The wealthy took to rising and enjoying the train. The idea of segregating cabins by class had been introduced in the 1840s. Unlike the rich, everyone else still had a miserable time using trains for traveling. Hospitality establishments known as exchange hotels began to spring up, catering to weary passengers, who needed somewhere to stay while they waited for trains to be refueled.
One of these exchange hotels was located in Gordonsville, Virginia, and nowadays is The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum. From 1860 to 1862, it served travelers in desperate need of a warm meal and a good night’s sleep. But from 1862 until the end of the Civil War, Union and Confederate soldiers were treated for battle wounds, or perished because of them, here, as it was used as a hospital, as many homes, hotels and other places had been used. It was during the Reconstruction Period, it became a healthcare and educational compound for freed slaves. Over time, it resumed its original function, until it became a complex for private homes in the 1940s. Historic Gordonsville, Inc. acquired it in 1971 and transformed it into a place where tourists check out the Civil War artifacts, learn some American history, and most of all, have ghostly encounters.
A tavern operated where the Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum stands today. This lively pub was opened in the 1840s, about the time the Gordonsville Depot was built, serving as a great watering hole for thirsty travelers, until it burned down in 1859. Perhaps the hotel’s current roster of spirits includes those who perished in that unfortunate fire.
The depot serviced two major railways, The Alexandria & Orange Railroad and The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Thus, like the hotel, it also fell in the path of many Civil War battles. No wonder it too is believed to be haunted. Many EVPs were recorded and several eerie shadows photographed in the building. I myself, in 2012, during Paracon at the exchange then, heard things when our guide took us inside there.
After the tavern’s demise, Richard F. Omohundro, the owner of the property at the time, decided that the next best thing to open on it was a hotel. The hotel included a three story main building and an older, two story dependent structure. The establishment is believed to be the work of master architect Benjamin F. Faulconer.
The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum drew in many travelers for two years. But hotel operations were brought to an abrupt halt in March 1862 , and it received a new function: as the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital. Within just one year, over 23,000 sick and wounded were brought to it, and by the end of the Civil War, its total number of patients reached more than 70,000. 700 men would not be saved and had to “be buried on its surrounding grounds And we all know how many former Civil War hospitals are now haunted spots.
In January 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. Congress’s next step was to figure out what to do, and where these four million emancipated African-Americans should go. The Freedmen’s Bureau became established, where freed slaves, were provided food, housing and medical aid, established schools and offered legal assistance. The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum temporarily became a Freedmen’s Bureau hospital. In 2002, it was recognized as an African-American memorial site. This maybe why many spirits seen at the museum are African-American.
Strange occurrences, such as doors closing on their own and eerie orbs appearing suddenly in rooms, have led many employees to avoid night shifts at the museum. In its hotel days, guests also experienced spooky phenomena. They’ve awoken to screams and moans (perhaps of soldiers, enduring painful amputations in operation rooms), for instance. Others would encounter nurses, garbed in black, wandering the halls.
Today, one of the hotel’s most famous spirits is known as Anna, a slave and close friend of Margaret Crank, the second wife of one of the hotel’s early owners. Frequent sightings of Anna in the museum’s dependency, known as the Summer Kitchen, have made it a favorite for ghost hunters.
Anna the cook has been seen and recorded. When asked "What are you cooking Anna?" her response: "I cook fried chicken."
The museum has been featured in My Ghost Story on Biography Channel. Anna’s story was told on this television show. But other scary encounters experienced at the property included being pushed by invisible forces, hearing footsteps and loud banging, seeing shadows and strange lights, and so on. One woman had an especially frightful run-in with one of the museum’s most hostile spirits, Major Quartermaster Richards. According to local lore, Richards’ wife had been cheating on him with a surgeon. Upon discovering this betrayal, the Major took the poor woman into the woods, murdered her, then hung himself. Before taking his own life, he vowed to hold her spirit for eternity.
I will be there tomorrow at Paracon at the Exchange, selling my books and Paranormal World Seekers DVDs. Will I do a short investigation—with my ghost box? Stay tune…