Monday, March 31, 2014

An Independent Spirit—Winchester, Virginia

Abram’s Delight
1340 South Pleasant Valley Road
Winchester, Virginia

With the recent winter weather, I imagine Mary Hollingsworth is livid if the snow around her house has not been cleared. A 2003 article from the Winchester Star mentions that she was rather upset by a large snow pile outside the house and expressed her displeasure by slamming doors and messing with the lights. Mary Hollingsworth still resides in her old house, but she doesn’t “live” there. She’s been dead since 1917.

Even in death Mary Hollingsworth independent spirit shines through. It may be Mary’s spirit that once turned up the volume on a stereo in one office and a jukebox in another. She also occasionally rearranges the furniture and once even pushed a heavy filing cabinet in an attic room against the door, preventing anyone from entering. In addition to watching over her former home, Mary may also be occasionally visiting her family’s mill next door. Employees of the mill—now the home of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society—have had doors open and close on their own while one employee experienced “an unexplained flash of light and felt a whoosh of cool air” as she walked through the building’s first floor.

In life, Mary was just as unique a character. She was born into wealth at Abram’s Delight in 1836. At that time, Mary’s father, David, was a wealthy businessman and community leader as well as being fond of entertaining in his grand home. Among the spectacular additions to the house was a lake with a series of islands featuring summer houses. A fleet of boats was kept on hand to ferry guests to these islands during social events.

With the coming of the Civil War, Winchester, located in the most northern tip of Virginia, changed sides many times. Devastation was visited upon Abram’s Delight. The farm lost much of its timber; the fields went untilled, and Union soldiers commandeered the livestock. Mary, in her mid-20s and unmarried, quite possibly served the cause of the Confederates by donning men’s clothing and slipping back and forth between the ever changing lines of occupation.

To keep her family’s estate functioning after the war, Mary left Virginia again donning men’s clothing to work for a living. Different sources have her doing different things: one source has her driving a “chuck wagon” out west while others have her working in a Pittsburgh lumber mill. Regardless, she evidently acquired a lady love during her charade and proposed marriage. Later, she broke off the engagement and returned home though her former fiancée and her father did file a lawsuit.
Abram's Delight, 2012, by Joel Bradshaw. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Some years later, the City of Winchester acquired the water rights to the spring near Mary’s home and constructed a sewage facility. Angered at the prospect of having her family land defiled by the city’s sewage, Mary proposed to never set foot in the city of Winchester again. She passed away in the home where she had been born in 1917. Her sister Annie remained in the home.

As Marguerite DuPont Lee was compiling her book, Virginia Ghosts, she spoke with Annie about the spirits remaining in Abram’s Delight. Mary, it seems, is not the first spirit to take up residence. Annie Hollingsworth reported that, as a young girl, she would sit at the piano and sing. While singing, another woman’s voice would sometimes mysteriously join in. Commonly, at night, the sounds of people carousing would echo from the parlor below. Lee in her politely Southern fashion notes that these sounds “did not annoy, being as familiar to her as the call of the whippoorwills outside the window.”

While it seems that Mary is the most active spirit at Abram’s Delight, as of late, another spirit has been active much longer: the possible shade of Abraham Hollingsworth, the family’s and Winchester’s patriarch. This marvelous home remains as a testament to the fortitude of Mr. Hollingsworth. A Quaker, Abraham traveled to the Shenandoah Valley around 1728 in search of a prime location to farm and build a home and a mill. Supposedly, upon discovering a group of Shawnee camped near a small spring, Hollingsworth exclaimed that the place was “a delight to behold.” He constructed a small cabin on the property and was granted nearly 600 acres. Construction on the large, limestone house began a few years before Hollingsworth’s death in 1748.

The spirit of a large man in Quaker dress and a large hat has been seen for years within and without the house. At one time, the appearance of this spirit was so frequent that workmen would amuse themselves by watching the figure. The figure would appear and walk up the front steps of the house and pass through the front door. The workmen would pause and watch the figure and then patiently wait about ten minutes for the figure to reappear. After passing through the front door again, the figure would walk down the stairs and disappear.

This familiar spirit was also reported in 1951 while the house was being restored. L. B. Taylor reports another story from the early 20th century where the spirit would often shoo away cows that were being brought in.

Based on the evidence, it is difficult to determine whether these spirits are actually the shades of Mary and Abraham, but based on what we know of their personalities, it’s altogether conceivable that these are the very independent spirits of them.

