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Lady Bird’s Ghost Tale

by Shelly Tucker on August 19, 2014©

I foresee a visit to Karnack, Texas in the near future. You’ve never heard of it? It’s a tiny town in east Texas near Uncertain. Not sure that rings a bell? It’s near Caddo Lake, which was the only natural lake in Texas … at least it was natural until it was artificially dammed during the oil boom in the early 1900s. Karnack is also less than twenty miles from Jefferson, Texas, which claims to be the most haunted town in Texas. I’m determined to get the opportunity to take the Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk. But, first I have to go to Karnack.

I have to see this house:

Lady Bird's childhood home --Linda Petty

It is locally called “The Brick House,” and was built before the Civil War. The house was the childhood home of Claudia Alta Taylor, better known as Lady Bird Johnson. I know that I won’t get to see the interior, because they do not give tours of it, as far as I can tell. Still, I want to view it up close. My desire doesn’t just stem from an admiration for Lady Bird. The house, according to one of Lady Bird’s biographies, is haunted. Mrs. Johnson told the story herself. It is a story that seems wonderfully Gothic.

Supposedly the house was built by Confederate Colonel Milt Andrews. He had a lovely daughter named Eunice, who was often called “Miss Oonie.” Sometime after 1861, the nineteen-year-old Miss Oonie was sitting in a rocking chair in her upstairs bedroom when a storm rolled in to the Piney Woods. A bolt of lightning struck the chimney and traveled down the bricks. It zipped into her bedroom, struck the rocking chair, and zapped Miss Oonie, who died a fiery death.

By the early 1900s, Thomas Jefferson Taylor owned The Brick House, which he bought to please his wife Minnie Lee (née Patillo). It was there that Claudia Alta Taylor was born on December 22, 1912. As Claudia grew into a toddler, her nurse decided that the child was as pretty as a lady bird, thus her nickname.

When Lady Bird was young, the servants often told of seeing the ghost of Miss Oonie. They claimed that she looked ethereal and light-filled. Her specter was said to be slightly built and wearing a long white dress. Her “freakish” blond hair stood up on her head. It glinted as if charged by lightning.

You’ll forgive me if I conjure images in my head of The Bride of Frankenstein.

Although Lady Bird never saw the ghost herself, she claimed that she felt uncomfortable in Miss Oonie’s former bedroom. However, Miss Oonie might not have been the only ghost at The Brick House when Lady Bird was growing up.

When little Claudia was only four years old, her mother tripped over the family’s collie dog while she was descending a circular staircase. She was pregnant at the time, and the fall caused a miscarriage. A few days later, Minnie Lee Patillo Taylor died of septicemia.

Several years later Effie Patillo, Minnie Lee’s sister, came to live at The Brick House to care for her young niece. According to the stories, it seems as if Effie was about a half-bubble off plumb. However, Aunt Effie assured the young Lady Bird that the house was haunted by the ghost of her own mother. Effie believed that Minnie Lee came to her in dreams and told her that she should clean grime off the windows, do certain things to help Claudia, and finish other chores. What do you think? Was it the ramblings of a crazy lady … or was there really another ghost?

I’m having difficulty finding more information on either of these ghosts. Ancestry.com is not giving me much information about the original owners, either. I’d love to know more of the story of Miss Oonie. However, I really want to see The Brick House in Karnack. It’s on my “to-do list.”

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