Dining With the Uninvited 'Woman in White'

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Abandoned for years, the Herlong Mansion near Gainesville, Fla., reopened as a bed-and-breakfast in 1986. That's when strange things started happening, or so some say.

Tales of mysterious sights and sounds -- a woman appearing in mirrors, doors opening and closing on their own and more -- are told and retold in antique stores and coffee shops.

The three-story house in Micanopy, built in 1845, stands tall in the sunlight of a fall day. Its large columns and brick exterior exude an old-fashioned elegance. Empty rocking chairs sit on the veranda as wind chimes sound from the garden.

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The house is a picture of southern hospitality.

But some guests who have stayed at the mansion have found it not so welcoming.

One woman from Gainesville, who asked for anonymity, describes having a strange chill when she first walked into her guest room. She says she didn't think much of it until later that night.

"It was a rattling," she says, "like someone was trying to open my door."

When she opened the door, no one was there. "Rumor has it that the ghost prefers the door unlocked," she says.

Down the street from the mansion is the Micanopy Museum, where Jim Healy volunteers.

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Healy calls the ghost "the woman in white."

One of the former innkeeper's sons was trying to spook people one night from an upstairs window, he says. When he turned around, he saw a woman in white standing behind him, who quickly vanished. "The boy never tried that prank again," Healy says.

Many believe the ghost is former owner Inez Herlong-Miller. She was the oldest daughter to Zetty and Natalie Herlong, who moved into the house in 1909.

Forty-one years later, the house was willed to all six children, which caused a long family feud that Inez won.

That same day, she walked up the staircase to her childhood room where she collapsed. She went into diabetic shock and died at 68.

Lois Hilleary was a friend of the Herlong family. She grew up and played with Inez's daughter.

"She was a true southern aristocrat," Hilleary says. "Real considerate and thoughtful. Always helping the needy."

The Herlong Mansion

Most of the ghost tales usually come from guests staying in Inez's old room, Hilleary says.

Hilleary has lived in the town for 65 years and heard the talk. She doesn't like to believe it.

Mark Gregg, former bed-and-breakfast owner, is also skeptical.

In the three years he owned the mansion, he can recall about a dozen ghost stories from guests. "Curtains moving, voices, creaks … but I never experienced anything," Gregg says.

Ghost hunters would come in search of more, Gregg says, reading devices that showed invisible energy on electromagnetic fields.

The current owner declined to comment.

But some people believe it's all hype; that it's too much wine or just a good imagination.

Although opinions throughout Micanopy vary, one thing is certain: Inez is still there, still the talk of the town.