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Conversational Dialogue with Rebecca Kay Killian

Killian, Rebecca Kay
Sorrell, Courtney
Date of Interview: 
relationships with people and places
Rebecca Kay Killian talks about her aunt Martha starting a church in Lincoln County, NC.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Courtney Sorrell interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
RK (Rebecca Kay Killian): I'm going to talk about my great, great Aunt Martha.
CS (Courtney Sorrell): OK, go ahead and tell me your story.
RK: Um, the story, you would expect a story about Aunt Martha's life, but this story actually starts on the day of her funeral, and that was in September 1907. But before I can talk about Aunt Martha, I should probably talk about my grandparents because everything I know about this story came from them, either, um directly from them to me when I was a little child, or some of it was stuff that my aunts told me that the family had told them. So the story takes place on Killian Road in eastern Lincoln County, which is where I live and where all of my family live. And my grandparents at that time were in their late teens or early twenties, um, and they were still courting. I'm not sure if they were engaged or not at that point. My Grandfather Killian lived on the, the end of Killian Road that was in Gaston County closest to the river, and his family had a, had a big old farmhouse there in a grove of trees not far from the river. I remember the farmhouse from when I was little and at that point it was really big and gray and, and looked a little bit like a haunted house, but it was probably pretty nice in its day. So he had grown up on the same road with my grandmother. My grandmother lived in a big white farmhouse further up the road near the intersection of Killian Road and Sifford Road and she was a Sifford, and I'm not really sure where my grandfather lived at that point, um, his parents, sometime when he was in his late teens or early twenties decided that they wanted to go build a townhouse in Mount Holly, and my grandfather had some stock in the mill down there and I guess they wanted this Mount Holly town society, so they built a big house down there and the, the two youngest children were sort of spoiled town kids but the older ones always lived in the country. And at some point, they kicked my grandfather and his favorite brother out of the nest, and [long pause]. And they sent them to a farm that they owned across the river near Cowan's Ford Dam to set up a little bachelor pad. So, you know now that would be a fun thing, they'd be at the Galway Hooker eating, or drinking Killian's Red every night and prowling around Berkdale and enjoying their lake view, but back then it was just a river and the two boys were over there farming, and you know if they had any fun maybe they had a jug of moonshine hidden somewhere, but that was about it. So this was my grandfather. Um, my grandmother, again, lived in the big white house and her father had a lot of farmland. That house is still there and the people have added columns to the front porch and tarted it up to make it look like a plantation house, but it really was always a farm house, and Aunt Martha was my grandmother's aunt more than one way. Um, she, Aunt Martha was married to my grandmother's father, but she was also blood kin to my grandmother's mother, and, and to make it even more complicated my grandfather was distant blood kin to all of these people too including my grandma because they were all descended from all the old pioneers that had settled along the river. And Aunt Martha, I don't know exactly how old she was when she died, but she was young enough that both of her parents were still alive, and in September on the day of her funeral, the whole family was gathered in the parlor waiting to go to the cemetery, um, they had the horses lined up out front for a, a funeral procession and the cemetery was only about half a mile up the road from Grandpa Sifford's white farm house. And, about that time when they were getting ready, a bad cloud came up, and it got worse and worse, so my grandmother's two little brothers, Neil and Guy, were so eager to go they were already sitting in the back seat of my grandpa's best buggy parked right out front, and somebody had this bright idea that maybe it wasn't safe for the little boys out in the storm and they got them out of the buggy. Just an instant after that, lightning hit the buggy and it killed both of the horses standing there in their harnesses right, right on the spot, so the storm kept on going, worse and worse and worse, and they had to cancel the funeral even though the cemetery was only about a half mile away because there was no shelter at the cemetery. The, the cemetery was really old, it had been part of an old Methodist church called Salem, but that church had been torn down and moved to another location, and it was so old there were even supposedly slaves buried back behind the rock wall. But the storm raged on for a couple a days, and, that, it must have been really traumatic having to hold off on burying Aunt Martha for that long, um, it was probably a hurricane since it was in September but back in those days you didn't have weathermen and nobody kept records, you know they just knew that it was something really bad. So finally a, a day came that was nice enough to go to the cemetery and have the