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Liberty Hall Mansion –
218 Wilkinson Street
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
Front entrance of Liberty Hall.
Liberty Hall was built, by Senator John Brown, in a frontier town of Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1796, part of a four acre estate. It sits just above the Kentucky River. It's glorious gardens roll down the hill and come up to the edge of the river itself, right up to the then Kentucky wilderness. It is described as being "an exquisite example of 18th century Georgian architecture." The structural plans of this fine mansion were designed and drawn up by Thomas Jefferson himself. Senator Brown had studied law in Jefferson's office. Liberty Hall was built of fine, made-on-site bricks, with the flooring, rafters and framing being made of fine hardwood, that was dried for over two years. The inside decorum reflected Mrs. Brown,s desire to bring refinement and culture, that she missed from East coast living, to this rustic, frontier place. Such niceties as window glass, mirrors, brass door handles and locks, silk fabrics, fine furniture from the East coast, and lovely antiques from France were brought down the river by boat.
The Browns entertained and hosted the elite of American society and important political friends and dignitaries. The 1819 guest list included: President James Monroe, Col. Zachary Taylor, Col. Andrew Jackson, General Lafayette and Aaron Burr. In later years, William Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt also were guests at Liberty Hall.
The Brown family lived at Liberty Hall until 1956, when this grand mansion was willed to the Colonial Dames of America, to be a "living museum of Kentucky history."
Tom and I took the tour of the first floor of Liberty Hall. It was most enjoyable, learning about the family, and their lives while living here. Our tour guide told us that it was rather creepy on the second floor, and that members of the volunteer group and staff don't like going up there alone. The second floor is in the process of being restored.
The property was eventually divided into two sections; one for each of the surviving Brown sons, though the gardens are intact. Next door to Liberty Hall is the younger son's mansion, which was designed for entertaining, as he was a bit of a party animal!
The gardens were beautiful, well landscaped and most appreciated by the community. On the day we visited Liberty Hall, a flower show event was being set up in the mansion next door.
Back side of Liberty Hall.
One ghost keeps a steady presence inside Liberty Hall, while two entities roam intermittently on the outside grounds, and are seen periodically.
Mrs. Margaret Varick - She was a frail, kind-hearted Aunt of Mrs. Brown, who had raised Mrs. Brown when her mother had died. When tragedy struck the Brown family in 1817, when one of their children died of an illness, Mrs. Varick was asked to make the difficult journey from New York to Kentucky, to be with Mrs. Brown, and give her comfort. Unfortunately for Mrs. Varick, the trip by coach and horseback proved to be very hard on her physically. The totally exhausted Mrs. Varick died of a heart attack in one of Liberty Hall's upstairs bedrooms soon after she arrived, before she could be much of a comfort and help to the bereaved Mrs. Brown. Although Mrs. Varick was at first buried in the small family plot in the outside gardens, somehow her whereabouts were lost, when the entire family plot was moved to the bigger cemetery in Frankfort, which further upset the spirit of Mrs. Varick. Not only was she prevented by her own death from helping her poor niece, but the dolts lost her resting place. She seems to be haunting Liberty Hall through the years to try to help the living, and try to get someone to find her grave and mark it properly.
1) The ghost of Mrs. Varick started appearing before the living a few years after her death, shortly after the graves were all moved. Seen by family members, visitors, and staff, she is described as a kind, calm entity, that is small in size, dressed in a gray house dress. She has been given the nick name of the "Gray Lady." Her intent toward the living is to be helpful around the mansion, and has been known to do some chores and be a calming, supportive influence. Her appearances never frighten or upset the living on purpose, though on occasion she has been annoying when she goes about her business in the middle of the night, opening and slamming doors. Mrs. Varick has appeared suddenly in every room of the mansion. Her favorite places seem to be her old bedroom and the staircase.
a) Mrs. Varick first appeared to the new bride of Senator Brown's grandson, Benjamin, when she was a guest, staying in Mrs.Varick's old bedroom. The matronly apparition simply walked across the bedroom floor, right in front of the startled bride.
