The Ghost Map of Gainesville

A fanciful illustration of the Ghost Map in the Vice household.

A fanciful illustration of the Ghost Map in the Vice household.

A curious little story from the Great War. This received very little newspaper play and there seems to have been no resolution to the story. The Jackson Citizen Patriot is the source for many a Fortean tale. It is difficult to know if this was an editorial policy—when a certain Warren G. Harding was editor of the Marion Star, for example, he never met a ghost yarn or a big snake story he didn’t like–or if the Patriot had some inventive writers on staff. The people mentioned in this article, however, are real enough. I may not be casting my newspaper database net wide enough, but why is the main source for this Texas story a Michigan paper?

If a genuine record, was this a psychokinetic event set in motion by the worries of a mother with two soldier sons? Was it random bug paths or condensation tracks interpreted as a map of Europe? Did the “specialist in making maps” alter anything, even subconsciously, to create a more “accurate” image? Was it merely a simulacrum like the face of Dean Vaughan seen in mold on the wall of Llandaff Cathedral or the Virgin Mary in a tree stump?  Or, the obvious answer, a hoax inspired by a dirty ceiling to relieve the monotony of small-town life? 

“GHOST MAP” APPEARS ON COTTAGE WALL; UNSEEN HANDS OUTLINE WAR ZONE

Little Texas Town Agog Over Weird Tracery That Limns Europe’s Battleground

By Marie Barnett

Dallas, Tex., March 11. One of the most mysterious cases of “handwriting on the wall” since Daniel’s time has set agog the flourishing little town of Gainesville and the country for a hundred miles around.

At the home of Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Vice, 205 Broadway on the morning of Jan. 18, there appeared in the natural gas soot which had collected on the ceiling of the front room a mysterious white streak, which during the weeks that followed, gradually assumed well-defined shape.

When complete, it was identified by soldiers returning from Europe as a perfect map of the war zone. On one side of the map was a serpent, scaley and coiled; on the other side was the head of a man.

Clyde Denton, a Gainesville citizen who is a specialist in making maps, made a sketch of the unique outlines and found that he had a map identical in shape with the European countries that took part in the war.

“The entire battle line was pictured,” Denton declared. “Little dots marked off the advancing armies, just as countless newspaper maps in American and pictured from day to day the movements of the troops.”

Identified by Soldier.

An army officer, Lieut. Pierce, of Whitesboro, made a trip to Gainesville to see the mysterious map. He pointed out the place where he had landed in Europe, and the location of the battles in which he had fought.

Mrs. Elinor Hancock, who lives in Dallas, returned home from a visit to Gainesville and told friends about the strange affair.

“The old country is clearly outlined,” she said. “At one side of the map there is a snake. On the other side is a head which was thought by some to be President Wilson, and by others to be Taft or Roosevelt. I couldn’t decide whose features they were.”

How the pictures got there no one knows, except that it was not the work of human hands. Perhaps an insect crawling through the thin coating of soot left the strange tracery, or possibly it was steam from the tea kettle that caused the lines to form and dots to appear, just as little pathways trickle across the window of a warm room on a cold day.

But many persons tinged with the instinctive mysticism of humanity, insist that ghostly fingers fashioned in the night an outline of the nations at war, these nations whose dead are numberless.

The home is humble and they who live there are plain and simple. Mrs. Vice keeps boarders. When Oklahoma natural gas replaced Texas gas in Gainesville, Mrs. Vice says, her stoves smoked considerably until readjusted. Thus a fine black powder coated the paper on ceiling and walls.

“On the morning of Jan. 18, when I woke up,” she says, “I noticed a white streak a foot or so long, glaring conspicuously in the soot, very much as though white twice had been pasted there.

Busy with her morning meal and subsequent cleaning up, Mrs. Vice dismissed the strange occurrence. But the next morning she found the line had lengthened and was beginning to take shape.

During the next few weeks the work of formation went on, precise and mysterious. Finally, one of the boarders, an Irishman, called attention to the definite forms the lines were taking. The snake had appeared by now, and the human face.

Said the man from the Land of the Banshee.

“It’s the doing of the spirits.” And so the word went out that strange things were going on in the little home on Broadway.

The first modern “Daniel” who interpreted the map was a soldier just returned from France. He pointed out the numerous dots as the battle line. He traced the boundaries of Belgium and France and Germany.

Crowds, first from Gainesville and later from miles around, began flocking to the little home, watching the gradual growth of the map from day to day as it spread with uncanny accuracy, across the ceiling and down the wall.

Visitors so completely upset Mrs. Vice’s work that she had to get a neighbour to receive the callers. The map specialist begged permission to reproduce the drawing.

Showman’s Offer Refused

An amusement promoter wanted to purchase exhibition rights and charge admission to the house. But Mrs. Vice said that if there were anything supernatural to the things it was not for her to make folks pay to see.

The Vices, however, have become the most important persons of their community. Strangers getting off the train learn, before reaching their hotel, about the “ghost map.” Every child in town can direct the way to the celebrated cottage. It is the most frequent and most electrifying topic of conversation, the greatest sensation since Ballard Pike came home with a German helmet.

Mrs. Vice is somewhat reticent about publicity.

“Suppose the boys should see our names and pictures in the paper,” she says. “What would they think?”

Her “boys” are A.J. Vice, in France, and Robert Vice at Camp Cody.

But Mr. Vice retorts, “Well, Ma, we don’t care what the boys say. When a lady reporter comes all the way over from Dallas to get your photograph, I reckon you ought to give it to her. Give her the one on the postal card that’s got us both.” 

Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 11 March 1919: p. 14

Any more details on this story? Did the “boys” survive the War and the Influenza? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail DOT com.

AN UPDATE: Polly Hidalgo writes:  “read your post about the Ghost Map of Gainesville and decided to look into the 2 brothers since you asked. I believe at least one survived WWI.”

She appended genealogical information indicating that the family’s son, Robert Vice, not only survived the War (plus the Influenza and Life in general), but lived to the ripe age of 84. Regretfully she says, “I have not been able to find any information on the other son, A.J. Vice.”  Thanks, Polly!

This post appears in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past. Available at Amazon and other online retailers (or ask your local bookstore or library to order it) and for Kindle. See here for a general index and here for a state index.

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