Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
Who’s haunting your haunts?
Ghosts and goblins will own the streets in
a few days, reveling in the spirit of Halloween and the promise of gobs of candy.
But quite a few local haunts have a reputation for being haunted year-round, not just at Halloween.
Confederate soldiers, Colonial women and mischievous youngsters are among the spirits who lurk beneath the Fredericksburg region’s most historic roofs.
No need for any exorcisms. By all accounts, they’re friendly ghosts. At least so far.
1. RISING SUN TAVERN
Built in 1760, this site at 1304 Caroline St. became a tavern in 1792. A year later, tavern keeper John Frazer took ill and then died in an upstairs bedroom. Of what, no one seems to know. But Frazer hasn’t exactly embraced death.
Instead, he knocks around the building, pulling plugs out of walls, opening doors and occasionally lifting the skirts of the tavern wenches who give tours. He’s suspected of disrupting a gathering in the 1960s by tossing a large standing candle holder down a flight of stairs, said tavern manager Jo Atkins.
She also believes he interferes with video and film cameras as well as audio recorders, which don’t seem to work well in the house.
“But he does respond to scolding,” she said. “We’ve had wenches say, ‘OK, John, that’s enough.’ Then usually, the mischief will stop.”
2. CHATHAM MANOR
Built in 1771 by William Fitzhugh, this Stafford estate overlooking the Rappahannock River is said to be haunted by a “Lady in White” with a broken heart.
According to the legend, the wealthy young woman had fallen in love with an English commoner. Hoping to break up the relationship, her family brought the woman to Chatham, but her suitor followed.
The two made secret plans to elope, but some servants-in-the-know squealed, and word got back to George Washington, who was also a guest in the home. The woman used a rope ladder to climb out the window of her room, but instead of falling into the arms of her beloved—who’d planned to escape with her down the river—she ended up face to face with Washington.
Her lover was arrested, and she was returned to her family, who ultimately married her off to someone of equal social standing. According to the tale, she vowed on her death bed to return to Chatham and walk the path toward the river where she’d intended to meet her beau.
Witnesses first claimed to see her ghost on June 21, 1790, the day she died, and some say she’s come back every seven years since, between noon and midnight.
3. STRATFORD HALL
Once home to the influential Lee family—and birthplace to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee—this Westmoreland County landmark now serves as more of a museum than a home. But don’t tell that to the former residents, who occasionally move furniture, play violins and make noise stomping through rooms and dancing in the estate’s great hall.
“This is a strange place,” said Jon Bachman, educational events coordinator. This Saturday, curious visitors can enjoy ghost tours, Halloween crafts and refreshments from 6 to 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children.
4. BUTTERMILK &
This restaurant at 623 Caroline St., across from the Courtyard by Marriott, serves Southern-style comfort food. Perhaps that’s why so many ghosts have made themselves at home in the structure, built in 1846.
Suni McMath, the restaurant’s owner and executive chef, said mediums have documented more than 21 spirits there, including two giggling children, a woman named Charlotte whose skirts rustle upstairs and an older gentleman who walks with a shuffling gait and uses what sounds like a cane.
They’re friendly enough, McMath said, though the kids occasionally move things around, including a bag of items she bought at Lowe’s.
“We’re pretty sure the kids hid it on the roof because every time we mention the bag, we hear them laugh,” she said.
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Innkeeper Bonnie De Lelys sleeps downstairs at her bed-and-breakfast, in the 18th-century building’s former slave quarters. It’s not uncommon for her to hear folks walking around upstairs—even when no one’s there.
The Caroline Street inn’s more ghostly inhabitants include David, a Confederate sniper on the top floor who was shot by Union troops, and Toby, a slave who was hanged in the courtyard after being accused of stealing bacon.
Toby, she said, likes to play with the table settings, and David enjoys sitting at the kitchen counter while she works.
“We have a lot of energy in this house,” she said.
6. PINKADILLY TEA
AT SMYTHE’S COTTAGE
Now a fashionable tea room, this former residence at 303 Fauquier St. allegedly served as a house of ill repute during the Civil War.
According to local lore, the woman of the house, Elizabeth, catered to Union troops. This didn’t go over well with her husband, John, who was a Confederate soldier. As the story goes, he left her after the war, and she hanged herself.
Pinkadilly owner Kaye Tippett said ghost hunters have encountered both spirits in the house. Every now and then, something odd or unexplained happens, like the refrigerator door opening and closing when no one’s around or dishes looking as if they’ve been tossed off shelves, she said.
Nothing major has ever happened. Tippett figures that’s because Elizabeth favors the tea room’s feminine décor.
“I think she likes it here,” she said. “What lady doesn’t like pink and lace?”
THE EXCHANGE HOTEL
Now a Gordonsville museum, this building at 400 S. Main St. once served as a tavern, hotel, slave-trading post and Civil War hospital, so it’s no wonder it’s haunted by spirits of the past.
“There’s a lot of death there,” including at least two suicides and a murder, said Angel May, who gives paranormal tours of the hotel every weekend.
The curious can check the place out for themselves—and perhaps catch a glimpse of a 7-year-old ghost named Emma who lives on the third floor—this Saturday during a special ghost walk from 7 to 9 p.m. The cost is $25 for a family of five or $10 for adults and $3 for those 12 and under.
nighttouratexchangehotel.weebly.com or hgiexchange.org
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
GET IN THE SPIRIT
If you want to get a look at some of Fredericksburg’s most haunted haunts, consider taking a tour.
GHOSTS OF FREDERICKSBURG TOURS ends its regular season with candlelight tours Friday, Oct. 28, Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. (although special group tours can be arranged at other times). The 90-minute tours leave from the Fredericksburg Visitor Center, 706 Caroline St.
Tickets cost $11 for those 8 and older, though group rates are available. For more information, call 540/710-3002 or visit ghostsoffredericksburg.com. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
GHOSTWALKS BY THE UMW PRESERVATION CLUB take place on Nov. 4 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Nov. 5 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The tours leave every 10 minutes from the James Monroe Law Offices Museum, 908 Charles St. in Fredericksburg. Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for children 6 through 12 and free for the youngest participants. For more information contact 540/654-1315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.