May 2, 2009
All Night Investigation
In 1936, one of America’s leading photographers, Walker Evans, happened upon a magnificent plantation house that stood proudly despite the clutter of its current occupant, “The Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company”. This ironic image of the Dr. John R. Drish House of Tuscaloosa became one of Evans’ most well known photographs. Reflecting not only the state of depression-era American, it seemed to capture the story of many significant historic buildings: regardless of how significant they may be, their fate can be ever-changing over time.
Once the center of a prosperous 450-acre plantation, the Drish House (also known as Monroe Place) has seen its share of change over the years. It was completed in the late 1830’s but its transformation into an imposing, hybrid bracketed Greek Revival/Italianate Villa between 1860 and 1862 resulted in one of Alabama’s most unusual antebellum mansions. After the Drish family sold the property, the house became the focal point of Tuscaloosa’s first suburban expansion outside its original city boundaries. The mansion was remodeled in 1887 and then surrounded by a traffic circle with commanding views down each of the newly created streets and avenues. The Drish House took on a new life as the Jemison School in 1906 until it was leased to the Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company - forever recorded in Evans’ photograph (along with the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, and the 1930’s Historic American Building Survey). In 1940, the City School Board sold the building to the Southside Baptist Church, who greatly expanded it with additions.
When the church contemplated demolishing the Drish House in 1994, the Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa County convinced the congregation to save the structure, which by then had fallen into disrepair and had lost many of its original architectural elements. The Commission, along with the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, helped to re-roof, paint and "mothball" the building in order to give it another chance. Today, after being vandalized and seriously damaged by the elements, this landmark is again an endangered place with no sufficient funds to restore it. The Commission now leases the building but a new owner is needed soon to secure its fate and transform it again into a treasured landmark.
The Drish House is an old plantation home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Dr. John Drish constructed it for his wife Sarah. When Dr. Drish died, Sarah burned candles in the upper room as he lay in state. After the ceremony, Sarah put the candles away and requested that the same ones be used at her funeral. As Sarah grew older, she became obsessed with the candles being burned at her funeral. But, after her death, her friends and family weren't able to find the candles and Sarah was buried without them.
Shortly after, the tower where Sarah had burned the candles for her husband and requested the same for herself spontaneously caught fire. But when fire crews arrived they were shocked to find no flames or evidence of a fire ever occurring. The ghost fire happened a few times more and people began wondering who or what was causing the strange happenings. Then, one night after one of the fires mysteriously vanished, the ghost of Sarah Drish was reportedly sighted.
Drish House Today
The Drish House has been used for many other functions through the years, at one point it was even the home of Southside Baptist Church. But now stands "mostly" empty. If you stand below the tower and look up through the slats on the windows you might still see the candles or ghost fire burning in the tower.
"Drish Mansion-Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The stubborn ghost of the original owner of this plantation house keeps returning to the tower room to light candles, which makes it seem as if the whole place were on fire. Dr. John Drish and his wife Sarah built their home in 1830. When Dr. Drish died, Sarah lit dozens of candles and burned them while he lay in state. After she put those candles safely away she asked that they be used again at her own funeral. Many years later, she became obsessed with the candle ritual and pleaded with friends and neighbors to be sure to light the candles around her coffin. When she died her relatives were too busy to look for the candles, and Sarah was buried without the ceremony. Within months, fiery lights started appearing in the shuttered tower at the center of the house. Dozens of false alarms were called in, but no evidence of fire was ever found. Sarah's ghost materialized in the downstairs front parlor, so the residents were sure just who was responsible for the phantom candles.
Variations of the story are featured in Kathryn Tucker Windham’s “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey”.
Digital cameras, Digital Voice Recorders, Sony Handycams with the Nightshot feature, EMF Meter, Infrared Digital Temperature Scanner, 4-channel DVR system with Infrared Cameras
All photos by Piel Photography, Thanks!!
Taken with Digital Voice Recorders
OTHER EQUIPMENT USED:
4-channel DVR system with Infrared Cameras.