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When a business related trip took me to Northwest Arkansas recently, I built in time to visit Peel Mansion and Museum, in Bentonville. I’ve wanted to see this grand old house for several years, however I usually stop by too late in the afternoon to get a tour.
This time, Greg and I squeaked in on the last available tour of the day. I’m so glad we did. This beautiful home has been faithfully renovated and restored, in a way that preserves the authenticity of the house’s past.
Not only was it fun to tour the house and gardens, taking photos as I went, it was also interesting to learn more about the family.
For spooky October, this is installment two, the ghosts of Peel Mansion.
Peel Mansion History
Col. Samuel W. Peel built his mansion in 1875 and name it The Oaks, in honor of the many oak trees surrounding it. It is a two story stucco and brick masonry building, with a three story hip roof and a rectangular tower at the front of the house.
Samuel purchased the 180 acres in 1872, promising his wife Mary Emaline that he would build her a house that rivaled the ones she remembered from her childhood in Alabama. This Italianate style mansion, with its 14 rooms, fulfilled that promise. Eight unique fireplaces grace the home, each created as a work of art by John C Sheffield. Double front doors open to a covered veranda.
The ground level features a large entry with stairs that lead upward, a ladies’ parlor, designed by Mary as a place to receive guests, Samuel’s study, where he worked diligently on his business papers and a formal dining room. The kitchen is separate from the rest of the house, for safety reasons.
Upstairs there are bedrooms for the parents, daughters and sons, a sitting room and an extra room that over the years served as a nursery and later a sewing room.
A steep flight of stairs leads from the second floor to the attic.
The Peel Family
Samuel Peel was born in Arkansas in 1831. He was a lawyer, politician and jurist who served in the US House of Representatives from 1883 until 1893. When Arkansas seceded from the Union, he served in the Confederate Army, ultimately reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He married Mary Emaline Berry in 1853 and they had nine children, eight of which survived until adulthood.
Mary requested the addition of cellar rooms beneath her new home. During the Civil War, she saw houses burned to the ground, including her own home at that time. And she witnessed starvation among her neighbors and she and her children experienced hunger as well. As a result of those difficult times, her cellars were always filled with food from her huge garden, along with apples from the orchard. Mary was known as a generous woman who shared that abundance of food with others.
Mary died in 1906 and Samuel moved into a smaller house, shortly after. Over the years the home passed through several owners and began to decline. Eventually it sat empty and neglected and was under consideration for demolition when the Walton Family purchased it and restored the house, preserving its history.
The Ghosts of Peel Mansion
There are three ghosts associated with Peel Mansion. Staff, tour guides and visitors frequently report paranormal experiences.
The Ghost of Samuel Peel
It seems that at least a couple of the Peel family members liked the house so much that they chose to stay around.
Colonel Peel makes his presence known in various rooms throughout the house. Primarily, however, he is seen or heard in his study where he spent much of his time in life working, meeting with dignitaries or reading.
Samuel is seen as a shadowy figure prowling about the house or he is experienced through loud, unexplained sounds and footsteps.
The Ghost of Minnie Bell Peel
The other family ghost is one of the daughters, Minnie Belle.
She is spotted in the house and described as a playful young woman wearing white. And she is quite musical. Minnie played the piano in Mary’s parlor for guests and also for her father, who especially enjoyed his daughter’s musical abilities.
Tour guides and visitors report hearing the piano playing in the empty room. However, if anyone enters the parlor while the piano is playing, the music stops abruptly.
Interestingly, the piano is known as a coffin piano. The top closes, creating a flat surface for a coffin to rest upon. Back in the Peels’ time, a loved one’s body was kept in the house after death, so that family and friends could visit and pay their respects to the deceased. The front parlor was the most common room for the dead to lie in, hence the piano that doubled as a table for a coffin.
The Ghost of Margery English
The English family purchased the Peel Mansion in the 1920s and moved into the home. The family included four children, two sons and two daughters…twins Margery and Elizabeth.
As a child, Margery fell ill. Eventually she suffered from a ruptured appendix. A local doctor and nurse attended her at home, performing surgery in her upstairs bedroom on a makeshift operating table. The infection from the appendix was so severe that the doctor gave Margery little hope of recovery and didn’t even close the incision. The nurse cared for the young girl until she passed away, 10 days later.
Margery’s body lay in her bedroom, covered with a sheet. And this is where the story gets strange. Five hours later, Elizabeth saw the sheet move and cried out for help. Margery, it turns out, was not dead. According to her account, she felt herself leave her body and move toward a bright light, however she was not allowed to go beyond that point and eventually returned to her body.
The Ghost Girl
Margery survived, grew up and married. She brought her husband to the home she grew up in, now owned by Lee Allen. Margery’s room, where she had surgery and died, was locked. Mr. Allen explained that the room was haunted by a little girl that cried and they didn’t use that space. Supposedly, the room remained locked for 40 years.
Staff and visitors hear a girl crying in that bedroom still. And some report experiencing a sudden drop in temperature in the room and feeling a sharp pinch on the arm by invisible fingers.
This story is an unusual one in that the girl died, but did not remain dead and yet there is a haunting associated with the room. Could it be the energy of extreme grief that permeates the room? And perhaps the crying comes from Margery’s twin sister.
My Experience in the Peel Mansion
I didn’t do any research on the house until after my tour. And I deliberately did not ask our tour guide about ghosts in the house.
As an intuitive, this is what I felt.
Mary’s parlor felt odd to me…like I was on alert and watchful eyes followed me. I did not hear the piano play however I felt drawn to it. My scalp tingled, which is my sign that benign spirits are present.
I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary in Samuel’s study.
Upstairs though, I felt a great heaviness as I walked into the girls’ bedroom. Greg and I were alone in this room, which houses a collection of vintage dolls. I don’t like dolls. But the heavy feeling didn’t come from them. The energy in this room made my scalp tingle even more and I could hear a faint clicking sound in the room…disturbingly like dolls eyes snapping open and closing.
Sadness permeated the room. Reading about Margery after the tour I thought of her illness, her near death experience, the grief of her family and then the girl’s year long recovery. Those strong emotions seem to linger in the room.
Visit Peel Mansion
If you are in Northwest Arkansas, stop by this beautiful, interesting home. Tours are free. Peel Mansion is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 until 3:00 with the last tour beginning at 2:30.
The property, which contains the house, a gift shop and botanical gardens, is located at 400 S Walton Boulevard, Bentonville, Arkansas. After your tour, visit the charming downtown square for lunch or dinner.
Have you visited a real haunted mansion before? Where was it located?
Check out last week’s spooky post: