Two antique chairs: a story

They sat for years in an aging farmhouse, which many purported to be haunted by the ghost of Jesse James. The house had been furnished with hundreds of beautiful antiques of all kinds, which my grandparents had collected for decades and carefully maintained. They planned to retire in the idyllic home, and summered there for years from their Little Rock home where they still cared for my great-grandmother at the time.

Every June or July, my siblings and parents would make the long treck across the Southeast, through cotton fields and horse farms to spend a week with them at the old, white farmhouse. Sure, we all knew about the legends that surrounded the remote property. Jesse had been rumored to have hidden his missing fortune somewhere in the house or on the grounds, and there were many nights the old floorboards creaked loudly despite no one walking by. Papaw told us of the night when he heard the distinct rattling of chains crossing the darkened front porch and moving into the parlor. He’d heard it many a night before, and was tired of being bothered by it. My Ma-maw was fast asleep, so he spoke into the dark stillness of the echoing rooms.

“Jesse. Now you listen here. I’m gonna make a deal with you. I’m not going to look for your gold. I won’t bother with it. But you leave us alone and quit pestering us. Deal?”

He was answered by nothing but the wind. The wind and maybe leaves rustling outside under the large magnolia. But nothing more. Either way, that was the last night he heard from old Jesse’s ghost. He’d made a deal, he told us kids, and he was going to stick with it. Of course that didn’t stop us from searching for the legended treasure every summer we visited. We even brought a metal detector one year, searching the old salt house and barn, the storm shelter and even the cow pasture. We never found much of anything, other than old arrowheads and a couple of civil war relics.

A decade passed and somewhere along the way we all got older, and didn’t make it out to Tennessee as much. Ma-maw and Pa-paw had always planned to retire there, but they were still needed in Little Rock, so they covered all the beautiful antiques in white sheets and asked neighbors to keep an eye on the place for them. They’d go years between visits.

When I married my husband, we had a largely empty house, and Ma-maw and Pa-paw offered me some of the furniture, specifically a dining room table and some chairs among other things. It seemed like quite a trek for us, but we took a week and went out to visit them in Little Rock first, then swung by the old property on the way back to South Carolina.

We didn’t intend to get there after dark, but that’s what happened. The lights weren’t working in some parts of the house, a thick layer of dust had settled on all the sheets, and mouse droppings and cobwebs were scattered through the rooms. Hulking forms of sheet-draped furniture filled the place, and I’ll go ahead and tell you we ended up staying in a hotel that night rather than brave the old farmhouse. In any case, the generous gift of chairs, a beautiful marble topped dressor, a dining room table, and the old baroque piano (which was being slowly destroyed by dampness and mold in the abandoned house), made it back to South Carolina, and have moved with us into our current house.

They are my most treasured pieces of furniture, but the chairs needed reuphostering and the old castors replacing. I waited until we settled in our long term home, and made a room design with Darlene’s help before choosing the fabric, which I adore. A local guy did a fine job on the upholstery. He put on some new castors I’d ordered, but after a few days it was clear: the aging wood of the legs just wouldn’t hold them in. So I had to come up with a different solution. What I wanted were brass claw feet, but haven’t been able to find them anywhere – online or otherwise.

Then I remembered the piano bench we’d odered on Etsy and recovered to match the chairs. It was a couple inches too tall. The little feet had the perfect design at their tips, a natural place for me to saw off the feet without anyone knowing the difference. Said feet matched the height I needed on the previously castored feet of my chairs perfectly. So, after removing the piano bench feet, I drilled hole in the end of each, insterted a peice of dowel and secured with wood glue, then gilded each foot.

Finally, each dowel slipped right into the hole previously used for castors on my old chairs. A dap of wood glue here and there and viola: stable chairs that don’t fall apart when you sit on them.

They will live in our great room. I love how they turned out, both useful and beautiful, with a good ghost story they tell to boot.

I’m linking this post to Pancakes and French Fries’ William Morris Project, as well as to Thrifty Thursdays at Living Well Spending Less



{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Rita@thissortaoldlife May 9, 2013, 8:54 PM

    Love furniture with a good history–can’t get much better than a Jesse James ghost story! So glad you rescued them and they’ll see more use. They’re beautiful.

    • Sarah May 9, 2013, 9:29 PM

      thanks! yes the best furniture does have a good story attached.

  • May May 9, 2013, 11:24 PM

    That fabric is fantastic. Each time my eyes fall on it they see something different. Sometimes X’s, sometimes diamonds, other times an almost floral shape. I think it will be a long time before you grow tired of that look.

  • Ruth@LivingWellSpendingLess May 10, 2013, 10:57 AM

    I love how these turned out – I think I appreciate most that you kept some of their vintage charm by leaving the wood as it is and not painting it! Fun story too! Thanks so much for sharing it with us at LWSL this week!

  • {darlene weir} @ May 15, 2013, 1:08 PM



Leave a Comment

Next post:

Previous post: