This first article about Miss Fannie Moffitt was originally written by Mr. Mouzon Peters for the Chattanooga Times in 1955:
“A fantastic story is unfolding here in the mountains of Grundy County, and it becomes more unbelievable with each passing day. But it’s true – as attorneys throughout Tennessee and the South will testify, and some of them will be called on to do just that.
Elderly Miss Frances Moffitt, who lived quietly in Altamont in a 12-room, two-story brick house with even more elderly Susie Fitch, died a few weeks ago (September 10, 1955) after many years of semi-seclusion. She was a member of a once prominent family, but the huge house was the only publicly visible mark of her aristocratic heritage and in it she lived in a manner so unassuming that many would have thought her poverty stricken.
All around her, the little homes of Altamont have had electric power with all the accompanying appliances and conveniences for years. Miss Fanny just never got around to having her house wired for electricity.
Many surrounding homes had running water and bathrooms. Not so for the big brick house.
Everyone else owned a radio or television set, or both. Miss Fanny’s only entertainments were her books and old hand-cranked phonographs with records as old as the music box itself.
She had few visitors. A vicious dog discouraged the occasional salesman, and Miss Fanny herself didn’t go in for the social life. If she had relatives who stayed in touch with her, no one ever knew them. When Miss Frances Moffitt died at the age of 64, she left no will. And now she is picking up kinsmen by the score. Everyone is mourning the passing of “dear cousin Fanny,” filing their messages of regret, for some reason, with the court appointed administrator of her estate.
The administrator, Arthur Curtis, former postmaster of nearby Coalmont, estimates that Miss Moffitt has left an estate, which is valued in excess of $250,000 and many run as high as half-million dollars.
Day by day, as Curtis pokes through the stacks and piles of books, newspapers, magazines, and parcels; as he examines the contents of bureau drawers, trunks, and boxes, he finds additional evidence of Miss Moffitt’s wealth and peculiarities.
“I haven’t been through the entire house yet,” he said, “and I’ve already found several thousand dollars in cash and securities which Fanny had stuck around every conceivable place. There was over one thousand dollars in cash in the top of the phonograph. One hundred dollar bills are turning up here, there, and everywhere – in shoe boxes, inside old magazines, stuffed into gloves, and tucked away in dresser drawers and forgotten.”
Miss Moffitt used mail-order accounts with stores in Chattanooga and Nashville; and while she had ordered many articles during the past several years, she had left many of the packages unopened, stacked in various corners of the big house. Some of the parcels bear postmarks dating back several years. One of them contained a costly evening dress purchased by mail from one of Nashville’s smartest shops. We’ve found at least 50 expensive hats,” said Curtis, some never removed from their mailing cartons.”
The house contains thousands of dollars worth of antiques in furniture, silver, china, and what not. One beautiful table was given to Miss Moffitt’s ancestors by Felix Grundy, an early U.S. Senator of Tennessee.
In addition to the personal property, Miss Moffitt, it is being learned from a check of courthouse records, owned between 8,000 and 12,000 acres of timber and coal land in Grundy County.
The administrator said that as soon as he completed an inventory of the personal property, he would advertise a public auction sale. This, he indicated, could not be before December. He has installed electric lights in the big brick house so that, as he said, “I can find my way around and see what I’m doing.”
Miss Fitch, who lived with Miss Moffitt for many years, is helping as she can, but she is 77 years old, and didn’t know very much about her affairs.
Miss Moffitt, a niece and nearest relative, was the sole heir in 1942 of the estates both of Tom and Jim Northcutt, bachelor brothers, with whom she had made her home. They and their father before them (H.B. Northcutt) had operated a thriving general store at Altamont and held extensive real estate, timber and coal interests. Their sister married James Moffitt, with Frances Moffitt being the only child.
Frances, or “Fannie,” as she was called by her girlhood friends, was given a good education at Ward-Belmont and Vanderbilt University and was permitted to travel extensively. She elected to settle down in Altamont eventually, though, and when her parents died, she stayed on with the two uncles, becoming as confirmed a spinster as they were bachelors.
Among the attorneys seeking to bring order out of the chaos of by kinsmen of varying degrees, are Ben E. Caldwell and his associate, Hager Odom of Chattanooga and former U.S. Senator Tom Stewart of Winchester and Nashville. Caldwell and Odom are representing two first cousins of the late Miss Moffitt. They are James Massie of Mississippi and Mrs. Mable Ward of Pennsylvania.
Stewart represents the other first cousin, Fred Potter, of Tennessee.
“As far as we can find out,” Caldwell said, “these three are the only first cousins living.”
A second cousin – and there are many claimants in this category – Avery Northcutt of Spencer, has filed suit in Chancery Court to force liquidation of the estate and division of the proceeds among the heirs. His suit also asks the court to determine which of the numerous claimants are really heirs.
Caldwell said that he has been handling Miss Moffitt’s legal affairs for many years. She would ride a bus to Chattanooga then take a taxicab to the attorney’s office.
“I told her the last time she was here several months ago,” said Caldwell, “that she should make a will. She wanted to know what would happen if she died without leaving a will. I advised that a lot of people would learn she had a sizable estate and there would be a heck of a fight.”
“She thought about it a minute and said, “That’s all right. Let’em fight.”
Look for more pictures of Altamont from those times in next week’s edition of the Grundy County Herald.