Roger Clarke's Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and booksellers nationwide.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof
St. Martin’s Press
If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, "What's your business?" In Macon they ask, "Where do you go to church?" In Augusta, they ask your grandmother's maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is "What would you like to drink?”
--John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
In the South, lineage is everything. It’s not just in Augusta, Georgia where your grandmother’s maiden name may be important, but almost everywhere you will be asked, “Who’s your daddy?” or “Who’s your kin?” In the South, your social standing is determined by your parents and who you are related to. Only if you are very accomplished can judgments be made solely upon your own merits without consideration to your family and relations. Of course, this can all be traced to the Old World origins of Southern aristocracy.
If a Southerner were to inquire about the lineage of ghost-hunting, they should be duly impressed; for it is a long and venerable lineage, one that British film critic Roger Clarke traces in his recent book Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof. Within these pages is a host of important figures whose curiosities have extended into the realm of ghosts. Clarke provides an introduction to Robert Boyle, one of the fathers of modern chemistry, as he extends his curiosity into the existence of spirits and meets with philosopher Lady Anne Conway and noted clergyman Joseph Glanvill to discuss the existence of such anomalies.
After an exploration of the curious events at the Hampshire estate of Hinton Ampner, Clarke introduces us to the large household of the Reverend Samuel Wesley in the rectory at Epworth. Plagued by a spirit that the family eventually named “Old Jeffrey,” this household would eventually produce the Methodist movement lead by the Reverend Wesley’s son, John, with the aid of his brother, Charles. This brief, albeit well-documented case was even commented upon by poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey and its queer details have since elicited modern study. It is also necessary to note that John Wesley would spend a few years ministering in the Georgia colony. A statue of the earnest Wesley now presides over passing ghost tours in Savannah’s Reynolds Square.
Of course, no introduction to British ghost-hunting would be complete without an introduction to a similar family in Essex, in an old rectory called Borley. The family of the Reverend Bull was plagued by spiritual activity that attracted the attention of an early paranormal investigator, Harry Price. His examinations into the home and its legendary history would attract worldwide fascination and skepticism.
As Clarke deftly traces the branches and twigs of ghost-hunting’s British line, he weaves together the famous, the infamous, and a host of curious laity into a legion of ghost-hunters. This family is bound by late night ghost stories exchanged in country parsonages and the palaces of the aristocracy, amateur scholars inquiring of the haunted in dusty volumes, and creepy séances held in the parlors of London. It’s a magical web of spiritual study that existed until the world’s skepticism was aroused, and this web of inquiry was forced underground. Public interest in spiritual study still rears its head, more recently through the vein of popular culture.
Sadly, Clarke’s book only explores the world of ghost hunting from a British perspective. America in and of itself has a rich history steeped in the paranormal and since the 19th century has been at the forefront of spiritual study. Notable instances in America’s contribution to this venerable lineage include the Bell Witch case in Tennessee; the fascination with spiritualism held by Mary Todd Lincoln and the séances she conducted in the White House; the Surrency Poltergeist in Georgia; the Fox sisters and their spiritual communications; the Spiritualist movement of the 1920s; the creation of Cassadaga, a mecca for mediums in Florida; Sarah Winchester and her mystery house; and Louisiana’s Myrtles Plantation, America’s Borley Rectory. However, the remnants of Puritanism and the criticism of the validity of the field throughout the nation have done much to suppress in-depth studies.
This book provides a detailed and entertaining exploration of British ghost-hunting. If I were teaching classes about the paranormal, this book would be first on the list of assigned reading. I imagine that eventually this will be counted among the foundational books in paranormal literature. It will certainly hold a prized place on my bookshelf.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press, I’m offering a single copy of this book to one lucky reader. To enter, please comment on this post with your favorite entry in this blog. I’ll put all of the names in a hat and select one to receive a copy of this marvelous book. This giveaway will end November 4th.
Roger Clarke's Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and booksellers nationwide.
Roger Clarke's Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and booksellers nationwide.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
This article was originally published on 18 December 2012. This is a rewrite and edit.
7747 US Highway 61
St. Francisville, Louisiana
I’ve tried to avoid writing about The Myrtles for some time. Certainly of famous haunted properties in the United States—if not the world—The Myrtles ranks very high, if not at the top. There is plenty written about this location, almost to the detriment of other hauntings nearby. As it is now the Halloween season, The Myrtles has been popping up frequently in articles recounting various authors’ versions of the top hauntings in the country.
It seems that every book about American ghosts includes this haunting while it has become a mecca for ghost hunting organizations. Nearly every paranormal reality show has also featured the location. The Myrtles may very well be one of the best-documented hauntings of our time. So why avoid it?
Interestingly, one of the pieces that got me into writing about ghosts is an article about The Myrtles. It appears in Troy Taylor’s 2001 book, The Haunting of America. When I first encountered Taylor’s piece on The Myrtles, I presumed it to be a straightforward exploration of this most famous of hauntings. It’s not a straightforward profile of hauntings and it’s not exactly the haunting that he’s concerned with; it’s the history. Taylor’s piece reads like a newspaper expose as he uncovers the reality behind The Myrtles.
Southerners are natural storytellers, but they enjoy hearing a good story just as much. One only has to witness the long line of Southern storytellers and writers to see this fact: from Joel Chandler Harris to Tennessee Williams, and Eudora Welty to dear Kathryn Tucker Windham, the South has had more than its fair share of gifted storytellers. But, as Taylor (a Yankee from Illinois, bless his heart) states early in the piece, “some of the people who have owned the house have never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” This is certainly a sentiment found throughout the South.
The stories that are told about The Myrtles are fraught with tragedy. According to guides, some ten murders have taken place within the confines of the home. The most famous of these is the tale of a slave, Chloe. Amongst the enslaved people on plantations there was a hierarchy; with the house servants—those that worked directly with the family—being the most important but also the longer lived slaves than those toiling in the heat of the fields. Chloe was one of the more fortunate slaves, working in the house and helping care for the children of Clark Woodruff, the owner of Laurel Grove (as The Myrtles was called at that time). According to legend, she was also on intimate terms with Mr. Woodruff and possibly a guest of his bed.
Continuing the legend, Mr. Woodruff began to make advances towards another slave, and Chloe feared that she would be banished to the fields (and certain death). Soon, she was listening at the doors hoping to learn of her fate. It was there that she was caught by Mr. Woodruff and as punishment, one of her ears was cut off. Afterwards, she began wrapping a long green cloth around her head like a turban to cover her shame.
Chloe then devised a plan to endear herself to the Master and his family. She would poison the master and his family, and then miraculously cure them. She baked a cake containing the poison of oleander leaves, but the master did not eat it. However, his pregnant wife and two young daughters did, and all three died. For her misdeeds, Chloe was hung in one of the ancient oaks on the property by an angry mob. Along with the spirits of her victims, Chloe’s green-turbaned spirit still supposedly walks the property.
This story is marvelous and operatic in proportions. But, sadly, it is just that, an antebellum soap opera. Troy Taylor dug into the records of the families who owned The Myrtles and found no record of a slave with that name. The victims in the story: Clark Woodruff’s pregnant wife and her two children: a boy and a girl, not two daughters as the tale recounts, did not die from poisoning and lived long, fruitful lives. Most likely they did eventually pass in the home, though, which might easily add their spirits to the spiritual jambalaya that may exist at this property.
More digging by Taylor produced the facts that most of the other tales of murder are also the product of great Southern storytellers, with the exception of the murder of William Winter who was shot and killed at the home in 1871.
