A Brief Guide to America's Haunted Outbuildings

By Patrick Berry

 

The greenhouse on the Quartermain estate (New Hampshire)

By day the Quartermain greenhouse is still an actively-maintained conservatory, boasting an impressive assortment of flowers and vegetables, along with some righteous weed. But none dare venture into the glass-paneled building after dark, when the ghost of Abigail Maguire roams the greenery. Maguire, a hatchet-faced Irishwoman who was Baron Arthur Quartermain’s head gardener in the early 1800s, took her own life in 1819 when the prize vegetables she was growing for the annual village competition all came out shaped like schlongs. The Baron tried to honor Maguire’s memory by entering the vegetables in the competition anyway, but he was promptly charged with obscenity and assessed a hefty fine.

According to eyewitnesses, Maguire’s spirit spends most of her time at the potting bench, wielding a ghostly trowel that passes through the dirt without turning it, to her visible frustration. Visitors are ignored unless they approach from the east, in which case she turns and advances menacingly, hoping to make them stumble backward into the cacti. At the break of dawn she disappears, leaving only her timecard behind. Sightings have been rare since 2011 when estate owner Nelson Quartermain angrily banned all ghost hunters from the property, claiming they were only after his “sweet, sweet ganja.”

 

The outhouse at the Ridgley cabin (South Dakota)

Located deep in the Black Hills, this small wooden outhouse is haunted by the ghost of Gold Rush prospector Jedediah Ridgley, killed by his wife Lula in 1877. The two were arguing one evening when Jedediah abruptly declared “I have to go” and exited the cabin. Lula thought he was leaving her and blasted him with a shotgun, only later realizing he just meant to use the privy and come right back. The cabin’s current owner George Slayton takes a perverse pride in his haunted outhouse, cackling that “no one’s ever dared stay the full night” within it, though arguably this is true of all outhouses.

Jedediah’s ghost is said to be particularly fearsome in appearance, a grinning skeleton draped in what one eyewitness described as “tattered rags,” but another correctly identified as Charmin Ultra Soft. It inevitably appears when occupants are halfway through their business, moaning “I have to goooooooo!” in a booming spectral voice. Most people simply run out the door, but one terrified man chose to scramble through the toilet seat, only to realize that the latrine pit had no exits. Sheepishly he climbed back up the hole, where the ghost was gesturing to the door with a bony finger while shaking its skull in disgust.

 

The gazebo on the Buckhanon plantation (Mississippi)

Easily the most picturesque of all haunted outbuildings, this octagonal white gazebo is home to the ghost of Bridget Buckhanon, a Southern belle whose fiancé James Logan was shot in the shoulder at Vicksburg. The surgeon was able to save Logan’s arm, but the rest of him died. Distraught, Bridget shut herself inside her bedroom, swearing she would never marry. As she also stopped bathing, this prophecy soon became self-fulfilling. On the same day General Lee surrendered, she flung herself from the window—which shouldn’t have been fatal since it was a ground-floor bedroom, except she landed on a rake.

Bridget’s ghost is generally seen wandering the gazebo’s interior in a tight circle, apparently unable to fit her hoop skirt through the exit. On rare occasions she can be heard plaintively singing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”—or possibly it’s “Waltzing Matilda,” but either way it’s not a good rendition. If her onlooker is a handsome gentleman, Bridget will coquettishly hide her face behind her fan, keeping it there until he finally leaves. One intrepid eyewitness ventured to ask Bridget why she doesn’t haunt her old bedroom instead of the gazebo, which wasn’t even built until 1954, but she responded by whacking him repeatedly on the head with her parasol.

 

The detached garage at 145 Culver Lane (Arizona)

Few people who pass by the dilapidated garage at 145 Culver Lane would ever guess that it was once a fully-equipped man cave, complete with mini-fridge, putting green, and surround-sound entertainment center. The garage fell into disrepair following the death of its owner Harry McDuff, who succumbed to malnutrition after a solid month of eating nothing but pretzels, Mallomars, and Budweiser. His wife Brenda didn’t discover his decaying body for two weeks, as it was concealed by the general clutter. Nor was she tipped off by the smell, which she described as “bad, but only slightly worse than usual.”

Harry’s ghost appeared a few months later, just as Brenda was preparing to convert the garage into a home office. “We talked about this!” it shouted, causing Brenda to drop her blueprints and flee in terror. Brenda said the ghost looked like a “shapeless white blob,” not unlike Harry in an undershirt. While the ghost always reacts violently to Brenda’s presence, a ghost hunter named Bill Sutton received a warmer welcome: The ghost apologized for the lack of beer, talked wistfully of fixing the place up again, and asked Bill if he’d ever installed paneling. Getting out again proved much harder, and Bill was ultimately forced to promise he’d come back Sunday for the Cardinals game, brewskis in hand.

 

The barn on the Manderson farm (Iowa)

This quaint Dutch barn is actually haunted by two ghosts: A farm boy known only as “John,” and the cow he tended, “Bessie.” Bessie always appears first, calmly chewing her cud. John stumbles in a few minutes later, tired and cranky, cursing Bessie with surprisingly florid language. She patiently waits for him to put the milk pail in place, then urinates in it. He responds by slapping her rump with his straw hat, whereupon she chases him around the barn with her horns lowered as banjo music mysteriously starts playing. Eventually John is forced to shinny up the ladder to the hayloft, leaving Bessie free to walk back to the hat he dropped and deposit a cowpat on it.

Little is known of John and Bessie beyond their names, and the mystery of when they lived is hotly debated among the locals. John’s clothing is suggestive of the late 1700s, but he’s also wearing several slap bracelets and twirling what appears to be a fidget spinner. How they died is also unknown, though a local musician invented an ending involving a pitchfork and a suicide pact for his song “The Ballad of John and Bessie.” He performed the song at the regional livestock fair, and was given a prize pig in exchange for a solemn promise to never, ever play it again.

 

The granny pod behind the Jacobsens’ house (Florida)

This modest 400-square-foot living space was installed by Brad Jacobsen for his mother-in-law Doris Majchrzak (pronounced by hawking up a loogie), who required family supervision due to a variety of ailments such as arthritis, osteoporosis, lumbago, carpal tunnel syndrome, and disco fever. Doris died shortly after moving in, but the Jacobsens now claim the pod is haunted by her ghost and refuse to go anywhere near it. The ghost, on the other hand, says she never died at all and her family is just making up excuses to avoid her, as usual.

The Jacobsens describe Doris’s ghost as an “ethereal blue specter with a ghastly greenish face”—though to be fair, this could merely be Doris’s blue muumuu and cucumber beauty mask, respectively. Likewise, Brad Jacobsen reports that the ghost speaks in an “unearthly screeching wail,” but when asked to describe Doris’s normal voice he made an unconvincing ringtone sound, then produced a phone from his pocket and said “Sorry, I have to take this.” Several ghost hunters have visited the pod to try and resolve the mystery once and for all, but none stayed for very long. “I don’t know if she’s dead,” one later admitted, “but after two minutes alone with her I sure wanted to be.”


Patrick Berry is a freelance writer and crossword constructor whose work has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and numerous other publications. He lives in Athens, Georgia.