Who is the spookiest? Both of these stories take place in the Audubon house in Key West. It really is more the Geiger house as it belonged to the Geiger family. Though James Audubon’s spirit is seen in the garden there is no real evidence he ever stayed at the Geiger house. The years seem to support the house bearing Audubon’s name was built after his stay in Key West. Audubon did stay next door and most likely roamed the land where the Geiger’s house still stands. He painted 18 birds while he was in Key West and the prints adorn the house.
Maybe it’s the naming of the house that makes the Captain return. He has been known to chase people from the garden and pace the balcony looking for ships. Maybe he’d be more welcoming if they came to see the ‘Geiger house’. His wife too has been seen and perhaps it’s the spirit of her children, a number of them died of yellow fever and one from a fall from a tree, that keep her close. Some believe the graves are in the bricked courtyard. Unfortunately I missed the Geiger plot in the Key West cemetery and don’t know for sure if they are accounted for there.
Captain John Geiger was a skilled navigator and wealthy ‘wrecker’ who waited for ships to crash on the rocks, save the crew and claim 25% of the cargo. He may have been a pirate but the lines are blurred in any case. He married Lucretia Sanders and they had nine children. He died bankrupt as shipping routes were changed to safer shores. The last descendant to live there was William Bradford Smith. He was recluse, just as Captain Geiger had been in his last years, William Bradford Smith died in 1956. Since then Smith has been seen and smelled in the house. Perhaps answering the question of soap in the afterlife.
In one corner here is the story of Mrs. Peck. .
And in the other corner of this fight of the scariest is the “oilogram” of a ten-year old girl named Hannah. An oilogram is a death portrait painted in haste of the corpse as a remembrance. Before the days of photography it was a way to have an image of the dearly departed. Hannah’s portrait is said to be from the 19th century and it is also said to house the spirit of the child. It so unsettled visitors that for many years it was against the wall in the children’s room out of sight. This is when the children’s room was located on the top floor which was the infirmary. They quarantined the sick children in hopes of containing the illness. It is also the room the child that fell from the tree was carried up the stairs to die. When I was there many years ago the children’s room was magically creepy. They had a beautiful puppet theater and toys of all sorts of keenness. It felt as if little eyes were watching you and maybe waiting for you to step inside and join them in a game. The death portrait was there too and I peeked around the corner for a look at Hanna. It was a bit of an eerie sensation mixed with excitement as I had just discovered her existence a short time before.
The placement didn’t seem to stop her from emerging from the painting and running around the house. Giggles and the sound of small feet running seemed to come and go from the painting. When a new director of the museum took charge of the house this painting survived the ruthless quest for authenticity. The cleansing of the antiques claimed the puppet theater as they put it up for auction. Geiger kept inventory of all the contents of his home and the new director wanted it to be as exact as possible to reflect his home life. Perhaps Hannah was his daughter and painting was a valuable reminder of the daughter he lost.
Though Mrs Peck ran off in 1997 there seems to be a return of sorts. She was said to love to unscrew light bulbs and after her disappearance it stopped. But the dining room chandelier is now having its bulbs unscrewed with no rhyme or reason. Maybe Mrs. Peck is back.
Hannah is in plain sight. Her sad face staring out on the second floor children’s room wall. Maybe it is her having to behave during the day when visitors are there that makes her pout. Maybe at night she and Mrs. Peck play with lights and run through the house reclaiming it at least until dawn.