Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ep. 266 - Colonial Williamsburg

Moment in Oddity - Largest Baby Ever Born was 23 Pounds

Anna Haining Bates was a woman born in Canada who became famous because she was considered a giantess. She was sixteen pounds at her birth in 1846 and grew to the height of 7 feet 11 inches. She eventually joined the sideshow circuit and met her husband Martin van Buren Bates. He himself was a tall man and stood 7 feet 9 inches. They traveled in circus troupes together and separately. Eventually Anna became pregnant and gave birth to an 18 pound baby girl. Unfortunately, the baby died at birth. Anna became pregnant again while touring in the summer of 1878 and this baby grew to be even bigger, as if having an 18 pound baby was not enough. The baby was born on January 18, 1879 and Anna lost six gallons of fluid when her water broke. He only survived 11 hours. That little baby boy made his imprint on the world though in the form of a Guinness World Record. He was the largest newborn ever recorded, at 23 pounds 9 ounces and nearly 30 inches tall. His feet were six inches long. That record still stands today. His father wrote, “He was 28” tall, weighed 22 lbs and was perfect in every respect. He looked at birth like an ordinary child of six months.” The baby is buried, along with his parents, at Mound Hill Cemetery in Seville, Ohio. A baby weighing nearly 23 pounds at birth sounds not only rather painful, but it certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Enigma Code Broken

In the month of July, on the 9th, in 1941, the Engima Code was broken. The Enigma machine was Germany's most sophisticated coding machine. The machine was originally designed for use in business by Dutch inventor Hugo Koch, but the Germans adapted it to make an unbreakable code. The Enigma allowed an operator to type in a message that would be scrambled by three to five notched wheels that contained the alphabet. The receiver would need to know how the notched wheels had been placed to decipher the coded message. German code experts continued to make the machine more complicated. Parts of the code were broken by a group of British mathematicians and other problem solvers early on, but it wouldn't be until July that they achieved a true breakthrough. It is believed that this breaking of the code helped to shorten the war. Not only did the Allies manage to hide the fact that they had broken the code so that they could continue to decipher German war plans through the rest of the war, no one knew anything about it until 1974.

Colonial Williamsburg (Suggested by: Lloyd Dierker)

Colonial Williamsburg is part of America's historic triangle. Today, it is a historic area that features a look back into the America of colonial times just as the struggle for independence was sparking. Visitors can watch artisans ply trades from the past and visit dozens of historic buildings that have been restored to their eighteenth century charm. This is a place where one can walk in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers and experience the reality and uncertainty of the times that earlier Americans lived under, both free and slave. In any city with this much history, there is bound to be talk of a ghost or two. And there are many here with fascinating stories of pirates, poisonings, suicides and war. Many of the historic buildings have ghost stories attached to them. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of Colonial Williamsburg.

Williamsburg was originally known as Middle Plantation. The settlement was founded in 1633 about halfway between the York and James Rivers. The town started to rise to prominence when Bruton Parish was built in 1683 and the College of William and Mary was charted in 1693. This college is the second oldest college in the United States, right behind Harvard. Francis Nicholson was lieutenant governor from 1698 to 1705 and he platted out the town of Williamsburg. He was experienced in this in that he had helped design Annapolis. The principle axis was a 99-foot-wide central avenue known as Duke of Gloucester Street. Homes were allotted a half acre and most were built from wood and then painted white with either a gambrel roof, A-frame roof or a hip roof. Each home had at least one chimney and shutters on the outside. Most of the public buildings were made from brick that was made locally. It was in 1698 that Williamsburg became the capitol of Virginia when the state house in Jamestown burned.

The city was officially incorporated in 1722. The ideas of freedom and revolution had a birthplace in Williamsburg. After Britain passed the Stamp Act in March of 1765 to help foot the cost of the French and Indian War, the colonists became enraged. Their gripe was that they were being taxed without representation and it was a fair assessment as people who lived in Britain had representation. Virginians believed that only the Virginia General Assembly could tax them. The other colonies felt the same. A fiery orator named Patrick Henry started giving speeches and one of those was in Williamsburg. When older legislators accused him of treason he said, "If this be treason, make the most of it." A crowd in Williamsburg forced the stamp collector to resign. Virginia's burgesses passed five resolutions condemning the Stamp Act. The seeds of revolution were fomented. Williamsburg would host parts of the Revolutionary War and was even occupied for a time by General Cornwallis of Britain.

And it is this timeframe in which Colonial Williamsburg seems to be frozen. The historic area stretches across 301 acres and features 88 original buildings that have been restored and many more than have been rebuilt, most of them on their original foundations. I remember fondly visiting when I was a kid. It was educational and fun to watch the various artisans ply their trades from blacksmithing to candlemaking to sewing and so much more. The people all dressed in period clothing and played their character to the fullest, pretending to not know about modern conveniences. The buildings were wonderful to explore. Little did I know as a kid, that many of these buildings harbored spirits. Let's venture through this historic place and see what ghost stories we may find.