I just hope the staff at Abram’s Delight have shoveled the snow away.

Abram’s Delight. Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.
     Accessed 31 March 2014.
Abram’s Delight Museum. Col. Washington’s Frontier Forts Association.
     Accessed 19 November 2013.
Lee, Marguerite DuPont. Virginia Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Virginia
     Book Company, 1966.
Libby, Elizabeth. “Haunting happenings at Abram’s Delight.” The
     North Virginia Daily. 27 October 1995.
Mangino, Stephanie M. “Scandal and sadness marked Mary
     Hollingsworth’s life.” Winchester Star. 25 October 2003.
Shufelt, Gail. “Homes, ghost stories part of Winchester history.” The
     Daily Gazette. 11 August 1996.
Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Big Book of Virginia Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg,
     PA: Stackpole, 2010.
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. National Register of 
     Historic Places nomination form for Abram’s Delight. September 1972.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

‘His ghostship’—Salisbury, NC

Fisher Street
Salisbury, North Carolina

Lately, I’ve been enjoying exploring a new resource, A subsidiary of, the site provides historic newspapers from the early 18th century virtually to the modern day. Though the coverage is inconsistent—rarely complete runs of newspapers are provided and their holdings of Deep South papers are poor—there are still 64 million, plus pages of newspapers to search.

Newspapers of the 19th and early 20th were more apt to report on supernatural events and that’s true in this case from Salisbury, North Carolina. On September 1, 1898, The Hickory Press in Hickory, North Carolina—a little more than 50 miles away—picked up this item from the Salisbury Sun.

A genuine ghost was seen on Fisher Street last night. It was discovered by Theo. Hartman, in his room and made its way from the room to the street below by going through the second story window. On the street it was seen by a lady who happened to look out the front door of her house while his ghostship was resting on the fence. The ghost was very tall and perfectly white.

Besides the almost tongue in cheek humor of referring to the ghost as “his ghostship,” this note is very interesting. The movement of the ghost from a room, through the window and down to the street is odd. Generally ghosts are bound to move as living beings. Modern ghost hunters surmise that when ghosts do walk through walls or doors, they are usually following a path available to them in life—i.e. using doors that have since been walled up.

Of course, this is a single event and no information is provided as to if this is a regular occurrence. In a search for information about ghosts on Fisher Street I did come across a listing on a site called The site claims to provide information on haunted businesses directly from the business owners and subsequently has few listings. The only listing for the state of North Carolina is the, now defunct, Brick Street Tavern on East Fisher Street.

Fisher Street is now delineated as East Fisher and West Fisher with Main Street as the dividing line. The 100 block of East Fisher appears to be lined with mostly late 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings and Brick Street Tavern was located at number 122. According to the history at ParanormalHotspots, a large house was on this site in 1885 that may have been a flop house. The current structure was erected in 1912 as part of a wholesale goods company. It has served a variety of uses since that time. Reported activity at the location includes objects moving, apparitions, shadow people and a number of EVPs that have been captured.

With the information provided in the article it is difficult to know if “his ghostship” is still around or if he is responsible for activity at the Brick Street Tavern. If he is, next time I’m in Salisbury, I’ll be sure to buy “his ghostship” a drink.

Brick Street Tavern. Accessed 29 March
Salisbury Sun news item. The Hickory Press. Page 2, Column 3.
     1 September 1898.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Exclusive spirits—The Willcox

The Willcox
100 Colleton Avenue, SW
Aiken, South Carolina

The Willcox is so exclusive that it once turned away the Prince of Wales. Granted, it was Master’s Week while the Masters Golf Tournament was being played in Augusta, Georgia, just across the Savannah River and there was no room at the inn. Then again, having once turned away such a prestigious guest only adds to the mystique of this haunted grand hotel in horse country.

Interestingly, it was the visit of another prestigious guest that lead to national exposure for these exclusive spirits. While in the hotel during a campaign stop for presidential candidate, John McCain, a crew from NBC was alerted to possible paranormal activity in the hotel. As a result, the hotel was featured in a segment on haunted hotels on the Today Show. While taping an interview for the show, the exclusive spirits pulled some of their antics.

While interviewing the hotel’s general manager, “they asked, ‘How do you know ghosts are here?’ and—boom!—all the lights went out.” Even after changing equipment, the lights (I’m assuming the crew’s lighting, not the lights in the hotel) refused to work.

