History-rich Virginia ranks at the top of the National Register of Haunted
Locations’ “haunted places” list, with over 170 sites claiming ghostly
happenings. History and reality TV ghost shows have boosted “ghost tourism”
in the Commonwealth.
But Richmond-area author, actor and singer/songwriter
Bill Kaffenberger, who with Gary D. Rhodes co-authored No Traveler Returns:
The Lost Years of Bela Lugosi (BearManor, 2012) and Bela Lugosi In Person (BearManor,
2015), says public fascination with ghosts is
always had fascination with death and what’s beyond the grave. When Lugosi
in his now-classic role in 1931’s Dracula [film] came along, there was a lot
of thinking about the life beyond. He embodied a creature from beyond the
grave. The battle between good and evil, life after death — that was really
the basis for ghosts. That yearning to know what’s beyond the grave is still
Mark Cline, an artist who runs Enchanted Castle Studios
in Natural Bridge, designs, sculpts and manufactures foam and fiberglass
creations for roadside attractions and miniature golf courses. In 1996 he
added “ghost host” to his resume when he began Haunting Tales, Lexington’s
“Ghosts sell,” Cline says. “I
ask, how many of you believe in the possibility of ghosts? That broadens the
No matter your beliefs when it comes to ghosts, Virginia
has a lot to experience. Here are four possibilities.
Haunting Tales, Lexington’s Ghost Tour
Founded in 1788, Lexington, home to Washington & Lee
University and Virginia Military Institute, is a history-filled town.
Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are buried here,
and ghostly legends abound.
After taking a 1992 “Jack The Ripper Tour” while
honeymooning with wife Sherry in London, Mark Cline began researching
Lexington’s ghost-related lore. In 1996 his ghost tour began and now runs
six nights a week, peaking during Halloween week when nearly 1,000
“We are not a Halloweenish,
‘haunted house’ tour, although we do visit houses that are haunted. It’s
humor, illusions, education, mystery … and did I mention humor?” Cline says
with a laugh.
Decked out in period clothing, Cline, author and
illustrator of 2015’s The Lexington Ghost Tour, conducts 90 percent of the
tours himself, explaining, “It’s hard to find the right people [to lead the
tours]. It’s entertainment first, education second … you can entertain
His nighttime walking tours wind through Lexington
streets and include a stop in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, the
most popular stop on the tour. In his eerily illustrated book, Cline spins
tour-based tales, including the story of Traveller’s ghost. Robert E. Lee
died in 1870 after a massive stroke; his horse Traveller died a year later.
According to Cline, Lee’s widow insisted she heard the nightly clatter of a
horse’s hooves leading to Traveller’s stable and was convinced it was the
horse’s ghost. She made sure there was always feed in the stall for the
spirit to consume.
“Some people [told me] last night
they weren’t going to do this [tour] because they thought it [would be]
scary,” Cline says. “Most people tell me it was a lot more fun than they
Bacon’s Castle, Surry
The oldest brick house in Virginia (1665), Bacon’s Castle
was the home of planter Arthur Allen and his family. Its 17th-century formal
English gardens are the oldest in North America. In 1676 when followers of
Nathaniel Bacon revolted against Governor William Berkeley in Bacon’s
Rebellion, Bacon’s followers ousted the Allens and made the home their
headquarters for four months.
“Bacon never occupied the house,”
emphasizes Jennifer Hurst-Wender, director of museum operations and
education for Preservation Virginia. The
nonprofit acquired the 9,000-square-foot home
in the 1970s and did extensive restoration before opening the site to the
public in 1983.
She adds, “People remember Bacon’s Rebellion maybe as one
line in school [history books] but the reality was complex. It has to do
with Governor Berkeley and disputes with Virginia Indians, but in reality it
was about a disenfranchised group of poor whites who used to be indentured
[servants] and poor slaves who had bought their freedom. They were all
loyalists [to England] — nobody thought they should start their own country.
But in some ways [it was] a precursor to the American Revolution.”
Ghost lore has long surrounded Bacon’s Castle. Witnesses
have described a red fireball originating in an adjacent church graveyard
crossing a field and going into the home’s stair tower. Garden sightings of
a Civil War soldier and stories about the home’s interior abound.
Three years ago the site began hosting “haunted events”
and a tour called Spirited History. “Spirited History does a lot of site
research, has tracked down family letters and focuses on the people who have
lived here. CPRI (Center for Paranormal Research and Investigation) does
Haunted Events; they try to find scientific proof [of ghosts],” Hurst-Wender
says. “We’ve had a good response.”
