Ok, admit it. It’s one thing to watch “Friday the 13th” in your living room with friends on Halloween, but to stand in a place where ghosts lurk and nasty deeds have gone down? That’s a whole other kind of scary. Virginia ranks at the top of many “Most Haunted” lists, and it’s no wonder. There are said to be nearly 200 haunted locations in Virginia – and that’s not counting individual stories of sightings and experiences in private homes or unnamed locations.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. La Riviere or Ingle’s Castle: The Lady in the Mirror
(Radford) La Riviere, known locally as Ingles Castle, was built in 1892 by the great-grandson of Mary Draper Ingles – a local legend in her own right. The story goes that a Shawnee tribe captured Mary and her two young sons in 1755 during the raid of Draper’s Meadow. Later the same year, she and another woman escaped before walking nearly 600 miles home. With such an auspicious family history, it’s almost a given that the castle, built more than 100 years later, would have some mystery attached. La Riviere was built by William “Captain Billy” Ingles for his wife Minnie, but burned down the day before they were scheduled to move in. Captain Billy rebuilt the castle within a year exactly as it had been.
Rumor has it a woman, known as “The Lady in the Mirror”, haunts the castle. Anne McClanahan Bass, a frequent houseguest of the Ingles family, was standing in front of a mirror when lightning struck nearby. Her image seared into the mirror and can still be seen today. Some say that the lightning activated the silver nitrate in the mirror, a material used for photography at the time. But the spirit of “Aunt Nannie”, as Bass was known, is still said be felt in the castle’s interior. After extensive renovation in the past 5 years, the LaRiviere is used presently as a wedding and special events venue – and rightly so – every proper castle should have great parties and at least one or two ghosts.
2. The George Wythe House: The Anger of Lady Anne Skipwith
(Williamsburg) With a history as old and complex as that of Colonial Williamsburg, it’s not hard to believe that spirits linger in many of the homes still located there. The George Wythe House was built in the 1750s as a wedding gift for Wythe, America’s first law professor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his new wife. As one of the orginal 5 structures in the newly booming colonial town, it was at the center of social life.
Lady Anne Skipwith was said to be a frequent guest. Lady Anne was known as a spirited feminist who frequently spoke her mind. One night, after a dispute with her husband during a party at the nearby Governor’s Mansion, Anne stormed off, breaking the heel of one of her red slippers. Undeterred, she stomped up the stairs of the Wythe House, where the couple was staying. The sound of her single heel clicking up the stairs has been heard with eerie regularity over the years. She has also been seen emerging from a second-floor bedroom closet and sitting at a dressing table, wearing the same red shoes and a satin gown. Custodians and guides in the home have reported a colonial woman who appears throughout the house, going so far as to tap them on the shoulder and at times, attempt to push them down the stairs. I guess that just goes to show you – never get in a fight with an outspoken woman. She’ll always have the last word.
3. Cold Harbor Battlefield: One of the Bloodiest Battles of the Civil War
(Mechanicsville) The Battle of Cold Harbor was a Civil War battle lasting from May 31 – June 12, 1864. The 13 days of fighting resulted in a bloodbath for the Union troops, leaving nearly 13,000 dead and resulting in one of the most brutal, yet significant, victories for the Confederate troops.
The battlefield, which is now a National Park, is considered to be one of the most haunted military sites in the nation. Visitors and locals report the smell of gunpowder and the sounds of cannons, gunfire and screaming men long before they arrive at a seemingly still battle site. The ghost of a young girl has also been seen wandering the Cold Harbor National Cemetery and the Garthright House, both located across from the battlefield. As you might expect, there are other battlefields with haunted happenings in Virginia, including Manassas National Battlefield and Ball’s Bluff in Leesburg. Check them out for yourself and get back to me. I will take your word for it from here.
4. Scotchtown: Sarah Henry’s Ghost
(Beaverdam/Ashland) Patrick Henry, most well-known as an American patriot and deliverer of the famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech, lived at Scotchtown from 1771-1778 with his wife Sarah and their 6 children. Sarah, Henry’s childhood sweetheart, began to show signs of mental illness after the birth of their 6th child. At the time, mental illness was associated with evil spirits and demons and often kept secret. The only mental hospital was in Williamsburg and given the barbaric treatment of mental patients at the time, Henry kept his beloved wife at home. However, in the final 2 years of her life she became violent and he was forced to confine her to the home’s basement, often in a colonial version of today’s straitjacket, where he visited her by way of a secret staircase. Word spread and soon servants and visitors avoided the house. After her death in 1775, Sarah was buried in an unmarked grave and soon the family left Scotchtown. Since that time, a woman in a long white gown is said to appear to visitors, both inside and outside of the house. Countless stories of candlelight in the windows, items being moved, opening and closing doors and even a woman screaming have been reported over the years. One report claims that paint used on the Sarah’s basement rooms will not stay, despite repeated efforts. It would appear that Sarah was not ready to leave her home, even when her family did.
