Halloween greetings to those of you with a penchant for the horrible! Join our own Tess Shebaylo (formerly Dixon) as she guides us through some of the most deliciously creepy spots in and around Richmond. ‘Tis the season, after all.
Halloween greetings to those of you with a penchant for the horrible! In 2003 I started a group called the Midnight Society, and since then with varying frequency we’ve been exploring reputedly haunted sites for fun and profit. Ok, maybe just for fun. Check out some of our favorite haunts below, and they’ll be sure to afford you a wealth of creepy fun as well as get you back in touch with your inner Virginian. ‘Tis the season, after all.
1914-16 E. Main Street
Maybe it’s an obvious choice, but the Poe Museum has always been a favorite source of entertainment and historical tidbits. The grounds are supposedly haunted by the ghost of a little boy and girl, whose pattering footsteps and phantom giggling have unnerved employees and visitors alike. Things at the museum have been even more exciting than usual this year, with the celebration of Poe’s bicentennial raging throughout 2009. The museum has had endless commemorative events to attend as well as their usual Unhappy Hours throughout the summer. Nothing is more dreadfully relaxing than spending an evening sipping amontillado in the Enchanted Garden behind the museum.
Underneath Church Hill
Our city’s ill-fated attempt at a railroad tunnel through Church Hill culminated in a legendary 1925 cave-in, leaving gaping holes at either end of the tunnel and a lot of ghostly rumors. People say that you can hear the faint sound of a train coming, and the moans of workers being buried alive or scalded by steam from the trains. No less terrifying is the prospect of trying to explore the tunnel, which has long been sealed up. Mostly. A few years ago the Midnight Society waded from the eastern entrance through knee-deep water in January to reach the place where the tunnel had been bricked up. Seeing the train tracks rise up out of the murky darkness and disappear into the walled-off unknown was thrilling indeed, but not recommended for either frail or law-abiding citizens.
412 S. Cherry Street
At Richmond’s beautiful Civil War-era cemetery, specters are to be expected. Amongst the ornate tombstones, graves of Presidents, and monuments to Confederate dead, ghosts are right at home. A phantom dog is said to cavort around the grave of a little girl, whose parents placed a dog statue of which she had been fond next to her final resting place. Footsteps belonging to no one can be heard following visitors closely if they roam about after closing time. And the mausoleum of one W.W. Pool has long been talked of as the home of the Richmond Vampire. Whether alive, dead, or undead, all can agree that views of the river are spectacular here, and enhanced as they are by the creeping up of twilight against the backdrop of a sumptuous cemetery.
2300 Magnolia Road
While we’re on the subject of cemeteries, one you won’t want to miss is Evergreen. It’s the mysterious, forgotten, overgrown foil to Hollywood’s well-manicured grandeur. Several prominent African-American Richmonders, including Maggie Walker, were buried there over the years before a company that purchased the place went bankrupt. A group of funeral home directors now owns the cemetery, and a small group of volunteers has been trying to clean it up gradually. At present, this place is as beautiful as it is abandoned, and one gets the feeling of being engulfed in true wilderness when walking the paths at dusk. Look out for shadowy figures who are said to roam the graveyard, making their presence felt by darting through the piled heaps of brush.
1224 E. Broad Street
The day after Christmas in 1811 brought with it one of the worst disasters in the city’s history as 72 people died in the Richmond Theatre fire. Sparks from a chandelier touched the stage scenery and swept quickly through the theater, which was not designed for quick escape. The flames left a mass grave on Broad Street, which was eventually covered over and Monumental Church was built to commemorate the lives lost there. The church held a congregation which included prominent Richmond citizens for many years, and is now owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation, which allows occasional tours. The quiet desolation of the long-silent place is punctuated by the impressive, ominous building itself and its testament to the carnage and suffering of the Theatre fire.
Intersection of Aberdeen Creek Rd. and Rosewell Plantation Rd., Gloucester, VA
An hour and a half’s drive east will take you on the perfect mini road trip for a crisp fall day and deposit you at the gates of Rosewell. Strangeusa.com reports the following haunted happenings here: “the drop in air temperature by a good 15 degrees or more, apparitions, strange noises, the sound of slaves coming from the fields, reportedly a young woman walks down the front steps every night.” The mid-18th century brick mansion was home to several prominent Virginia families who threw elegant parties and dances in its halls until it was devoured by a fire in 1916. The ruins that remain sit alone in a clearing, a beautiful and tragic sight as well as a tailor-made picnic spot. The site also features a family cemetery with several unmarked graves — the tombstones having been moved to a local Episcopal church.
6283 Watt House Road, Mechanicsville, VA
The Battle of Gaines’ Mill in 1862 gave Lee his first victory as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and gave us a field full of dead people. Over 15,000 men fell on the grounds, and some were never moved from where they dropped. Sounds of cannon fire on the wooded trails and low moans on the misty battlefield have been heard by evening visitors to the premises, and a fog so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face frequently descends to make the experience even more intense. During waking hours, the battlefield also hosts tours and reenactments as well as archaeology digs.