Regular readers here at Life in Pleasantville will know that I’m not a scary movie kind of girl. In fact, I’m a big ‘old fraidy-cat when it comes to the supernatural. When the opportunity to visit a real-life haunted house came up on a trip to Jamaica though, I simply couldn’t say no. Off I went to the Rose Hall Great House for a daytime tour of one of Jamaica’s most famous houses. If you’re more adventurous (or just less of a believer in ghosts and things that go bump in the night), there’s a candle-lit night tour of the grounds where visitors have claimed to have seen spirits roaming the great hall.
It really is a gorgeous old mansion, if you can ignore the ghost stories…
First off, the house and the grounds of Rose Hall are stunning and beautiful. The main house is situated high atop a hill giving it a spectacular view of the sea and the golf course that now occupies the former plantation grounds. The beauty of the house is in stark contrast to the ugly history that surrounds its building.
Rose Hall was the mansion built by the owners of the Palmyra plantation, John Palmer who named the main house after his wife, Rosa. It should be noted that the plantation era marks a dark time in Jamaican history, where rich whites owned the land and bought and sold black slaves to work it. Typically, plantation slaves were treated as less than human, and cruel plantation owners ruled with an iron fist, or more specifically, bear traps (you should know there aren’t any bears in Jamaica, even though there are lots of bear traps in museums).
When the original owners of Rose Hall passed away, the house and the plantation were handed down through the family. It eventually landed in the hands of a man named John Rose Palmer, and his young wife Annie.
This is a picture of Annie – She is the one in the red dress, with the eyes that follow as you walk around the room.
A little bit about Annie, since she’s the star of the show. Her parents moved to Haiti when she was young, and then died (likely of Yellow Fever) when she was only 10 making her an orphan with no living relatives on the island. Her Haitian nanny who also happened to be a Voodoo Priestess adopted young Annie and raised her, educating her in the Voodoo traditions. (This is the point in the story where I started to get all tingly.) When Annie was only 18, her nanny died so she did what she felt she had to do: she set her sights on Jamaica and went searching for a rich husband. This is when Annie met John Rose Palmer and soon became Mrs. Palmer.
It didn’t take long for Annie Palmer to earn the title of the White Witch of Rose Hall. According to legend, Annie grew tired of her husband, soon after the marriage and killed him with arsenic. With her first husband gone, Annie ruled the plantation her way, which unfortunately for her slaves, was cruelly. Annie would use bear traps to catch slaves attempting to escape. As if this wasn’t cruel enough, she would then throw the injured slaves in the dungeon below the house to die. Her cruelty was not reserved for adults either: children were required to carry water to the main house in a heavy wooden bucket, and if they spilled one drop they would be beaten. She also reportedly used Voodoo curses or the threat of them to control her slaves.
There is a pub downstairs where the dungeon used to be. It is said that drinking the rum cocktail called “witches brew” will protect you from black magic.
So Annie wasn’t exactly going to win any awards for character or kindness. Annie went on to kill two more husbands before she was eventually murdered by one of her slave lovers, Takoo. Now it wouldn’t be much of a ghost tour if that was the end of the story now would it? Legend says that Annie’s ghost still haunts Rose Hall today. Spooky does not begin to describe this place. Thankfully we toured during the day and not at night, because, if it had been at night there’s a good chance I would have ran back to my room and hid under the blankets. Annie was buried – or rather, entombed above ground – on the plantation grounds and the casket is a featured stop on the tours.
There is a cross on three sides of this casket. Legend says that it wasn’t put on the fourth side so that Annie’s spirit can roam free. Don’t think I wasn’t thinking of adding a cross. Sheesh.
Whether you believe that the ghost of a black-magic practicing, husband murdering, slave beating woman who died almost two centuries ago roams the grounds or you’re more of a skeptic; Rose Hall is an amazingly restored 18th century plantation house that is worth visiting for the glimpse into history it offers. It’s a definite must-see on any visit to Montego Bay.
Originally published on Sunwing.Ca