Francis Strother Lyon (1800-82), the first owner of Bluff Hall, was a prominent lawyer and politician in West Alabama. He was a member of one of the most illustrious families in the state at the time. Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines and Col. George Strother Gaines were his uncles. In 1817, Francis came to live with Colonel Gaines, who was the Indian agent in St. Stephens. Following his admission to the bar in 1821, Francis married Sarah Serena Glover of Demopolis. In 1832, her parents, Allen and Sarah (Norwood) Glover, built Bluff Hall at 405 North Commissioners Avenue for their daughter and her husband. Francis and Sarah went on to become the parents of six girls and one boy. Because the Lyons owned a number of outlying plantations, they used Bluff Hall as a townhouse. It remained in the Lyon family until October 30, 1907, when A. R. Smith became the new owner. Bluff Hall continued to be used as a single residence until 1948, when it was converted into apartments. The Marengo County Historical Society bought the antebellum home on March 22, 1967, restored it, and opened it to the public as a museum. In 1970, Bluff Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1978, it was included in the Alabama Tapestry of Historic Places.
Bluff Hall is one of the region’s grandest homes. The brick exterior of the two- story house was covered with stucco. Six two-story brick columns were set on the front portico. Wrought-iron brackets supported a balcony. In the 1840s, the Federal-style home was remodeled in the Greek Revival style through the addition of a large front wing, a louvered gallery on a rear wing, a colonnaded portico, and white paint. The kitchen and dining room were located on the first floor of the rear wing; the second floor contained two bedrooms. The interior of Bluff Hall is equally impressive. The two columns that grace the double parlor were presented to the Lyons as anniversary gifts from Gen. Nathan B. Whitfield and his family, who owned Gaineswood in Demopolis. The house museum also contains Empire and Victorian furniture, antique kitchen utensils, period clothing, a display on local history, a gift shop, and, some say, the ghost of a little boy.
On October 30, 2003, Kathy Leverett, the Demopolis Chamber of Commerce president, her daughter, and some friends spent the night at Bluff Hall. No one had spent the night there since 1967 when it became a museum. As they were getting ready for bed, they heard some noise upstairs. It sounded like a child jumping rope. It went on for a while, and then it would stop. A few minutes after the girls had fallen asleep, it started up again, so Kathy decided she would investigate. As she was walking up the stairs, she felt as if someone was standing next to her. She looked down and was surprised to see a seven- or eight-year-old boy standing on the step. He had long hair and was wearing a nightshirt. Instead of being scared, Kathy was concerned. She sensed that the little boy was looking for his mother.
She turned around and walked down the stairs. When she got to the bottom, the mysterious little stranger was gone.
Unsure of what she had really seen, Kathy sat down in a chair on the first floor to collect her thoughts. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the little boy again, this time in front of a big window looking out toward the road. He had the same wistful expression on his face. After a few seconds, the little boy vanished.
Convinced that she had just made the acquaintance of a visitor from the past, Kathy decided to explore the history of the house to see if a young boy had ever died there. Kirk Brooker, the director of the Marengo County Historical Society, found that on April 29, 1877, the homeowners’ grandson, Leonidas Mecklenburg Polk, had died of scarlet fever at the age of eight. Leonidas, who was called “Merk” by his family, was the son of William M. Polk and Ide Lyon Polk and the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Strother Lyon and Confederate general Leonidas Polk. His mother was expecting a baby in New York, where they lived, so Merk’s parents sent him to Demopolis to celebrate Christmas with his grandparents. Merk’s mother gave birth in March, and Merk died in April before she had recovered enough to return to Demopolis. He was buried in the Lyon family plot at Riverside Cemetery. Even in the afterlife, Merk yearns to gaze into his mother’s face.
Haunted Alabama written by Alan Brown – Copyright © 2021 by Alan Brown