Virginia is often called one of the most haunted states in the nation. As a stomping ground for ghosts and spirits, as well as ghost hunters and paranormal explorers, it leaves one to wonder why, exactly, there is so much so-called “activity” in the state. Speculation and belief in the paranormal aside, there’s no question that Virginia offers an old and complex history – and with that complexity comes tragedy, tribulation and many other interesting events that seem to be indicative of ghostly spirits that remain behind long after death. Below, we’ve collected a handful of stories from around the state about some of Virginia’s better-known ghosts and the backstories that left them in limbo.
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. The Lost Love of Lizze Rowland, Charles City
Edgewood Plantation is a graceful ante-bellum home built in 1849 that now serves as a bed and breakfast. Lizzie Rowland was the daughter of the home's original owners. When her lover left to fight in the Civil War, she would often stand at the home's upstairs window, looking for him to return. When he never came back, she continued her lonely vigil, until she died at the age of 47 from loneliness and a broken heart.
Since then, she is said to haunt the old plantation home, patiently waiting for her soldier to return. She is seen peeking out from behind curtains and watching through the upstairs window, where her name has been etched into the glass. Her presence was so intriguing that the Edgewood Plantation was featured on the SyFy channel's Ghost Hunters. And if you still don't believe me? Join the
for a ghost tour and see for yourself.
2. The Jilted Soldier at The Lafayette Inn, Stanardsville
While many ghosts seem to be friendly, the ghost at Lafayette Inn in Stanardsville carries a slightly more gruesome back story. Identified by the National Paranormal Society as a haunted location, the Lafayette is rumored to have a phantom bloodstain left after a Confederate soldier committed suicide upon learning that his wife had been unfaithful with a Yankee soldier. The stain is said to reappear daily and the solider is seen wandering the halls with a pistol, looking for his rival.
3. The Many Ghosts of The Martha Washington Inn, Abingdon
This quaint, historical inn has quite a history – and no fewer than 6 ghosts. The inn, built in 1832 as a private home, was the all-female Martha Washington College until it was turned into a hospital during the Civil War. Many of the young women from the school stayed on and became nurses.
One nurse, Beth, fell in love with a Union soldier patient, whom she would comfort by playing her violin as he lay dying. Many years later, long after both lovers had died, a young woman has often been seen visiting Room 217 (where the soldier died) and the sound of violin music can be heard through the door.
Another Confederate soldier left a reappearing bloodstain on the floor when Union soldiers shot him as he told his sweetheart goodbye. 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.
4. The Haunting Hotbed at Ferry State Plantation House, Virginia Beach
With as many as 11 spirits calling the Ferry State Plantation House "home," this historic site is now used as a museum and educational center. The original site was founded in the mid 1600s and has held courthouses, a school, a tavern and finally, the Walke Mansion in 1791.
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”, has haunted the home since she died falling down the stairs in 1826. A former owner of the manor house, artist Thomas Williamson, has been seen painting at the top of the stairs. BUT...the most famous ghost of all is....
The Witch of Pungo
Grace Sherwood was a 17th and 18th century midwife and medicine woman who became known as the Witch of Pungo. Her story came to 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 surfaced that her body had simply vanished. This story, along with tales of unnatural weather and lurking black cats, has carried her legacy to present day. She was exonerated in 2006 by then Governor Tim Kaine on the 300th anniversary of her conviction, and many say her spirit remains strong.
5. The VMI Phantom, Lexington
While VMI has many ghost stories, including ghostly horses roaming the barracks and tears on the Battle of New Market mural, none are quite as haunting as 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. This time is significant as it is the the approximate time of VMI’s “drumming out” ceremony when keydets convicted of honor code violation are publicly dismissed from school.
Whether the "phantom" is a former keydet who was drummed out, or just the result of late night studying mind tricks, I don't know. But as the honor code is at the "core of the corps" for VMI grads, so I, personally, wouldn’t begin to question this one.
6. "Give me liberty, or give me death": The ghost of Sarah Henry, Beaverdam
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, which meant institutionalization or confinement.
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. In the final 2 years of her life, he was forced to confine her to the home’s basement, often in restraints. He visited her by way of a secret staircase, but word spread and soon servants and visitors avoided the house. After her death in 1775, Sarah was buried in an unmarked grave.
Today, a woman in a long white gown is said to appear to visitors, both inside and outside of the house. Over the years, countless stories of mysterious candlelight in the windows, items being moved, opening and closing doors and even a woman screaming have been reported. One report claims that paint used on Sarah’s former basement rooms will not stay, peeling almost immediately, regardless of how it is applied.
