The Haunted Heinz Mansion

A spooky true story for the Halloween season:

I saw a ghost when I was fifteen years old. Or, maybe it was someone pretending to be a ghost.

I had begged my parents to let me accompany my English teacher and four other members of our school’s literary magazine staff to see Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” at the Callenwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta. It was the Saturday before Halloween, when everyone observed the holiday. My parents let me go because they thought I’d be safer at a cultural event than trick-or-treating through our neighborhood. Little did they know.

On the way down Ponce De Leon Avenue, our teacher pointed out an imposing mansion on a hill. She shared that it was the former home of Henry Heinz, the son-in-law of Asa Candler, who had founded Coca Cola. Sadly, it stood dark and empty. No one wanted to live there because the ghost of Mr. Heinz had haunted it since September 28, 1943.

I’m pretty sure I’m in the middle row, third from the left.

There are two stories about how Mr. Heinz was shot four times in his study. First, police confirmed through a fingerprint that an intruder broke in. Eventually, that intruder would be found and sentenced to prison for the murder, even though he denied it. The second story is a little stranger. Police found Mr. Heinz’s son-in-law, Dr. Bryant Vann, who lived in a home adjoining the estate, in the bushes below the study. They exchanged fire and Dr. Vann was injured. Many believe the intruder was innocent. Could either Dr. Vann or Mrs. Heinz have fired the shots? Either way, the ghost of Mr. Heinz supposedly returned every year on the anniversary of his death.

Our literary crew attended the play at Callenwolde that chilly night, then decided to check out the haunted house. After all, it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of Mr. Heinz’s murder. Our teacher was game. She parked at the bottom of the hill. We eased out of the car and crept up the long driveway. The massive house hunkered over us, black and still, daring us to come closer. I don’t remember a moon that night, only extreme darkness. I kept glancing down to ensure I didn’t misstep on the cracked concrete. As we neared, the trees behind us blocked the sound from the street. The absolute silence was unnerving. I turned to gauge the distance back to the car.

My teacher gasped. I swiveled back around and froze. A candle had appeared in the window to the left of the front door and was moving slowly toward the rear of the room. I grabbed my friend’s arm and squinted, willing my eyes to adjust to the darkness. No one was holding that candle. We screamed and raced back to the car. Later, when recounting our adventure (which would have gotten our teacher fired in today’s environment), we all agreed the candle was floating. We had seen a ghost.

A few weeks later, we came up with the bright idea to shoot our yearbook photo at the mansion, also called Rainbow Terrace and the Lullwater Estate. Our teacher got permission and the photos reveal our warped sense of humor. Of course, we’d never have attempted it at night.

I believe I’m the one balancing on the fountain.

Do you have a ghost story?