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The Ghost of Faulkner

Updated: Mar 26

It is highly plausible. I'd even venture to say, it carries more weight than anything I've seen the critics produce.

Some have spent their lives studying William Faulkner and are still asking questions. Things like, why the narrative voice? Why did he spend his life writing yet only produced anything of value in 10-12 years. How did his imagination turn into such twisted tales? What was his great epiphany? After all, that's what Faulkner claimed occurred just before putting a pen to "Sound and Fury". He said, "The words just came to me."

My name is Amanda, and I might just be able to answer some of those questions.

Historical conservation and restoration is my profession. The vast majority of projects are in cemeteries.

I've always joked and said that I work under the watchful eye of Faulkner.

Having spent countless hours in the New Albany, Mississippi city cemetery, I can attest to the smell of liquor and the peer of Faulkner's beady eyes on a summer evening. He is a relentless soul hovering over all below as his more than life-size decal taking up a good deal of real estate on the near million-gallon water tank.

Quite the gamble for the city's tourism committee, considering Faulkner's appeal in his hometown is lack of luster.

Not long after the decal went up on the water tower, the Mississippi Department of Transportation dedicated a 16-mile stretch of road to William Faulkner.

That same road currently has more potholes than Faulkner ever thought about placing a punctuation. However, if you follow it long enough, it will take you right to Saint Peter's cemetery.

Nestled in the heart of Oxford, Mississippi is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the country. I've had the privilege to be a part of several restoration projects at St Peter's Cemetery.

I found it interesting that so many college kids would gather around Faulkner's gravesite making toasts and taking shots of liquor with the late author.

My recent discovery came much like Faulkner's epiphany prior to writing his first successful novel, it just came to me.

The setting was Section 2 St Peter's Cemetery. It was an overcast February day in North Mississippi. With the fact being, one simply can not drive across a cemetery, I parked and made several trips to and from the project I was working on that day.

Never having been skiddish, scared, or afraid while doing my job, the occupants and I have a agreement. They let me work and I let them rest.

That is until this day. You see, it was blatantly obvious something odd was going on every single time I walked in front of a particular stone.

The first incident that occured in front of one particular stone, was a dropped glove. The second was a five gallon bucket of water spilt in its’ entirety. The third and final straw was my bag of dremmel bits dumped right out before me. All three happening within minutes of one another.

As I knelt picking the bits up out of the water soaked soil I looked directly in front of me. And there it was, staring at me. My skin felt crawly as I knelt eye-to-eye with the most evil tombstone I had ever seen.

Standing one might never notice. It was in the shape of a cross. "In the arms of Jesus" was engraved across the top. Then it took a hard left turn. Midway of the cross was the All Seeing Eye. The Eye of Providence staring at me like I was the one with the problem.

It wasn't just any eye. It was the "All seeing eye" resting on a compass, and to that Freemason it was meant to send a message.

The All-Seeing Eye, so the Freemasons call it, is obsolete in cemeteries after the 1900's. The engraving of one on an individual's stone was few and far between prior to that time. The reason, oh there was a reason alright.

To the Freemason that emblem on a stone meant, I may be gone but God Sees All and you will pay for your misdeeds.

Needless to say, I gathered my drill bits and found another route to my project. Not to dare tread by the eye again.

By days end I was more curious than spooked. Who was this guy? Did he have descendants? Were they decent people? Had the blood line stopped with this gentleman?

I walked backed over to the evil eye to look at the name on the stone. I hadn't made it past the eye earlier to see whose honor it had been erected.

The last name was Sheehog. A name I had never heard of. We certainly had no Sheehogs in New Albany or Oxford.

My mind immediately went to Judy Sheehog. She was the only Sheehog I knew. She played the role of Faulkner’s fictional character when he told childrens’ ghost stories at Rowan Oak. Faulkner never wrote of Judith Sheehog.

However, his niece, Dean, wrote of her in a book of the stories called "The Ghost Of Rowan Oak".

Judith was a fictional character who apparently flung herself out a window at Rowan Oak over a man and it led to her demise.

I quickly got on my phone and looked up the name James Gowan Sheehog. I found him on a cemetery locating site but there nothing else.