7. The Anger of Lady Anne Skipwith, Williamsburg
The George Wythe House in Williamsburg was built in the 1750s as a wedding gift for Wythe, America’s first law professor and signer of the Declaration of Independence. As one of the original 5 structures in the newly booming colonial town, it was at the center of social life. Lady Anne Skipwith, known as an outspoken and spirited feminist, was said to be a frequent guest.
One night, after a dispute with her husband at the nearby Governor’s Mansion, perhaps because of his wandering eyes, Anne stormed off, retiring to the Wythe House but breaking the heel of one of her red slippers on the way.
Lady Anne died a number of years later, but over the years, the sound of her single heel clicking, or stomping as it were, up the stairs has been heard with eerie regularity. Lady Anne has also been seen emerging from a second-floor bedroom closet 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.
8. The Bride of Crawford Road Bridge, Yorktown
Notoriously referred to as the most haunted road in Virginia, Crawford Road is home to some pretty spooky activity. As legend tells, many years ago, a bride hung herself from the road's overpass on her wedding day rather than marry the man intended for her.
Since her death, countless people have reported seeing a body hanging. One woman drove under the bridge and swore she saw a woman in a white gown looking down at her. When she looked back after passing through, the woman stepped to the edge and leapt - only to hang suspended mere inches from the ground.
The bridge is also reported to be the site of many lynching in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sounds and strange sightings have often been reported to come from the overpass, which is just one more reason I will stay far, far away.
9. The White Deer of the Great Dismal Swamp, Tidewater
This Algonquian tale tells of an Indian maid, Wa-Cheagles, whose father was chief of one of the area's warring tribes. For many years, she tended to a doe named Cin-Co, who would arrive each autumn to visit the girl. When the doe was bitten by a rattlesnake, the girl followed her into the forest to treat her wounds. There, she found a warrior from the enemy tribe, who had also been bitten. Despite their differences, she nursed him back to health and the two fell in love, knowing that they would both be killed if caught.
When they were finally discovered by angry tribesman near Lake Drummond, a swamp spirit arose, protecting them from the arrows of their enemies by turning Wa-Cheagles into a white doe and her lover into a charmed hunter. Today, hunters and others visiting the swamp report sightings of the white deer with an Indian brave by her side. If anyone attempts to follow the pair, a rattlesnake appears, rattling and hissing at the would be pursuers.
10. The Ghosts of Mary Baldwin College, Staunton
Many of Virginia's universities and colleges pass down stories of hauntings and spirits, including Mary Baldwin. According to legend, a blue-uniformed ghost, known only as "Richard," wanders the halls of several campus buildings, moving things and playfully tampering with items in offices and classrooms.
McClung Dormitory also seems to house a haunt or two in the form of a floating white apparition that appears over certain beds, as well as a child's handprint that mysteriously appears in the room once inhabited by Mary Julie Baldwin. In the Collins Theater, the ghost of Tallulah Bankhead, an actress that attended the school in the 1900s, is said to play with the lights.
11. Evelyn Byrd: Love lost across the Atlantic, Richmond
William Byrd II is best known as the founder of Richmond. His eldest daughter, Evelyn, was a great beauty and at the age of 18, was presented at court in London. It was said that there, she fell in love with an Englishman but her father did not approve the match. She returned to Virginia where she died of a broken heart.
Today, she is buried at the family's home at Westover Plantation and is said to have appeared to guests of the home many times over the centuries. While her spirit lingers at the home, perhaps searching for the love she lost, she seems to be a friendly spirit. No doubt, she finds solace in the fact that the historic home is now used as a wedding venue.
12. Matthew Whaley Elementary School, Williamsburg
With a history as rich and complex as Williamsburg's, its no wonder that this area has more than a few ghost stories, including that of Matthew Whitley.
Young Matthew died tragically in 1705 at the age of 9, leaving his mother to carry on teaching at the grammar school she had begun in their backyard. To honor Matthew's memory, his mother, Mary, worked hard to create a more permanent school. Over time, the school did grow, eventually becoming what is now Matthew Whaley Elementary School.
Although the current school is not on the original site, the ghost of a young boy has been often sighted roaming the halls and grounds and footsteps are heard in empty hallways. The school, considered one of the most haunted in the nation, was also the rumored site of the lynching of two young black boys whose spirits have been seen playing in the schoolyard. The boys are unidentified, but their spirits seem to remain, perhaps due to their traumatic deaths.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there is something deliciously creepy about these stories – and it definitely gets you thinking about history and the events that make it so fascinating. What are some of your favorite ghost stories from Virginia? Have you ever had a personal encounter? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!