Local ghost stories are generally well known to Roanokers, but first-person accounts of ghosts are less common. Here are a few for your consideration.
Many of Roanoke’s haunted spots are familiar: the Coffee Pot, Evergreen Cemetery, Grandin Theatre, Patrick Henry Hotel, City Market Building, Old City Cemetery, Pest House on VWCC campus, old music building at Hollins University, Black Horse Tavern near Read Mountain, a house on Union Street in Salem, a former funeral parlor on Patterson Avenue, Mountain View mansion and so many others.
Some of the tales are chilling, like the one about room 606 at the Patrick Henry Hotel, where a stewardess was allegedly murdered. Or the “woman in white” who grieves for her lost child at the Old City Cemetery in Southeast Roanoke.
Ghost hunters have found a number of indicators of haunting there over the years. On Patterson Avenue, one Roanoker recalls growing up next door to a haunted house and playing on its grounds with her siblings and neighborhood children. They “often saw a young woman, dressed in Victorian garb, watching [us] from one of the upper floor windows,” she says.
The History Museum of Western Virginia and a group of bicyclers have held Haunted Roanoke tours. Women in black and women in white, children in graveyards, inexplicable sounds, objects moving, faces in windows, many impressions of people being there who were not are all part of the mystery.
At the Grandin Theatre, tales have been rife for years: a little boy wandering, baby crying, face looking down from the projection booth and occasional unexplained sounds. Paranormal investigations over the years showed some evidence. Jason Garnett, a former projectionist, heard all the ghost stories and refutes most of them. “I spent many, many nights [in the projection room] by myself and never heard or saw anything. … The best stories from the Grandin don’t have anything to do with ghosts and aren’t fit to print,” he laughs. But maybe …
On the flip side of that, Shirley Turner says, “My daughter was married [at Mountain View] and I saw a woman at the top of the stairway” who shouldn’t have been there.
Roanoke College English teacher Tom Carter holds a freshman seminar in theme development using the haunted 1850 Monterey House on campus as its centerpiece. “At first, it didn’t work so well,” he admits, but it has become immensely popular among students. He occasionally works now with teacher Whitney Leeson, who teaches a course on medieval ghosts.
Ghosts have been detected frequently at Monterey and some “are not happy,” Carter says. Local ghost hunters have electronically recorded ghost voices, says Carter.
There are odd odors, “bad feelings in rooms,” noises and “subtle stuff,” he says. A ghostly woman has been seen sitting at the bottom of the stairs in the entrance hall. Carter has seen a “black shadow” where none should have been. Some of the students “are more perceptive than others,” he says, and “have heard or smelled [odd scents] better” than others.
Leeson relays the tale of a woman who awoke at midnight in one of the home’s bedrooms with “a woman at the foot of her bed” and of “two smaller figures” and “multiple presences.” A couple of students, she says, “claim fairly intense contacts.” Occasionally, she says, “hypersensitive students report strong presences.”
Carter, who is “not a major proponent of the classic spiritualist view” still believes there’s something there, but it isn’t necessarily about how ghosts die.
“Ghosts come from the living; light energy,” Leeson says. “There’s so much we don’t know,” and she likes to try “to nail it down.” She has found some “interesting hard data with this class” and one she teaches on medieval ghosts.
Conclusive? Nope. Fun? You bet.
Roanoke artist Anita Allen’s experiences have been many, varied and frequent. “I have been involved with the paranormal most of my life, including taking classes in parapsychology in college,” she says. She grew up in a haunted house and says that “three of the five places I have lived have been haunted. My previous employer assigned me security posts that were haunted because I know the difference between random BS and real things and am scared by neither.”
Her favorite of all her ghosts is Larry, who “was never confirmed to have been human. He moved in when I was about five or six years old” and took over the room beside the children’s play area. There was also “Larry’s scary friend,” says Allen, “some sort of negative entity that hitched a ride back from India [with her dad] when I was 13 or14 years old. We had no actual visual encounters, just a feeling.” The negative entity didn’t get a name.
There was an incident where a large tree was being cut down by a neighbor, a tree the neighborhood kids favored. “While watching we all got the heebie jeebeez and felt like someone was there behind us, watching,” Allen says. “That was the first time we ever felt something odd there.”
Allen has “made a 38-year study,” of ghostly experiences and “there were a lot of interactions. …This region has a lot of geological quirks that make it especially good for certain types of hauntings.”
Former journalist Heather Brush of Franklin County has written “a whole book-length manuscript of real ghost stories … I collected over 50 stories from … all over the country, and several were my own.”
She lived in a house under construction and “occasionally, I would be cutting and piecing sheetrock and bringing it up the stairs through the plastic walls. I’d hear someone rattling around in the kitchen. No one was there but my [18-month-old] daughter and I, and she was napping. Later, when I got to spackling the upper rooms, the sweet, warm scent of bread baking would waft up the stairs. I certainly wasn’t baking. I don’t know who the family was that lived there, but she seemed to be letting me know she was happy I was fixing the homeplace.”
Tot Langhammer, daughter of the late Virginia State Senator Leonard Muse, lived at Oakland near Fincastle as a youngster. It is a 5,000-square-foot 19th Century farmhouse with eight rooms. Her mother talked of “a lady ghost. … I never saw her, but at night I heard things I shouldn’t have.”
Others occasionally said they saw an apparition and “I stayed awake at night and heard noises and felt a presence.”