When I hear the name Lady Bird Johnson, I immediately think of wildflowers. She was, after all, a visionary environmentalist who focused on protecting and preserving North America’s native plants, including Texas wildflowers.
But did you know that Texas native Lady Bird Johnson grew up in a haunted house?
High on a hill 2 ½ miles outside of Karnack, Texas an isolated white mansion surrounded by trees, fields and bayous houses a special place in Texas history — as well as its very own ghost.
The imposing, 17-room plantation style mansion known as the Brick House was built in 1843 by Cephus Andrews. It was also the site of a tragedy.
In 1861 during a violent thunderstorm, Andrews’ 19-year-old daughter Eunice, known as “Oonie,” sat in her bedroom beside a fireplace. Lightning struck the chimney and raced downward striking the young girl and consuming her in flames.
Legend has it that Oonie’s spirit has never left the home. Stories have been passed down through the years of eerie noises, ghostly apparitions, misplaced objects and other odd occurrences…all attributed to poor Oonie.
In 1902 the Andrews family sold their home and thousands of acres of cotton to the wealthiest man in town, Thomas Jefferson Taylor. He also owned two cotton gins, a fishing business and two country stores emblazoned with boastful signs stating “T. J. Taylor—Dealer in Everything.”
Taylor and his wife Minnie had two sons, and in 1912 added their only daughter Claudia Alta Taylor. Her nursemaid took one look at the dark-haired baby and said she was “as purty as a lady bird.” The endearing nickname followed her throughout her life.
When Lady Bird was 5, the Brick House witnessed a second tragedy. Her mother fell down the staircase of the home and died a few days later from complications of a miscarriage caused by the accident.
Lady Bird, whose brothers were away at school (and weren’t even told about their mother’s death for almost a year), remained in the home and was raised by her maternal aunt Effie who came from Alabama to live at the home.
When asked about the Brick House’s ghost in later years, Lady Bird would say that she often had a feeling of apprehension and unease in the home. She spent most of her indoor time in her room, which was just down the hall from Oonie’s room that servants repeated warned her to stay away from…as they did. The sounds of the old house, including wind whipped through the sills of the floor to ceiling windows must have added to the spooky atmosphere.
Her aunt Effie believed that Minnie’s ghost visited her at night to instruct her about caring for Lady Bird, washing windows and taking care of other forgotten household chores.
In her 80’s Lady Bird told her biographer, “I would not, even now, at this age, feel comfortable being alone in that house myself.”
Luckily young Lady Bird was able to spend most of her time outdoors strolling through the woods and fields where she developed her love of nature’s beauty. So it’s perhaps indirectly thanks in part to the ghost of forever-young Oonie that Texas enjoys wildflowers along its highways each spring.
The home still stands as a national historic landmark, and is privately owned. I wonder if Oonie still provides caretaking instructions to them.