Paranormal experts, if there are such things, are in general agreement that Virginia is one of the most haunted states, perhaps the most haunted, in the nation. And for good reason. It is the oldest colony in America and there are more surviving old houses here than anywhere else. Plus, since the experts contend that tragic and traumatic deaths are a leading cause for the existence of ghosts, if there are such things as ghosts, then Virginia surely ranks at the top of the list since there has been more blood shed here over the past 400 years dating from Indian attacks on the early settlers on up through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
Accounts of lingering spirits blanket the entire map of the Old Dominion, from Winchester south to Bristol, and from Monterey east to Virginia Beach. The Northern Neck is not excluded from this questionable list and, arguably, one of the most haunted houses in this historic area is Stratford Hall. It was here, of course, that Robert E. Lee was born in 1807. The mansion itself dates to the late 1730s. Among its long-ago occupants are some of the most famous names in American history, including Richard Henry Lee, a leader of the Continental Congress, and Light Horse Harry Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War, and Robert’s father.
As with so many antique estates, there is ample justification for ghostly encounters at Stratford Hall, for along with its majestic eloquence, family members through the centuries have had their share of tragic events. If a visitor to the house today asks a tour guide about ghosts, he or she is told they are not part of the narrative. The guides are trained to “protect” the historical integrity of the site. The key to finding a more positive answer to such a provocative question is to query others. Find a maid, janitor, or better yet, a night security guard, and they may well reveal some of Stratford Hall’s most guarded secrets.
That is precisely what the author did some years ago, and the results were quite surprising. Here are some examples. A domestic worker walked into the library one day to clean it, and then promptly retreated. Her supervisor asked what happened and she replied that she didn’t want to disturb the gentleman inside. What gentleman the supervisor replied. The worker said she saw a figure in old fashioned clothes checking over some papers. The two women then reentered the library. There was no one there. The worker became very frightened and fled the house.
Once, a well known psychic visited. When she passed through the great hall on the second floor, she stopped and said she felt “so many good impressions.” She claimed to see the room full of Lees and that there was dancing, music and entertainment. She added that the Lees were pleased with how the house was being taken care of.
A hostess said her encounter came on a dismal, dark winter afternoon. During a tour, she saw a woman and a child in a room in colonial period costume. She thought it was another hostess but when she later asked the hostess about it she was told she hadn’t even been upstairs. Then she lifted her hand and covered her mouth and said that the first hostess “had finally seen them.” Who? She has seen Ann Lee, the distraught and broken hearted wife of Black Horse Harry Lee, and their little daughter, Margaret, who had died in the house at age two in 1820 after falling down the stairs! Others, including tourists, have reported hearing a phantom woman calling for a child, the sound of a child running, and then both of them laughing, as if they were playing together.
Security guards, too, have experienced various forms of psychic manifestations. One said a lot of mysterious things happen here, especially strange noises at night. Like what? “Loud racket,” he emphasized. “The sounds of heavy furniture being moved around when no one is in the room. Other times we heard rustling sounds, like petticoats and skirts rubbing against chairs and tables, but you never see anything.” One officer said he heard fiddle and harp music on occasion.
Another guard said one night he was sitting in a chair when something unseen grabbed his sleeve and lifted his arm straight up. Also, he added, when he was alone one night reading a book, he got up to make his rounds and when he came back the book had flatly disappeared. One guard told of a new man on the job. “He quit after one hour and wouldn’t even talk about what happened to him.”
Two officers said that on multiple occasions they had seen the apparition of a small boy, about three or four years old, wearing dark purple britches and a light colored purple shirt with ruffled sleeves. Each time they approached the figure, he evaporated before their eyes. One said, “I believe he was a spirit. If he wasn’t, where did he go?” Could it have been the ghost of Robert E. Lee, who moved out of Stratford Hall when he was just three and a half? Another clue suggests that it might be the son of Philip Ludwell Lee, himself the son of Thomas Lee, the founder of the house. According to family tradition, this boy fell down the stairs in the mansion one day in 1779. He was four years old!
Possibly the most terrifying encounters were experienced by J.R. “Butch” Myers, a leather craftsman who lives in Richmond. He travels about demonstrating how 18th century shoes are made. In June 1989, he was at an exhibition at Stratford Hall. He spent the night in a dependency building near the main house. Getting ready for bed, he lit six candles in stands, then heard approaching footsteps outside and assumed it was the security guard making his rounds.
Myers recalled: “I took a couple of steps toward the door when a sudden down draft of freezing cold air hit me, taking my breath away. It was like walking into a cold storage locker. I got goose bumps all over. Just as this happened, there was a thunderous noise in the chimney. It sounded like the whole building was going to collapse. I didn’t find this out until later but the chimney was sealed top and bottom. There was no way anything alive could be in it.”
“If this wasn’t scary enough, and believe me it was,” Myers continued, “I turned around just in time to see the candles go out. They didn’t go out at once, as if blown out by a down shaft of air. They went out one at a time, in sequence, as if someone was snuffing them out!” At first Myers thought someone was playing a joke on him, but then he realized he was alone in the room. He told a security guard what happened, and the man didn’t seem surprised. He just said, “Oh, you’ve just met our friend.”
Myers returned to his room and relit the candles. He said, “Now you can believe this or not, I don’t care, but the icy coldness hit me again, and the racket kicked up in the chimney, which really scared me now, because the guard had told me about it being sealed. Then, someone or something very methodically extinguished each candle again, this time in reverse order!”
“There definitely was something there, a presence or whatever you want to call it. It was enough for me. I said, “Listen, you can have the room. Just let me get my pillow and blanket and I will get out of here.” And I got out of there as quick as I could and went over to another dependency, where the guard was, and I told him I was spending the night with him!”
Myers went back to Stratford Hall five years later for another craft show on the grounds. He refused to stay in the dependency where he had been before, but one evening he walked over to it. “It was a nice gentle breeze blowing,” he says, “but when I got in front of the building, everything was deathly still. Nothing was stirring. It was an eerie feeling. I put my hand on the doorknob and it was like clutching an icicle. That’s as far as I got. I wouldn’t go back into that room. There was something in there that didn’t want me inside.”
“The guards told me it wouldn’t hurt me, but they hadn’t felt what I had in that room. I’m not saying definitely that it was something evil, but I didn’t want to stick around and find out. It had made its point with me. I’m not psychic or anything, but I believe there is something to ghosts and spirits and there’s a lot we don’t understand about all that yet. But I can say for sure that I am certain there is something other worldly at Stratford Hall. There was something unexplained in that room, and one experience with whatever it was, or is, was enough for me!”
Personally signed Virginia ghost books by L.B. Taylor, Jr. may be obtained directly from the author at 108 Elizabeth Meriwether, Williamsburg, VA 23185. There are 13 separate independent volumes of “The Ghosts of Virginia,” covering the entire commonwealth and are $18.00 each. “Civil War Ghosts of Virginia,” “The Ghosts of Fredericksburg” including a chapter on Stratford Hall, and “A Treasury of True Ghostly Humor” are $15.00 each. Please include $3.00 shipping and handling on single book orders, $5.00 on multiple books, check or money order only.
L.B. Taylor, Jr. can be reached by mail, or call 757-253-2636, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please specify to whom you wish the books signed.