5. Ferry State Plantation House: The Witch of Pungo and Her Many "Friends"
(Virginia Beach) With 11 spirits calling the Ferry State Plantation House their home, “haunted house” seems a fair title for this site. Now used as a museum and educational center, the house also offers Halloween tours called “The Stroll of Lost Souls” and is a regular site for ghost hunters and paranormal activity groups. The original site was founded in the mid 1600s and has held courthouses, a school, a tavern and finally, the Walke Mansion in 1791. The mansion burned in 1828, but was reconstructed by slaves using bricks salvaged from the original home.
Among the many restless spirits said to wander here are victims of an 1810 shipwreck at the nearby ferry landing and a former slave named Sally Rebecca Walke who lost her soldier fiancé and continues to mourn. Another spirit, known only as “The Lady in White” allegedly died after falling down the stairs in 1826, and a former owner of the manor house, artist Thomas Williamson, has been seen painting at the top of the stairs. But perhaps the most famous ghost is that of Grace Sherwood, the Witch of Pungo. Her story came to public light with the publication of a children’s book called “The Witch of Pungo” in 1973. Sherwood was the last person convicted of witchcraft in Virginia with trials taking places at the Ferry State Plantation site, which housed a courthouse at the time. After a trial by water in 1706, which she survived thus “proving” she was a witch, Sherwood was imprisoned for up to 8 years before being released. Following her death in 1740, reports that her body simply vanished, tales of unnatural weather and lurking black cats carried her legacy to present day. She was exonerated in 2006 by then Governor Tim Kaine on the 300th anniversary of her conviction.
6. Virginia Military Institute: Spirits Throughout History
(Lexington) One look at the austere barracks that make up the oldest state-supported military school in the nation and you’ll not be surprised to super natural happenings are a part of the school’s long history. Founded in 1839, the Institute was the only college to send cadets into battle during the Battle of New Market. A statue called “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” has been seen with what appear to be tears, supposedly crying for the teenaged cadets lost in the battle. Other reports include moving figures in a mural of the battle located in Jackson Memorial Hall, along with the sounds of gunfire and cannon blasts.
But the creepiest legend I’ve heard is that of the “VMI Phantom” or “Yellow Peril.” Dating back as far as a century, “keydets” (name given to VMI’s cadet corps) have reported seeing an apparition with a yellow face and bleeding scar appearing in barracks around 3:30am, which is the approximate time of VMI’s “drumming out” ceremony when keydets convicted of honor code violation are publically dismissed from school. The honor code is at the core of corps for VMI grads, so I, personally, wouldn’t begin to question this one.
7. The Martha Washington Inn: Hotbed of Hauntings
(Abingdon) This quaint, historical inn has quite a history – and no fewer than 6 ghosts. The inn was originally a home built in 1832, but became the all-female Martha Washington College. During the Civil War, the college was used as a hospital where many of the young women stayed to nurse the injured. One such woman, Beth, fell in love with a seriously injured Union soldier who had been captured and brought to the hospital. She would comfort him by playing her violin and was heartbroken when he died. Beth followed him in death a few weeks later, but over the years, guests and employees have heard her music continue to play and some have seen her spirit visiting Room 217 where her lover died.
Another soldier, this one a Confederate, stained the floor with blood when Union soldiers shot him as he told his sweetheart goodbye. The bloodstain reappears despite cleaning and holes have appeared in carpets used to cover it. Other reported hauntings include a mangled soldier who tracks mud through the house, a wandering horse looking for his master, slaves buried in the walls of the Inn’s basement and a malicious spirit in the tunnel that connects the inn to the neighboring Barter Theater. The site is now a hotel and spa, but I am not sure how relaxed I could be with so many ghosts for guests.
8. Old Central State Mental Hospital: Payback is Hell
(Petersburg) If the history of this facility isn’t enough to horrify you, then happenings that are said to still go on, will. The hospital, once known as Central Lunatic Asylum, was the first facility designated for “colored persons of unsound mind.” Before the end of the Civil War, slaves could be sent to private asylums if their owners could pay, however, many couldn’t and whites always received priority. The need for care became apparent over time due to archaic thinking such as the idea that slaves who tried to escape were suffering a mental condition called drapetomania, the result of overly “familiar” or indulgent master. In 1870, the former Howard’s Grove hospital was turned into an asylum specifically for these and other black “patients” and the current building was built for them in 1885.
Over the years, causes of “insanity” or “psychosis” included epilepsy, abortion, emancipation, typhoid fever and my personal favorite - marriage. The site eventually included buildings for chronically ill females, delinquent females and psychopathic men. More of a prison than a hospital, overcrowding, cruelty and forced sterilization are just a few of the atrocities recorded at this site. The building has been abandoned for years, and trespassing is NOT encouraged, but it was possible to obtain permission at the time of this research. Those who have passed through the gates have reported apparitions, screams and a general sense of uneasiness, as if being watched or followed. I couldn’t find a record of just how many died here over the years, but I can only imagine more than one uneasy spirit remains looking for reparation.
Even if you don’t believe in the paranormal, there’s something about these places that will make you wonder if maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t the wind moving in the trees or a cold draft under the door. It’s not for the likes of me, but if you’re up for it, than by all means, put on your big boy pants and check out these terrifyingly creepy sites. Please let me know what you find!