Brinkley Female College

 ... and its Historic Ghost Story  

 
 

 



Around 1555 to 1959, Colonel W. J. Davie built a grand,  two-story mansion on 5th Street where it ends at Georgia.  This Classical Revival  mansion had a stately portico with six tall Ionic columns across the front and stood on a small hill, surrounded by a grove of mature trees.  In 1866, Davie sold the home to Colonel Robert C. Brinkley who renovated the building to house the Brinkley Female College, a boarding school for forty to fifty students. 

Almost immediately after opening, the school acquired a reputation for being a weird place.  This could have originated because the original owner, Davie, went bankrupt and eventually insane.  But the events that transpired in February 1871 completely sealed the fate of this grand building.

 

Click on small photos to see an enlargement



 

The Brinkley Female College opened in the mansion around 1868-69 and the headmaster was J. D. Meredith.    Ads for the school appeared almost daily in the Memphis Newspapers.   In 1871, the school was still "new" and had no more than 50 students. 

The entrance portico was the most notable feature of the large building.  It stood a full two stories tall with the heroic columns reaching a height of almost 24 feet.  The columns had cast-iron bases and caps.  The hip roof was covered with slate tile shingles and there were four chimneys.  It was a proper setting for the perfect Memphis ghost story. 

   

The Brinkley building 1869 Ad for the School 1870 Ad for the School  Commencement

1870 Directory

 

 

   

On February 1 of 1871, the young student Clara Robertson was alone in the upstairs hall  practicing the piano.  She looked up and saw a girl standing there  who was wearing a moldy pink dress and had decaying flesh.  Clara screamed  and the apparition disappeared without speaking ...

Thus began a chain of events that would occupy daily newspaper space and stir the public's imagination for many weeks.   Half the city  was on edge and the other half was in stitches during this period.   Read a condensed version of the story below... and a few of the daily newspaper articles pro and con.

   
 

Ghost in pink

Ghost Story

Dig around the stump

 Editorial...

Treasure Jar

1871 Book

   
You can read the COMPLETE  and very interesting short story online ...  from the book "Haunted Memphis" by Laura Cunningham :  Click here

 

Father's response

"That Jar..."

Father attacked

  

 

 

 




Because of the publicity of the events in 1871, the school lost most of its students.  It was impossible to continue.  The headmaster, J. D. Meredith, had always insisted that all this talk about ghosts was strictly a hoax,  perpetrated by competing schools to drive the Brinkley Female College  out of business.   If that's the case, it worked.  Mr.  Meredith went on to open the Meredith Female College at the corner of Main and Broadway, but his new school only lasted three years.

     682 S. Fifth St

1871 Petition ... 1871 Petition... 1871 Ad for Meredith Female Colleg 1871 Directory
        

After the Brinkley school closed in 1871 it was rather difficult to find or  to keep new tenants.  Brinkley arranged great discounts for those who would rent and help maintain the building.  A large family rented the building for a few years.   Around 1930  the house was sold and divided into as many as eight apartments for railroad workers.  Gradually all the other surrounding homes were torn down as the area moved toward commercialization.  The paper manufacturer, Wurzburg Brothers, purchased the land to build their warehouse and helped relocate the current tenants.  In 1972, the old building was dismantled and sold to a man in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who planned to reconstruct it there.  Afterwards, Wurzburg built their warehouse, and that large building is still there.

683 S. Fifth St.

 
 

Occasionally you'll still hear a story from someone who has seen a girl in a moldy pink dress with decaying flesh ...

         
  
 
 
 

Credits

 

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The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

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