b) A visitor, Rebecca Averill, saw the benign Mrs. Varick appear to her, standing motionless next to her fireplace. When Rebecca hid under the covers, Mrs. Varick vanished.
c) Benjamin Gatz Brown's niece, Mary Mason Scott, who looked a lot like Mrs. Varick, saw her ancestor on several occasions. Mary was treated to a face to face introduction when she came home from college, and slept in Mrs.Varick's room. She awoke to the sight of the matronly, kindly specter standing next to her bed. In the 1920s, when Miss Scott still lived in the mansion, a story claimed that the ghost of Mrs. Varick was using her as a medium to try to guide others to her unmarked grave
d) The ghost of Mrs. Varick has been seen on occasion, starring out an upstairs window at the people down below. A college professor, who wanted to see if the moonlight could cause unusual reflections in the window panes, that could cause the visual illusion of someone standing there, spent an entire moon cycle, which is 6 weeks, in the mansion. All his findings were negative. The ghost of Mrs. Varick must have appreciated his efforts and his company, and wanted to give him some comfort. On one of his last nights in Liberty Hall, a gentle touch awoke him. When he opened his eyes, he saw a friendly entity, Mrs. Varick, smiling cordially at him.
e) During the restoration period of Liberty Hall, the curator took pictures, documenting the progress of the work being done. In one of her pictures, one can see a faint image of a woman coming down the staircase. No one living was on the staircase when the picture was taken.
The ghost of Mrs. Varick was/is determined to be helpful to the living, as she had wanted to be for her niece.
Both the Brown family and the Colonial Dames documented the following occurrences.
a) Overnight guests sometimes awoke to find themselves being tucked in by a smiling matron apparition.
b) In the morning, the blankets would be folded, and the mending projects would be finished.
c) One employee of the Colonial Dames lived in the apartment above the kitchen. One night, after she had already gotten into the bathtub, she had forgotten to shut the big, heavy, bathroom door. She decided to just hurry up and finish her bath. While she was washing her hair, this heavy door closed by itself, with the probable help from the helpful ghost of Mrs. Varick.
d) As she was sitting in her room, wistfully thinking of an old boyfriend, who had given her a music box, the unwound, closed music box started to play by itself, perhaps under the influence of the thoughtful ghost of Mrs. Varick.
e) The same curator who got a picture of the "Gray Lady" on the staircase, found three, antique, early 1800 gold bracelets on the night stand, next to the bed in Mrs. Varick's old bedroom. The bracelets weren't listed on the inventory list, and no one had seen them before. Perhaps, the kindly ghost of Mrs. Varick wished to give the curator a gift, to say thank you for restoring the mansion.
In 1805, a beautiful, Spanish opera star was invited to Frankfort, to perform in a concert. The Browns had graciously invited this young woman to stay with them, during the time of her stay in Frankfort. They, being the good hosts they were, held a party in her honor. During the party, the young singer went outside in the balmy weather to take a quick walk in the garden. She was last seen walking down the garden path to the Kentucky River, to get a view. She never came back to the party. When she vanished, an extensive search of the area was made, and the river was even dragged, but no body was found. It was theorized that she was quickly abducted by either Indians or despicable characters who were attracted by the lights and the noise of the party. She unfortunately forgot about the dangers of living so close to the Kentucky wilderness.
A) Throughout the years a dark-haired female apparition with her mouth "frozen open in a soundless cry of terror," has been seen running frantically through the gardens, usually on hot, humid nights.
B) An apparition of a soldier from the War of 1812, dressed in a British uniform, has been seen peeking in the ground-floor windows, to see into the Hall's living room.
The apparitions of the thoughtful, helpful Mrs. Varick, the terrified opera singer, and the soldier who is still on duty are still haunting Liberty Hall and its grounds.
Entrance to garden from Liberty Hall.
Back side, with extension of Liberty Hall
Front of Liberty Hall
Close-up of back porch.
Full view of back side of Liberty Hall.