Talk of the Town - Gardners' digs November 23 2005

An antebellum mansion is more than just a private home

Ten gigantic pillars surround a gracious mansion at the end of Buford, Ga.'s Main Street. Once upon a time, the Bona Allen family, known for its contribution to local industry, lived here, and over 100 years later, the mansion remains a home.

Jay and Jenny Gardner moved in five years ago, making the historic site their home. The decidedly antebellum style on the exterior of the home continues into the interior, despite extensive renovations. Committed to respecting their home's era, the Gardners made sure their changes — which include a new, open-floor plan that brightens the original wall murals in the foyer, and carved ceilings and wooden beams in the dining room — maintained their home's historic character.

Perhaps it's the age, or perhaps it's the architecture, but the home itself is the subject of ghost stories, with rumors of a haunting abounding and even a visit from the ghost-hunt television show, "Eternal Connections." Rather than let the myth continue, the Gardners opened up their doors to the community by starting the Pumpkin Hurl, an annual fall pumpkin festival with everything from a jack-o'-lantern judging contest to an event that Jenny compares to the croquet game in Alice in Wonderland.

What were the results of the ghost hunt? Any subtle presence?

Jenny: Balls of light that showed up on pictures.

Jay: Well, [members of the television show] had a conversation.

Jenny: Conversation with two, I think. One in the foyer, somebody welcoming them, and another one.

How does it feel to live in a house that is part of the town's history?

Jay: We almost personify the house. Ever since we were first married, whether we lived in an apartment or a beat-up old house, we would try to make the best we could of it. We like working on houses. And when you put that much sweat equity into a place, you often personify it.

Tell me about your Pumpkin Hurl.

Jay: It is a party free of all pretenses. The host stands on the front porch and gives a speech about SamHain, and that we have captured all the evil spirits in our pumpkins, and we have a grand procession. We then destroy the evil spirits by busting these pumpkins and marching. If you were wearing any pretense, it is gone, because we march everybody through the front yard. People drive by and go, "My God, they have lost it."

What started this event?

Jenny: Since our kids are older and have their lives, it's hard to get everyone together and have a holiday. So we made our own holiday.

Jay: Also, our kids are Irish step dancers. That's where SamHain comes from. It's a Celtic celebration.

When was your first festival?

Jenny: Two years ago. This will be our third. This year it will be almost 100 people. Each year it keeps inching up. Usually we give prizes for the ugliest pumpkin, the most pitiful, or the best effort. We also have bag-pipers. The whole story about evil spirits is make believe.