Mythical Monday: The Ghosts of the Drish House by Mae Clair

A federal style edifice located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the Drish House was constructed in 1839 for Dr. John Drish. An affluent physician, Drish moved there with his second wife and his daughter, Katherine, from a previous marriage. Like many old homes, the Drish House is not without its share of legends, a few on the spookier side.  One of the home’s most striking features is a large central tower added in the early 1860s—a tower many claim becomes engulfed by flame in the middle of the night.

An image of the John Drish House By Alabama Department of Education (Alabama Department of Archives and History) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An image of the John Drish House By Alabama Department of Education (Alabama Department of Archives and History) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, a runaway slave once hid in the tower. Eventually forced to reveal himself when thirst and starvation took their toll, he was turned over to his master. A viciously cruel man, the slave owner had him burned to death. To this day, fire plagues the tower as a reminder of his grisly execution. Perhaps it is his ghost sending a message to those who deemed his life of so little value.

Yet another tale involves a set of mysterious candles. Before Mrs. Drish died, she requested the same candles that had been burned at her husband’s funeral service be used at hers. Though many looked for them, they were not discovered until months later. Some believe it is Mrs. Drish’s spirit who lights the missing candles at night in order to illuminate the central tower.

Indeed, Drish family history is not without its share of bizarre and tragic incidents. The first involves Drish’s niece, Helen Whiting, who was a frequent visitor to her uncle’s home. Helen married a man named Fitch, a reportedly jealous sort with a fondness for drink. Employed as a carpenter, he was hired by her uncle to help build the massive staircase in Dr. Drish’s mansion. It was undoubtedly there that Helen first set eyes on the man who would become her husband–and eventually take her life. One day in a fit of rage, Fitch slit Helen’s throat, nearly severing her head from her body. He was later convicted, deemed insane, and locked in an asylum. Some tales say he remained there for the rest of his life, others that he was eventually deemed cured and released.

Around the same time, Katherine’s husband divorced her and sent her back to her family along with their two sons. He feared she, too, was going insane. As a young girl, Katherine had been subject to cruel treatment by her father. She made the mistake of falling for a man who did not meet Drish’s approval. In an effort to discourage the relationship, the doctor locked his daughter in her room for several weeks, allowing her only bread and water. Katherine’s love interest eventually left Tuscaloosa, coerced by her father, and she married a man named W.W. King. The marriage, however, was doomed from the start and with Katherine’s mental state rapidly deteriorating, King dumped her back on her father, and freed himself from the union.

With his niece dead, his daughter disgraced, and his fortune claimed by the hardships of the Civil War, Drish wasted away. He refused to eat and was kept alive through force feeding. He must have regretted his treatment of Katherine, for he made his wife promise she would never send his daughter to an asylum. Mrs. Drish kept the vow, but shuttered Katherine away in her bedroom, sealing the windows and ensuring the door was securely bolted at night. One afternoon, supposedly drunk, Drish leapt from his bed and ran for the staircase. In his stupor, he tripped and plummeted to his death.

His wife lived her remaining years in poverty, eventually perishing in 1884. Shortly before Mrs. Drish died, Katherine’s grown sons returned to the house and removed their mother. Her mental state had grown increasingly fragile over time. I can’t help wondering if her fate might have been different had she been allowed to marry the man of her choice.

Such a sad history. Especially when you consider Dr. Drish and his family weren’t characters in a book, but people who experienced these grim realities. There is no question he left a signature behind. The Drish House has inspired all manner of paranormal research and articles, and was even featured in the first of a series of books by Kathryn Tucker Windham called “13 Alabama Ghosts.”

Worth a shiver, wouldn’t you say?