Friday, November 07, 2014

Supernatural Friday: Petersburg , Virginia Is Full of Spirits

People talk about the most haunted spots in the worlds, using top tens and twenties. Of course, many of these are logical places in Europe and elsewhere, but many of those in the United States are ones I’ve seen done by "Ghost Hunters" or "Ghost Adventurers" TV shows. There are many more I’ve been to, not mentioned on these shows I have seen activity. Many have stories behind them, from legends to people actually experiencing things.  So whose to say these aren’t as haunted as many of those from top tens and twenties?

I’m going to talk about a town I feel can match many of those. Petersburg, Virginia. When I submitted a book proposal to Schiffer Publishing, I wasn’t sure how much I would get just in the town itself. I added the whole Tri-Cities area, including Dinwiddie and Prince George counties.  I got more than I bargained for, especially in Ole Town section of Petersburg. Had some experiences that will chill some readers, and did freak out with a paranormal incident, one investigator who investigated a couple of spots with me back in July 2014. Even weirder (or maybe not), there had been a full moon that Saturday night.  Won’t go into it—it will all be in the book that I heard may be out Spring 2015.

In 1645, Fort Henry was established for the defense of the inhabitants on the south side of the James River. Fort Henry's commander and owner, Abraham Wood, rose to the rank of major general of the militia, participated in Indian relations, revised laws of the colony, and led expeditions to the south and west. From 1638 to 1675, Fort Henry became a center of trade and exploration.

Peter Jones succeeded Abraham Wood as leader in the area in 1675.  He married Abraham Wood’s daughter, Margaret, and continued the trade established by Wood. He took charge of Fort Henry and established his own trading post.  Local tradition indicates that Petersburg may have been named for Peter Jones; however, there is no documentation to prove that.

Separate in the beginning, the towns of Petersburg and Blandford incorporated in 1748 followed by the town of Pocahontas in 1752. The towns of Petersburg, Blandford, and Pocahontas, along with the suburbs of Ravenscroft and Bollingbrook, all became one town called Petersburg.  Petersburg elected John Banister as its first mayor in 1781. As you will read later, he is still a presence around Petersburg.

And during the War of 1812, the city was named by President James Madison, “Cockade of the Union” (or “Cockade City,” in honor of the cockades the Volunteers wore on their caps. They had fought at the Siege of Fort Megis. No, this was not in Virginia.

Petersburg suffered the Great Fire on July 16, 1815. More than 350 buildings were destroyed with an estimated $3,000,000 in damage.  After that, Petersburg residents began building out of brick.  Between 1815 and 1817, Petersburg saw the emergence of approximately three hundred brick buildings.

The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign or the Siege, was a series of nine offensives by the Union forces against the Confederates defending Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. The Siege of Petersburg happened between June 9, 1864 and March 25, 1865. Upwards of 50,000 Union soldiers and 32,000 Confederates died during this time. Construction trenches were erected around the eastern portion of Richmond to the outskirts of Petersburg. The city was a major supply hub to the confederate army led by Robert E. Lee who finally abandoned the city in 1865 and retreated, leading to his ultimate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. The Siege of Petersburg was an early example of trench warfare used extensively in World War I.  

Today, Petersburg is a city of history dressed in the latest fashions. But its historical beginnings still show beneath its skirts. And some of those skirts belong to the dead still hanging around.


Lets’ talk about the haunted spots in this part of town. Like Wabi Sabi, Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House, Blue Willow Tea Room, The Bistro at Market and Grove (investigating tomorrow for Paranormal World Seekers episode straight to DVD), Peter Jones Trading Post,  High Street (including Dodson Tavern), and some places in buildings along Old Street. Plus I imagine many other places in town. Nearby is Centre Hill Mansion, famously haunted with the lady that has been seen and heard and the soldiers that march on January 24th, into the house, go up stairs, a half an hour later downstairs to walk back out the front door. There should be another Ghost Watch in 2015 as my husband and I attended the one this past January 24th. Wait until January 1st and call

804-733-2401, or keep tabs at http// to see when they will take reservations.

Not too faraway Blandford Cemetery and Church and Petersburg National Battlefield.  Ragland Mansion Bed and Breakfast is close by in downtown Petersburg has some stories.  

Where else would you find a house made of Civil War soldiers’ tombstones? Back in the Thirties, the city of Petersburg needed money, so they sold the tombstones from what is now Poplar Grove National Cemetery, owned by the US Government. Back then it was Petersburg. They replaced the missing stone gravestones with wooden markers. Today, small marble ones replaced those by the government. 

The man who bought the tombstones was a builder, O. E. Young, for $45.00. The ones used to build the house were placed facing inwards, and then Young plastered over the inscriptions. He even made the walkway out of the tombstones that face down. Okay, that is weird you say, but does that make the house haunted? For a long time, there was no stories about the house. Not until I overheard a docent at Blandford Church and Cemetery talk to another about the haunting that had happened there. Seems an owner of the place (not sure if it is the current owner) had a nephew stop by who had drank too much, so the man told the other to go upstairs and take a nap. The man was awakened by a ‘Rebel’ yell and sitting up, saw a Civil War soldier standing there. The spirit faded away. 

