LUMBERTON — Beverly Britt wasn’t afraid of ghosts as a child. She didn’t believe in their existence until she was 32 years old.
Her curiosity didn’t grow from popular TV shows that claim to track paranormal activity, or from ghost stories her sister would tell. Her curiosity bloomed after her father died.
“My daddy had a massive heart attack and he passed away on Dec. 7, 2012,” Britt said. “Right after he passed away, me and Momma were sitting in the living room and we felt something bump the couch and my aunt also felt it.”
Britt thought the movement was her father’s presence.
“When he used to walk through the house, he would bump that couch,” Britt said.
The bump nudged Britt, who has since compiled a collection of ghost stories throughout North Carolina. Among the folklore that tells of gluttony and suicide, Britt also found a story about a tragic Lumberton bride who never saw her wedding day.
“It’s in the Meadowbrook Cemetery,” Britt said. “It’s about a girl who haunts the cemetery. Her name is Clare Townsend.”
According to Britt, who is putting the ink to these stories for a book, “When Clare died in 1912, she was 24.”
That number coincides with her birth and death years on the striking tombstone that marks Clare’s grave. The grave also marks this, the 100th year since her passing.
“When she passed, it was her wedding night,” Britt said. “People think what caused her death is that back in the 1900s, ladies had chests at the foot of the bed. She bent down to get her wedding dress and when she did, she had a seizure and the chest fell down on her head and broke her neck.”
According to “A Walk Through Meadowbrook,” a book compiled by the Robeson County Genealogical Society that contains thousands of grave-marker inscriptions prior to 2009, Clare did suffer from bad health. It forced her to leave college before graduating.
An excerpt from the book reads: “Townsend, Clare, 1888-1912. She was the youngest daughter of C.B. Townsend (1851-1940) and Susan A. Townsend (1848-1931), was exceptionally intelligent, entered the sophomore class of Elizabeth College in Charlotte at age 13. She was a longtime sufferer of a nerve disorder. Her health caused her to leave college in January 1904 before her graduation that June. She was a gifted artist and violinist. A life-sized statue of a lovely young woman marks her grave… . Her younger sister, Vivian Sophronia Townsend (1881-1957) never married.”
According to Blake Tyner, Robeson County History Museum director, the statue that marks her grave is the closest thing to an image that exists of the tragic bride.
From her white stoop, a lady looks down at a bouquet of flowers blooming in her arms as the fall trees weep their leaves. Her dress billows down to the foliage. Clare’s hair is half up, in the style of the time, and curls swirl down her back. Spiders weave webs in her lap as she looks stoically at the ground. Her fingers have chipped away.
“Local folklore has it,” the excerpt continues, “that her apparition can be seen strolling through the cemetery late at night.”
Britt said that the legend of Clare Townsend is well-known throughout town, and people can’t resist the temptation to find out for themselves.
“The story is that she wanders through the graveyard at night,” Britt said, “And she is known as the ‘Lady in White.’ There have been a lot of people who have claimed to see her.
“… Everyone likes a good ghost story,” Britt said. “There are a lot of people out there who think the supernatural is something people don’t believe in, but if they experience it, they do.”