LOVE IN THE TIME OF DIPHTHERIA
and Science on the Brazos
“Miss” Elizabet Ney, Dr. Edmund Montgomeryby
and The Haunting of Liendo Plantation
Note: For many years now the most notable landmark (read eyesore) of Hempstead,
Texas has been a large car dealership where they (allegedly) “clobber big
city prices.” Now that commercial development has all but abandoned downtown Hempstead
to cater to the just-passing-through crowd, its ugliness is now encroaching upon
a true historic landmark – the 1853 plantation of Liendo. As the crow flies, the
house is not a half- mile from the highway and fast food restaurants are even
Famous for its ante-bellum history as much as it’s role in the
Civil War, the home once belonged to a rather unusual European couple. She was
a famed German sculptress and he a Scottish physician / philosopher. The clash
of interests and strong personalities was bound to produce an epic Texas tale.
But instead, it turned into a saga of loneliness, separate rooms, unshared success,
and one of Texas’ most unusual ghost stories.
1830 José Justo Liendo purchased eleven leagues of land from the Mexican
government near present-day Hempstead
(About 40 miles NW of Houston). In
1841 Leonard Waller Groce purchased half of this tract and bought the remaining
half in 1860. The price for both came to less than $3,000. Groce is a historical
footnote in the Texas Revolution for ferrying Houston’s army across the Brazos
on the way to San
Groce started cultivating the land and in 1853 built a grand
house which he magnanimously named after the property’s former owner.
Gurley (l) and Michele Ann Wendt on the front steps of Liendo. If you could order
docents from a catalog, they couldn't come any better. |
Brazos River Mud |
| Built by Groce’s
slaves, the foundation of the house was constructed of handmade bricks formed
of Brazos River clay. The interior details include a hand-carved banister, long
leaf pine floors and stenciled ceilings. |
ceiling of the drawing room is mix of roses and morning glories. |
|Groce built a school
for his and his neighbor’s children (no longer extant) and with an annual income
estimated to be close to six figures, he was able to turn Liendo into a popular
overnight stop for the rich and famous of the day. (There is a reason why the
Sam Houston bedroom is called the Sam Houston bedroom.)|
During the Civil
War, Camp Groce, a Confederate recruiting station, was established at Liendo.
Later, in the final days of the Civil War, it was turned into a Confederate prisoner-of-war
For three months during Reconstruction (Sept to Dec 1865), Gen.
George A. Custer camped at Liendo.
remembering happier days at Liendo|
the inside looking out at "Groce's Folly" - the cistern-fed fountain
that never quite worked.|
| Without slaves, the
plantation was cast into dire straits and Groce was bankrupt by 1868. In 1873
Leonard W. Groce, Jr., sold 1,100 acres of the property to Elisabet Ney
and Dr. Edmund D. Montgomery for $10,000. |
self-carved bust of the sculptor |
new owners had interests other than bringing in a cotton
crop. They had first tried their hands at farming in Georgia with little success
other than producing two sons (Arthur and Lorne). Both Ney and Montgomery were
already famous in Europe. Elisabet for sculpting the heads of state, musicians
and authors and Edmund for practicing medicine in nearly every European capital.
But their Continental reputation cut little (if any) bait in Hempstead,
a town that was once known as "Six-shooter Junction." Their lifestyle
was looked upon with suspicion. Elizabet wore togas and turbans and frequently
dressed Lorne the same way. In Hempstead,
circa 1875, fashion was a statement – not a question. Went visiting town, Lorne’s
velvet britches made him a laughing stock among the canvas and dungaree-wearing
crowd of Six-shooter Junction. |
Scientist, Philosopher &
of the Waller County Melon Growers Association
bust is about one tenth the size of Miss Ney's. Michele Wendt refers to the diminutive
bust as a "wallet-sized" sculpture.
| Montgomery kept busy
with a vibrant and constant correspondence with his fellow scientists in Europe
and Elizabet set aside her art for nearly 20 years. It was during this period
that son Arthur contracted Diphtheria, which was then making the rounds of coastal
Doctor Montgomery knew enough to quarantine the house from
the townsfolk, but his extensive medical knowledge wasn’t enough to save little
Arthur’s life. After a few days of raging fever, their little boy was gone. Knowing
the threat of contagion, it was decided to cremate Arthur and legend has it that
this unpleasant task was performed in the drawing room fireplace.
fact that Arthur’s ashes were placed in an urn over the mantle is undisputed.
But it’s not the boy’s cremation that got the family included in the late Ed
Sayer’s Ghosts of Texas. It’s the cries of little Arthur that some
say are still heard at night – coming from the estates "gentleman's quarters"
- the unattached lodging for single male guests.|
plaster study of Lorne’s forearm was discovered in Liendo’s attic years after
Ney’s death. |
sculpture entitled Sursum now adorns her Austin
studio. Sursum is Latin for "Upward."
|No one can say when
the “haunting” of Liendo started, but between the eccentric lifestyle of
the foreign couple, the spooky landscape and the fact that it was once a prisoner
of war camp, the locals didn’t have to use too much of their collective imagination
to conjure up stories of active spirits at Liendo. |
Spirits, Other Rooms
baby Arthur, there are reportedly several other entities on the property. A benevolent
female spirit has been known to visit the foot of the bed in the Sam Houston room
inquiring about a guest’s comfort while another presence (thought to be Miss Ney
herself) pulls the covers off of some guests.
Wendt relates a more chilling tale: "There is another story I was told. As
I remember it, two guests were staying in separate rooms, experiencing a fitful
night because of a Texas heat wave. In one room the air suddenly cooled and what
[one guest] thought was her friend coming in the room circled her bed then climbed
in. By morning "the friend" was gone, and when she asked their host at breakfast
if the air conditioning had been turned on, she recieved the reply that it wasn't
working. She then asked her friend "did you climb in my bed?" Her friend
said "no, I stayed in my room all night and couldn't sleep because of the heat....
property was not properly maintained and after Elizabet moved to Austin
to her fortress
/ studio, Edmund became known as the “hermit philosopher.” He did sometimes
support local education and served the nearby community – but not as a physician.
He once served as the Secretary of the Waller County Melon Grower’s Association
– which in Hempstead
is a prestigious position indeed.|
|Elizabet died in June
of 1907 and Edmund suffered a stroke just two months later. He remained an invalid
until his death in 1911 shortly after publishing his magnum opus, Philosophical
Problems in the Light of Vital Organization. |
Dr. Montgomery was interred
in an unmarked plot – presumably alongside Ney’s gravesite. It is said that the
urn containing the ashes of little Arthur were interred with his father.
Wendt and Gurley flank the gate to the “family” cemetery where Ney, her husband
and a granddaughter are interred with several former property owners. |
modest inscription for an acomplished artist.
to docent Wendt, Elizabet Ney referred to her self as a sculptor, not sculptress.
of Liendo's resident cats, "Cali" inspects a potential draft|
TE photos, October 2008