Uppergate House, the estate of Arthur Tufts the original contractor of Emory’s Atlanta campus, was built in 1916 as his private residence. Tufts, his wife, Jennie, and three sons, Arthur, Jr., Rutledge, and John lived here while he “carved out the University’s new home,” according to Richard Hermes. This home occupied 25 acres of land acquired from Asa Candler, of Coca Cola fame, and originally operated like a farm with crops and livestock raised for household use.
Tufts hired New York Architect, Henry Hornbostle, to design the three-story, Italianate mansion with pale pink stucco and terra cotta tile roofing. The house was renowned for beautiful gardens and two opulent gates called Uppergate and Lowergate. The streets that anchor the Tufts house still bear the names, Uppergate Road and Lowergate Road.
In 1920 Tufts developed a strain of influenza that developed into pneumonia. He passed away in his bedroom, which was located in the tower above the porte cochere, and left behind his pregnant wife and three sons. Mrs. Tufts gave birth to their 4th child, a daughter, and remained in the home, taking care of the estate and raising the children. Sadly, the little girl also died in the home 18 months later.
In 1940 Mrs. Tufts moved into a smaller home across the street which is now occupied by the Faculty Assistance Program. Emory purchased the Tufts Estate, and the home went on to be occupied by the Alpha Kappa Kappa Medical Fraternity in the 40’s, a dorm for nursing students until the 60’s, and the computer center in 1970.
One evening in 1971, Mike Wilhoit, director of the Information Technology Division, encountered something that scared him so thoroughly he would never work alone at night again in the house.
Wilhoit was in the basement wiring a circuit for an old teletype machine. Between nine and ten o’clock, he went upstairs and unlocked two doors on the way to the main computer room. “We kept all of the doors locked up,” he said. “There is no way that anyone – or anything – should have been in that house.”
But when Wilhoit rounded a corner in the hallway, he bumped into the shape of a woman, silhouetted against the light of an exit sign. “She was about this high,” he said measuring up to his neck, “and had a scarf on. When I bumped into her my knees went to jelly. She calmly asked me if her son was there. And I have no earthly idea…I was absolutely shaken when I bumped into her, and I have no idea how she got there.”
A couple of years later, Wilhoit overheard some maintenance men telling stories, and he said, “Well I’ve got one for you”. He told them the story and they said, “That’s the ghost of uppergate. Back when the place was a dormitory, her son fell and broke his neck in one of those winding stairwells. She comes back sometimes looking for him.”
Wilhoit never saw the ghost again, but in 1998 Robert Lo, creative writer and aspiring filmmaker, took an interest and received permission to spend the night. He brought his video camera and two friends who considered themselves attuned to paranormal activity, but they were unaware of why Lo brought them there.
At one point Lo went off on his own, “and as clearly as I’m talking to you right now, I heard a woman singing. I’m not saying it was a ghost, but it was something.” When he returned to the others, they had not heard anything but said they had “felt” something. After investigating Lo’s friends encountered two “hot spots” – specific areas of paranormal activity. One was a four square foot area in the exact location where Wilhoit described his encounter, the other was at the bottom of the winding stairway.
Regarding the woman’s question, “Have you seen my son?” Neither Wilhoit nor Lo were aware that Arthur Tufts’ mother, like Tufts himself, died young. She passed away when he was a small boy. What about the claims by the maintenance men that someone’s son had fallen down the winding staircase? While the claims could not be substantiated, the memory of such an accident could have easily faded to the realm of legend.
Paraphrased from “The Haunting of Uppergate” written by Richard Hermes for Emory Magazine.