Only for October — Promise!

You can discover a lot about a person when you describe a creepy Victorian house in your neighborhood that’s sporting huge inflatable black devil-eyed cats, which are menacing passers-by from the second-story gables, and this person says, “Oh, is that for Halloween?”

Haunted Houses — and History

Florence, AlabamaSweetwater Mansion in Florence, AlabamaI do not like scary, bloody or gory stuff. I can barely sit through a CSI or Shark Week episode. Okay, that’s a lie — I cannot sit through a CSI or Shark Week episode. This is why I stay away from the “haunted houses” that open up during October around here. Other folks love to pay good money to scream and run away from axe-wielding zombies and come-to-life mummies, but not me, thank you very much. So when a haunted house opened up in Florence, Alabama, with the promise of only slightly spooky stories and a tramp around the grounds of a historic mansion, I was in. This is the HistorySweetwater Mansion, home to Robert M. Patton, who completed the home in 1835 (his father-in-law had started it a few years earlier). Patton was Alabama’s governor from 1865 to 1868. Sweetwater was a showplace that once included 3,800 acres of land and played host to many Civil War politicians and officers. Today, it’s neglected and deteriorating and surrounded by traffic and development — there’s a convenience store practically in the front yard. Owned by Susan Smithson, a former Shoals resident now living in Atlanta, Sweetwater and its remaining 22 acres are for sale, priced at several million dollars. Volunteers have banded together  to raise money for historic repairs and renovation and are sponsoring a haunted house this month. Some friends and I bundled up, fortified ourselves with a thermos of hot coffee and paid our $20 each. Our tour guide took us to five storytelling stations around the house and grounds (including the family graveyard), where we heard creepy ghost stories that scared us just enough and got close-up views of the house, the kitchen and the repair work that was underway. One of my friends took photos that showed spooky sort of orbs floating around. I didn’t get any of those on my photos — but losing this historic gem is scary enough. Learn more about the Sweetwater mansion at