In cases where the history is debunked, that often debunks the haunting as well. In the case of The Myrtles, however, I don’t believe that is so. It appears there may be quite a bit of activity within this home. Another piece of which may have been captured recently.
While taping a story for WGNO, the ABC affiliate serving the New Orleans area, something appears on tape behind reporter Vanessa Bolano. The video segment is a “stand up” filmed in the French Room of the house. As Ms. Bolano is speaking, something whizzes by behind her. The reporter slowed down the footage to reveal the misty object moving at very high speed.
The video has begun making news both here and in Britain where it has been a headline in both The Daily Mail and The Sun. The latter even taking a single frame of the video and reporting that it resembles a face. While yes, it does resemble a face in that particular frame, it’s also in motion and only resembles the face for a brief moment. It appears to me to be a case of pareidolia—that is simply the brain trying to make sense of something random like someone seeing the face of Christ in a bit of burned toast. The New York Daily News article linked below features the video.
Again, it should be said that regardless of my misgivings about the home’s history, it does appear that The Myrtles has a great deal of activity, some of which may have been captured by this hapless reporter. If you love great Southern ghost stories or want to experience great Southern ghost stories, by all means, book a stay at The Myrtles, just don’t believe all the storytellers’ words.
Durante, Thomas. “Did ABC reporter catch a GHOST on camera
while reporting from one of America’s most haunted houses?”
The Daily Mail. 12 December 2012.
14 December 2012
Taylor, Troy. The Haunting of America. NYC: Barnes & Noble, 2006.
Walsh, Michael. “Louisiana reporter purportedly captures footage of
Monday, October 20, 2014
I’m feeling a bit of umbrage for the spirits of the Upstate region of South Carolina. A recent Halloween related article appeared on the website of a Charlotte, NC news station (I’d rather not just call them out) about haunted places in the region. Included with the article is a slideshow of some 43 locations in the region that are purported to be haunted. But that’s all that’s included: a slideshow. The slides show pictures of some of these haunted hotspots with a name and town but no further information. While it’s all fine and good to say a place is haunted, it is a serious disservice to pronounce a place haunted but provide no further information regarding it.
There is a link within the article to a list of haunted places on the website of a local paranormal investigation organization. While it’s obvious that this list is the only source for the locations included in the slideshow what I find so annoying is the fact that the source of the list is the notorious Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places. After briefly comparing the list it became very clear that the paranormal organization’s list was simply cut and pasted from the Shadowlands list.
My problems with the Shadowlands list stems from the fact that it is made of user submitted entries. Someone, anyone can go to the website and submit information on a haunted place. The information submitted is not checked or vetted, it is added to the list and readers often take this information as fact. It is just such shoddy information gathering and publishing that I’m working hard to combat with this blog.
To post information about hauntings in such a willy-nilly manner is not just disrespectful for the spirits which may haunt these locations, but shows a lack of respect for the locations and their history. Reputable sources on this region are not lacking and most are still in print. In fact, the article quotes the author of one of those primary sources. So, a much better list can be provided with a modicum of research.
While my list here is not as lengthy as the news station’s list (they includes over 40 locations), hopefully this list will help to provide a far better alternative. For your consideration, I’m presenting a few of the more interesting—and documented—stories from the region.
Abbeville, the county seat and namesake for the county, is a fascinating town with a number of hauntings including its historic opera house which I covered a few years back.
400 North Main Street
Sometimes called the “Grave of the Confederacy,” the Burt-Stark Mansion was the scene of the Confederacy’s final council of war; where Jefferson Davis met with some of his cabinet officials and generals following the fall of Richmond and General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The Confederate government was in disarray and its officials on the run through the war-weary South.
Varina, the Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ wife, had arrived at Major Armistead Burt’s elegant Abbeville home in mid-April with her family in tow. She stayed with the Burts for a little more than a week before continuing their journey into Georgia. On May 2nd, Jefferson Davis arrived in Abbeville, stopping by a small cabin on the edge of town, Davis asked for a drink of water from the lady of the house. As he drank, a small child wandered across the porch towards him. The lady pointed at the child, “Ain’t you President Davis.” After he answered in the affirmative the lady nodded at the child, “he’s named for you.”
Producing a small gold coin from his pocket, Davis handed it to the woman saying, “Please keep this for him and tell him about it when he’s old enough.” Davis whispered to Postmaster General John H. Reagan and told him that that was the last coin he had to his name.
Soon after, Davis took up residence at the Burt home where his wife had stayed previously. Later that afternoon, the remaining cabinet met in the parlor. It was there that Davis responded, “all is indeed lost,” conceding to the fact that the Confederacy was lost.
The mansion, has been preserved as a museum and due to the nature of the final meeting of the Confederate cabinet is now listed as a National Historic Landmark. Though very little spiritual had been witnessed in the mansion, due to the numerous other hauntings in Abbeville, it was decided to allow a paranormal investigation team to investigate the home in 2007. According to John Boyanoski’s description of the investigation in his More Ghosts of Upstate South Carolina, the team came away with a great deal of evidence.
Members of the Heritage Paranormal team felt the presence of a man in the bedroom where Davis had slept. Moments later, one of the lead investigators witnessed the clear outline of a woman in period dress descending the staircase. Lending credence to his experience, the team’s equipment near the staircase registered some disturbances at the time the investigator saw the woman. In the separate kitchen building, the team detected two spirits, possibly those of slaves.
Bearss, Edwin C. National Historic Landmark nomination form for Burt-Stark Mansion.
28 April 1992.
Boyanoski, John. Ghosts of Upstate of South Carolina. Mountville, PA: Shelor & Son
Burt-Stark Mansion. “About Us.” Accessed 13 October 2014.
Anderson Municipal Business Center
601 South Main Street
Unlike the Burt-Stark Mansion with its flood of history, the Anderson Municipal Business Center is a rather utilitarian government building with little history. The building opened in August 2008 and odd events began to occur less than a year after it opened. The security person in charge of the building—a 15 year veteran of the local police department—began to notice odd things on the security monitor installed in the Anderson credit union office. A white blur appeared on the video and would flit around the room. It returned night after night.
The room was checked for bugs and the camera was cleaned, but the white blurs continued to return. Workers in the office reported hearing odd sounds after hours including knocking and the sounds of furniture being moved. A customer, who supposedly knew nothing of the activity, reported the feeling of being grasped by the shoulder. The activity lasted for a few months, but then petered out by late 2009.
The property has a fairly quiet history, certainly nothing that would explain the odd white blurs that appeared for a period.
“Ghostly images leave people wondering.” WYFF. 30 October 2011.
Smith-Miles, Charmaine. “Anderson employee to appear on TV’s ‘My
Ghost Story.’” Anderson Independent Mail. 13 April 2011.
Ford Road Bridge
Ford Road at Peoples Creek
It was obvious that the killer wanted to play when he called reporter Bill Gibbons of The Gaffney Ledger on a day in early February 1968. He instructed the reporter to pull out three pieces of paper and then gave the reporter directions to find the bodies of two of his victims. The killer even provided the victims’ names. The reporter summoned the sheriff and traveled to the two sites provided by the caller and found bodies at each location. The body of the third victim had been previously found and the woman’s husband had been convicted of the murder. Gaffney had a serial killer on its hands.
The killer would kill once more before he was arrested. Lee Roy Martin, the killer, was found guilty and sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment. He was killed by another inmate in 1972.
