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Did birthday balloon entice little spirit to return?

by Pegi Webster

Would a bright balloon be enticement enough for a little girl who lived nearly 150 years ago to return to her earthly home? Perhaps, if the child in question had lived only a short year and felt cheated of her own worldly playthings. A balloon might just be enough to tempt her back.

This could be one theory of why Becky Allen of Minden feels she and her family shared their home with the spirit of a female child for a short time in 1996.

Although recorded accounts obtained from publications of the Carson Valley Historical Society state that no trace of the Mott family house remains other than the land that is now the Mottsville cemetery, Allen believes that her former home near Sheridan is part of that old homestead. The records, although somewhat sketchy, are consistent with the location of the Allen home to the cemetery – the same cemetery where Mary Elizabeth Mott, aged just 1 year, and other members of her family were laid to rest in the middle of the last century.

The Mott family arrived in 1851 in what was to become the Carson Valley when the area was still part of the Utah Territory. They were the first white settlers to build a home here, and while their reign as an important Carson Valley family was only to last for about a 15-year period, the Motts managed to make their mark. While successful, the Motts suffered their share of tragedy, an unfortunate but not uncommon facet of frontier life.

The young matriarch, Eliza Mott, gave birth to four children after her arrival in the Carson Valley. She started the first school in the state and along with the help of a woman, coincidentally named Mrs. Allen, held classes in the kitchen of the Mott house. The fact that school children frequented the Mott homestead offers other suggestions as to whom the ghostly child may be, but opinions focus on Mary Elizabeth.

“I always felt that there was someone in the house with us, but I never felt any fear,” Becky Allen said. “You could always catch just a glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye, something going by.”

But it was the experience known to her family as the “balloon incident” that Allen remembers most clearly. A birthday bouquet had been delivered some days earlier, and the balloons had mostly lost their helium. All but one balloon had dropped to the floor, and the last one to remain airborne was firmly attached to the flower arrangement. Or so Allen thought.

“The bouquet was on a table in the other room, and I was in the living room,” Allen recalls. “I looked up from where I was sitting on the couch and saw the one still-filled balloon floating about half way to the ceiling, it’s string dangling at about the height a child might hold it. As I watched, it floated gently through the living room and into the master bedroom, and came to a stop in the air above the bed. It never changed height, never went up or down like it was caught in an air current, but just hung at the same level.”

Allen followed the balloon, and her dog was also watching the strange scene. He made it into the bedroom first, and jumping up on the bed, he made a dive for the balloon and popped it. When she checked, Allen found the rest of the balloons in the bouquet laying undisturbed, without even a breath of air to stir them.

The entity for whom a balloon was so irresistible would soon make herself known. Allen reports seeing a young girl, long blonde hair falling to her waist, attired in a full-skirted dress, standing in the laundry room.

“She wasn’t paying any attention to me at all,” Allen said. “She looked like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ with her long hair and frilly dress, and she was just standing there.”

Except for the balloon incident, the child seemed to have no desire to come in any actual contact with the Allen family. But when they compared notes, other family members were certain they’d seen the little girl, too. Allen’s daughter, who was 6 at the time, described the child to her mother in the same detail Allen had seen. Her daughter had no fear of a potential playmate, however intangible or aloof she may have been.

Another time Allen was outside on the porch, washing the glass door that leads into the living room. “I looked through the glass, and there she was again, standing in the living room, looking at nothing.” Allen said the little ghost was never frightening, but actually quite lovely. But Mary Elizabeth Mott was only a year or so old when she died; would she be dressed in such fashion and have long hair?

The recorded history of the Mott family tells of another child, a young neighbor girl, who was buried near the Mott home. History does not reveal the cause of her passing nor her age at the time of death. This child and Mary Elizabeth were laid to rest in what was at that time the backyard of the Mott House. Their two graves were the first in what would eventually be the Mottsville Cemetery.

If the exact location of the Mott home is difficult to locate, the cemetery is not. If you visit the Mottsville Cemetery today, you will notice a plain, dignified headstone engraved with the single name “MOTT,” centered in a large seemingly empty plot of ground enclosed by low stone edging. This lack of ostentation for one of Carson Valley’s founding families is not due to neglect, however. Eliza Mott requested that no individual headstones mark her family’s final resting place, and that no flowers be placed on the graves. The descendants of the Mott family continue to honor her wishes to this day.

The current occupants of the former Allen home report no such inexplicable activity. Could it be that one bright balloon was just enough to satisfy the playfulness of a child who lived more than a century and a half ago, allowing her to rest in peace?

n Pegi Webster researched documents at the Douglas County Public Library and at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center, including the book, “The Motts of Mottsville,” copyrighted by the Carson Valley Historical Society, for this article.