost stories at the George M. Murrell Home in Park Hill, Friday and Saturday evenings.

According to Amanda Pritchett, historical interpreter, the spooky tales told those nights involved local legends of haunting spirits showing themselves, in one way or another, to the average human.

“We always tell stories related to the house,” Pritchett said. “Many were passed down through the ages. Many were recorded in the Indian papers. A lot of them are old Indian Territory ghost stories.”

Shirley Pettengill told stories that revolve around the Murrell relatives, or those who worked at Murrell’s mercantile store.

“The Hunter’s ghost story is popular and depicts spiritual happenings during one of George Murrell’s fox hunts,” said Pettengill. “This story is traced back to a great-nephew of John Ross.”

According to Pettengill, one night, the dogs barked and ran – following something, presumably a raccoon – from dark to dawn. The dog owners could never catch up to the dogs, nor what they hunted. Until dawn, when they caught sight of the dogs, who had cornered a dwarf-like creature. As soon as the dogs surrounded it and began closing in, the creature disappeared.

Pettengill said another favorite spooky tale is the one about the electrician.

Years ago, an electrician was hired to do some work at the Murrell Home. While he was alone in one of the upstairs rooms, he felt a hand on his shoulder. When he turned to see who it was, no one was there, so the electrician ran out of the house and never returned. Someone else had to go back to gather his tools to get them back to him.

Once, during the annual storytelling event, one visitor told Pettengill she’d worked that summer at the plantation when the electrician experienced the “ghostly touch.”

“She told me it really did happen,” said Pettengill. “Stories involving shape-shifters are native to the area. The little people and shape-shifters are part of the Native American heritage. They aren’t, necessarily, scary.”

Doors open, but no one is there

Other stories connected to the plantation focus on witnesses seeing one bedroom door open on its own, and in the time it would take for someone to walk across the room, the other door would then open. But no one was there.

“Many people will tell us they smell bread baking or bacon frying in the kitchen,” Pettengill said. “The orbs, little balls of light on the remote sensory ‘infrared’ system seen in the kitchen and parlor, have no explanation.”

Pritchett tells visitors of her own personal stories about seeing orbs and black shadows visible on the security cameras.

“Once, watching the camera screen, I saw some little something on the kitchen mantel,” said Pritchett. “Then suddenly, ‘pfft,’ it was off the screen. It disappeared.”

Local historian Beth Herrington, seated in the candle-lit parlor, conveyed the haunting stories of the ghosts of Tahlequah.

“These stories are tragic tales that might inspire feelings of ghostly perceptions,” Herrington said.

There’s the tale of the death of a man in the summer of 1870. While loved ones were preparing for his burial, the woods filled with the screams and wails of a mountain lion, postponing the burial. Then there’s the tale of the young gunfighter who accidentally shot and killed himself with his own weapon. He was the first person buried in the Tahlequah cemetery.

Part of the charm of the ghost stories is entering the Murrell Home after dark.

“People never get to come into the home after dark,” Pritchett said. “It’s a completely different atmosphere after dark.”

Small groups enter the house every 15 minutes, rotating from room to room, hearing the different haunting tales. Then “everybody ends up in the cabin for cider and cookies,” said Pritchett.