Just below the lonely Ford Road Bridge over Peoples Creek, one of Martin’s victims was found. Her nude body lay on the creek bank with her face in the water. She had been raped and strangled with a belt. Over the years, locals have reported hearing a woman screaming and moaning below the bridge where the body was found. An investigation conducted as part of the filming of Haunted Echoes: The Gaffney Strangler, a documentary that was posted on YouTube, did not hear any screams, just the trilling of bullfrogs in the creek.
Dalton, Robert W. “Gaffney Strangler terrorized town 40 years ago, murdering
4 women.” Spartanburg Herald-Journal. 5 July 2009.
Gibbons, Bill. “Search underway here for slayer of 2 women; Tip to newsman
leads officers to scene.” The Gaffney Ledger. 9 February 1968.
“Haunted Echoes: The Gaffney Strangler, Episode 3.” Haunted Echoes: South
Carolina. Written and directed by Daljit Kalsi. Posted on YouTube 26 October
Johson, Tally. Ghosts of the South Carolina Upcountry. Charleston, SC: History
126 Beverly Road
Jason Profit, owner and operator of Greenville Ghost Tours, describes Herdklotz Park in his book, Haunted Greenville, South Carolina, as having “all the ingredients for an active paranormal soup.” The tranquil city park was once home to the Greenville Tuberculosis Hospital which closed in the 1950s after operating for some 20 years. For some time, the building sat abandoned but was then reopened in the 1990s for a brief period of time as part of a prison work-release program.
As with many abandoned buildings of this nature, the building served as a playground for teens and the occasional vandal who would leave with stories of the supernatural there. Of course, the building also attracted the local homeless. It is believed that they may have accidently caused the fire that destroyed the building in November of 2002. The remains of the building were demolished.
But, the spirits have remained. Jason Profit recounts an EVP session that he held on the steps of the old hospital (the building’s foundation remains intact) in 2008. He was able to capture the sounds of what he described as “a busy lunchroom. It sounded like the echoing of voices in a hallway or large room.” He reports that many residents of the neighborhood around the park have witnessed shadow people in their homes and in the area that may be related to the old hospital. In a 2009 report for the local CBS affiliate, WSPA, Profit states, “I would have to say that beyond a shadow of a doubt that Herdklotz Park is one of the most haunted parks you’re going to find in Upstate South Carolina.”
Cato, Chris. “Greenville County Park Haunted by Hospital’s Ghosts?” WSPA.
31 October 2009.
Profit, Jason. Haunted Greenville, South Carolina. Charleston, SC: History Press,
Ninety Six National Historic Site
1103 Highway 248
Scholars still argue as to how Ninety Six got its odd name, some say it’s that the town was 96 miles from the Cherokee village Keowee (which is incorrect) and some say that it’s a reference to the creeks in the area. Nevertheless, this oddly named village was the scene of a siege during the American Revolution. General Nathanael Greene led his Patriot troops against loyalists entrenched in the village. Despite having far more troops, Greene’s 28-day siege failed to capture the village and Greene withdrew his troops. Perhaps, though, he did leave some spirits behind. Residents living near the battlefield and re-enactors camping on the battlefield have heard voices throughout the site.
Ninety Six National Historic Site. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Accessed 24 February 2011.
Siege of Ninety Six. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Accessed 24 February 2011.
Toney, B. Keith. Battlefield Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Rockbridge
315 West Main Street
Ghost stories often grow out of odd bits of natural phenomena. That may just well be the story behind this small town movie theatre in the Upstate. A member of the family who built this theatre in 1948 and owned it until it closed claimed the “ghost” was simply the curtains in the projection room being blown by air from the projector. Though, locals have a different theory: it’s the ghost of a woman who hanged herself on this site before the building of the theatre.
In his marvelous collection of ghost stories from the Upstate region, Ghosts of Upstate South Carolina, John Boyanoski documents the story of a passerby who saw the spirit peering from a window of the empty theatre one night. While driving home to Greenville from a football game in Clemson one night in 1989, the passerby slowed to admire the old, art moderne-style theatre. Looking up, he saw a woman staring out of one of the building’s second floor windows. She didn’t move and she appeared to have a faint glow about her. He continued driving and then turned around to catch a second glimpse. The theatre was quiet and dark. Nothing appeared in the windows. Even after parking and walking around the front of the building, nothing stirred.
At the time of this writing the theatre serves as a church and remains as a landmark along South Carolina 93, through Easley. The theatre is owned by Robinson’s Funeral Home and it plans to maintain the theatre as a local landmark.
Boyanoski, John. Ghosts of Upstate of South Carolina. Mountville, PA: Shelor & Son
Robinson, Ben. “Colony Theater not in danger from Robinson’s expansion.” Easley
Progress. 16 December 2011.
Old Main Building
Campus of Wofford College
Wofford College, a private, independent school associated with the Methodist Church has about 130 faculty and staff members, 1,500 students and more than a handful of ghosts. The old campus features some noted historic structures including the campus’ centerpiece, the Old Main Building which may have a few spirits flitting about its halls. South Carolina folklorist, Tally Johnson, an alumnus of the school, witnessed Old Main’s legendary “Old Green Eyes” when he was a student. He and another student crept into the auditorium one night and witnessed the odd pair of lights that appear above the drapes over one of the auditorium’s windows. The “eyes” appeared and Johnson and his companion were unable to find a source for the lights.
The odd, green orbs have not been identified and there’s no apparent explanation. Whatever the explanation, they’re not the only odd activity. The blog of the college’s archives recounts that the spirit of Dr. James Carlisle—one of the first faculty members and president of the school for the latter half of the 19th century—has been seen and heard prowling the halls.
Brabham, William C. National Register of Historic Places nomination form
for the Wofford College Historic District. 29 August 1974.
Johnson, Tally. Ghosts of the South Carolina Upcountry. Charleston, SC:
History Press, 2005.
Stone, Phillip. “Are there ghosts at Wofford?” From the Archives. 31
Thursday, October 9, 2014
With the Halloween season already in full swing, media has started pumping out news items profiling our spectral friends throughout the country. Here’s a sampling of recent paranormal news from the South.
Gainesville Public Library
127 Main Street, NW
If anything, the Gainesville Public Library does not outwardly appear to be a classic haunted building. The red brick, Brutalist-style building resembles countless modern library buildings throughout the country, but it includes something that many of those libraries do not have: a few ghosts. One of those spirits made an appearance during an investigation last weekend.
The library has been known to be haunted for some time and Nancy Roberts wrote about it in her 1997 book, Georgia Ghosts. The primary spirit Roberts wrote about has been called “Miss Elizabeth” or the “Lady of the Library” by the library staff. One staff member encountered her one night as she was closing. A strange young lady stood near the elevator, “she was only a few feet from me! Her brown hair, which was soft around her face, fell to her shoulders. She was about medium height and wore a long, dark dress, either navy or black.” The staff member turned away momentarily and when she turned back, the strange woman had vanished.
Other staff members described Miss Elizabeth in a 2011 Gainesville Times article as “wearing a long, dark skirt with a white shirt and a dark shawl. Her dark hair is pulled away from her plain face; on her neck she wears a broach.” In addition to seeing this fleeting apparition, the spirit is blamed for turning lights off and on, moving books and possibly riding on the elevator.
While the library building is not old, the property upon which it sits has quite a bit of history. At times during the history of the town, the property was a homestead and also contained a family cemetery. In the 1920s, the graves were moved and a hotel built on the site. The hotel was torn down to build the library.
