Sunday, March 20, 2011

Haunted West Virginia

A selection of 9 haunted places around the state of West Virginia.

Berkeley Castle
WV 9
Berkeley Springs
Berkeley Castle. Photo by Jeanne Mozier, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Berkeley Springs, also known as “Bath,” has attracted visitors who come to take the waters of the mineral springs located there. Overlooking this quaint town from a commanding position on Warm Spring Mountain sits Berkeley Castle, seemingly a piece of medieval Britain transplanted. Modeled and named after Britain’s own Berkeley Castle, the castle was built as a wedding gift from Colonel Samuel Suit for his bride, Rosa Pelham. The Colonel, who was quite a bit older than his bride, died before the castle was finished and his widow finished the building. She lived in the castle after his death and squandered the fortune she inherited and died penniless well away from the castle, but legends speak of her return.

The castle was purchased by paranormal investigators in 2000 but sold fairly shortly after that. Once open for tours, the castle is now primarily a private residence, though it may be rented for weddings, parties and other events.

Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
Route 219
Pocahontas County
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, 2006. Photo by Beeflower,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the largest engagements in the state during the Civil War, the Battle of Droop Mountain, November 6, 1863, was the final stand for Confederate forces in West Virginia. Confederate forces under General John Echols engaged Union forces under General W. W. Averell and were driven back to Droop Mountain where the Confederates held out enduring many casualties until they were forced to retreat back to Virginia. There is apparently an extraordinary range of unusual activity on this old battlefield. This activity includes some poltergeist activity experienced by a family living on the battlefield in the years following the war to reports of a headless Confederate. Still others have seen a phantom regiment of Union cavalry moving across the old field of glory as well as hearing disembodied voices.

High Street
Harpers Ferry
High Street, 2004. Photo by Jan Kronsell,
courtesy of Wikipedia

While Harpers Ferry may be known for its ghosts, many of whom are related to John Brown’s raid on the Federal Arsenal in 1859, the first legend of this legendary city dates to just before the turn of the nineteenth century. In 1798 at the upper end High Street a contingent of soldiers set up camp (now known as “Camp Hill”) under “General Pinkney” who drilled his soldiers up and down the street to the sounds of drums and fifes. Cholera swept through the camp and many soldiers died and since that time many have heard the sounds of drums and fifes accompanied by the march of many feet though the phantom army cannot be seen.

This story has certainly been passed around a good deal and nearly every source I have on Harpers Ferry tells the same story, but in trying to confirm the initial events, I’ve run into trouble. Most sources mention the reason for the camp being an impending war with France. For two year, 1798 to 1800, America was embroiled in the “Quasi-War” with France but this was mostly fought at sea. Most sources also mention this camp was set up under “General Pinkney.” The problem is that I can find no reference to a General Pinkney. This may perhaps be General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (the last name is off by one letter) who was a hero of the American Revolution and also served in the constitutional convention just before these events, though I can find nothing about service during the Quasi-War. It seems that most histories of the city are silent about this time period usually skipping from George Washington’s establishment of the Federal Armory to John Brown’s raid on it in the middle of the next century.

I find this very intriguing and I plan to pursue this when I have more time to spend on research. Indeed, not only are the events interesting themselves, but I’d be interested to find the first place where this phenomenon is documented. And now, like the city’s histories, I’ll skip to John Brown’s Raid.

John Brown’s Fort
Shenandoah Street
Harpers Ferry
John Brown's Fort, 2007. Photo by Joy Schoenberger,
courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s hard to imagine that Harpers Ferry would have become the landmark it is without John Brown’s bloody raid. Certainly, it was the site of an important federal armory, but without the raid, progress may have destroyed much of the history of this sleepy hamlet. John Brown was an ardent abolitionist; rabidly ardent, and his raid was intended as the fuse to destroy slavery in the nation, but initially in Virginia. Brown hoped by capturing the weapons in the armory, he could arm the local slaves who would rise up. When Brown and his men were discovered in the armory on the morning of October 17, 1859, locals immediately cut off escape routes and Brown and his men holed up in a small engine house near the armory, now known as John Brown’s Fort. The men were able to hold out until the following day when a few of them were killed and the rest captured. John Brown was tried for treason and hung later that year in nearby Charles Town

The building itself has been moved from its original location near the now demolished armory. But while the location has changed there are reports of tourists encountering the bearded man who resembled Brown. Beth Scott and Michael Norman report a family from Alabama who asked this gentleman to pose with their family for a few photos. When the photographs were developed, however, the lanky, bearded man was conspicuously absent.

Raleigh County Courthouse
215 Main Street
Raleigh County Courthouse, 2007. Photo by Tim Kiser,
courtesy of Wikipedia

Constructed around 1934, the Art Deco style Raleigh County Courthouse sports a ghost. According to James Foster Robinson’s A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia, the “Lady is Red” has been witnessed in both the juror’s room and the main courtroom. An article from the Charleston Daily Mail in 2000 mentions that a circuit court was rather disturbed by the dark figure that appeared in the back of the courtroom. This figure was actually captured on the closed circuit security system.