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Despite “ghost sightings” and tales of ghosts floating
above the battlefield, Ray Brown, chief of interpretation at Manassas
National Battlefield Park, says, “There’s no enduring tradition of a
specific ghost haunting the battlefield. In my 23 years here I have never
encountered anything I could not explain.”
That said, he understands why ghost fascination endures
when it comes to the 5,073-acre park, home to two of the Civil War’s
bloodiest battles. He ex-plains, “I think a lot of it has to do with people
wanting to have a personal experience with the past. It also speaks to the
power of place — places like battlefields have a certain ability to affect
Over 500,000 people visit annually, and many are
surprised to learn two major battles were fought on the same ground 13
months apart. Battle names (1st Bull Run/2nd Bull Run, First Manassas/Second
Manassas) are used interchangeably; both battles were Confederate victories
but the first battle, on July 21, 1861, was pivotal.
“It was the first major battle of
the war. People had a certain innocence [about the war]. A few hundred
spectators stopped about five miles away, where they could see the dust
kicked up and hear battle sounds very clearly,” Brown says. “They [civilian
spectators] got caught up in the rolling retreat [of Union forces] to
Washington and realized war was not a summer frolic, [it] was deadly
Casualties (dead, wounded, missing, captured) were high:
3,000 Union, 2,000 Confederate in the first battle; 15,000 Union and 9,000
Confederate in the Aug. 28, 1862, battle.
Some media outlets report “ghost sightings” at the park’s
unfinished railroad, with the lore that Robert E. Lee ordered the
construction and that workers were massacred there. In reality, the railroad
was a private venture that began in 1850 and was never finished due to cost
issues. Brown confirms, “Lee had nothing to do with it. There were no
massacres there, although that area did see extensive fighting in the second
battle of Manassas.”
Manassas was a main focus of Confederate heritage groups
in the 1920s and 1930s. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, who Brown says
“faulted the federal government for ignoring Confederate history” regarding
Civil War sites, purchased and ran the property as Manassas Confederate
Battlefield Park. In 1940 the site became a national battlefield park.
Shirley Plantation, Charles City
Founded in 1613, Shirley is Virginia’s oldest plantation
and distinctive: 11 generations of one family continue to own, operate and
work Shirley Plantation.
Carved out of Virginia’s frontier, the 10,000-square-foot
mansion’s construction began in 1723 and was completed in 1738. Originally
the plantation encompassed 4,000 acres. Today there are 800 acres, including
a mile of water frontage on the James River, 350 acres devoted to farming
and eight brick outbuildings.
“Some of it is my family is just
stubborn,” says Randy Carter, part of the 11th generation of Hill-Carter
families owning Shirley, about keeping the plantation in family hands. “It
was an unspoken rule, to keep the place, cherish it and try to keep it
available to the public.”
He adds, “During the Great Depression, [the family] had
to sell a painting of George Washington [to survive]; the painting is now in
Colonial Williamsburg. Rockefeller wanted to buy the plantation; the family
said no, but we’ll sell you the Peel portrait [of Washington] because he
[the artist] is not a family member. Back in the 1930s the Peel portrait was
sold by Marion Carter Oliver for about $40,000. Today it’s worth about $1.5
Shirley embraces its resident ghost, “Aunt Pratt” (Martha
Hill Gifford), daughter of plantation founder Edward Hill. Her portrait
hangs in a bedchamber, facing south toward the family cemetery. As early as
1858, family members noticed whenever the painting was moved from its
bedroom spot the frame would begin shaking. Rocking sounds were heard until
the portrait was returned to its normal place.
There is also lore regarding Civil War ghosts. Carter
says plantation women fed several hundred wounded and dying Union troops
during a Union retreat, leading to an order for troop sentries that saved
the property from looting.
In October 2014 Shirley began partnering with nearby
Berkeley and Edgewood Plantations for reservation-required “Haunting Tales
and Tours.” Carter says, “The first one went really well. People like the
bundled package. The tour emphasizes ghost stories and mourning rituals.”
For more information:
Haunting Tales, Lexington’s Ghost Tour
ghosttourlexingtonva.com • (540) 464-2250
465 Bacon’s Castle Trail, Surry, Va.
preservationvirginia.org/visit • (757) 357-5976
501 Shirley Plantation Road, Charles City, Va.
www.shirleyplantation.com • (804) 829-5121
Manassas National Battlefield Park
6511 Sudley Road, Manassas, Va.
www.nps.gov/mana • (703) 361-1339