During the recent investigation, however, it wasn’t Miss Elizabeth who made an appearance; it was the spirit of a small child. During the library sponsored investigation lead up by members of the Southeastern Institute for Paranormal Research, investigators encountered a spirit in the children’s section named Emma. One group heard the giggle of a child, while someone in a different group was touched lightly on the arm and then later another participant had her hair lightly tugged. A sensitive in the group stated that the spirit was a little girl with curly blonde hair dressed in a style reminiscent of the 1950s.
The sensitive remarked that the child seemed to be happy, loved book and “was glad someone had come to play with her.”
Gunn, Jerry. “Ghost hunters seek spirits at Gainesville Library.” Access
North Georgia. 20 September 2014.
Gunn, Jerry. “Paranormal investigators meet a girl named Emma.” Access
North Georgia. 5 October 2014.
King, Savannah. “Local ghost hangouts: Gainesville Library.” Gainesville
Times. 30 October 2011.
Roberts, Nancy. Georgia Ghosts. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1997.
Old Clay County Jail
21 Gratio Place
Green Cove Springs, Florida
The Florida Times-Union has recently deemed the Old Clay County Jail to be a place where it is always Halloween. Paranormal investigators have deemed the building to be one of the most active that many of them have seen.
Built by the Pauly Jail Company in 1894, the building saw its last inmate in 1972. The building now serves as home to the Clay County Archives. Like most corrections facilities, this building has seen the worst of society and a number of tragedies in its long history. Among the tragedies was the assassination of a sheriff, an inmate suicide, five executions and another suicide on the front lawn.
Reports of activity from the jail include voices, apparitions and hair-pulling. Activity has become so well known that the Clay County Historical Archives website features a page describing the haunted conditions of the building.
Buehn, Debra W. “Old Clay County Jail stars in Local Haunts’ TV show
Sunday.” Florida Times-Union. 1 April 2010.
Clay County Historical Archives. Ghosts in the Old Jail. Accessed 9 October
Hogencamp, Kevin. “It’s Halloween all year at old Clay County jail.”
Florida Times-Union. 3 October 2014.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
I must sheepishly admit (pun intended) that I was not familiar with Shepherdstown, West Virginia until I stumbled across the website for Shepherd University with a recounting of its campus ghosts. Upon googling local ghosts, a marvelous article from the Shepherdstown Chronicle popped up with the above quote from a local historian. Of course, that got me excited.
Shepherdstown is located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia in Jefferson County. Of the counties in West Virginia, Jefferson County seems to be one of the most paranormally active, most certainly in the area of Harpers Ferry. Standing in the large shadow of Harpers Ferry ghosts, I imagine that is why there really isn’t much written about Shepherdstown’s ghosts.
Settlement of the area began in the early 18th century with Thomas Shepherd being granted over 200 acres in the area. He set aside a portion of that acreage for a town which was chartered in 1762 and is—“arguably” as Wikipedia says—the oldest chartered town in West Virginia. The town was named Mecklenburg and would remain under that name until after the Civil War.
One of the city’s oldest remaining structures is the Entler-Weltzheimer House, also known as the “Yellow House” (East High Street, Shepherd University Campus) which is now owned by Shepherd University. Not only is the yellow house one of oldest in the city, but the ghost story told about it may be one of the oldest documented ghost stories in the city as well. The story was mentioned in a Shepherd College (as it was called at that point) yearbook in 1928. An article in the student newspaper, the Shepherd College Picket, in 1954 also covers the tale.
In 1910, the Yellow House was the home of a local cobbler, George Yontz and his furry companion, a cat named Ham. When Mr. Yontz’s body was found not far from the cabin, locals assumed he had been killed for his money (many thought him to be very wealthy), though none was found when the house was searched. Since his death, the cobbler’s taps of his cobbler’s tools have been heard in and around the house.
The student newspaper mentions that a family moved into the house not long after Yontz’s death and their cat heard the tapping in the attic. The cat headed up the stairs and not long after came streaking back down and out the door. The cat was never seen again.
The house is built on the site of what was a fort built in the area during the French and Indian War. The house was purchased by the university in 1926 and has been used for a variety of educational uses—including as a Home Economics Cottage—until recently. The university was recently granted money to preserve the house.
|McMurran Hall, Shepherd University. Photo by Acroterion, 2012,|
courtesy of Wikipedia.
At the other end of the block, where German Street intersects Princess Street, the corner is graced with the lovely, old Entler Hotel (129 East German Street), also called Rumsey Hall and now home to the Historic Shepherdstown Museum. The first building on this property was a home for the Entler family which was destroyed by fire in 1912. The subsequent buildings constructed here remain and these housed the Entler Hotel.
Shepherdstown’s location along a main road from Baltimore to the interior of the southeast, brought a great deal of traffic through the area in the early 19th century. This hotel was opened primarily to serve the wealthier travelers, though the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places notes that there was gambling and other gaming taking place in the inn’s yard. Continuing, it notes that one businessman, having lost his money in a card game, shot himself at the back of the hotel.
This was not the only tragedy here, in 1809 after a duel just across the Potomac River, Peyton Smith was brought here. The duel was held following a card game between Smith and Joseph Holmes, both members of noted Virginia families. The wounded Smith was placed in Room 1 and cried out for his mother before he passed. His mother arrived from Winchester after her son’s passing. People in the building continue to hear Smith’s pathetic cries.
Walking south down Princess Street, visitors will find an old carriage repair shop that formerly housed the Carriage House Café (107 South Princess Street). This building has housed a variety of businesses and the spirit of a former owner is said to remain on the property.
A bit further down East German Street, another corner is graced by a grand building in this case it is the Beaux-Arts style, the old 1906 Jefferson Security Bank. The bank was converted to a restaurant some years ago and now houses the Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant (201 East German Street). Table 25 was the scene of some activity in the 1990s when a patron reported to the restaurant’s manager that she couldn’t sit at the table because of the ghost. The bartender also reported that he had glasses fall from the glass rack and break.
Of course, for Shepherdstown, I think these hauntings are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more reports from this lovely little town.
Engle, Georgia Lee. “Restless spirit roams campus, haunts High
Street Cottage.” Shepherd College Picket. 28 October 1954.
Lehman, Mary Corcoran. “Entler Hotel.” Historic Shepherdstown and
Museum. Accessed 2 October 2014.
McGee, Ted. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for
Rumsey Hall (Entler Hotel). 6 October 1972.
Molenda, Rachel. “Town serves as home to ghosts from past.”
The Shepherdstown Chronicle. 28 October 2011.
Racer, Theresa. “Shepherdtown’s Historic Carriage House Café.”
Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State blog. 16 July 2011.
“Shepherd receives restoration grant.” The Shepherdstown Chronicle.
5 August 2011.
Shepherd University. “Historic Tour—Yellow House.” Accessed
2 October 2011.
Shepherd University. “Legend of the Yellow House.” Accessed
2 October 2011.
Shepherd University. “Historic Tour—McMurran Hall.” Accessed
2 October 2011.
Whipple, Jim. “The Carriage House to celebrate liquor license.”
The Shepherdstown Chronicle. 19 November 2010.
The Shepherdstown Chronicle. 19 November 2010.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
In time for Halloween, two Tennessee locations have announced that they’ve been declared certifiably haunted after being investigated by paranormal investigators.
1720 South Scenic Highway
If you’ve spent anytime driving within 100 miles of Ruby Falls, you will recognize this name. Along with Rock City—located just up the mountain—Ruby Falls has engaged in an extensive advertising campaign along roadsides, on barn roofs and in hotel lobby brochure racks throughout the Deep South. Their advertising campaigns have made Ruby Falls and Rock City have become synonymous with tourism throughout the region.
