Tales of Coles County – Lafayette Avenue Ghost

A reading from the new edition of my book Tales of Coles County, Illinois, released in October 2020!

In Part 2: Legends and Lore, I reveal over a dozen hidden stories from the from the area’s past and present, including ghost stories, folk tales, and other legends and lore. When did a poltergeist terrorize one rural family in Pleasant Grove Township? What is the real story behind the “Mad Gasser of Mattoon”? Why do they call one stretch of road “Dead Man’s Curve”? The answers to these questions and more can be found in this definitive volume.

Pre-order and use the code COLES2020 to receive a 10% discount off the cover price! The window for pre-orders will be open until September 30, 2020, at which time you will receive a notification of when your copy will ship. Shipments are expected in early October when the book is officially released.

Pre-order Tales of Coles County, Illinois today and save!

Victorian Ghosts Roam Wilmington's Bellamy Mansion

This majestic mansion and gardens offers some guests a glimpse into the beyond for their price of admission.

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Built for a prominent North Carolina slaveholder and his family, the Bellamy Mansion on Market Street in Wilmington’s Historic District is a majestic relic of a bygone era. Today, you can tour the mansion and nearby servant quarters, and purchase souvenirs in the former carriage house. For a few unsuspecting guests, however, this glimpse at a bygone era is a little too real. It’s said some members of the Bellamy family never left.

Designed by Wilmington architect James F. Post in 1859, this 22-room Greek Revival and Italianate-style mansion took nearly two years to build. It was completed in 1861, just as North and South were embroiled in civil war. Dr. John Dillard Bellamy (1817-1896) commissioned the home for his large family and their closest servants and slaves. Dr. Bellamy was an ardent secessionist who owned over one hundred slaves throughout North Carolina.

In early 1865, the family fled Wilmington during an outbreak of yellow fever, but wouldn’t return until the fall because the Union Army had occupied the city and were using their mansion as a headquarters. Union General Joseph Roswell Hawley wasn’t keen on returning the property to an unabashed rebel. He wrote, “having for four years been making his bed, he now must lie on it for awhile.”

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Fort Drum Specters Preserve the Past

Locals say ghosts refuse to allow the past to remain buried at this military base in Upstate New York.

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I was stationed at Fort Drum for over three years. When I wasn’t freezing my rear-end off during field exercises in the training area, I was researching the area’s history and lore. Like Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, Fort Drum has its share of ghost stories, but because it’s a military base, its haunted sites aren’t readily available to the public. This seclusion lends an air of mystery to these already strange tales.

Fort Drum and its training area sprawls over 14 square miles of Jefferson County, New York, which shares a waterway with Canada. Relations with our neighbor to the north have not always been so friendly, and nearby Sackets Harbor served as a naval shipyard as far back as 1809. The US Army established Fort Pike and the Madison Barracks during the War of 1812 to defend the harbor. Nearly a century later, the Army opened Pine Camp several miles south along the Black River near Watertown, New York.

In 1940 and ’41, Pine Camp rapidly expanded as the Second World War threatened to drag the United States into another international conflict. The expansion displaced 525 families, swallowed five villages, and left over 3,000 buildings abandoned. The estate of James Le Ray, son of Revolutionary War hero Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, was appropriated by the military base. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

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Beware the Ax-Wielding Bunny Man of Fairfax County

For decades, storytellers have claimed an ax-wielding “Bunny Man” has terrorized northern Virginia, but the truth might be stranger than fiction.

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The year was 1904. A bus carrying inmates from the county asylum swerved along darkened country back roads towards Lorton Prison. One of the buses took a sharp turn and crashed in a particularly remote area, killing all but ten patients. Most were recaptured, except for Douglas J. Grifon, convicted of murdering his family on Easter. Since then, the carcasses of helpless teenagers and bunnies alike have been found hanging from a nearby bridge, slain at the hands of a deranged man wearing a rabbit-eared costume.

This ax-wielding bunnyman has reportedly appeared to startled onlookers as far away as Maryland, Washington, DC, and Culpepper, Virginia, but if he has a home, it’s in rural Fairfax County, Virginia near an old railroad bridge over Colchester Road. The bridge, variously known as Fairfax Station Bridge or Colchester Overpass, has become known as “Bunny Man Bridge” in popular imagination. It’s even labeled as such on Google Maps.

A remote, creepy bridge used during the 1950s and ’60s as a make out spot is like a magnet for urban legends and folklore, and Bunny Man Bridge is no exception. Though variations of common legends have taken root here, Bunny Man Bridge is unique in that at least part of the legend is based on real events.

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Canadian History Lingers at Bellevue House

Once home to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, some visitors to Bellevue House report encountering unexplained sights and sounds.

Though Sir. John A. Macdonald and his family lived here less than two years, their presence has come to define this 180-year-old Italianate villa, while brief glimpses of an ethereal woman and her child fuel speculation that tragic deaths have left a lasting stain on this Canadian National Landmark.

