Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Not So Colonial Hauntings--Williamsburg, Virginia

Kimball Theatre
formerly the Williamsburg Theatre
428 West Duke of Gloucester Street
Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg is more reconstruction than restoration. When John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and W. A. R. Goodwin began their project to return part of the town to what it had been in the mid-18th century, the passage of time had taken its toll on the city. Some buildings were missing and had to be reconstructed while others had modern additions that had to be removed. Plus, there was a need to provide accommodations and conveniences that modern visitors would expect.
 
Merchant's Square with the Kimball Theatre as the two-story
brick building on the right. Photo 2008, by Ser Amantio di
Nicolao. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Rockefeller envisioned Merchant’s Square as providing many of the modern shopping and entertainment conveniences that would be required by visitors and residents alike while still maintaining a colonial atmosphere. Among the entertainment options offered was the Williamsburg Theatre which offered live performances as well as films in a graceful and air-conditioned structure. The theatre opened in January of 1933 with a performance of George Farquhar’s Restoration Comedy, The Recruiting Officer. According to the Colonial Williamsburg foundation, this play was the first play performed in British North America when it was produced in Williamsburg. Additionally, this play was the first play performed in the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina. The theatre was restored in 2000 and named for Bill and Gretchen Kimball, who sponsored the restoration.

As one might expect, not all the spirits in Colonial Williamsburg are from the 18th century. With Williamsburg’s location among the many Virginia battlefields of the Civil War, it seems that there are far more spirits left over from that conflict. Legend holds that the spirit within the Kimball is a Union soldier.

The land now occupied by the Kimball Theatre was once the home of the Ware family. During the Civil War, the Ware women, as many did during the war, took in wounded soldiers and attempted to nurse them back to health. They took in a young soldier who had been wounded in the Battle of Williamsburg, though their care was in vain. The soldier passed away and the ladies took his body to the parlor to await disposal. After Union soldiers captured the town they went house to house in search of Confederates hiding among the civilians. Upon reaching the Ware house one soldier was shown to the parlor and the sheet covering the young soldier’s body pulled back. The young Union soldier was terrified to see the body of his own brother who with his different political biases had joined the Confederates. Sadly, the young Union soldier was not long for this earth and was killed not long afterwards.

A spirit, possibly that of the Union soldier, has been seen within the theatre. Wearing blue, he appears to be frantically searching for something among the backstage rooms and then suddenly disappears.

Sources
Behrend, Jackie Eileen. The Hauntings of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and 
     Jamestown. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1998.
Chappell, Edward, Mary Harding Sadler and Llewellyn Jewell Hensley. National
     Register of Historic Places nomination form for Merchants Square and Resort 
     Historic District. 28 February 2006.
Colonial Williamsburg. “Kimball Theatre.” Accessed 6 April 2013. 

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