Aiken rose to prominence as a resort town for Southern planters. Before and after the Civil War, the town gained a reputation as a health resort where the ill and invalid could recover or ease the symptoms of their maladies. It was this reason that brought Louise Eustis to Aiken in 1872. An equestrian, Eustis took advantage of the mild climate to pursue her horsey pursuits and after her marriage to sportsman Thomas Hitchcock, they began encouraging their wealthy friends to visit Aiken.
The Willcox, 2012, by Bill Fitzpatrick. Courtesy of
The Aiken Winter Colony, as it was known, began to attract the country’s elite. Politicians, scions of industry and business, the idle rich and fashionable began to swell the town’s population. Names like Astor, Vanderbilt and Whitney became common names around town. Noble sports like polo and fox hunting were introduced into the area with large hotels and estates constructed to house and serve the moneyed.

While the reasons for Frederick Willcox’s arrival in Aiken from his home country of England are unclear, he found success within the ashes of the Highland Park Hotel. Opened by Thomas Hitchcock, the Highland Park Hotel burned in 1898 and Willcox opened his small hotel in 1900. The Willcox built its reputation on “atmosphere, impeccable service and excellent cuisine.” The hotel’s reputation brought its guests back year after year and it served as a center of life in town during the height of the days of the Winter Colony. British politician Sir Winston Churchill, cosmetics maven Elizabeth Arden, architect Thomas Hastings and the British Army in India polo team all sought after the spacious rooms of The Willcox.

World War II cut deeply into the sparkling, carefree existence that had been experienced by many in Aiken. As the face of America had been changed by war, the upper echelons of society were changed as well and in 1957, Albert Willcox, Frederick’s son, decided to close and sell the hotel. For decades, the grand dame would sit idle and Aiken would return to a quiet existence as a small town.

With the hotel’s restoration and reopening, The Willcox has garnered awards and accolades including being named among the world’s top hotels by Conde Nast Traveler.

The exclusive spirits of The Willcox still make their presence known as well. The Georgia Paranormal Society investigated the hotel in 2006 and they described the Roosevelt Suite as one of the most active places they have encountered. Setting up equipment in this room that was occupied many times by President Franklin Roosevelt, the team captured things on tape the entire evening.

The hotel’s manager carefully pointed out in a 2007 article that most of the activity consisted of small things happening. Those things include books moving around on their own in a 3rd floor suite, a telephone ringing with no one on the other line and Christmas tree ornaments flying off the tree and landing nearby unbroken. A guest on the third floor heard footsteps and voices above her. The hotel has no 4th floor.

While it is noted that activity has been seen in most of the hotel’s rooms, it should be noted that guests have nothing to fear. The activity is simply the exclusive spirits of “swells and dandies of the Gilded Age” still living it up on the other side.

Baughman, Tony. “’Today’ show features inn’s hauntings.” The Aiken
     Standard. 1 November 2007.
History of the Willcox. Accessed 26 March 2014.
Marion, Margaret. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for
     Willcox’s. 19 March 1982.
Wylie, Suzanne Pickens and Margaret Marion. National Register of
     Historic Places nomination form for Aiken Winter Colony. 13 August

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Night Nurse on Duty—Key West, Florida

Eduardo H. Gato House
1209 Virginia Street
Key West, Florida

A Registered Nurse occupied a first floor apartment in this house in 1976. She was awakened in the middle of the night. “I leaped with my hands over my face to protect myself. A white sort of energy was crossing from one end of the room to the other. I had the feeling of being invaded—that something that was not me was in the room.”
The Gato House serving as the Casa del Pobre Mercedes Hospital.
This photo from the late teens or early 1920s is courtesy of the Florida
Keys Public Libraries Flickr photo stream.
Some years later in another apartment, another woman was sleeping next to her boyfriend when she was suddenly awakened. “Something had touched her. She saw a short, stoutish woman at her bedside. The woman’s hair was in a bun, and she was wearing a grey dress with long sleeves and a high collar. Next to her was a man.” The figures seemed to be conferring about the woman as she lay in bed. The sleeper realized after a few moments that the woman was holding her wrist, checking her pulse.

