Juliette Gordon Low Girl Scout National Center
Many years ago, what might have been a marriage of convenience or politics wound up being a real love match. Although the couple in this wonderful marriage is not quite as well known as their daughter, Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon, Willie and Nelly Gordon have a romantic story that goes beyond the confines of the grave. Their Savannah home is a testament to their never-fading love.
Supposedly Willie first decided Nelly was the girl for him when he saw her slide down the staircase at the Yale Library. She crushed his hat and stole his heart at the same moment. Nelly continued sliding down banisters and doing other things that were considered improper for a young lady of her social standing. And yet, it didn’t seem to tarnish Willie’s image of her.
In 1858 Willie brought Nelly to the family home in Savannah’s downtown historic district. Their love had caused them to make some compromises, although Nelly disliked slavery, she accepted Willie’s love and loyalty for the South. In return, he gave up his Presbyterian Church for her Episcopalian religion. But they made it all work.
During the Civil War Willie served with the Georgia Hussars and was wounded in battle. Nelly used her influence (and a good dose of stubbornness) to get both Robert E. Lee and Sherman to help her locate her husband at different points in the conflict.
Nelly so charmed people that when Sherman took Savannah he promised to place guards at her home and he brought her mail from her family as well as treats for her children. When all the Confederate officers wives were forced from the city, Nelly got special permission to say goodbye to her husband before catching the steamer north.
In 1865 the couple was reunited and they rounded out their brood of children by adding three more relatively quickly, bringing the total family’s number to a cozy eight. Nelly so impressed people that she was put into one of Rudyard Kipling’s stories, and she loved his description of her: “a little old lady with snapping black eyes, who used very bad language.”
Willie died in 1912 and Nelly passed away in 1917 in the large front bedroom of the Savannah house, surrounded by her five surviving children.
The first report of a ghost in the home came from Nelly’s daughter-in-law, Margaret, who was seated outside the bedroom. Margaret was suddenly surprised to see the familiar form of Willie Gordon exiting his wife’s room, wearing his regular gray suit, and wearing an expression of joy mixed with the proper gravity the situation deserved. He walked through his old bedroom and went down the stairs. Shortly after Arthur Gordon, Margaret’s husband, stepped out and told her Nelly was dead. When Margaret tried to tell him whom she had just seen, Arthur tried to tell her it was simply the stress of the situation.
But Arthur must have reconsidered when they met the family’s butler in the front hall. The butler proclaimed through joyous tears that he had just seen the general, in his favorite gray suit, walk out the front door—just like he always did when a buggy was waiting for him. The butler said Willie had looked happier than he had almost ever seen him, and the butler just had to let them know that the general himself had come to fetch his wife at the moment of her passing.
Today the family house is the Juliette Gordon Low Girl Scout National Center and open to tourists. Visitors and staff have reported the sound of footsteps where no one is seen walking. One staff member even saw the apparition of Nelly in the center hall when the staff member had run back inside to get a book she’d forgotten. She was so startled she left the book and rushed back down the stairs. Nelly’s ghost has also been spotted peering out a window. Other people have reported that missing items suddenly turn up in plain sight and mysterious forces move some things when the museum closes for the day. One early-arriving staff member also claimed to see Nelly relatively regularly at the dining room table, seated comfortably in her robe. As Nelly Gordon was an accomplished musician, it comes as no surprise to people when they occasionally hear the pianoforte playing softly, although the only pianoforte in the building is essentially unplayable due to its condition. Whether seeing the specter of Nelly Gordon, hearing her music still resonating in the old family house or feeling like you’re simply never alone, the sensation nearly everyone gets in the Gordon family house is one of love and comfort.