Ruby Falls—not to be confused with Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park in North Georgia—is a cave in Lookout Mountain that ends in a marvelous waterfall. The cave is accessible via elevator from a castle-like visitors’ center above. Earlier this month, paranormal investigators searched for evidence of the paranormal both in the visitors’ center and in the cave itself. After looking at the evidence, Stones River Paranormal determined that there are spirits in the location.
Ruby Falls Cave is actually part of a larger cave system: the Lookout Mountain Caverns. Lookout Mountain Cave was known for centuries by Native Americans in the area as well as early settlers and it was also heavily utilized during the Civil War. Sadly, the natural entrance to the cave was closed off when a railroad tunnel was constructed in the area. In the 1920s, a chemist and amateur spelunker, Leo Lambert, created the Lookout Mountain Cave Company to reopen the cave as a commercial venture. As workers were drilling an elevator shaft into Lookout Mountain Cave, a smaller cave was discovered above. Wriggling into the small cave, Lambert explored the passages and admired the cave’s intricate formations ultimately finding the falls at the end of the cave which he named for his wife, Ruby.
Both caves were opened as commercial, “show” caves but Ruby Falls Cave became much more popular. Tours were eventually ended to Lookout Mountain Cave and over time, lighting and music have been added to “enhance” the cave experience.
Stones River Paranormal discovered the presence of at least five spirits in the cave and its visitors’ center. The spirits of Leo Lambert and his wife, Ruby, as well as the spirit of a security guard who died after falling down an elevator shaft were named as possible spirits within the facility. Oddly, the spirits of a few children may also be haunting the visitors’ center.
Jenkins, Gary C. “Ruby Falls.” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and
Culture. 25 December 2009.
Phipps, Sean. “Ruby Falls deemed an official haunted location.” Nooga.com.
29 September 2014.
Ruby Falls. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 September 2014.
Magnolia Manor Bed & Breakfast
418 North Main Street
I am certain that one of the first things the citizens of Bolivar, Tennessee would like you to know is how to pronounce their name. While it is named for the South American revolutionary, Simon Bolivar, the town’s name is pronounced to rhyme with “Oliver,” Though I cannot be completely certain, I’m sure the second thing the citizens would want you to know is that Magnolia Manor has wonderful legends associated with it and quite possibly a few ghosts as well.
Just before the Battle of Shiloh, which took place just two counties over, four Union generals: Logan, Sherman, Grant and McPherson, supposedly planned the battle in the Gentleman’s Parlor. (It should be noted, however, that the battle was the result of a surprise attack by Confederate forces.) But the legend continues with the ill-mannered William Tecumseh Sherman making a very disagreeable and telling remark during a meal. He suggested that all Southerners: men, women and children, should be exterminated.
Magnolia Manor’s hostess, Mrs. Miller, the wife of Judge Austin Miller, the home’s builder, excused herself immediately left the room in tears. Ulysses Grant furiously ordered Sherman to apologize. He did so begrudgingly and stormed up the staircase afterwards slashing the banister with his saber. Mrs. Miller was the first of a long line of strong women to oversee this manse and leave a spiritual mark as well—one of Mrs. Miller’s grand-daughters would become the first woman elected to the Tennessee state legislature.
Activity in the 1849 home is at such a level that paranormal investigators have been at work in the house regularly for a number of years. Therefore, being certified as haunted is really just a formality for Memphis Mid-South Ghost Hunters who have been working in the house for quite some time.
The activity in the house ranges from full apparitions to the movement of objects. Guests in the home have witnessed a woman descend the staircase and others have been touched by a female spirit in their rooms while still others have reported a woman pulling the covers from them as they slept.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the
Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
Ferree, Lyda Kay. “Magnolia Manor Bed & Breakfast to host ghost tours.”
The Jackson Sun. 27 September 2014.
Phillips, Bianca. “Bumps in the Night.” Memphis Flyer. 12 July 2007.
Turnage, Sheila. Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Winston-Salem, NC: John F.
Monday, September 29, 2014
I recently had an inquiry from a friend who’s a student at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia regarding a “haunted road trip” he and his friends want to take next month. After consulting my resources, I’ve come to realize that this area of Virginia is not unlike the rest of the state in being a landscape studded with ghosts and legends.
I’ve arranged this tour to incorporate most of the haunted places I’m familiar with in the area with the option to pick and choose whichever places sound most appealing.
This tour begins and ends in Winchester. It heads south down I-81 towards Staunton with a few stops along the way. Staunton, which has a fascinating and haunted history, will be one of the main stops and may include a ghost tour. Heading east, the trip hits the famous Exchange Hotel in Gordonsville and then returns to Winchester. The trip includes a range of haunted places from historic homes to government buildings, churches, battlefields, commercial buildings, cemeteries, a train depot, a former mental hospital and a cave.
Of the cities on this tour, Winchester is perhaps the most interesting, historically speaking. The city was chartered in 1752 and during the 19th century was one of the most important cities in the region. It served as a market town and it is here that nine major roads converged along with the Winchester and Potomac Railroad. With the coming of the Civil War, the city’s location made it a prize coveted by both armies. It would famously change hands many times during the war with three major battles taking place here during the course of the war with a host of smaller battles and skirmishes taking place throughout the region. This bloody history has most certainly left a spiritual mark on the region and especially on Winchester.
Winchester’s ghosts have been documented primarily in Mac Rutherford’s 2007 book, Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. This book is excellent in describing these hauntings more in depth. There is a ghost tour, Ghost Tours Old Town Winchester, Virginia, though they only have a Facebook page that doesn’t provide much information. (website).
Stop #1 – Abram’s Delight (1340 S. Pleasant Valley Road, Open daily M-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4, Adults $5, website) One of the best places to understand the early history of Winchester is in the restored home of the Hollingsworth family, one of the first white families to settle in the area. Built by Abraham Hollingsworth in the mid-18th century, the house remained in the family until the City of Winchester purchased it in 1943. The house is apparently haunted by spirits of family members who once lived there. The family’s mill, which is now home to offices for the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, is also the scene of some paranormal activity. Please see my blog entry (An independent spirit—Winchester, Virginia) for further information.
Stop #2—Mount Hebron Cemetery (305 E. Boscawen Street, Open daily 7:30 AM-6PM, website) Encompassing four different cemeteries, Mount Hebron holds some of the oldest burials in the city. Two of the cemeteries within its precincts date to the mid-18th century, while the large Stonewall Confederate Cemetery was created just following the Civil War. This may also be the most haunted section of this cemetery. The marker for the Patton Brothers, George and Tazewell (Col. George S. Patton was the grandfather of General George S. Patton who lead American forces during World War II), has some reported activity with it involving a lone figure seen near it. Wearing a military greatcoat and peaked hat, the figure walks towards the marker and disappears. Legend holds that the figure may be none other than Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. During the 1930s, Rommel was one of a number of German military leaders who spent time in the area studying the military tactics of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.
While the Confederate dead—some of whom were unknown—were buried in the cemetery here, the Union dead were buried across Woodstock Lane in the National Cemetery. Mac Rutherford states that people living in the area and passersby just after sundown have seen grayish figures rising from the Confederate part of Mount Hebron and making their way across the street towards the National Cemetery.
Stop #3—Downtown Winchester’s haunted sites may be explored easily on foot, so these are grouped together. I’m not including every site, but some of the primary highlights.