Yet another woman in an apartment in the building experienced the ethereal nurse more recently. The resident had been sick with the flu and in bed for the day when she was started awake by something cold on her forehead. She awoke to find one of the nurse’s hands on her forehead while the other hand held her wrist, checking her pulse. She tried to scream and pull away but could not. The spirit quickly faded.
Courtyard of the Gato House in 1966 after the home's
conversion to apartments. Taken for the Historic American
Buildings Survey, courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.
The spirit, however, returned the next evening. After hearing about the spirit from another women living in the building, the woman was not so frightened. The woman addressed the spirit and said that while she appreciated the attention, she was frightened. “She took a step back from the bed, gave me an understanding smile and faded away.”

This large, grand home was not built to house the sick and the dying. It was a grand home for cigar magnate Eduardo Gato. At the outbreak of the Ten Years’ War—the first of three wars fought as Cuba tried to break away from Spain—Key West was filled with Cuban émigrés who built up the cigar-making industry on the island. Eduardo Gato built the home around 1890 possibly using Cuban carpenters though he only lived in the house for a few years before returning to Cuba in 1898. The building was briefly used as a school and then in 1911 the house opened as the Casa del Pobre (Home for the Poor) Mercedes Hospital.

Named for Eduardo Gato’s wife, the Mercedes Hospital was opened by Maria Valdez de Gutsens and a handful of other ladies who had been concerned with medical care for the poor and indigent. She was known around town as a marvelous fundraiser and personally collected money to keep the hospital running. Gutsens would haunt the exits of the local cigar factories on pay day asking for quarters for her beloved hospital.

While she was only an administrator, Gutsens aided the hospital’s small medical staff in their duties when needed. From 1911 until her death in 1941, Gutsens was a constant fixture in the hospital. She may still be there.
Gato House, 2011 by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The tale is told that just a few months after her death a patient was in the hospital with severe pneumonia. Not being in contact with his wife and children the man pleaded for help writing to his family. An older woman appeared at his bedside and calmly wrote the letter the man dictated. Feeling better the next morning, he asked who the kindly woman was so that he could offer his thanks. The night nurse insisted that she was the only person who had been on duty and she was shocked to see the letter the man had dictated in the hand of the late Maria de Gutsens.

A year after Gutsen’s death, the hospital closed its doors and cockfights were held in the building’s Spanish courtyard. The large home then was renovated into an apartment building and remains so to this day. Tenants still encounter the grey shade of the good Maria de Gutsens checking the pulses of the living while Dr. Fogarty—one of the many doctors who served the hospital—stands quietly by.

“Ghost of Nurse Haunts Key West House.” Playground Daily News.
     4 November 1976.
Eyman, Scott. “Ghost Houses in Old Key West, The Walls Have Ears—
     And Eyes. Here Are Four Guests Whose Names You Won’t See on
     The Register. But They’re There.” Sun-Sentinel. 4 August 1985.
McCoy, Charles E., Jr. Report on Eduardo H. Gato House for the Historic
     American Buildings Survey. 16 Septrember 1966.
Sloan, David. Ghosts of Key West. Key West, FL: Phantom Press, 1998.
Williams, Joy. The Florida Keys: A History and Guide, 10th Edition. 
     NYC: Random House, 2010.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Haunt Brief--Macon City Auditorium

City Auditorium
Corner of First and Cherry Streets
Macon, Georgia

Among ghost hunters, theories correlate limestone and paranormal activity. This may be the case in Macon’s City Auditorium which is faced with Indiana limestone with an interior composed of Georgia marble, a form of limestone. Conceivably all this limestone may be the cause of the residual paranormal activity that has been experienced within the grand structure. When the building is empty, its halls still sometimes echo with the sounds of events: parties, performances and other gatherings. Music and the buzz of murmuring voices are sometimes heard in darkened spaces. One staff member reported to Mary Lee Irby that he and another person witnessed a “dark distinctive shadow or mist” drifting in the balcony of the auditorium.
City Auditorium, 2007, by Macon Dude, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The numerous Greek Revival structures throughout Macon inspired the architect, Edgerton Swarthout, to create this classical masterpiece. The building matches the size of the Pantheon in Rome and the vast expanse is covered by what is—reportedly—the largest copper roof in the world. Completed in 1925, the City Auditorium has played host to numerous performances, conventions, meetings and events.

History of Macon: The First One Hundred Years, 1823-1923. Macon, GA: Printed by
     Williams and Canady, no date.
Irby, Mary Lee. Ghosts of Macon. Macon, GA: Vestige Publishing, 1998.
McKay, John J. A Guide to Macon’s Architectural and Historical Heritage. Macon, 
     GA: Middle Georgia Historical Society, 1972.