Ja mon, we come to Jamaica for a ghost story. But this one does not involve Bob Marley but a native son of Arkansas, the man in black, Johnny Cash.
But we will get there….
On our day in Montego Bay, we toured the Rose Hall Great House. Built in the 1770s, and later owned by John Rose Palmer the Great House was once a great plantation with 3 wings and 12 bedrooms. A sugar cane plantation, according to Wikipedia, more than 250 Africans were enslaved here. But the most famous occupant was Annie Palmer.
John’s second wife, reportedly a short red headed spit fire, John married Annie in 1820. Internet accounts differ if she was born in England or in Haiti, but she allegedly came to John via Haiti and had learned voodoo (or Obeah) there.
In the House, John’s first wife (Rose, according to our guide, but I can find no second source on that topic) was beloved and is allegedly pictured in a portrait in the library.
Annie, not so much. The slaves called Annie the “white witch” perhaps because she practiced voodoo or perhaps because she was just plain cruel (she reportedly would throw the contents of her bedpan on a slave who came to collect them late or lock those who got caught in one of the bear traps trying to escape in the dungeon without food or water or medical care until they died).
The tour begins downstairs in the one remaining wing of the original three. It was restored in the 1960s and contains Georgian furniture, like the period in which it was occupied (and interestingly decorations from Asia to which no one made any references). Then you move upstairs to where “the lovings and the killings happen”.
Annie allegedly poisoned John when he learned of an affair of hers. She remarried and strangled that one, remarried and stabbed the third. Allegedly, Annie claimed yellow fever to have taken each of them and would have their bodies burned at the beach by slaves who would then be murdered when the deed was done (because “a dead man no talk”).
The only bedroom upstairs which is considered “safe” is the guest room because Annie never killed one there or maybe she never got a chance… you see, Annie was allegedly offed herself in 1831 by a freed slave, Takoo, (perhaps a lover, or perhaps enraged about a curse Annie placed on a granddaughter, or perhaps both, sources vary) who himself met his maker at the hands of another man who reportedly loved Annie. Fearing Annie would return from the dead, the slaves burned all of her possessions after her death.
So why the Man in Black reference? Johnny Cash lived on the island part time and was friends with the new owners who restored the House in the 60s and performed at and wrote a song about the legends of the house:
So, where’s you husband Annie
Where’s number two and three
Are they sleeping beneath the palms
Beside the Caribbean Sea
At night I hear you riding
And I hear your lover’s call
And I still can feel your presence
Around the Great House at Rose Hall
Well worth a visit, for the brave they do “haunted tours” at night. We were safely back onboard and out of Annie’s clutches when the sun went down, however.
It should be noted that the entire story has been refuted and that experts claim that there is no evidence that Annie ever actually existed, but what’s a good ghost story without some mystery and intrigue?
This account is closest to the one we heard on the tour so who knows, true or not, will the white witch haunt you when you visit?