Stop #3A—Red Lion Tavern Building (204-208 South Loudoun Street) This historic tavern building was constructed in 1784 by a German Revolutionary War veteran named Peter Lauck. He is known to have had seven daughters one of whom may still be seen and heard in the building. People recently working in the building have been thanked by a soft, feminine voice saying, “danke.” The shadowy figure of a woman in colonial dress is sometimes seen when the voice is heard.
Stop #3B—Cork Street Tavern (8 West Cork Street, Open M-Sat 11-1AM, Sun 12-10, website) Occupying a pair of early 19th century residences, the Cork Street Tavern has a pair of ghosts, though there seems to be some uncertainty as to why they’re there. Much of the structure’s history is well-known except for the period during Prohibition when the building may have been used as a speakeasy and brothel. The pair, nicknamed John and Emily by the restaurant staff, have both made their presence known with a variety of activity. Apparitions of both have been seen in the building while Emily’s voice has been heard calling, “John,” a number of times. A spirit has also been known to trip female patrons walking into the non-smoking section. The level of activity here is high enough that it lead an investigator to remark during a 2009 investigation that “nothing holds a candle to Cork Street.”
Stop #3C—South Braddock Street Haunts (Block of South Braddock between Cork and Boscawen) This block has spiritual activity from two different wars. The Braddock Street United Methodist Church Parking Lot (Intersection of South Braddock and Wolfe Streets, Southeast Corner) During the French and Indian War (1755-1762), Fort George, one of two forts built in the area under the purview of Colonel George Washington, stood near here. This piece of property was used for drilling recruits and Colonial soldiers have been seen in the area and in the building that once occupied this site.
Soldiers from the Civil War have been seen along this street. After the First Battle of Winchester on May 25, 1862 which was a Confederate victory, Union forces retreated along this street. According to Mac Rutherford, they held their formations along this street until they reached the center of town where they broke rank and ran for their lives. The reports of soldiers seen here usually include large formations of many soldiers.
Stop #3D—38 West Boscawen Street (private) One of Winchester’s most accomplished daughters, Patsy Cline, is associated with this building. It was here, at the G&M Music Store, where Cline bought her first guitar and made some of her first recordings. Visitors to the room that once housed the recording studio have experienced a coldness and claim to have felt the spirit of the famed singer.
Stop #3E—125 West Boscawen Street (private) The circa 1790 home at this site is now occupied by a law firm. Like many buildings throughout the city, this structure served as a hospital for the wounded during the Civil War. Employees of the businesses that have occupied this space over the past few decades have reported hearing footsteps regularly and feeling a cold chill in certain rooms.
Stop #3F—Fuller House Inn (220 West Boscawen Street, private bed and breakfast inn, website) This magnificent home was constructed in 1854 incorporating the late 18th century servants quarters from the Ambler Hill Estate. On the eve of the Civil War, the house was purchased by prominent local dentist, Dr. William McPherson Fuller. This building was also commandeered for use as a hospital during the Civil War and that may explain the presence of a soldier who has been seen in the house.
Stop #3G—Handley Regional Library (100 West Piccadilly Street, Open M & W 10-8, T & F-Sat 10-5, Th 10-1, website) Opened in 1913, this glorious Beaux-Arts library was constructed as a gift to the city of Winchester from coal baron, Judge John Handley. The face of a man with a “drooping mustache” has been seen peering from the windows of the building’s rotunda. A full apparition of a man with a mustache and wearing a frock coat has been seen by library staff inside the building. Perhaps Judge Handley is checking up on his gift?
Stop #3H—Kimberly’s (Lloyd Logan House) (135 North Braddock Street, Open M-Sat 10-6, Sun 11-5, website) Lloyd Logan, a local tobacco merchant, built this home around 1850 and it was considered one of the finest homes in town. When war came, the house was taken over by Union generals Franz Sigel and later by Philip Sheridan. Under orders from General Sigel, Lloyd Logan was thrown in jail and the house and most of its contents were confiscated for army use. Logan’s wife and daughters were later removed from the house and unceremoniously dumped along the Valley Pike. This incident may contribute to the spiritual activity within the home.
From Braddock Street, look up at the two windows on the south side of the second floor. Passersby have seen the figure of a man pacing and throwing his hands into the air. One witness described him as not “really clear, sort of gray and fuzzy. I think he was even pulling at his hair.” Employees of Kimberly’s have also seen the man in that room and state that he is accompanied by a woman crying in the corner.
Stop #3I—Joe’s Steakhouse (Philip Williams House) (25 West Piccadilly Street, Open M-Th 4PM-9:30, F-Sat 11AM-10:30, Sun 10AM-8, website) A Confederate officer is frequently seen staring out the windows of this circa 1845 mansion. Legend holds that this is the spirit of Colonel George S. Patton (the same one buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery above) who died here September 19, 1864 from injuries sustained during the Third Battle of Winchester. He is believed to have passed away on the second floor.
Stop #3J—Indian Alley Figures of very tall Indians have been witnessed along this street. There are a number of legends dating to the 18th century regarding very tall Native Americans who once lived in the area. Perhaps the spirits of these original inhabitants return? The Indians are generally seen during the first and last light of the day.
Stop #3K—Brewbaker’s Restaurant (168 North Loudoun Street, Open T-Sat 11AM-2AM, Sun 11-9, website) With a core dating the late 18th century, this old commercial building has been home to a continuous line of restaurants since 1910. However, the history does not explain the apparition of a young woman who appears near the fireplace.
Stop #3L—Olde Towne Armory and Heirlooms (151 North Loudoun Street, website) Built originally as the Arlington Hotel, this building houses a ghost that was known recently to make a bathroom run every morning. The owners of the shop (not the people currently occupying the space) would have the front door open by itself followed by the sound of footsteps racing into the store and up the stairs. The water in the bathroom would be turned on in the upstairs bathroom. After some time, the spirit began leaving a penny outside the bathroom door. In one case, the spirit left a penny on the floor and placed a penny on the breasts of a female mannequin being stored just outside the bathroom.
Stop #3M—Taylor Pavilion (125 North Loudoun Street, private) In its heyday, the Taylor Hotel offered the grandest accommodations in the city. Opening just a decade before the Civil War, the hotel provided accommodations to many of the generals leading troops through the area. Sadly, one of the red-headed call girls who served at the hotel still lingers in this building.
Stop #3N—Village Square Restaurant and V2 Piano Bar and Lounge (103 North Loudoun Street, Open M-Th 11:30-10, F-Sat 11:30-12, Sun 11:30-8, website) These two establishments occupy a series of haunted structures all built in the early 19th century. Spirits flit and float throughout the restaurant, but the V2 Piano Bar and Lounge have the real story to tell. This building formerly housed Miller’s Apothecary which opened on this site in the mid-18th century. The apothecary was operated by the Miller family until 1992 when they decided to shutter the business. Subsequent owners of the building have all had run-ins with the resident spirits including Jeanette, a young woman who lived with the Miller family in the 18th century.
Perhaps one of the saddest stories of this location comes from the Civil War. Union soldiers from the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry were quartered in the upstairs rooms. A young African-American male was lynched by the group in a tree just outside the building. The pacing of boots and the shouts of arguing soldiers are still heard here.
Stop #3O—33 North Loudoun Street Near this address be on the lookout for a young woman in Civil War era clothing hurrying along the street with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. This is believed to be the spirit of Tillie Russell, a local woman who legend calls, “The Angel of the Battlefield.”
