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Rivah Visitor's Guide

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True ghost stories of the Northern Neck

by Audrey Thomasson

With the arrival of fall, Halloween is just around the corner and ready to haunt us with witches, black cats and white mists swirling around gravestones.

Even if you’re not a big fan of Freddie Kruger movies or frightening encounters with poltergeists, perhaps you have wondered whether there are spirits living in our midst.

With such a rich history, the Northern Neck is bound to have its share of ghost sightings and unexplained events. But not all ghostly encounters are frightening, as you’ll discover from the following accounts.

There will be skeptics who laugh at tales of the paranormal and give reason to the unexplainable. But to truly encounter a spirit, says one contributor, one must possess a fair amount of imagination.

So with that in mind, pull down the shades and let your imagination soar.

A room for Sarah
Sightings from Mayor Alexander and Suzanne Fleet, Irvington

Mayor Alexander and Suzanne Fleet talk about their friend and ghost, Sarah Haydon.

Sarah Wilder was only 12 years old when she married the dashing young sea captain and Civil War blockade runner, Tom Hayden, in the 1800s. For a wedding present, her parents presented the couple with a house on Steamboat Road in Irvington. Behind the country colonial home, an expanse of lush green grass rolled down a slope, past a horse barn and to the edge of Carter’s Creek. The Haydens raised 11 children in the home and filled it with many memories over a lifetime together.

The property was known as Hayden Hall and was purchased in 1978 by another young family. Alex and Suzanne Fleet had been living next door waiting for the opportunity to purchase the place as the perfect setting to raise their two little girls. But at the closing, the attorney informed them of an unusual stipulation in the property deed leaving Sarah Hayden a room in the house for as long as she needed it. It was believed that her sprightly ghost continued to walk the halls.

imageNot wanting to scare their children, the Fleets didn’t talk about Sarah at first. But they also didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with the spirit of the house should she really exist, so they designated a room at the top of the stairs in her honor.

Over the years, Sarah made her presence known in ways that Suzanne said could be explained away by people with little imagination. One window upstairs would mysteriously open and close. Also, the coat closet door would burst open or the china in the corner cupboard would begin to rattle when no one was in the room.

Old homes always have squeaky staircases—it’s part of their charm. Besides, it helps parents keep an ear out for teenagers coming home past curfew. But in Hayden Hall, the stairs would creak in the middle of the night when the girls were tucked in and fast asleep. While most people would arm themselves in anticipation of an intruder, Alex and Suzanne remain in bed and call a ‘good night’ to Sarah as they drift off to sleep.

The Fleets learned to have fun with their friendly ghost, especially when she helped the girls with their chores. When their mother found them returning too soon from refilling the horse’s water trough, the girls explained that Sarah got there first.

“I never find Sarah much help when it comes time to clean the house or rake leaves,” Suzanne said. 

One year in preparation for Garden Week, Suzanne ordered new wallpaper for Sarah’s room. But as the event drew near the wallpaper had not arrived. Finally, she went to the shop determined to purchase another pattern but was greeted by the shopkeeper with the startling news that ‘Sarah’ had arrived. Seeing Suzanne’s bewildered expression, the woman explained that the wallpaper was named “Sarah.”

With the Fleet children grown and with families of their own, Haydon Hall is looking for new owners—preferably with children for Sarah to watch over.

The lady in the rocking chair
Sighting by Bill Johnson, Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury

Long before Bill Johnson moved to Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury, he lived in a house on a spit of land along a river. It was a convenient location, right next door to his mother. But the house was small and Bill wanted to buy something bigger. One afternoon, he was by the water’s edge when he noticed a house further down the shoreline that appeared to be vacant. He decided to stroll over and get a closer look to see if anyone was living in it. 

When he saw a window shade was raised he went over and looked inside. Much to his surprise there was an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair in the middle of the room.

Embarrassed, Bill jumped away from the window and made a hasty retreat home.

Some days later, he saw a man raking leaves in the yard and decided to make a full confession and apologize for the intrusion.

According to the man, the house belonged to his mother. But she passed away several years ago and the house had been empty ever since.

“The chair was her favorite place to sit in the afternoons,” he said.

Bill decided not to buy the house.

Hauntings at Merry Point
Sighting by Ann Carter and Dixie Wood

The Merry Point ferry gives riders a sweeping view of the Corrotoman River and John’s Creek. It is a beautiful sight—and possibly the reason why the entrance to the creek seems to be a popular spot for the dearly departed.

A bright red cabin sits at the water’s edge tucked in amongst the pines. The simple four-square wood structure was built in 1929 by Ann Carter’s grandfather as a “temporary” dwelling after a fire took the family homestead. The grandfather passed away in the cabin in 1934 before rebuilding his home.

