The Russ House - Ghost of Times Past - Jackson County, Florida

The history of
The Russ House
Jackson County, Florida
Merritt Dekle
July 2000

All rights reserved!

Ghost of Times Past

"By the time I was born, the Big House was already the time tarnished beauty that it was for so many of its one hundred years. Its weathered exterior made it seem so much more ancient than it really was. The upstairs had been closed down for years; my grandmother lived there alone and no longer needed the space or the exertion of climbing those stairs. The rooms were abandoned, and stood silent and still for the next few decades as they and their possessions faded into disrepair. They had always fascinated me, and so in the early 1980s I photographed them in their ghostly silence.

When I think about the Big House, I always think of pink and blue because those were the colors the house had always been....they were Big Mama's favorite colors and her mothers before her.

Everything was some shade or other of pink or blue, and always had been. You could tell because the walls upstairs were badly peeling from decades of disuse; they had peeled down to where you could see several layers of paint, and that paint was always one of those two colors. They reminded me of faded frescoes from some old villa in Rome."

Ghost House

"The Upstairs Bedrooms"

The Chair

Wedding Dress

"My grandmother's wedding dress hung in an old armoire, trimmed with lace, tattered satin, and cobwebs."

The Dress

"There were four bedrooms upstair; Big Mama's old room adjoining the Nursery, the husband and wife suite with bath in between, and another on the south side of the house. Joseph and Bettie Russ occupied the suite originally, and my mother and her brother used the rooms in the next generation."

Bedroom and Nursery

"My grandmother's old bedroom with the door leading out to the Nursery."

"The mantle in JWR's bedroom"

JWR Bedroom

The mantle in the bedroom of JWRuss. It was in front of this mantle, lying on the hearth, that my grandmother found his body after hearing the shot from his image that she never forgot. The mantle was removed during the rehabilitation and replaced by the elevator shaft. I'd use the stairs if I were you.

Old Trunks

This is one of the old trunks upstairs that my sister and I used to rifle through for hour upon hour, always finding wonderful treasures in them to entertain us. We would play dress-up with the old clothes we found inside, and put on plays on the front steps of the house for all the cars going by on Highway 90. It seemed that each summer when we returned, the trunks had magically created new trinkets to delight us; and through the years, there were always treasures to intrigue us at whatever age we were at the time.

Pearls with Chair

Ghost room

So, is the house haunted? Certainly if you'd spent a night there alone you would swear it unexplainable were the noises and sights you would experience there. As a child, my sister and I were terrified when we would visit my grandmother and be put to sleep early while the grown-ups stayed up. Like I said, the upstairs was long abandoned by then, and we would sleep in twin beds set up for us in the old dining room. The massive pocket door in that room was particularly frightening to me; it looked like a giant doorway to some other world. And the chandelier that hung in the room made a frightening shadow on the ceiling that looked like a giant spider....a shadow that seemed to inch towards me when a draft made the chandelier sway.

We were terrified by the dark void at the top of the stairs; who knew what was up there in those forbidden rooms. We would always run quickly past the stairs in case something might descend and try to grab us. Many times I thought I saw something, but as I grew older, I explained these things away as being reflections from the headlights on the highway outside or some other logical cause. As an adult, I overcame these fears and often stayed there alone; my sister, on the other hand, wouldn't spend a night alone in that house if it was the last house standing on earth.

Dark Stairs

One summer when I was around nine, I remember going to the old Ritz theater downtown with some other children visiting one of my grandmother's friends. I'm sure the parents had no idea what the movie we were going to see was about; it was Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Such a creepy, old house like the one in the film didn't seem particularly strange to me, of course, but when I was dropped off at the house after the movie, as the long shadows of dusk descended upon the house, I was too afraid to go near it. I waited outside on the curb on Russ Street for Big Mama to come home .

So, is the house haunted? Alot of people think so and there are many ghost stories that have circulated about it. Certainly in the course of one hundred years, it has seen it's share of tragedy and sorrow, and I'm not sure that those emotions can ever be leeched out of the plaster walls or the heart pine floors that beheld them; nor can the sounds of laughter or the many joys that occurred within those rooms. To me, the Big House will always be haunted by the myriad memories it holds, and no amount of paint or varnish will ever be able to make those memories disappear.

Let's just say, that if I were on the staff of the Chamber of Commerce, I'd think twice about working there too late in the night, in the dark.......

Ghost time

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Web Pages by
Betty James Smith
11 July 2000

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James L. Edenfield
16 Jun 2001