Today is Halloween. I decided, instead of writing about how Halloween came to be as I had done in the past, I would just post an excerpt from my new nonfiction ghost book, Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales. Enjoy it, and have a spooky Halloween. And if you don't have the book yet, you can find it at AMAZON or Barnes and Noble or any other bookstore, incluing your local independent bookstore. If not in the place, they can order it for you through Baker and Taylor. To find an indie bookstore near you: http://www.indiebound.org/
ISBN: 978-0-7643-3281-4 256 Pages
Virginia is unique with haunting myths, legends, and yes, even true stories that may sound like legends. Take a ghostly tour of this historic state to learn about the Bunnyman urban legend and what happens to mortals at his Bunnyman Bridge in Clifton at midnight on Halloween. Discover the myths that surround Edgar Allan Poe and other famous Virginians. See why Natural Bridge is actually a haunted tourist attraction; and what makes the Great Dismal Swamp so creepy: Is it the ghosts or Bigfoot? Meet the Witch of Pungo in Virginia Beach. Find out that Mothman and the Jersey Devil weren't just seen in their own states, but actually visited Virginia at one time. Read about witches, demons, monsters, ghosts, pirates, strange animals, and Civil War legends. Visit an amazing, frightening, and even intriguing Virginia that you never knew existed.
Enjoy this chapter--don't let the ghostly tales frighten you. But wait! It's Halloween, so yeah, be scared, very scared.
The Freaky Legends of Old House Woods—Mathews
For 200 years, legends have been passed down about this area near the Chesapeake Bay—Old House Woods, also known as Old Haunted Woods.
It is fifty acres of pine woods and marshland near the tiny crossroads town of Diggs in Mathews County, northeast of Gloucester. The name, Old House Woods, took it from a large frame house, once known as the Fannie Knight house. It had a wood-covered plaster chimney and stood in the middle of the woods. Abandoned and falling into disrepair, it became known simply as “Old House.” It is said that pirates have been seen burying their gold on the property.
A ghost ship is seen hovering over the woods. There’s a legend told of British soldiers hiding Colonial treasure during the Revolutionary War here. They say skeletons in shining armor roam the woods as they wield their threatening swords. Ghost horses and cows appear and disappear before your eyes. There is even a story of a spirit that walks out of the water, dressed maybe in worn pirate clothing. Then, a Spanish Galleon rises out of the water with men leaping from it to the ground. Sounds of digging and the clanking of shovels fill the air. There are tales of two black headless dogs seen running through the woods.
All of these and more have been reported at different times of the year. There is even a rumor of a witch in a long nightgown who gives off a green light as she flies through the trees. Her long, fair hair streams behind her as her figure rises over the tops of the pine trees, and she wails loud, warning watermen and fishermen to take cover from a storm that suddenly whips up.
There are three reasons why these stories circulate about the woods. One concerns a legend that the crew of a pirate ship came ashore in the seventeenth century to bury their treasure of ill-gotten gains. The story goes on to say they perished in a storm at sea. To this day, it may be the spirits of those pirates who can be heard and seen searching for their treasure.
Another tale about the pirates had been written in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1973. The article said that Blackbeard himself intercepted the treasure, murdering the men. And that the men still haunt the woods, stopping anyone who dares to walk on the land.
Second possibility occurred in the second portion of the seventeenth century. Defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II of England wanted to come to Virginia. To prepare for his trip, they sailed chests of money, plate, and jewels to the colony. The ship never reached Jamestown but sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and anchored off the mouth of White’s Creek, near Old House Woods. The Royalists offloaded the treasure to be hidden, but a gang of renegade indentured servants attacked and murdered them. The murdering thieves only took a portion of the loot in their haste to escape. They planned to return later for the rest. But a sudden storm struck the area and their ship was capsized, all hands lost.
The last story supposedly happened in late 1781, before Cornwallis’ troops were defeated at Yorktown. Two British officers and four soldiers had been entrusted with a large amount of money and treasure. These six slipped through enemy lines to head north. Not finding the British ship they had hoped to find, they buried the treasure in Old House Woods before they were found and killed by a unit of American cavalry.
No matter the stories of what makes the woods haunted, there have been those who have had experiences. Like Jesse Hudgins, who told what happened to him to the Baltimore Sun newspaper in the 1920s. The man ran a store in Mathews County back then. It seemed that he hitched his horse, Tom, to a buggy one October night when a neighbor with a very ill child came by, asking for him to get a doctor. He headed to town.
