October 20, 2009

Ben’s (Im)Material Culture Museum Entry: Ghosts of Virginia

Filed under: Uncategorized — wordbreaker @ 4:38 pm

chatham  The tourist attraction sign for Chatham, where the ghost of a heartbroken woman is said to walk the grounds for one night every seven years.

048-0010_Lamb'sCreekChurch_VLR_4th_edition  Lamb’s Creek Church, where two Confederate soldiers apparently had a third companion but the flash of lightening

They say that there is a church about thirteen miles outside of Fredericksburg, where during the Civil War, two Confederate soldiers sought refuge against a terrible thunderstorm.  As the two men were holed up in church, there was a flash of lightening, such as there are during serious Virginia lightening storms.  The two soldiers saw a woman dressed in white, praying at one of the pews, then nothing, then another flash of lightening, in which the woman was there again, then nothing.  The third flash was enough to make both of these fine southern gentlemen and soldiers desire to take refuge elsewhere, or chance the storm. (Taylor)

They say that at Chatham, there is a woman in white who stalks the grounds once every seven years, June the 21st.  Her father brought her across the Atlantic to stop a romance that was playing out between her and another English man, but unbeknownst to the father, the suitor snuck his way to America.  The charade was found out at Chatham at one of William Fitzhugh’s parties, and the daughter was shipped back to England, where she lived until she died on June the 21st, 1790. (Taylor)

They say that if one travels to Winchester, about ninety miles to the northwest of Fredericksburg, there is a mansion of considerable psychic phenomena where one can spend the night.  There is a room in Waverly place where a man in grey is said to barge in and fit the occupants with an icy stare before vacating the room.  This soldier was apparently the ghost of a Confederate officer first seen not long after the end of the war. (Asfar)

Ghost stories have pervaded the country and indeed the world since practically the dawn of time.  The question of what comes next has walked hand in hand with the living and ghost stories pop up all the time either as unexplained phenomena or as old stories told around a camp fire late at night.  During the Civil War, Virginia saw more blood than any other state, Union or Confederate.  Indeed, Winchester is said to have changed hands as many as sixty or seventy times, depending on how one defines changing hands, so it is not unreasonable to have some legends floating around about Confederate dead.  I know that for the brief stint that I lived in West Virginia, along the road that Lee used to retreat from Gettysburg, there was a yarn weaved about a dying confederate that would fall on the hoods of cars that stopped in the area around the night.

When hearing about Chatham, though, and finding that they only have one haunting, I was honestly surprised, due to Whitman’s graphic descriptions of the place, especially in light of Fredericksburg’s reputation as a haunted city.  Taylor quotes a nameless historian saying “Fredericksburg and the country immediately about it was fought over, marched over, shelled, ravaged and desolated.  Under its street and in yards, hundreds of dead were buried to be, now and again, in after years, unearthed.  No other American city ever suffered as did this formerly prosperous town.” (Taylor, VI)

In a city as familiar with death as Fredericksburg was in the time that Whitman visited it, it is not surprising then, that ghost stories pop up.  Whether they stem from a real occurrence beyond the realm of mortal understanding is beyond me, but there is another working theory that explains these supernatural presences.  Namely that what is beyond the grave is a matter of which no one can ascertain any real amounts of knowledge.  They may run off of theory or off of faith, but not much is honestly known.  No if one takes a place such as Fredericksburg, a sight where three major battles occurred within the city, and numerous within the surrounding area, and one is standing in a place where death is seeped into the ground.  With so many deaths so long ago, it would seem easy for history to forget them, and that is where the ghost story comes into play.  As a narrative structure, it functions as a remembrance device, as in it is hard to forget something that still wanders the lonely halls of Chatham every seven years looking for her lost lover.


Asfar, Dan, Ghost Stories of Virginia, Auburn, WA, Lone Pine Publishing International, 2006

Taylor Jr., L B, The Ghosts of Fredericksburg – and Nearby Environs,  Progress Printing Co., Inc. 1991

One response to “Ben’s (Im)Material Culture Museum Entry: Ghosts of Virginia”

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