Tahlequah Daily Press

October 29, 2012

Historic haunts

By ROB W. ANDERSON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — It may not be “the last house on the left,” but the Murrell Home in Park Hill is indeed located near a hill and is believed to be haunted.

The historic 1845 plantation is one of Oklahoma’s oldest structures and is used as the setting for an annual ghost storytelling event that’s not recommended forchildren 8 years old or younger.

For two chilling evenings every October, storytellers clad in period attire  gather at the 167-year-old Oklahoma Historical Society site near Tahlequah to share chronicled narratives dating back to the early 1930s.

The home’s namesake, George Murrell, used the mansion to provide lodging for hunters prior to the Civil War and routinely hosted fox hunts in the Cherokee Nation, which spawned the legend of “Hunter’s Ghost.”

The goal of the event is to leave guests filled with facts that link them to the past, but also may seed a few nightmares, said volunteer storyteller Beth Herrington, who shared a tale about a fallen soldier in search of his unit.

“This is a wonderful experience for people, especially for family groups. They get to see an historic house. They get to hear the history of the period, and the history of this area,” she said. “This area was devastated during the Civil War, of course, and the northern sympathizers who could get out went north, and the southern sympathizers went down to the Choctaw Nation or across the Red River. The people that were stuck here were mostly women and children and old men.”

According to Herrington, one particular soldier was separated from his unit and was killed. He was buried near the Murrell Home.

“Burials were often done by the women – mostly by the women – when something like that happened. And on dark and stormy nights in the fall, if you’re very quiet and going down this road to the east and look over at the tree line, next to the stream that feeds the spring house, you can see that soldier walking along the tree line looking for his unit,” she said.

Tours are conducted and require reservations due to the limited seating available. Guests enjoyed five 15-minute ghost-story sessions over a two-hour period, including tales much like Herrington’s as they progressed through Murrell’s haunted ante-bellum mansion. The smokehouse is not usually a part of the Murrell Home tour, but during the Halloween season, guests are allowed to enter the outbuilding once used to cure hog meat or venison.

Oklahoma Historical Society employee and storyteller Preston Ware shared an origination tale that explains why people think they’re hearing a woman scream when a mountain lion howls.

“There’s a creature that’s in almost all the legends of the South, and some people call it the ‘cattywampus’ – white people, mainly – but before the white people came, the Cherokee had a legend about it. It was called ‘Ewah,’ and it was about a jealous Cherokee lady who her husband would go out hunting with the other braves and would then eventually drift over to a secret fire that a medicine man had over the mountain,” he said. “There they learned all the secrets of the tribe, but the Indian people believed the women shouldn’t know anything about it. So her being a jealous woman and inquisitive, as cats are, she put on a mountain lion coat and sneaked over the mountain and crept down the side of the mountain. She couldn’t quite hear all that was going on, but she could see all the movements in the light of the campfire.”

Ware said the woman could see her husband and the braves “jumping around and making wild gestures,” and as she crept even closer,  she caused a pebble to fall, making her presence known by the medicine man and the braves.

“They immediately looked around and looked over and grabbed her. The medicine man – he was very upset about it. A woman had basically violated the sanctity of their secret organization there,” he said. “So, he took a leather thong and he bound her up in her mountain lion coat. Then he said some words over her and shook some terrapin holds or something, and she became a part of the mountain lion and the mountain lion became a part of her. So she ran off into the woods, and she’s now forever searching and howling at the moon, trying to get back her earthly form.”

Though a self-proclaimed skeptic of paranormal activity, former site manager Shirley Pettengill said the Murrell Home has delivered some chilling moments for employees, volunteer storytellers and one electrician who had to get someone to return in his stead to retrieve the tools he frantically left behind in the attic.

 

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