The Baby Doll House

Baby Doll House

I grew up knowing about it. It was ten miles from my hometown–near Benoit, near the River. The River, that is, the Mighty Miss, the Ole Mississipp, the Old Man River. (Yes, it deserves a capital R!) It was believed the house was haunted. High school kids went there for kicks–for the thrill of maybe seeing a ghost. I only went once–drove by, didn’t get out. The house is famous because the movie Baby Doll, based on a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, was filmed there in 1956. Carroll Baker was Baby Doll, a 19-year-old naive, yet sultry, seductive girl, married to sexually-frustrated, older Archie Lee (Karl Malden), but who has never allowed him to lay a hand on her and by agreement, the marriage has never been consummated. Her first sexual encounter ends up not being with broken-down-gin owner Archie Lee, but rival gin owner and younger, vibrant, “wop” Silva. Themes of the film are lust, sexual repression, seduction, and moral decay. Amazing that it was filmed right there, deep in Baptist mud! In the 1950’s, no less. I was only in first grade at the time, so I wouldn’t have known anything about the steamy, suggestive, salacious scenes. I recently ordered the black-and-white from amazon.com because the Baby Doll house is referenced in my novel and one scene takes place at the current site of the house. I wanted to see it again.

The last time I went to the Baby Doll house was about seven years ago. It was about the time Dad was beginning to get ill. I was home for a visit, along with my sister and older son. I always loved going home, getting in the car with Dad, and going somewhere–especially to the River. That trip, we drove over to Rosedale and went to the riverbank in the rough part of town, then to Benoit. We drove up on the levee and followed it a while, and then decided to go find the Baby Doll house. It is stuck in the middle of nowhere and is decaying and dilapidated, what’s left standing ripped to shreds and falling down. It wasn’t safe to go inside. It’s the last high-style antebellum house left standing in Bolivar County. The only reason it was left alone during the Civil War was that Judge Burrus, the owner, knew the invading federal officer. It’s said that John Wilkes Booth stayed there for 10 days after shooting Lincoln.

My sister wanted to buy it and fix it up. My father walked around, kicking dust, commenting on details. I stood there in awe of what was and how time wears on something of beauty and significance until it wastes to beyond restoration. I will always remember it because it was the last time I went to the River with Dad.

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11 Comments on “The Baby Doll House”

  1. CURRIE says:

    …time wears on something of beauty and significance…
    So sad. So true.
    Beautifully written.

    Currie

  2. betsy foster says:

    hello, restoration will be finished soon by our family. it is really looking great.

  3. betsy foster says:

    i forgot to say, we are jc burrus’ family, so its been with us.

  4. John Linville says:

    Hi!
    Re the Burrus house: I got a real thrill in 2000 when a friend and I drove to New Orleans from our home in Kansas City. As Baby Doll is my favorite movie, we ventured off the beaten path to Benoit to see if the house was still standing. Sure enough, at the post office, a friendly clerk directed us to the site, and I snapped some great pictures (I sent the pics to Carroll Baker, who, to my surprise and delight, responded with a very sweet note and card). What a neat place! At the time, the front porch was intact with four of its six columns still in place (some pictures I’ve since viewed online indicate that perhaps the porch subsequently collapsed?) I am so happy that this historic home is being renovated…THANK YOU for saving it!
    Regards,
    John Linville

  5. Key Leslie says:

    Hey

    I didn’t know much about this house being so young, but reading your story kind of taught me more. I stay like a hundred feet away from the house. I used to play with my friend right beside the house when I was younger. I never went in it because of the ghost stories.

  6. Michael Foster says:

    HI Betsy,

    I am thrilled to learn the house is being restored.
    How is the restoration coming along?
    Has the front porch been completed?

    Do you have any photos to share?

    Thanks,

    Michael

  7. Billy Ray says:

    Ill always think fondly of the house. No ghosts for me except the ghost maybe of childhood. I was born in Bolivar County and always loved the house too. It seemed to bring so much glamour to the area to have that house local as if it belonged to the community. I think homes like that should all be saved for up and coming generations to see and appreciate the history. It somehow helps to promote pride in where you come from and even made you feel like you were a part of something much bigger than you really were. When I see the house or read about it I think of my childhood and my grand parents and family. It holds a special place in my heart.

  8. Sarah Gail Cotton says:

    I grew up in Benoit, MS, and me and my family went to this place all the time. I’d heard ghost stories about it and I was scared to go inside. I love the movie, as well, but…

    What happened? The fire, I mean. What happened upstairs? Who caused that fire?

    Please, if you know, let me know, too.

    Thank you.

  9. Margie Ducker Searles says:

    i lived in the Burris House back in1939,i went back when Baby Doll
    was being made.
    i am happy to say that The Delta Magazine will have an update
    story coming soon.
    i understand that it has been restored.

    Margie Ducker Searles

  10. Barbara Robinson Nix says:

    I was born in Grapeland, Mississippi right down the one lane road from Benoit. I use to look at this big house and was afraid of it because of the stories of Ghosts and snake fangs inside of boots that everyone that wore the boots died from the fangs. It’s great to see that the house is being restored. Mississippi is full of history and I think that as much as possible should be preserved!

  11. Audra says:

    I’m watching Baby Doll now, for the first time. What an odd film. Disturbing. There is a scene in the kitchen. I saw an orb pass by. I kid you not. I stopped, reversed, watched, stopped reversed, watched. There is absolutely a fuzzy ball of light that passes behind the actors. This prompted me to search for information regarding the home being haunted, and I landed here. Your story is really very touching… and interesting! Bless you and dad.


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