Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Sweetwater Mansion Debacle - Part II

The Sweetwater Mansion Debacle - Part II

A Guest Commentary By

Sarah Savant

Sweetwater's director Cynthia Johnson liked to paint a perfect picture of the supposedly wealthy owner. She never spoke of Susan Smithson without mentioning her great wealth, but by October of 2010, we began considering the source. We soon saw that Susan didn't pay for anything related to the house. Her mother Edith Smithson paid the bills, and we also soon learned that the money earned from any events was paid directly to Susan's mother.

At first I thought this looked shady, but Cynthia said Mrs. Smithson paid the utilities and taxes for Susan. When I asked Cynthia why the plantation hadn't received tax exempt status, she told me she had sent the paperwork to Susan's mother who had lost it. I didn't ask after that.

I did talk with two other volunteers who had similar stories about the finances at the mansion, but there was never a great deal of money involved. I would guesstimate less than four thousand was taken in each year the mansion was open to the public. Still, we thought this money should have gone to restoration rather than to pay Susan's electric or tax bill. We began to think the mansion would never be restored with Cynthia as director.

As the tours took shape, Cynthia told us stories of the original land owner, Gen. John Brahan, practicing voodoo in the basement and other ghost tales which she seemed to relish. About this time I became friends with another local historian who worked there. She shared her knowledge of Mr. McDonald's history of Sweetwater and also many things she had discovered through her own research. She was in possession of some writings of Jane Patton and other first hand material from that era. The two stories were so different, and Cynthia's was so unbelievable.

I began to use the story told to me by my friend when I led the tours, rather than the more lurid voodoo story that Cynthia had told me to relate. Cynthia then began to follow me around during the tours and "correct" me. I was becoming more and more disenchanted, but Cynthia told me in late October that massive restoration work was set to begin in early December.

I knew that Cynthia had promised this before, but I hoped this time it was true. When I returned to the home after Christmas break, again absolutely nothing had been done. It was then that I decided to call owner Susan Leigh Smithson...


We had quite a response to yesterday's account of the Sweetwater director's vision of a werewolf in a volunteer's photos. According to local author Debra Glass:

That woman told me a story for my first book that I plan to remove on my next printing - and that won't be soon enough! She said there was a werewolf that lived in her house. I put her tale in the book but regret it. That was my Uncle Lee Stutts' house and I feel the story sullied the memory of what a fascinating man he was.

...and meter readers contend they're afraid of dogs.