Perched on a hillside in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Rose Hall Great House is one of the island's most popular attractions. // 2014 © Rose Hall Developments Ltd.
Feature image (above): Montego Bay, Jamaica // © 2014 Thinkstock
The Caribbean is full of ghost stories, from spectral pirates haunting colonial mansions to haunted lovers doomed to wander former plantation estates. A case could be made for Jamaica being home to the Caribbean’s preeminent ghost story, the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall.
Legend has it that Annie Palmer, a beautiful young woman raised in Haiti, came to Jamaica in 1810 to marry John Palmer and become mistress of Rose Hall, a Georgian mansion set on a hillside in Montego Bay, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. The bride soon revealed an evil streak — in quick succession, she murdered John Palmer, her next two husbands and then her slave lovers, one after the other.
During the slave rebellion of 1831, Annie was finally punished for her crimes and was hung by the neck until dead. Her body was never found, and local lore says it is buried somewhere on the grounds of Rose Hall. Some people swear you can still see Annie Palmer at midnight, dressed in green velvet, riding a black horse across the estate’s grounds.
Today, Rose Hall Great House is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Montego Bay. Travelers visit seven days a week, drawn by the legend of Annie Palmer.
“We believe in the historical aspects of the Annie Palmer story, although some people treat the Annie Palmer legend as folklore,” said Michael Rollins, vice president of finance and marketing for Rose Hall Developments Ltd. “While documentation from that era, the 1830s, is scanty, my family has experienced paranormal activity in the house.”
The Rollins family has owned Rose Hall since the early 1960s. Since then, Rose Hall Developments Ltd. has grown in the Montego Bay area to include hotels, infrastructure, residential real estate and the 18-hole White Witch Golf Course.
During my last visit to Montego Bay, I spoke with a taxi driver who told me that nobody has ever had the nerve to stay in Rose Hall overnight and alone. I asked Rollins if this was true.
“We’ve had two or three psychics plan on staying a full night, but not by themselves,” Rollins said. “None of them made it through the whole night. They reported lots of strange disturbances, such as tea cups smashing on the floor.”
Visitors can take a day or night tour of Rose Hall Great House. For the optimum goose bump effect, I recommend the candle-lit night tour. You’ll wend your way from room to room, listening to the tales of Annie’s Voodoo-inspired skullduggery. The tour concludes in the dungeon, which has been converted into the atmospheric Annie’s Pub, where visitors can quaff a signature “Witches Brew,” a cocktail made with rum and pineapple juice.
Country music icon Johnny Cash, a former resident of Jamaica, was so taken with the legend of the White Witch that he wrote the song, “The Ballad of Annie Palmer.” It contains the lines: “They'll show you Annie's sitting room and the whipping post outside, but they won't let you see the room where Annie's husbands died.”