Summer is winding down, and fall is where it’s at, providing the perfect setting to take advantage of the tours offered by Haunts of Richmond. Here our resident haunting expert checks one out for you and gives you a little background info on this beloved Richmond attraction.
During the first season of the haunted house that Haunts of Richmond ran on 18th Street back in 2004, many customers continually asked for a ghost tour. As co-owner Sandi Bergman explains to me in the porch light of Church Hill’s Patrick Henry Pub, it turns out that these groups were mutually exclusive: haunted house lovers weren’t very interested in ghost tours, and ghost tour lovers weren’t really interested in the haunted house. Now, three years after closing the venture on 18th Street, Sandi and her husband, Scott, find themselves catering to both of these interests.
The side of the business most visible to we city-dwellers is that of the walking tours, which leads me to the stoop of the Patrick Henry Pub for the Church Hill Chillers walking tour. It’s Friday the 13th and our group is diverse, including a young couple, a mom with two tweens, and an older gentleman. Bergman introduces herself to everyone, and in her warm but somewhat rambling manner, tells us of the pub’s origins and reported hauntings.
Not only is a walking ghost tour a diverting evening activity, but it acts as a gateway drug for becoming a Richmond history buff. “It’s great to build a heritage of our stories, because we have so much history. And a great way to tell about that history is through ghost stories,” says Bergman.
From there, the tour takes us past St. John’s Church, the Pohlig Brothers Box Factory building, and Bellevue School, with Bergman warning us about our city’s characteristic root-ravaged brickwork along the way. “Watch your step here. The sidewalks undulate!” We hear about creaking footsteps, 19th century murders, and a tenant who woke in the middle of the night to an entire roomful of ghosts just milling about aimlessly. There’s a delightful breeze on this August night, and as we approach the bluff on E. Grace Street’s Church Hill end, the beautiful view enhances the experience.
Other aged southern cities such as Savannah and Charleston have created booming ghost tour industries, with tours led by numerous different companies swarming the streets at night. I find myself hoping that Richmond follows suit, drawing more tourists here for ghosts, history, and cobblestone streets than for the noise and mayhem of NASCAR. But for now I’m content to hear Bergman’s tale about an ill-fated train tunnel, fascinated for a moment by the peacefulness of the city lights from my vantage point on quiet Church Hill.
As we walk back toward the pub, I can’t help but think that the only thing missing is a favorite beverage. The Bergmans have found a way to accommodate this itch with their Spirits & Spirits Pub Crawl tour, next on my list of tours to try. Other tours include Shadows of Shockoe and Haunted Capitol Hill.
Their “haunted house”-style attraction has morphed into Blood Lake, now in its third year at a sprawling campus in Richmond’s northern woods. Blood Lake is open annually during the month of October, and features various walk-through scenes with different themes. Even in the world of guts-and-gore Halloween fun, the Bergmans incorporate some history. “The property was many things over the years. At one time it was an orphanage, so we have an orphanage theme for part of it,” says Bergman.
So whatever your haunting preference — story-based or startle-based — it looks like Haunts of Richmond has something for you. But don’t come with the expectation of seeing spectres. Sometimes they don’t even reveal themselves to the most devoted. Having never seen a ghost, Bergman predicts what would happen if she ever did: “I think it would freak me out!”
Haunts of Richmond is now operating public tours every Thursday through Saturday. Tickets typically run around $13 in advance. Private tours and pub crawls are also available year-round. For more information, stop by their website.