funeral, and have the burial, um, my grandfather went to the second funeral also. On that day, he was leaving the, the funeral, he was alone, driving down the road in his horse and wagon, and as he was driving through an area of open field, he saw a woman walking slowly along the road. She was all dressed from head to toe in white, and she had on this funny kind of old fashioned bonnet that they wore down and had her head down. He pulled up beside her and asked if she would, if she would like a ride somewhere but she kept her head down, never acknowledged him, just kept walking, so he went on, but he didn't go very far before it really started bothering him, he, he didn't understand this and, you know I guess just coming from the funeral it, it bothered him more so he turned around in his horse and wagon and went back, and there was no one in sight anywhere, even there were, though there were open fields for a great distance on either side of the road there was no sign of the woman, and of course after he started thinking about it he started thinking about how, how she really did look like Aunt Martha, and, and the more he thought about it the more he worried and worried about this. So, Aunt Martha's ghost was apparently pretty busy because supposedly the ghost also appeared to her husband, Uncle Ab, and the story with that is that Martha came to Uncle Ab and said, "You've got to build a church by the gate," and whether or not Ab saw her ghost, um, he did build a church. It was built in 1908 the next year, it was called Martha's Chapel, and it was, it was not where the old church had been across the road, instead it was under some oak trees right beside the cemetery. So this was a little white clapboard church, it had three tall windows on either side, and the land was given by Nancy and Starling, Nancy and Starling Womack. They were Martha's parents. Now the, the family of course was all pleased to have a shelter there by the cemetery, but they never could agree on what denomination to make the church, which doesn't surprise me and my family, you know some of them were Methodist, some of them were Presbyterian, some of them were Baptist, and they never could come up with a denomination so it ended up being inter denominational, and that always caused problems in finding a minister. Um, by the time I was a small child, it was still operating, it was a very small congregation, and all of them were Sifford descendants of some sort or other, and the, the minister that I remember from being a child was a woman which was appropriate since the church was named after Aunt Martha it was appropriate to have a woman who was a minister. Um, she would stand up front, she would get very, very emotional with tears streaming down her face, and of course I had always been told to behave and not cry so this was fascinating to me as a small child that, that she could cry in front of all these people and being, being so young, not a lot of what she said was making sense, plus when they had, when they had Sunday school they would include me in the class with all of the adults and I was five or six years old so that was really, really confusing, but the, the most interesting thing about the church was that there was a pot-bellied stove in the middle and when it got hot the wasps would come out of the ceiling and sometimes they would bite you. If you, if you set close enough to stay warm then you were in the area that the wasps like, of course if you moved further back, you would, you would freeze to death, so as a result of being bitten during church I always thought that there were, I thought as a child that there were wasps in all church, all churches, even if they had central heating and, you know nice carpets and stained glass windows, I was always looking over my shoulder for the wasps because I thought maybe their job was to bite small children who misbehaved in church, really wasn't sure about that. So, um, the church is not used any more but it's still there and it's still kept up.
CS: I know I've already asked you this but um, so was Martha a religious person, is that why you think that maybe she asked for the church, or do you know why?
RK: I don't know if she was a religious person or not, what I think was that, that the fact that her funeral got postponed a couple of days like that either maybe it made her spirit restless or maybe it just traumatized the relatives so much that they thought they needed shelter at that spot and it was more the idea of having a building then, than any religious significance.
CS: Have you ever heard of anybody else seeing her ghost after that?
RK: No not after that, just my grandfather and, and Uncle Ab, and I did not know the story about Ab for a long, long time. I had heard the story about my grandfather since I was a small child, but, but I did not know when I was sitting in church as a child that there might be a ghost lurking about the corners or I probably would have paid more attention.
CS: Was the, is the story documented in the church or is there?
RK: It's not, it may be documented in the church records when she was buried and so forth. I don't think there's any writing in the church, um, it is documented on a Lincoln County Historical Society calendar, um, for what that's worth. Complete with a picture of the church.
CS: Oh, that's great, well thank you so much for sharing your story, I appreciate that.
RK: Well, you're very welcome.