Last week I had the pleasure of visiting with both Uncle Bunky and Robert Snow. In talking with them it should be no surprise that the subject of conversation turned to stories of Waverly, the Snow’s National Historic Landmark home between West Point and Columbus. Robert and his late wife, Donna, purchased and began restoring the home in 1962, saving it from ruin as it had been abandoned for almost 50 years. Bunky grew up here and has many memories of the house from both before the Snows saved it and after they restored it. Their stories ranged from ghosts to Playboy Bunnies.
While the name of the house is now often spelled Waverley, Col. George H. Young’s original 1839 spelling of the site where the house was built was Waverly.
I first recall learning of the ghost at Waverly from Alabama author and storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 1974 book “13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey.” A photo of Waverly even appeared on the book’s dust jacket. The ghost was called “little girl lost” because of the child’s voice sometimes heard in the house calling out “Mama Mama.” One of the most frequent sightings of the ghost has been the rumpled covers and a depression in an upstairs bed as though a child were lying there. A few people have reported seeing the ghostly figure of a small girl on the grand staircase. The apparition has appeared not just to the Snow’s but also to guests in the house.
Last week Bunky told me a story I had not heard before. When his daughter Sandy was little, Bunky had taken her to see Waverly. Restoration work was going on at the house at that time and the steps of the grand staircase were covered with a film of dust. On the second floor stairs, Bunky suddenly noticed a fresh set of very clear footprints leading up 4 or 5 steps and stopping but no one was there. It was the prints of the bare feet of a small child. He pointed them out to Sandy who immediately wanted to leave. Bunky said he shook his head, looked at the prints again and agreed it was time to go.
While I was visiting with Robert, Melanie Snow came out and brought glasses of cold orange juice for a hot day. She told how research turned up a child by the name of Carrie who lived on a neighboring plantation and became ill during the Civil War. The little girl was carried to Waverly to be better cared for. During her stay she died from a fall on the steps. Carrie was buried in the Young family cemetery. Melanie wondered if Carrie might be the ghost and also the guardian of the house while it stood abandoned for those almost 50 years.
While Waverly is most noted for its architecture, history, beauty and hospitality, it was also once part of a Playboy photo shoot. While sitting and talking with Robert Snow he once again brought up the story of Playboy at Waverly. In 1981 Playboy Magazine planned a special “football photo section” on the girls of the Southeastern Conference. The magazine wanted to photo some of the girls nude in the master bedroom at Waverly. That started a debate at Waverly that caught national attention.
Donna Snow thought it was a horrible idea and said, “No.” Robert thought it was a wonderful idea and said, “Yes.” One newspaper article was headlined, “She Says No, He Says Yes.” Donna received dozens of letters from all over the country thanking her for standing up for good morals and good taste. Eventually a compromise was worked out. The girls would be photographed having a picnic in front of Waverly and would have clothes on.
The photo shoot was set up. The girls would be fully clothed in (low cut) antebellum dresses around a fabulous picnic spread, including a special ham brought from New York as the centerpiece. My wife Karen recalls Donna having been quoted as saying that when all was ready for the photos to be made she stood beside the photographer to make sure no clothes came off. What did happen though was that the Snow’s dog ran up, grabbed the ham and took off with it. Because it was some kind of special ham the whole photo shoot was stopped and held up until the next day so that another “special ham” could be flown down from New York. The photo appeared as the lead-in photo to “The Girls of the SEC” in the September 1981 issue of Playboy Magazine. When he tells the story, Robert still grins from ear to ear with a twinkle in his eye.
While at Waverly I noticed that the exterior is being painted and could hardly believe the fortune it is costing to paint it. The Friends of Waverley are raising money to help with that expense. I have donated to the project and I hope others will also help. Donations may be mailed to Friends of Waverley at 1852 Waverley Mansion Road, West Point, Mississippi 39773. Waverly is normally open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 662-494-1399 for more information.