That site told me his mother and father were buried next to him. I quickly put in the name Robert Sheehog.

Hmmm, would you look at that. Robert Sheehog was the wealthy plantation owner who built and first lived in what is now known as Rowan Oak.

There was very little on Robert Sheehog to be found. If he was liked well enough in Oxford to have an obituary, it could not be found. However, a clipping was found of the one written in the town from which he transplanted. They seemed to brag on his wealth.

Robert Sheehog, an Irish immigrant was he. Irish immigrants were more often than not considered dirty and diseased in the early 1800's. Now this may or may not have been the case for Sheehog. I do know he married “up” in South Carolina and his in-laws gave him the land in Mississippi to develop. So in turn he built the plantation home now known as Rowan Oak.

At Sheehog’s death in 1861 at the age of 59, he had many slaves and nearly 10,000 acres of land in Lafayette and surrounding counties.

It is said, he came home one day from being out at one of his plantations in a neighboring county and fell strangly ill.

It appears, but is not evident, that Robert Sheehog wasn't much for church either. At this point I was definitely picking up a Thomas Sutpen vibe.

Some sources say Mr. Sheehog had 10 children, others say 5. I can account for a 28 year old son and a 16 year old daughter that both died within the same week. Sources say they both died of pneumonia. I say pneumonia in August might be a stretch.

A daughter that lived to reach 60 and is buried in Nashville. Records indicate no children,

James Gowan, the one-eyed Freemason died at in 1869 at the age of 33.

It was beginning to look like I was right about this dynasty fading out.

They did have one son that died at the age of 54 and had appeared to move to South Mississippi and possibly start a family of his own. Don't quote me on that. The records for that era in Mississippi are simply pitiful.

It is with good reason no one has ever tied Faulkner's work to the Sheehogs’. You see, the Sheehog family appeared to have died or left town prior to Faulkner ever being born. All of them except Joelle. She never went far.

I am convinced Joelle is the real story teller in Faulkner's 1929-1939 works. She could very well be the individual responsible for Faulkner's narrative voice.

Joelle was very much alive the first 31 years of Faulkner's life. I simply can't help but see him absorbing all she could tell him about the twist and turns of the Sheehog family. She may have even told him a bit about the animosity she held for her late father-in-law.

Now, again that is all assumption, but the fact is much like Rosa left the Hundred, Joelle left Rowan Oak. Joelle went to the neighboring town of Winona, Mississippi and both ladies would be in a state of a coma before eventually giving way to death.

Joelle passed away in 1928. The interesting thing about that is, how it coincides with Faulkner's apparent, newfound freedom with writing that occurred in the late 1920's. The one he said happened when he "shut the door to publishers" and the story narratives simply came to him. All of that coincidently happened to him the same year as Joelle's death.

Faulkner dove into to the “Sound and the Fury”within six months of Joelle's death and had its final draft ready in October of 1929, just six months after first setting a pen to paper.

It is also fact that Faulkner did not marry until after the death of Joelle Sheehog. Some say he was waiting on his high school sweetheart. I say that was a mighty big feat for for a man to have struggled with infidelity right up til death.

It is strictly my opinion after a brief observation, that there is in fact a good reason Faulkner wrote all his life, yet only seemed to be productive for a span of 10-12 years. Had the Sheehog family not ended in demise so soon, perhaps he could have produced a fifth or sixth novel of substance. I also can't help but think it explains the narrative voice he began implanting heavily. He was simply writing as he had been told by Mrs. Joelle.

Many say that Faulkner was hard to read. I say, there was a reason for that as well. You see, Robert Frost said once in a conversation about the south and it production of seemingly good writers, "Well that may be, but nobody in the South can read their books".

Was the complexity in Faulkner's work intentional in order to prevent those close to home from reading them? Who knows, but again it is plausible.

Again my focus is in that of history and not literature. I'm in no way trying to conspire anything regarding Faulkner's work. I just felt that the Sheehogs story should be told.

The main take away I personally had from this one evening with the Sheehogs, do not tread near James Gowan Sheehog grave!

Perhaps Faulkner himself provided the summation of my speculation when he said, "The only thing that can alter a good writer is death."

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Beautiful and brilliant 👏

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