Another place was Battersea, the home of Colonel John Banister, the first mayor of Petersburg and a signer of the Articles of Confederation. Ghost stories are mentioned and reenactors have told me about experiences.  Unfortunately, the Easter Sunday I was there for the Revolutionary War re-enactment of the 1981 battle in Petersburg held at Battersea, I forgot some of my equipment and the chance to investigate the house and land myself.

The Bistro at Market and Grove stands on the spot where the warehouse for Peter Jones Trading Post was. Before the restaurant  a gas station stood on the land. Between the gas station and the warehouse, no knowledge. The night in July, we got the voice of someone from the trading post—maybe Peter himself, as he called himself Peter. We had gotten other male voices and female ones too. One of the men knew who the owner of the restaurant was when I asked. He said, “The owner!” I even got darting shadow or shadows in front of me when I switched my camera to video.  This was about fifteen minutes to 1:00 p.m.  Could this be the dancing female spirit caught in a photo from a past investigation, one that appeared to love dancing in the dining room? The one Russ and his workers called Francine, but told me over the ghost box that her name was Ann?

It wasn’t any one living. Customers were gone from inside since 10 p.m. and outdoors in the patio since midnight. As for the rest of us, my fellow investigators sat with me around the table we used, while the two male workers had already left at midnight and one can see the waitress entering the kitchen when it happened, to tell the owner she needed a ride home as her husband had just called to tell her he would be working late.

Need a restaurant that has good food? Try The Bistro while in Petersburg. Just don’t be surprise if your napkin disappears, or some see-through woman dances by your table, it’s just the entities still haunting the building.

Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House actually back in the 1930s was owned by Hiram Haines, friend of Edgar Allan Poe and a fellow poet and editor. He had convinced Poe to honeymoon at the place, staying upstairs in the second floor suite. You can find out more about Poe in Petersburg in the book by the current owner of the building, Jeff Abugel. It is called Edgar Allan Poe's Petersburg: The Untold Story of the Raven in the Cockade City. You can fine it also at, besides at Amazon.

Strangely, through my ghost box or on EVPs, Poe nor Virginia did not answer. Others, like the nurse who took care of the Confederates and the soldiers themselves on the third floor where it had been a Civil War hospital during the Siege, and the Frenchman, Richard Rambaut, did though. Richard even gave me an answer in French, when I asked him to say something in French to prove to me it was him. The answer: “Oui.” 

Right now, Hiram Haines is closed, but may reopen in January. The owner is trying to make the second and third floor up to code for the city so Hiram will be a bed and breakfast, not just an eatery. He has a Kickstarter up for it. You can find it HERE. The minimum donated can be a dollar—same price for an item on McDonald's dollar menu.  Help if you can and you might able to stay where Poe did sleep and even have your own ghostly incident.

Blue Willow Tea Room doesn’t have the ghost in the shop itself (unless they are not showing themselves to the living), but upstairs. Second floor above is full of antiques for sale by Penniston'sAlley Antiques and Collectibles next door to the tea shop. But it appears that the first mayor of Petersburg, Burgess. I did get one word, “Bur” over my ghost box, when I asked if any ghost was with us and a man;s voice said, “Yes.” Bur for Burgess? Can’t prove that one way or another, but still I felt it was him. The third floor, particularly the room upstairs from the third floor had no doubt spirits from the Underground Railroad. The owner who went with me heard the male and female voices that spoke from my box as much as I did.  They even admitted to scaring off a couple of guys who were investigating one night, filming.  Next time you got for a cup, try Blue Willow. You just might have the first mayor of the town sit down with you.

Another kind of African-American spirit is seen and heard at Wabi Sabi. Not a runaway slave, but a black Confederate soldier. I even got two photos of this man peeking through the glass door of the downstairs room. Not the only phantom to stalk the rooms of Wabi Sabi and the whole building (formerly the Nathaniel Friend house). I myself got a woman’s voice over my ghost box and a young boy who called himself Philip. A boy who grew excited when I said that maybe I needed to go back upstairs to fetch a ball from my ghost bag I’d left up there.  He even told me what my earrings I wore, which were snowmen, saying, “Snowman.” When the owner joined me, and I said to tell him hello, the man did, the woman said, “No,” and the boy said nothing.  Next time you want some sushi, try Wabi Sabi. Just be forewarned, more than the living enjoy the place.

 Need some good haunted places not in the top ten or twenties to visit? Come to Petersburg, Virginia. Between the  the good food at the eateries, shopping, and historical places and events, you just might catch sight of a Civil War soldier, or a man in a cockade hat, or a woman still dancing away. After all with such a long history connected, the dead do not want to give up their residency in the town.

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