As he came upon Old House Woods, he spied, about fifty yards away, a light bobbing along the road in the same direction as he. His horse became frightened, but Hudgins got it to move forward as he wanted to find out what the light was. He had seen lights on the road at night before, but those were shining lanterns carried by men. This light seemed strange and unearthly, unlike those. When he caught up with the light, he saw a large man in armor, a gun over his shoulder with the muzzle like a fish horn. Not one sound did this stranger make and he seemed to be floating, not walking normally.
Scared, his horse stopped, not budging an inch more and Hudgins felt fear envelope him, too. The figure turned around to face him andn just then, the woods came alive with lights and moving forms about a hundred yards away from him. Some of the others carried weapons like the figure in front of him, while others had shovels of the kind he never seen before and using them to dig beneath one dead pine tree.
Hudgins noticed then that the man in front of him actually was a skeleton! The armor seemed like glass and he could see every bone underneath it. Illuminated, the skull gave him a horrible grin. Raising a sword, it stalked Hudgins.
Hudgins lost it and fainted. His horse bolted, and the next morning his family found it cowering in the barn. They found him on the road, like he had fallen asleep. For months after, and until the day Tom Hudgins died, he could never get that horse anywhere near the woods and the animal would always tremble and cower if he tried to force the issue.
Years later, there was an account in another newspaper about some young man whose vehicle had tire trouble one night near the woods.
Kneeling on the road to get the old tire off, a voice behind him said, “Is this the King’s highway? I’ve lost my ship.” When the youth turned around and looked up, he saw with horror, a skeleton in armor. Screaming, he ran like a person pursued by demons and did not come back for the car until the next day.
The ghostly ship itself has brought some sightings. Like the time in 1926, when one fisherman, Ben Ferbee, in his boat had been fishing on a star-filled night. He noticed a full-rigged ship in the bay, and was puzzled by it as such ships were pretty scarce in those days. It began moving, heading his way with lights in every masthead and spar, and he grew scared. He thought they would run him down and he shouted at the sailors by the rails, but they ignored him. The ship passed by his boat, swamped by the water. Making no noise except for the most beautiful harp and organ music ever heard, it rose out of the water and up to the Bay Shore Road, the keel about twenty feet from the ground. He knew then it was a ghost ship! He pulled up anchor and aimed for home. As he left, he saw a ladder drop down from the ship and men with tools and other contraptions skittering down it to the ground. Not long after, he and his family moved from the cursed area.
Another sighting of the sailing ship is attributed to a fourteen-year old boy from Mathews County. He and a buddy took a boat from the Mathews Yacht Club over to the Moon post office. Just after sunset, a mist shimmered over the water. A half mile from the mouth of Billups Creek, they came upon the ship. It floated over the marsh and for another hundred yards, then dissipated.
Harry Forrest, a farmer-fisherman, also saw the ship. Before his death in the 1950s, Forrest saw armies of marching Redcoats, the “Storm Woman” and heard her wailings, and many times, his mother and he saw the lights in the woods. He had been fishing one day when right in broad daylight a full-rigged sailing ship came straight at him. He rowed to shore and watched as it lifted and sailed straight for Old House Woods.
He also saw it another time, this time at night with his friends, Tom and Jack Diggs, as they passed through the woods.
Another story involved a farmer’s wife who went to bring home their two work horses and drove them to the barn. At the gate, she called out to her husband to open it. He came out of the barn to tell her he had already put the horses in the stable two hours before. She turned to look at the horses and found two headless black dogs loping toward the Old House Woods. For years, there have numerous reports of headless cattle roaming the woods.
For centuries, stories and rumors of people and animal disappearances in the woods have been told. Like Lock Owens and Pidge Morgan a hundred and fifty-eight years before. Both had been driving their steer back from cattle auction, Lock’s little black dog with them. They, and everything with them, vanished. Cattle would wander into the woods and never come back out again.
They say these animals would head for Old Cow Hole. One day, Old Cow Hole is filled with water, the next day it is dry as a bone. There are rumors of times when the woods have had a bad storm and a person has gotten soaking wet, then upon coming out of the woods, is perfectly dry.
And there’s Tom Pipkin who decided to search for the buried treasure in 1880. He took his boat on some channel—rumor said pirates had used it—going toward Old Cow Hole, never to be seen again. They found his boat, two gold coins of unknown age, and a battered silver cup, the items covered with mud. One coin bore a Roman head and letters “IVVS” on it. Feeling that it had been cursed, no one took Pipkin’s boat and it was
let to rot away on nearby Gwynn’s Island.
Had the ghosts taken him, maybe drowned him, for daring to search for their buried loot? Whatever the truth is behind this story and all the weird tales, there is one warning repeated time and time again. People vanished into those woods, never to return.
If you get close to where the pirate treasure is hidden, you will never get out of those woods—ever!