A small engagement occurred at Rutherford’s Farm outside of Winchester on July 20, 1864. Union forces attacked a Confederate division on General Stephen Ramseur throwing that division into confusion. Capt. Randolph Ridgeley of the 2nd Virginia Volunteer Infantry was seriously wounded when Tillie Russell found him and nursed him through the night. Ridgeley was found the next morning being cradled by Miss Russell and survived his wounds.
For years, people have seen the spirit of Miss Russell leaving the building at 33 North Loudoun pulling her shawl about her shoulders as she heads off towards the battlefield at Rutherford’s Farm.
Stop #3P—Old Court House Civil War Museum (20 North Loudoun Street, Open M-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5, Adults $5, website) Of all the buildings throughout Winchester that were impacted by the Civil War, the biggest impact was possibly on this building which was constructed in 1840 as the Frederick County Court House. The building served as a hospital and, after the Third Battle of Winchester, a prison for captured Confederates. Many of the scars left on this building including the graffiti left on the walls by soldiers from both sides have been preserved. The building has also been the scene of some rather intense spiritual activity.
Some spiritually sensitive passersby have witnessed gray forms huddled in the building’s courtyard where Confederate prisoners were kept. In the old courtroom, voices have been heard ranging from faint whispers to obnoxious shouting and the cries of the wounded that once crowded this space. During the building’s renovation, workers had tools and equipment moved. Three workers walked off the job when scaffolding was moved from one side of the room to another during a lunch break.
Stop #3Q—Olde Town Café (2 South Loudoun Street) This large, brick building was originally the family home of the prominent Holliday family and this was the home of Frederick Holliday who served as governor during the 19th century. The building has seen a variety of uses including post office, a dry goods store and drug store. Since its use as a restaurant, the owners have discovered that the building is also the residence of two ghosts. A male spirit has been seen ascending the stairs from the basement, though he always just stops and stares upon reaching the top. A woman’s spirit has been seen entering the building’s front door and rearranging items on the shelves inside the restaurant.
Stop #4—Wayside Inn (7783 Main Street, private bed and breakfast inn with a restaurant, Larrick’s Tavern, open 12-9 Th-Sat and Sun 10-2, website) This building essentially sits at the center of history for this small town. The motley of old buildings forming the tavern were built over a period ranging from the 18th century through to the late 19th century. The oldest portion of the building, that containing Larrick’s Tavern, is considered the oldest portion and may have been constructed around 1750. The road in front was once part of the Great Wagon Road—the road that helped settle the American “backcountry.” The road here, through the Shenandoah Valley, which enters the valley in Winchester, was originally a Native American trail called the Great Indian Warpath, a trail used by the multitude of Native American tribes—including the Cherokee—throughout this region.
In 1797, this collection of buildings became an inn for the many travelers passing on the road. Leo Bernstein, the garrulous personality who took over the inn the latter half of the 20th century, would always claim that this inn was the oldest continuously operating inn in the nation. There does seem to be a good deal of truth behind his claim. It is known that this inn was in operation as war raged up and down the valley during the Civil War and that the inn served both sides.
Like most buildings in the area, the inn has a number of Civil War related spirits, though there is the possibility that the inn may have been haunted by the time the war rolled through the region. Lord Fairfax, who had been given much the land in the area, did live nearby and died in Winchester (he’s buried at Christ Episcopal Church) is claimed as the spirit that moans on a nightly basis in the oldest portion of the inn. Bernstein describes the space in Sheila Turnage’s Haunted Inns of the Southeast, “Upstairs is about a three foot space. There was a set of steps going up there. The straw is still there.” Bernstein would like to believe that Lord Fairfax is the source of the moan, who may have been a guest here with his young surveyor, George Washington, in tow. The loft is located just above one of the bars and Turnage mentions that people gather to listen for the moan at 11:30 PM nightly.
Besides odd moans, the inn is home to numerous other spirits and employees and guests have witnessed much activity. Objects have moved on their own accord, a dishwasher had his apron untied repeatedly by unseen hands, and full apparitions have been seen including those of Civil War soldiers. Paranormal investigations have captured much evidence including EVPs of horses whinnying and photographs featuring specters.
Stop #5—Wayside Theatre (7853 Main Street, now closed) The sad fate of the Wayside Theatre echoes the fate of so many theatres throughout the country. The company was established in 1961, by Leo Bernstein, the owner of the Wayside Inn just down the street. The summer stock theatre provided training for actors such as Susan Sarandon, Peter Boyle, Kathy Bates and Donna McKechnie. After a precipitous drop in revenue, the theatre closed its doors just last year.
The building was originally constructed as a cinema and it is from this period that the theatre’s ghost may come from. “George,” is supposedly the spirit of an African-American man who either worked in the theatre or was a caretaker at some point. His spirit is said to haunt the stage, balcony and basement of the building.
Stop #6—Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (Belle Grove, 336 Belle Grove Road, Open M-Sat 10-4, Sun 1-5, $12 Adults, website; Cedar Creek Visitor’s Center, 8437 Valley Pike, Open M-Sat 10-4, Sun 1-4, website) Historically and architecturally, Belle Grove is one of the most important houses in the region and listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is currently owned and operated by the National Trust and most sources state that the docents are discouraged from talking about the spirits which still reside here.
The history of Belle Grove begins in the late 18th century with the land being acquired by Isaac Hite, the grandson of Jost Hite, a German immigrant and one of the early pioneers to this area. Construction of the house began in 1794 and ended in 1797. The house remained in the Hite family until just before the beginning of the Civil War when it was bought by John and Benjamin Cooley. The first of two ghost stories begins with this family. Not long after acquiring the house, Benjamin Cooley married a local woman named Hetty. Not long after her arrival in the home, Hetty became the subject of ire from one of the slave woman working there.
Though the details are unclear, Hetty was attacked by the slave and her beaten body was thrown either into the smokehouse or the icehouse on the property. Hetty’s spirit reportedly returns frequently and has been seen throughout the house. According to two sources, she actually let a deliveryman into the house one afternoon after the home had been closed for the day. The deliveryman was returning the antique carpets which had been removed for cleaning. After arriving late, he was let into the house by a woman in a period dress who did not speak but only gestured to where the carpets should be placed. When the staff discovered the carpets had been returned and put in place, they called the cleaning company who put the driver on the phone. They were shocked to hear about the woman who let him in.
A few years after Mrs. Cooley’s death, the estate became the scene of the Battle of Cedar Creek. During that battle, Major General Stephen Ramseur of North Carolina was gravely wounded. He was taken to a room at Belle Grove where he passed away the following morning surrounded by some of his former classmates from West Point from both armies including George Custer. This scene was witnessed by a gentleman some years ago. While idly passing through the house, he glanced into a room to see a group of Civil War soldiers in both blue and grey standing around someone in a bed. Later, when he asked who had been presenting the tableaux that day, he was informed that nothing of the sort was taking place in the house.
Employees have told various paranormal writers that voices and other odd noises are regularly heard in the house, while singing is heard in the slave cemetery on the property.
Early on the morning of October 19, 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early launched an attack upon Union forces camping in the area. These forces under General Sheridan (who was headquartered at the Lloyd Logan House in Winchester, see stop #3H) had spent their time clearing the Shenandoah Valley of Confederates. Known as “The Burning,” this period included the destruction of much of the area. Early’s early morning attack was one of the last chances for Confederates to stop the decimation of the valley.