Shepherd Hall
Kruger Street
Shepherd Hall, 2010. Photo by Bwsmith84,
courtesy of Wikipedia

Lydia Shepherd Cruger bore witness to the extraordinary events that shaped her life and the nation until her death at the age of 101 in 1867. She had lived through and participated in events during the American Revolution and witnessed the Civil War and fall of slavery. Having remained on this plane for so long and much of that in the large stone mansion in Wheeling, it’s no wonder that she may have remained in the home her first husband built. Her form has been seen throughout the house while staff and residents (the house is currently a private residence) have reported the sounds of laughter and music.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
South River Avenue
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, 2006. Photo by Tim Kiser,
courtesy of Wikipedia

West Virginia has a handful of locations that have recently gained national notoriety for their hauntings such as the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, Harpers Ferry and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston. Construction on this massive structure designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews began in 1858, but was interrupted by war and West Virginia’s withdrawal from the state of Virginia. The building was finally completed around 1880 or 1881 and is the largest hand-cut masonry structure in the United States. At its peak, the building held some 2400 patients in overcrowded conditions. The state opened a new hospital in Weston in 1994 and the building was closed.

As it is with many former psychiatric facilities and hospitals, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is reportedly haunted. Apparently, some years before the hospital closed, staff began reporting unusual activity including the sound of gurney being pushed down hallways, voices and full body apparitions of patients and doctors. Since being purchased by new owners, the hospital is being preserved and paranormal investigations have been allowed including teams for the shows Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

West Virginia State Capitol
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
West Virginia State Capitol Building, 2006. Photo by Analogue Kid,
courtesy of Wikipedia

After arguing over the location of the state capitol’s location in either Charleston or Wheeling, the citizens of the state finally settled on Charleston and work begun on a capitol building. This first building was destroyed by fire in 1921 and that building’s replacement burned six years later with two deaths. The current building was dedicated in 1932 and, according to James Foster Robinson is haunted by a few spirits, quite possibly the two people killed in the second fire.

West Virginia State Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Avenue
West Virginia State Penitentiary, 2006. Photo by Tim Kiser,
courtesy of Wikipedia

The penitentiary at Moundsville simply looks haunted. The Gothic revival architecture used in its construction gives it a mysterious and dubious air. This particular style of architecture was used because it "exhibit[ed], as much as possible, great strength and convey[ed] to the mind a cheerless blank indicative of the misery which awaits the unhappy being who enters within its walls." Certainly, a good reason.

The Moundsville prison is among the three (the other two being Harpers Ferry and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum) most well known West Virginia hauntings. Like so many haunted prisons, the phenomenon ranges from full body apparitions to odd sounds, to a chilling atmosphere. An article from Marshall University’s The Parthenon, quotes a prison staff member as saying, "I definitely believe there is paranormal activity here. There are things that happen here that just can't be explained." He continues saying that while some of the stories may be fabricated, there is just too much activity for something else to not be happening.

Associated Press. “Judge haunted by courtroom apparition.”
     Charleston (WV) Daily Mail. 27 September 2000.
Battle of Droop Mountain. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Bias, Ashton. “Paranormal Activity.” The (Marshall University)
     Parthenon. 30 September 2010.
Fischer, Karin. “Castle in Eastern Panhandle could be in need
     of a new lord this spring.” Charleston (WV) Daily Mail. 21
     November 2000.
History Berkeley Castle. Berkeley Castle website. Accessed 19
     March 2011.
Jefferson County Historical Society. History of Jefferson County,
     West Virginia. Jefferson County Historical Society website.
     Accessed 17 March 2011.
John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 18 March 2011.
     Asylum.” Ghost Eyes: Most Haunted Places in America Blog.
     Accessed 18 March 2011.
Norman, Michael and Beth Scott. Historic Haunted America.
     NYC: Tor, 1995.
Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 17 March 2011.
Quasi-War. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2011.
Robinson, James Foster. A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia.
     Winking Eye Books, 2008.
Samuel Taylor Suit Cottage. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Shepherd Hall (Monument Place). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 18 March 2011.
West Virginia SHPO. National Register of Historic Places Nomination
     form for Weston Hospital Main Building. Listed 19 April 1978.
West Virginia State Capitol. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
West Virginia State Penitentiary. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Wilson, Patty A. Haunted West Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena
     Of the Mountain State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2007.


  1. Moundsville is where my mommy is from! I have been there and it is super creepy! Don't forget you have the area of west virginia where the mothman prophecies happened. It's about 20 minutes from moundsville.

  2. Wow! West Virginia has some impressive hauntings. I know nothing about West Virgian so all of this was new to me. The number of gothic revival style buildings is also impressive.

  3. Meaghan,

    It seems every book about WV hauntings includes the Mothman of Point Pleasant, but I'm not sure it would be classified as a "ghost." Granted, I don't think anyone really knows what it is...

  4. Lakin Hospital is also a haunted spot in wv (and it's 8 miles from point pleasant-home of the moth man). the patients there were said to have under gone many labotomys, which put them in a zombie like state. i've been there-it's creepy!
    the land where spencer state hospital used to be is also said to be haunted by patients who lived in unliveable conditions.