In 1890 the trustees of the Alabama Hospital for the Insane (now Bryce Mental Institution) authorized construction of a “commodious two story cottage for the Assistant Steward,” Charles C. Kilgore, at the edge of the hospital land adjacent to the University of Alabama’s campus cemetery. Kilgore had worked for the hospital since 1867 in various capacities and would oversee all “outdoor” hospital functions including agriculture, mining, and construction until his retirement in 1921. He was the father of seven children six by his first wife, Sarah, and the last, “Little Gibbie,” by his second wife, Elizabeth (“Gibbie”). When Kilgore’s brother died, Charles also took in his niece, Cora Kilgore, who was near in age to Little Gibbie. The two girls went to school at the Tuscaloosa College for Women, studying languages.
Little Gibbie Kilgore had just turned sixteen when she died of “the summer complaint” (dysentery) in July of 1901. With Gibbie gone and their older children moving out, the Kilgores began to offer room and board to male students at the University of Alabama in 1901. After Cora graduated in 1904 and began graduate work at the university, they offered the rooms to female co-eds, instead. From 1905 until 1907, co-eds lived in what was known as “Kilgore Ranch,” and generated quite a bit of envy from the co-eds not so lucky the ones relegated to live in “the Annex.” Annex girls took an oath: “Covet not thy Kilgore neighbor’s eatings, nor their dancing, nor their suitors, nor their walks, nor anything that is not thine own.” Kilgore Ranch girls were known for their pranks and their parties, which included fortune tellers and dancing. And a rumor once surfaced that they engaged in séances. They were supervised though apparently not too strictly by the first female faculty member of the University of Alabama, who lived with them.
The fun stopped at Kilgore in 1908, when Cora Kilgore died at age 20, for reasons not recorded. The Kilgores no longer opened their home to campus co-eds.
The Kilgores moved to downtown Tuscaloosa upon Charles Kilgore’s retirement, and the house remained a residence of Bryce Hospital employees for many decades until it finally was left empty and fell into dreadful disrepair. Bryce arranged an exchange of the property in 1976, and Kilgore House became a part of the University of Alabama campus now the oldest residence for UA co-eds still standing in Tuscaloosa. The university replaced the rotten siding with vinyl siding and shored up the porches, making the building usable again. It was, at some point, used for faculty housing.
In 1986, Alabama Heritage magazine was founded in Kilgore House in a single upstairs room. Today, the magazine operation takes up the entire house. Four full-time staff members are aided by a continual flow of students, assisting in business, marketing, and editorial functions. Kilgore once stood on a shady side road, surrounded largely by lush lawns. But since about 2005, constant construction has drastically altered the surrounding environment, placing the stately blue Queen Anne house on a main drive through the campus and encircled by buildings. The university also remodeled some interior spaces in Kilgore in 2007 and 2008.
No one considered investigating the phenomena until mid-September 2008 when in a single 24 hour period, three different employees experienced significant events. One, alone in the house on a Sunday morning, heard noises so unusual that she rapidly exited the house. That afternoon, another student was working alone in the house and heard footsteps move along the hall and through the door of the editor’s office, which was closed. On Monday morning, a long-term volunteer was stuffing envelopes in a downstairs office when she saw the apparition of an African American woman in a turban and work dress. She saw the same apparition eight times in four hours.
And so the investigations began first with audio recorders left in the locked and empty building at night. Footsteps, banging, doors closing, and metal latches being thrown convinced interested staff members to go further. Outside investigators joined in, and they eventually began to record voices voices speaking in direct response to questions asked by investigators. Two people have seen a black mist man sized in the kitchen. Photos have captured mists and the shadows of dogs in the upstairs hallway.
Investigations continue, and a thorough history of the house is being compiled. Four UA doctoral students have spent many hours in the house, compiling evidence, and little skepticism remains that Kilgore House is beyond the normal.