The Ghosts of Duke Mansion
The city of Charlotte, North Carolina is a city fit for a queen; Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, to be exact. The city was founded over 200 years ago by British settlers and named for King George III’s wife. Since its beginnings in the 18th century, Charlotte has come a long way. Charlotte is now a bustling commercial hub home to a museum of post-Civil War history, a stunning botanical garden, and of course, the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
With so much to do, it’s no surprise the city attracts an impressive number of visitors year after year. Many of these visitors opt to stay in swanky highrise hotels downtown, but if you want to experience some of the city’s rich history firsthand, try and stay at the Duke Mansion, a beautiful and historic bed and breakfast on Hermitage Road. However, before you book a room, be warned that the estate has a tragic, terrifying history. Think you’re brave enough to encounter the ghosts of Duke Mansion? Read on to find out!
History and Background
In 1915, the home was built by millionaire Zeb Taylor in a Colonial Revival style. At the time, it was one of the only houses in the Myers Park neighborhood of Charlotte. Zeb stayed at the home another four years before well-established entrepreneur James Buchanan Duke purchased the home in 1919, bestowing upon it its current name. Before moving in, Duke renovated the home and nearly tripled it in size, transforming it into the sprawling estate it is today. While living at the mansion, Duke established his most lasting legacies including Duke University, Duke Energy, and Duke Endowment.
Over the next several decades, the mansion changed ownership several times, always falling into the hands of those dedicated to preserving its historic nature. In 1966, a terrible fire blazed through the house, leaving the entire third floor in ruins. The owners at the time of the fire, Mr. and Mrs. Lineberger, spared no expense in restoring their beautiful home to its previous splendor. Within a year, the Duke was as good as new.
In 1977, the Duke was officially placed on local, state, and national registries of historic places, ensuring the preservation of its legacy. In 1996, a nonprofit organization known as the Lynwood Foundation was established, further preserving the Duke’s legacy and historic status. Two years later in 1998, the Duke officially opened for business as a historic inn and meeting center. Ten years later, an endowment cements efforts to permanently protect the Duke’s historical significance.
In 2015, the Duke Mansion celebrated its 100th birthday, and will hopefully celebrate many more birthdays to come. But a century of age usually comes with a ghost story or two, and the Duke Mansion is no stranger to tales of the unexplained.
The most infamous ghost story circulating about the Duke is undoubtedly the story of Jon Avery, who moved into the Duke Mansion with his ailing wife Anatasia in the late 1920s. Jon was a kind, intelligent young man with a deep love for books. He outfitted the mansion with an expansive library and personally curated every item in his collection, from Mary Shelley to F. Scott Fitzgerald. He had a passion for poetry as well and counted in his collection the works of T.S.Elliot and Langston Hughs. He also cared deeply for his wife, who shared his appreciation for the arts. But Anastasia’s health was beginning to falter. Jon did everything he could to take care of her, tending to her day and night and reading to her from her favorite books; but it was no use. Her condition soon became critical, and Jon was forced to transfer her to a nearby hospital.
In his wife’s sudden absence, Jon quickly grew lonely. Jon struggled with his own health, having been diagnosed with polio as a young boy. In an effort to remedy his desolation, as well as to have someone else around in case his own condition worsened, Jon posted a “room for rent” ad in the local paper. Within a few days, a young, pretty female writer named Maggie responded to his ad. Jon gave Maggie a tour of Duke Mansion, and she was sold as soon as she laid eyes on his enormous collection of books. She moved in the following day.
The two became fast friends, taking meals together, discussing their favorite books, and going for long walks around the grounds. Soon, their close friendship began to develop into something more. Maggie knew she had fallen for Jon, hard. But she also knew that he would never leave Anastasia for her. Not wanting to break her own heart chasing after a man she knew she could never have, Maggie decided it was best for her to leave. The night before she left, Jon met Maggie in the library. As a terrible storm raged outside the enormous glass windows, Jon begged Maggie to return to Duke Mansion at midnight exactly one year later, dead or alive. She agreed, and a peel of thunder crashing through the night sealed the deal.
Maggie left the next morning without saying goodbye. She moved far away from Charlotte and tried to get on with her life. Yet she found she couldn’t stop thinking of Jon. She wrote poetry for him, describing her feelings through veiled metaphors and allusions to the books they had read together. She even had a few of them published under a pseudonym, and a small part of her hoped he would see them and write to her. But she never heard from him.
Finally, Maggie’s year of longing reached its end. With the fateful day of their reunion fast approaching, she booked a ticket back to Charlotte to see the only man she had ever loved. She arrived outside of Duke Mansion at 11:30 pm. Heavy rain poured from the heavens just as it had exactly one year before. A flash of lightning split the sky, illuminating the figure of a man watching her from the window above. Maggie rushed through the pounding rain to the front door and knocked three times. The door swung open with an eerie creek, but no one was there to greet her. Trepidatiously, she stepped inside.
“Hello?” She called. There was no answer. The doors slammed shut behind her as another flash of lightning briefly illuminated the entryway, revealing it to be empty. Frightened and confused, Maggie was about to turn around and leave, but she knew she could never forgive herself if she left without telling Jon how she really felt. So with shaky, uncertain steps, she ascended the massive spiral staircase and made her way toward the library.
Just as the clock struck 12, Maggie heard the sound of slow, heavy footsteps dragging up the back staircase. The sound sent a shockwave of terror through her heart, but she remained frozen in place. The steps grew closer and closer, until suddenly Jon emerged from the shadows, lurching into the room with arms outstretched toward her. He was dressed in formal attire, complete with a black bow tie and top hat. Maggie called out to him, and he came shuddering closer. Just then, another burst of lightning bathed Jon in eerie white light. Maggie nearly screamed when she saw him; his face was deathly pale, his eyes were gray and hollow, and his body was as thin as a skeleton. She reached out to touch him, but his hand passed right through hers.
“Dead or alive, right?” he said with a wink. Then he disappeared back into the shadows. Maggie later learned from his sister that Jon’s polio had finally overtaken him, and had passed away only the day before. His sister also gave Maggie a letter Jon had written professing his love for her. Just before dying, Jon had asked from his deathbed, “dead or alive, will I make it?” Devastated and heartbroken, Maggie wrote dozens of letters to Jon throughout the rest of her life. She returned to Duke Mansion exactly one year later, and every year until her death decades later.
While most of us likely don’t have Maggie’s dedication, the Duke Mansion is open to the general public along as well as ill-fated would-be lovers. With spacious, beautiful rooms, impeccable service, and a totally creepy history, the Duke is the perfect destination for any paranormally inclined travelers looking for a place to stay in Charlotte.