While Early’s attack was initially successful in beginning to route the Federals, Sheridan, hearing the sounds of battle from Winchester, jumped upon his horse and made a triumphant ride to Middletown to rally his troops to victory. At the end of the day, Early’s forces had been driven from the field.
The stories of spirits on this battlefield began not long after the battle ended. These stories included spectral soldiers on the battlefield both singly and in groups and even stories of headless horsemen. Michael Varhola notes, however, that the gentlemen he met working in the visitor’s center, refused to answer his questions about the battlefield being haunted.
Stop #7—Grand Caverns (5 Grand Caverns Drive, Open 9-5, Adults $18, website) From the oldest continuously operating inn in the country to the oldest operating show cave, Grand Caverns has been open for tourists since 1806. I’ve covered this cave and its ghosts in a blog entry here.
Stop #8—Piedmont Battlefield (Battlefield Road) Outside of New Hope, near the community of Piedmont, is an open field that was the scene of a battle, the 5th of June 1864.
Around 5 AM, June 5,, 1996, a group of reenactors camping on the southern edge of the battlefield were awakened by an unusual ruckus: the sounds of wagons approaching. In an effort to greet the approaching wagons, a few of the reenactors stepped towards a nearby fence. The sounds, the creak of wagon wheels, the tinkle of chains, the clop of horses hooves and their whinnies, increased for a moment as they apparently neared the awed witnesses then they suddenly ceased. Some of those present later discovered an overgrown trace or wagon road in the woods near the spot where they’d heard the sounds. It is believed that this road may have been in existence at the time of the battle.
Of course, there’s no way to know if the sounds were related to battle or simply spiritual residue from the road’s history. Either way, the reenactors will likely tell this story for years to come.
Like Winchester, Staunton has a myriad of haunted locales and a ghost tour. Black Raven Paranormal presents a handful of different tours; see their website for further information.
Stop #9—Mrs. Rowe’s Family Restaurant (74 Rowe Road) This popular restaurant has been investigated twice in the past few years after employees and guests have had run-ins with spirits. In addition to activity in the building’s attic and basement, the back dining room and men’s room have reportedly had activity. Two local news articles describe the activity as ranging from full apparitions to employees being touched.
Stop #10—DeJarnette Center (located behind the Frontier Culture Museum, 1290 Richmond Avenue, the center is closed and private property though one of the tours offered by the Ghosts of Staunton tours the grounds, don’t ask for further information at the Frontier Culture Museum, they can’t tell you much of anything) There’s a good deal of misinformation about this location. Of course, mental and psychiatric hospitals tend to be haunted, along with other medical facilities. Among those with a paranormal bent, there is a tendency to exploit these types of places and often repeat misinformation.
With the DeJarnette Center, there is a tendency to confuse it with Western State Hospital, which also may be haunted. Though their histories are intertwined, these are two separate facilities. Western State was founded early in the 19th century to handle the overflow from the Williamsburg Hospital which handled the insane and mental cases. The complex that once house Western State has recently been converted into condominiums called The Villages at Staunton.
During the first half of the 19th century, Western State was under the aegis of Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, a revolutionary figure in the field of mental health. His controversial legacy included institutionalizing a eugenics program that forcibly sterilized numerous patients throughout the state.
This facility opened in 1932 originally as the DeJarnette State Sanitarium, a private pay unit of Western State. The state assumed control of this facility in 1975 and renamed it the DeJarnette Center for Human Development. The facility experienced severe budget cuts starting in the mid-70s and continuing until the patients were moved into a newer, smaller facility adjacent to Western State in 1996. Since 1996, the site has been abandoned and waiting for the wrecking ball. Countless ghost stories have been told about the facility, though few have actually been published.
Stop #11—Downtown Staunton Like downtown Winchester, Staunton has a number of haunted places, though the information on them is not as readily available (as opposed to Winchester with Mac Rutherford’s book on its hauntings). I imagine many of these locations will be presented on the Ghosts of Staunton tour.
Stop #11A—Staunton Coffee and Tea (32 South New Street, Open M-F 7:30-6, Sat 8-5, Sun 8-4, website) This building was the scene of a homicide in August of 1951. Elmer Higgins, a heavy gambler who lived in an apartment on the building’s second floor was shot in the head, execution-style. The murder remains unsolved and it is believed his spirit remains on the premises.
Stop #11B—Amtrak Station (1 Middlebrooks Avenue) There has been a train station on this site since 1854. The first station was burned during the Civil War while the second station was destroyed April 28, 1890 by train. The New York Times described the event, “This morning about 3 o’clock a railroad wreck occurred at the Staunton (Chesapeake and Ohio) Station. The vestibule train, due here from the west at 1 o’clocl was two hours late. About 3 o’clock it came whirling on at a speed of seventy miles an hour, the engine having the appearance of a sheet of fire…As the train reached the passenger station the rear sleeper careened, striking the platform covering, tearing away the iron posts, and demolishing the whole platform structure.”
The train was carrying members of a traveling operatic troupe out of Cincinnati, Ohio. The only death to occur was one of the company’s singers, Miss Myrtle Knox who was badly mangled by the accident and bled to death.
Myrtle’s sad spirit has been spotted on the platform wearing a nightgown. Women with long blonde hair have had their hair tugged and it is believed that Myrtle’s spirit may be to blame for that as well.
An old rail car at the depot once contained a restaurant. Visitors to the station have seen odd lights, shadows and heard voices around the old Pullman car. Along the tracks the apparition of a Civil War soldier has been seen. A Confederate soldier was walking these tracks after having a bit too much to drink at a local saloon. He was hit by a train and killed.
Stop #11C— The Clock Tower Building (27 West Beverly Street) This 1890 structure has been the scene of at least three deaths. Two early deaths on the premises, which was originally constructed as a YMCA facility, include a heart attack and a young woman who fell down a coal chute. Recently, someone fell to their death from the third floor in a possible suicide. These spirits are still said to linger in this old building.
Stop #12—Mary Baldwin College (Intersection of Frederick Street and New Street) According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for this college’s main building, Mary Baldwin is the oldest women’s institution of higher learning associated with the Presbyterian Church. The school was opened in 1842 as the Augusta Female Seminary. In the midst of the Civil War, Mary Baldwin and Agnes McClung, former students of the seminary were appointed as principals. They would serve the school through the latter half of the 19th century and Mary Baldwin’s contribution would be recognized in 1895 when the school was renamed for her. The spirits of Mary Baldwin and Agnes McClung may remain on campus along with a few other assorted spirits.
In the old Main Building, one of the first buildings constructed on campus, a male spirit named Richard likes to occasionally cause trouble. McClung Residence Hall, just behind the Main Building includes the rooms where Baldwin and McClung lived during their tenure here. Students living there have reported the spirits of both women, with one student even waking up to find a white figure hovering over her as she slept. The Collins Theatre, located inside the Deming Fine Arts Center, also features a spirit, possibly that of one of Mary Baldwin’s most illustrious alums, the actress Tallulah Bankhead. The spirit in the theatre is known to mess with the stage lights.
Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel (400 South Main Street, Open M-Th & Sat 10-4, F 12-4, Sun 1-4, $7 Adults, website) The Exchange Hotel has, in recent years, become one of the Southern meccas for ghost hunters. Opened on the eve of the Civil War, this hotel became one of the premier hospitals for the wounded during the Civil War. With so many deaths here, it’s no wonder that the place is crawling with ghosts. In one of my early blog entries, I’ve covered this location. At one time, the museum offered ghost walks, but I can currently find no information about these. This haunting was also covered on the Biography Channel show, My Ghost Story, first season, episode six.
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