As planned I took a tour of the Rose Hall Great House in Montego Bay, Jamaica. This house is popular with tourists based on the legend of Annie Palmer the former proprietor who practiced voodoo, was a supposed witch and whose spirit is said to haunt the place. There was a book written about her in 1929 by Herbert G. de Lisser but apparently this book is fiction and as skeptic Benjamin Radford states, if the book is fiction, then there was no Annie Palmer and therefore can be no ghost.
Even so I read the book anyway and wrote a post about it. Even without a ghost I was very interested in the history of the place. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for hundreds of slaves working the sugar cane fields in the hot Jamaican sun while the white owners sat in their big house and living a life of ease, boredom and monotony. Every day must have been a trial: for the slaves it would have been physical, working those fields day in and day out; for the white owners it would have been mental, sitting around all day with nothing to do, living a very boring existence where even doing nothing seems tedious. I tried to feel the ghosts, pick up on any vibe, hear any whisper of the terrible things that occurred in the past but I felt nothing. It was just a tour of a restored plantation house that focuses 95% of the story on the falsehood of Annie Palmer.
The first stop on the tour is in front of the house where a photographer takes your picture in order to sell you a framed copy at the gift shop after the tour. He saw that I had the book, but it was an old version and had a different cover than the one they sell in their gift shop. He said I was the first male he had met who had taken such an interest in the house; usually it was the women who dragged their husbands to the tour, not the other way around! For me, I have a very intense interest in history and the past and am very content to go exploring by myself, sometimes I even prefer it, as I like to go at my own pace and take my time.
The thing about Rose Hall is it is completely restored and retains only four or five items from the original house. The recreation is done beautifully however and I enjoyed the tour. Even though the guide spoke almost completely about a non-existent ghost, my mind was on two things: the first was how incredibly bored the inhabitants of this house must have been; the second, how sad and terrifying it must have been for the slaves to be ripped from their tribes and families, shipped to this strange land and made to work in terrible conditions for the rest of their lives. I thought about how we as humans still seem to be barbaric animals, not much different from the apes: terrible world wars with the most extreme atrocities continually occur; not long ago, otherwise very intelligent men and women thought it perfectly fine to enslave other human beings for their own profit; slavery ends yet my grandparents generation thought it ok to refer to colored people with the very hateful and hurtful word ‘nigger’; and yet the majority of humanity adheres to complete falsehood and fairy tale of religion which just happens to be a major cause of wars and whose adherents were also slaveholders!
To see the world as it truly is and to see the truth is not something one can share with most people. They prefer to live in the reality that was taught to them from birth and have subsequently reinforced their entire lives. Perhaps that is why it is so find really great knowledge: it is not that a few very wise people do not have it, rather it is that people who have learned incredible truths don’t feel like sharing as the majority of humanity apparently already knows everything and would get angry at any knowledge which contradicts.
But back to the tour, our tour guide Natasha was very informative. I tried prodding her to tell me a little something extra about the history but the focus is on Annie and her ghost. But Annie didn’t exist! And it wouldn’t be nice to ruin the tour by continually bringing this up so I just enjoyed myself.
When we came to the grave that supposedly contained the body of Annie Palmer I had to ask: “Say, hypothetically, that Annie didn’t exist. Who would be in this grave?” Natasha wasn’t going for it and told me it was Annie in the grave. This is an actual grave and I cannot imagine they just built it to reinforce the story about a ghost. Somebody has to be in this grave and here is what we know:
- There was no Annie Palmer
- It seems to be an actual grave
- Everyone insists it is the grave of Annie Palmer who didn’t exist (see point one)
Does it not seem rather wrong to tell a story over a real persons grave in order to sell tourists tickets?
I haven’t been able to read Benjamin Radford’s account yet although I’ve tried to find it. The reason I put my faith in his conclusion is that Annie Palmer supposedly had three husbands. Well, there was a Rosa Palmer who also was a proprietor at this house and also had three husbands. However, she was said to be a pious and virtuous (as much as a slaveholder can be I guess) person. I found out that she is buried at St. James Parish Church in downtown, Montego Bay. I had to pay it a visit.
Apparently I am the only tourist to ask our incredible driver Michael to visit this place. Before going in I walked through the cemetery and noticed how old all the tombs were, mostly from the late 17 hundreds and early 18 hundreds. Upon reading the inscriptions, all the graves seemed to be white people who had died very young with rarely one above 40 years old. I was told that yellow fever took a terrible toll on the population in Jamaica and thus so many of those buried here had died young. I surmised that only the white planters would have been able to afford a grave anyway, thus all the English names.
What a life that must have been, coming over from England to this hot, sun drenched rock, only to die after a few short years mostly spend concentrating on sugar cane production.
I entered the church and a wonderful elderly gentleman gave us a nice tour. I found Rosa Palmer’s epitaph which confirmed what I had read in that she was pious and not a witch at all.
You’ll notice that they’ve written an ‘f’ in place of all the ‘s’ letters in every word. The guide told me they did this because the white plantation owners found the ‘f’ sound more agreeable and easier to pronounce than the letter ‘s,’ so they replaced all the ‘s’ letters with ‘f.’ That sounds so bizarre to me and I think I would have a very difficult time researching this further. I think the answer would only lie buried deep in some dusty tome regarding linguistic traits of 17th century English colonies in the Caribbean. I just did a quick Google search and found this but doing a quick scan it says nothing about the ‘s’ to ‘f’ replacement.
Anyway, I had found Rosa’s epitaph and the guide showed me her actual grave just outside. When you exit the church Rosa Palmer’s grave is the third one on the right, closest to the walkway. This one was hard to read but I made out that she did live into her seventies. You can see how much wear and tear this tomb has had and in just a few more generations will be nothing more than a pile of rocks. We are born, we hang around for a while, we die and then time eventually washes away all traces of our existence.
Such deep thoughts make me need a drink! Going back to the Great House the tour ends in the bar. It was an absolutely lovely bar, seeped in a refurbished history. How I would have loved to spend more time drinking there with either lively company or alone with my own thoughts.
But the wife did not share the same affinity as I for neither history nor rum and was ready to go. So I gulped down the touristy $7 ‘witches brew” rum drink and even splurged for the $2 souvenir witch glass mug.
Should I have the opportunity to visit Montego Bay again, I’d like to take the night tour and spend an hour or two alone, drinking and writing down my thoughts as I commune with the actual spirits of this place. Nothing better than a warm Jamaican summer night, with a slight breeze and a couple of stiff rum drinks to hear the whispers of those who lived and suffered here.