A wealthy merchant named Charles Hales built the unusually-shaped green and white home at 35 Centre Street in Kingston, Ontario in 1840. The house has two wings extending out from a single tower, with seven levels throughout its three floors. It was located in what was then Kingston’s picturesque outskirts. Because of its eccentric architectural features, local residents dubbed the house ‘Tea Caddy Castle’, ‘Muscovado Cottage’, ‘Pekoe Pagoda’, and ‘Molasses Hall’.

Sir. John Alexander Macdonald (1815-1891) was a Scottish immigrant to British Canada who determinedly rose to become a prominent lawyer and legislator. He went on to help establish Canada as a nation and became its first prime minister in 1867. He met his cousin, Isabella Clark, during a trip to Britain in 1842, and after she traveled to Kingston to visit her sister, the two were married in September 1843. Isabella fell ill just two years later, and never fully recovered.

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Does a ‘Female Stranger’ Still Linger at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum?

After more than 200 years, the mystery of the ‘Female Stranger’ continues to fascinate visitors to this Alexandria, Virginia landmark. Some say her ghost never left.

Alexandria, Virginia is an old town filled with historic buildings, populated by ghosts and legends. No less than 49 sites in Alexandria are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps the most legendary is Gadsby’s Tavern at the corner of Cameron and Royal streets. Its mysterious tale of the “Female Stranger” has confounded local historians and folklorists for over 200 years.

In the late 1700s, Alexandria was the social center of northern Virginia. Charles and Anne Mason first recognized the potential for a tavern and opened a business at the corner of Royal and Cameron streets. With the end of the Revolutionary War, an entrepreneur named John Wise built a new tavern in 1785 and a hotel in 1792, red brick buildings which still exist to this day. John Gadsby leased and operated the establishments from 1796 to 1808, when Alexandria became part of the new Federal District of Washington, DC.

In those early years, Gadsby’s Tavern hosted travelers from all over the colonies, including prominent men like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette. It was considered a premier establishment, hosting parties and balls in its large hall. It was during this heyday when the legend of the mysterious “Female Stranger” took root.

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Phantasmal Melody at Fort Stanwix

Since the rebuilt colonial-era fort opened for tourists, some say sunrise brings a haunting melody of musical instruments from the past.

Fort Stanwix National Monument is a reconstruction of a historic fort occupying approximately 16 acres in downtown Rome, New York. Originally built by the British, it was captured and used by American colonists during the Revolutionary War. Since reconstruction finished in 1978, visitors have reported strange encounters with otherworldly sights and sounds, as though ghosts from the past have returned to reclaim their home.

British General John Stanwix originally ordered construction of the fort in the summer of 1758 to guard a portage connecting the Mohawk River and Wood Creek during the French and Indian War. It finished in 1762. The 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix between the British and the Iroquois attempted to solidify the frontier boundary and reduce hostility there. The fort was then abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin.

Colonial troops under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton occupied and repaired the fort in July 1776 and renamed it Fort Schuyler. British forces besieged the fort in August 1777, but were demoralized by a colonial raid on their camp and withdrew. It burned down in 1781. A treaty between the United States and the Iroquois League was signed at the site in 1784.

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Drink with the Ghost of Poe at the Historic Deer Park Tavern

Deer Park Tavern not only shares the physical location of the old St. Patrick’s Inn, many patrons and staff insist it shares something of the metaphysical as well.

Deer Park Tavern, 108 W Main Street in Newark, Delaware, towers above the intersection of W Main Street and London Avenue at the northwest edge of the University of Delaware campus. For nearly 170 years, it has been at the social center of Newark, but the location’s history goes back even farther. The current red-brick, ‘U-shaped’ building sits near the site of St. Patrick’s Inn, which was built circa 1747 and hosted storied figures including Edgar Allan Poe. Many patrons and staff believe a few of their spirits remained behind, even after the original structure disappeared.

Some sources say St. Patrick’s Inn was built as early as 1743, but historians disagree. A man named John Pritchard owned it in 1750, and it was sometimes referred to as “Pritchard’s Hotel”. The hotel was a hot spot for travelers in the Colonial days, and it even (supposedly) quartered George Washington. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon based their operations out of the hotel while surveying the boundary line between Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware between 1763 and 1767. The “Mason–Dixon line” later became famous as shorthand for the border between slave states and free states.

But St. Patrick’s Inn is most famous for playing host to legendary Dark Romantic poet and storyteller Edgar Allan Poe. On December 23, 1843, Poe gave a lecture at the Newark Academy and spent the night at St. Patrick’s. According to legend, upon returning to the inn, he tripped while exiting his carriage and fell in the mud. “A curse upon this place!” he said. “All who enter shall have to return!” Onlookers were so amused they carried him inside. Later, it was said Poe either wrote or was inspired to write his famous poem “The Raven” while staying there. Poe spent another week lecturing on poetry at Newark Academy in 1849, shortly before his death.

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