Mysterious America

The Falling Ghosts of Carlyle House Historic Park

From colonial aristocratic manor to dilapidated squatter’s nest to historic landmark, Carlyle House has survived centuries, but eyewitnesses claim something otherworldly has survived with it.

A Colonial Era ruin uncovered after decades hidden behind an antebellum hotel should be enough to ignite storytellers’ imaginations, but it’s reports of numerous apparitions that make Carlyle House in Alexandria, Virginia a mandatory stop on any local ghost tour. Built by Scottish merchant John Carlyle on premier lots along the Potomac River from 1751 to 1753, this mid-Georgian stone manor is older than our country. History was made in its parlor.

John Carlyle (1720-1780) began his career as an apprentice to an English merchant, but soon made his own fortune in the British colonies. He married Sarah Fairfax, daughter of William Fairfax, who was a cousin to the largest land owner in Virginia. Carlyle himself became quite wealthy, with three plantations, dozens of slaves, and several business interests.

In the French and Indian War, British General Edward Braddock used Carlyle House as his headquarters before he embarked on his ill-fated campaign into western Pennsylvania. During a conference with colonial governors at the house, Braddock and the governors clashed over British demands for the colonies to fund his campaign, an early source of tension that later led to the Revolutionary War.

Mysterious America

Eavesdrop on Voices from the Past at the Burgwin-Wright House

Remnants of a Colonial-Era jail where prisoners were held in appalling conditions make this centuries-old home ripe for ghostly tales.

Click to expand photos.

In its early days as a British colony, North Carolina was perceived as a backwoods territory full of crime, indentured servants, pirates, and other rough characters. Many ended up locked behind iron bars in the old Wilmington jail, over which John Burgwin built this home. Today, you can tour the house and see its history firsthand, but don’t be surprised if you hear something unusual.

Wilmington’s original wood, brick, and stone jail, known as a gaol, stood at the corner of Market and Third Streets from 1744 to 1768, when it burned in a fire. Nearby was Wilmington’s historic public courtyard, where debtors and lawbreakers were hanged or pilloried. Sensing an opportunity, a British merchant named John Burgwin purchased the property, along with its stone foundations. He built a handsome Georgian-Style home where he could conduct business while in town.

Ingenious construction methods allowed the home to remain cool over the hot summer months, but the Burgwin family spent most of their time on their plantation outside of town. Joshua Grainger Wright and his wife Susan purchased the house from Burgwin in 1799. The Wright family lived there until 1869. Its rooms are well-furnished with eighteenth and nineteenth century antiques, reflecting how these families lived.

Mysterious America

A Ghostly Prisoner Strolls the Parapets at Fort Henry National Historic Site

Built for a war with the U.S. that never came, this nineteenth century Canadian fortress held prisoners hanged for rebellion. Do their restless ghosts still walk these grounds?

Built between 1832 and 1836, Fort Henry’s stone walls were completed just in time for the Rebellions of 1837–1838, which sought to overthrow the Canadian colonial government in favor of a republic. Nils von Schoultz, who led rebel forces at the Battle of the Windmill, was executed there. Today, his ghost is among many that visitors claim to encounter in the twilight hours. Paranormal-themed tours and an annual haunted house have capitalized on these strange tales and helped make this Canada’s most famous haunt.

The War of 1812 left relations between the United States and Great Britain at an all-time low. Raids along the Saint Lawrence River were common during the war, and Kingston, Ontario in what was then Upper Canada was seen as potentially vulnerable. The British eyed Point Henry as an ideal place for what became known as the “Citadel of Upper Canada”.

Early in the war, British Canadians erected a blockhouse and artillery battery on Point Henry to help defend Kingston and its naval dockyards. They continued fortifying it throughout the war, calling it Fort Henry after Henry Hamilton, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec and Governor of Bermuda.

Mysterious America

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum: West Virginia's Dark Tourist Destination

A menagerie of tortured souls is said to lurk in these corridors.

Designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858. Its main building was laid out according to the Kirkbride plan, brainchild of Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane Thomas Story Kirkbride. Kirkbride theorized that exposure to natural light and fresh air would aid in curing the mentally ill, so he designed a long, narrow hospital with staggered wings extending outward from the center. The furthest wings were reserved for the most violent or disturbed patients.

In 1861, the Civil War’s outbreak interrupted construction on Virginia’s new asylum as Union troops seized its construction funds from a local bank (totaling nearly $30,000.00 in gold) and used them to help fund a pro-Union Virginia government in Wheeling. When West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863 and was admitted to the Union, the new state government renamed it the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. Construction on the sprawling grounds, with everything the hospital needed to be a self-sustaining community, wasn’t completed until 1881.

Originally designed to accommodate 250 patients in relatively comfortable surroundings with plenty of natural light and fresh air, conditions at the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane slowly deteriorated into a horror show. During the 1950s, its population peaked at a staggering 2,600 patients, with state and medical officials resorting to lobotomy to reduce overcrowding. Lobotomy was a procedure designed to make patients docile by severing connections in the frontal lobe of the brain. Though I couldn’t find any concrete numbers, it’s believed over a thousand lobotomies were performed there.

Mysterious America

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.

Click to expand photos.

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.”

Mysterious America

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.

Historic America Photography

American Wringer

Antique Wringer
This antique laundry wringer was on display at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. The asylum, also called the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, was designed in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles and opened in 1864.

Originally designed to accommodate 250 patients in relatively comfortable surroundings with plenty of natural light and fresh air, conditions at the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane slowly deteriorated into a horror show. During the 1950s, its population peaked at a staggering 2,600 patients, with state and medical officials resorting to lobotomy to reduce overcrowding. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.