Ann recalls several unusual sightings at the cabin when she was a young child. Once the family was out in their boat fishing not far from the cabin when a figure appeared on their beach and headed for the point. Because the cabin is so isolated, they assumed it was their handyman. But when they went ashore the man had vanished leaving no trace of his existence, not even a footprint in the sand.

One evening, family members were sitting around the dining area talking when Ann suddenly saw an old man standing to the side of the room looking around.

“I told them, ‘Stop talking, that man is here.’ When he disappeared, I told the adults it was all right to start talking again,” she said.

imageAnother early memory occurred in 1937, when the family was awakened in the middle of the night by a resident across the creek. Mrs. Chilton was ringing the dinner bell and screaming for Ann’s father, C.E.  Mr. Chilton had passed away in the night and she needed C.E. to drive their car to the only neighbor with a phone and call family members. The blurry-eyed man pulled on his clothes and took the skiff across the creek.

“When Daddy got in her car, the passenger door opened on its own and he felt the car jiggle like when someone gets in,” Ann said. “Then the door closed by itself. Daddy said it was a white knuckle drive all the way. At Miss Lewis’ house, the door opened and closed on its own again.”

More recent sightings at the red cabin seem to occur when Ann is not around. Workmen repairing the cabin have suddenly picked up their gear and left after being spooked by “a presence.”

Dixie Wood and her husband were staying at the cabin with Ann while they painted the inside of the house. On the third day, Ann wasn’t with them.

“I was standing at the front door admiring the river view when I saw something that appeared to be hovering at the water’s edge. It appeared like a whitish form, wispy-like, not dense. It stayed there for just a few seconds and then it started to move away. It was so real that I followed it as I ran through the house, watching it from the windows. And then it just disappeared.”

Whether an apparition or something else, Dixie was sure it was there to watch over their work in Ann’s absence. 

A ghost with a sense of humor
Sighting by Dick and Sandy Saxer, Reedville

When Dick and Sandy Saxer bought a Victorian house on Main Street in Reedville, they were so excited about the ‘painted lady’ they showed a picture of it to the realtor handling the sale of their New Jersey home.

She took one look at the house and told them there was an aura about it—and she wasn’t referring to the seafoam green trim around the windows and porches.

“Are you aware there is a spirit there?” she asked. The agent (and amateur psychic) explained that the spirit was friendly, however.

Despite the news that they would be sharing the house with the supernatural, the Saxers moved in without giving it another thought.

But it wasn’t long before they began to hear footsteps in the hallway on the second floor at night. Sandy described once seeing an apparition or the shimmer of something or someone in the hallway.

Even their two dogs have encountered the spirit. In the afternoons, they enjoy napping of the floor of the sitting room. But once in a while, they would pick up their ears and watch something move through the room, their heads turning in unison as they follow what appears to be nothing to the Saxers.

The couple eventually learned from neighbors about an incident that had happened years earlier. A former owner had accidentally killed her maid when she was backing the car out of the driveway. It is believed that Annie had also been a companion to the owner and was so well liked, she lived in a cottage built especially for her in the back yard.

Evidently, Annie had preferences about the way she liked things in her kitchen. On several occasions the Saxers found the curtain valances pushed all the way to one side.

The kitchen door had one of those old fashioned locks that require a skeleton key. When the door wasn’t locked, the key hung from a ribbon from the door handle. Dick claims that when he used the back door, Annie would sometimes seize the opportunity to lock him out. But the key was still dangling from the door knob.

“Annie has a real sense of humor.” Dick said. “She never locked my wife outside.  Just me.”

The Saxers moved to a new house several years ago, but claim the decision had nothing to do with Annie.

The haunted staircase and afternoon carriage rides
Sighting by Myrna Acors, Windsor Farms

People aren’t the only spirits who decide to stay on after death. Pets have been known to hang around, too.

The land around Windsor Farms in Lancaster County had been in Myrna Acors’ family since 1657. Myrna lives in a center hall colonial home that was built in 1833 from the brick ballast off of ships.  Several cats have the run of the house and barn.

imageVisitors have been known to comment on a white cat materializing out of an air vent and scampering up the center hall staircase.  Myrna says the cat on the staircase is unlike any of her cats—because hers are all gray.

The only white cat she can remember was her aunt Frances’s. But Myrna was a young girl when the cat died many years ago. Obviously, the ghostly feline is in no hurry to leave the place it loves so much. The Acorses catch a glimpse of the cat every now and then, and always on its way up the staircase.

The cat isn’t the only one haunting the 175-year-old house. About 2:30 p.m., the family occasionally hears the sound of a carriage riding up the driveway and circling the house. They used to get up to see who was coming, but there was never anyone or anything there. Now they accept the carriage as part of their history. It is probably one of the ancestors coming by to check on things.

posted 10.01.2008

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