Valentine’s Day Rooted in Ghostly Lore

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love wrapped in a bouquet of romantic traditions. Yet, many of our most haunted tales have a tragic Romeo and Juliet heart-rending ending.


In the rolling hills of Madison, Mississippi, the ghost of a bride-to-be still mourns at the gravesite of her groom, a century and a half after his death. The marriage of Helen, youngest daughter of John and Margaret Johnstone to Henry Gary Vick was set for the spring of 1859 at the Chapel of the Cross in Madison. During their two-year courtship, Helen elicited a promise from often hot-blooded Henry that he would never again use dueling as a means of settling a dispute.
Four days prior to the wedding, Henry traveled downriver to New Orleans. While there he ran into a former classmate. Somewhere between the pleasantries and the reminiscing, a perceived slight escalated into an accusation sullying a man’s honor. They agreed to a duel. Two different versions linger on what happened at the duel. The first says Henry belatedly remembered his promise to Helen and shot his gun in the air, hoping his opponent would be honorable and do the same. The second report states that both men were lousy shots: Henry aimed for his classmate’s forehead and hit a tree; his classmate aimed for Henry’s body but the bullet hit his head. Henry Grey Vick lay dead on the ground. His body was placed on a steamer headed back to Mississippi.
A courier on horseback delivered a note to the bride’s parents: “Henry Vick killed in a duel.” The wedding decorations at the chapel were hastily pulled down and funeral preparations begun. Helen wore her wedding gown to the service. A grave was dug in the cemetery behind the chapel, and Helen had an iron bench installed next to the grave. On balmy spring nights, the ghost of Helen appears in the cemetery, and sits on the bench pinning for her lost love. pics of grave.
In Natchez, Mississippi, a young woman paid the ultimate price for loving the wrong man. In the 1930s, the skeletal remains of a teenage girl were discovered bricked up behind the fireplace wall of what is today King’s Tavern. Buried with her was a jeweled dagger. Somewhere between 1789 and 1820, a barmaid referred to as Madeline had an affair with Prosper King, the tavern’s owner and Mrs. King swiftly ended it. I was so moved by the tale that I penned the following poem:

Madeline. Alluring Madeline
Sweet Sixteen and a dimple in her chin.
Love for the tavern keeper sealed her fate
when the coy barmaid chose the wrong mate.

For the tavern keeper had a wife,
who knew too well how to yield a knife,
Now, alluring Madeline, a pretty little ghost is she,
haunting King’s Tavern for all eternity.

What is purported to be Madeline’s portrait hangs over the restored fireplace today in the tavern. Guests report that the picture occasionally swings violently back and forth. This attractive ghost is also blamed for water dripping from the ceiling, hotspots on the staircase, and tugging at the hair of female customers.

So, whether it be Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Helen, the almost bride, or the young barmaid Madeline, love does not always have a happy ending. For those of us who love a good haunted tale that endures through time, a love story with a haunted twist. More details about Helen and Henry or alluring Madeline can be found in my book The Haunting of Mississippi.

May all your Valentine’s celebrations be filled with love and happy endings.

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