By Jim Miles
In October 2006 I was asked to speak to the Taylor County Historical Society, which met at the Butler Public Library. It is a very active organization and the meeting room was packed as I unloaded my books and set up a table. In the entrance to the building, I noticed an unusual piece of furniture for a library, an old fashioned hutch, beautifully restored and displayed, which sat opposite the door to the meeting room.
I spoke for half an hour or so, talking about ghosts, and the cabinet didn’t make a sound. However, everybody was smiling and nudging each other and saying, “Just wait.” Then the hutch started banging away at me and the congregation had a good laugh. It was an amazing and well-known local phenomenon.
The haunted cabinet has its origins with Annie Laura Edwards, who was born just months before her father, prominent Butler attorney William Posey Edwards, enlisted in the Confederate army in October 1861. While serving with Company F, 27th Georgia Regiment, he was captured at Antietam and imprisoned in Baltimore before being exchanged. He suffered a serious wound at Ocean Pond, Florida, better known as Olustee, and the war ended as he convalesced in Butler. He had also seen combat at other fierce battles.
In January 1888 Laura Edwards married James E. Davant, a local judge. The couple had six children, with two dying in childhood. Surviving were daughter Hortense and three sons.
The deaths of Laura’s father and another local prominent Confederate veteran, Colonel William Sharp Wallace, inspired Laura to organize the Wallace-Edwards Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), which she served as president and vice president. She led the efforts to purchase and dedicate the Confederate monument that stands on the Taylor County courthouse square and organized a yearly celebration on Confederate Memorial Day. Mr. and Mrs. Davant were active members of the Butler Methodist Church, and she served as president of the Women’s Missionary Society for years.
Around 1920 the family left for the oil fields of Texas, earning a fortune in petroleum and land, but returned to Butler for long visits. When Laura died in December 1935, her remains were returned to the Methodist Church cemetery in Butler and buried with her husband and children.
James Robert Wilson was a skilled woodworker with a widespread reputation. Known in Butler as Mr. Rob, he constructed a rocking chair specifically for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which today is preserved at the Little White House in Warm Springs.
The library hutch is a superb example of Wilson’s craft. It is a unique combination of a secretary and a china cabinet; the upper portion features double glass doors while the lower half has wooden doors with a set-in lock. Separating the sections is an open display area. A bronze plaque reads, “In Memory of Mrs. Laura Edwards Davant.”
The hutch was long utilized by the Butler Garden Club for storage of records in the Butler Community House. When the Garden Club sold the building, the cabinet was sent to storage. As a new structure for the library was opened, the cabinet was restored and displayed. Since the library’s dedication, the cabinet has often greeted “patrons with a loud thump, as though someone had rapped his knuckles on the wood,” wrote local historian Sybil Willingham.
The hutch was the property of Miss Laura, Willingham explained. “We say when it starts knocking and makes all kinds of noises that Miss Laura does it and she is not pleased with what is happening. It is true that it makes all kinds of noises all the time. One day a lady wanted to look at some records we kept in there and when we unlocked it, it started making all those noises and she said, ‘Well, maybe I better not look at ‘em.’
“People wouldn’t believe it if they didn’t hear it,” Willingham wrote.
The common belief is that Laura’s spirit resides in the cabinet and speaks up in the only way available to her. The Wallace-Edwards Chapter UDC assembles monthly in the meeting room across the hall from Miss Laura’s cabinet. The door is customarily left open and when an important issue is pending, “there was often a thump from the cabinet when the vote was called.” Miss Laura, although absent in body, still casts a ghost ballot.
Laura also seems to object to noisy modern cleaning technology. When a vacuum cleaner is employed, she registers her complaints with loud thumps.
According to Willingham, Miz Johnnie, the Taylor County librarian, does not believe in the haunted cabinet.
“This is ridiculous!” she exclaims when the subject is raised. “There are no such things as ghosts.”
However, something happened when Willingham asked Miz Johnnie to get some Garden Club records from the cabinet to assist her research. She kindly agreed, but when Willingham checked back to see if she had retrieved the documents, Miz. Johnnie replied, “NO! I started to open it. I put the key in the lock and it growled at me! I am not going back out there. You can take the key and get the records if you want to, but I am not about to!”
Willingham took the key to the cabinet and had a kindly chat with Miss Laura, asking permission to unlock the cabinet, remove the records, treat them gently, and return them to the cabinet. Willingham experienced no trouble in this endeavor. To keep on the spirit’s good side, “I never enter the library without greeting Laura,” she said.
Butler Public Library, 56 West Main Street, Butler, GA 31006. (478) 862-5428.
Jim Miles is the author of two Weird Georgia books, seven books about Georgia ghosts and eight books about the Civil War. To see all of his books go to the Jim Miles Author Page on Amazon. Order autographed books or contact Jim directly at email@example.com