King's Arm Tavern

You can't have a haunted historic town without having at least one haunted tavern. Colonial Williamsburg has more than one. The first is the King's Arm Tavern. Some may not be aware, but during colonial times, a town could be fined if it did not have a tavern. Jane Vobe opened the original tavern that was here on February 6, 1772. She used slave labor to run the place, but was said to be a "good" master who made sure her slaves got an education and were baptized. One of the first ordained black ministers was Gowan Pamphlet and he had worked at the tavern. When he left that job, he became pastor at the First Baptist Church, which was founded by both enslaved and free blacks. They had originally had to meet in secret in the woods, but were given use of a carriage house on Nassau Street by a man who was moved by their prayers and singing. Vobe's main customers were politicians and other government officials and it is said that both Washington and Jefferson stopped by the tavern on occasion. The King’s Arms Tavern was very important during the Revolutionary War as military folk and politicians gathered there to talk strategy.

King’s Arms Tavern is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a woman named Irma who had worked and died at the tavern. She was killed in a bad fire that was ignited by a dropped candle. For this reason, when candles seem to go out on their own in the tavern, people credit Irma with doing it. She is said to be a friendly spirit. Tavern employees claim that she helps them out on occasion and that they regularly thank her for her help and wish her a good night every evening.

Raleigh Tavern

Another reportedly haunted tavern is the Raleigh Tavern, which opened in 1717. The one that stands here today is not the original. That one burned to the ground in 1859 and was replaced by a couple of stores. They were demolished during the restoration and the Raleigh was rebuilt in its former footprint. Like the King's Arm, this was a tavern that saw a lot of action, but it also had a darker side. Slaves were auctioned on its steps and there are rumors that the skull of Blackbeard was used as a punchbowl. Could it have been the secret society that met here in the Apollo Room, that used the punchbowl? Painted above the mantel in the Apollo Room is the tavern's motto, "Hilaritas Sapientiae et Bonae Vitae Proles," which means "Jollity, the offspring of wisdom and good living."

The haunting that is reported here definitely seems to be residual and it features a party atmosphere. People walking outside the darkened tavern at night claim to smell the distinct scent of tobacco smoke and to hear laughter and music playing from harpsichords. When people walk up to the windows, they see nothing inside. No light filters from a back room. The tavern is empty.

Bruton Parish Church and Cemetery

The Bruton Parish Church was part of the Church of England. The brick building was constructed in 1683. After the Boston Tea Party, worshipers gathered here for a day of fasting and prayer. Many colonial leaders including Washington worshiped at the church. The church served as a hospital during the Civil War. The cemetery that surrounds the church has graves from the 17th century through to the 20th century and one mass grave for around 100 Confederate soldiers. One of those buried here is Reverend Scervant Jones. He is buried here with his first wife who died during childbirth. Before she passed, he proclaimed his undying love for her and that he could never love another woman. He asked her to wait for him in Heaven. He left town for three months after her death and returned with her headstone and...a new wife. While he was away, people reported seeing his wife's ghost walking around the cemetery and even sitting in a church pew. After the reverend's return, his wife's spirit seemed to turn angry and people would see her crying and wailing. The church has a haunting as well that involves the church organ playing by itself. The curtains inside the church flutter and move without explanation as well.

Another ghost story told about the church and cemetery involves two security guards. The story goes, "Late one night, two Colonial Williamsburg Security guards were sitting in their patrol car, and saw a man walking up from the palace green along the road towards the church. He was described as a tall, shadowy figure dressed in cardboard black suit with a vest. He had a strangely elongated neck, but what surprised them most was that he had red, glowing eyes. As security was watching, they saw him duck behind this tree and the brick wall. They assumed that he must have used the tree to jump over the wall, and entered the cemetery in search of him. When they entered the church cemetery, he had vanished. They looked all around, but couldn’t find him. They thought they heard the sound of the church door closing, and believed the man somehow made his way inside the church. When they arrived at the main entrance, it was locked. Determined to catch this intruder, they unlocked the door and entered the church. As they allowed their eyes a chance to adjust to the dark, they heard a strange sound: it was described as being sort of a whoosh-­‐thud, whoosh-­‐thud. Once they turned on their flashlights, they could clearly see what was causing the noise: the hymnals were seen to levitate up from the church pews, fly across the room, and hit the wall. Needless to say, they decided to flee the church!"

The Ludwell-Paradise House

The Georgian styled brick Ludwell-Paradise House was built in 1755 for Philip Ludlow III. Ludlow owned the Green Spring Plantation in James City County. He traveled often to London and he eventually died there in 1767. The house was then inherited by his daughter Lucy. She was married to a man named John Paradise and they lived in London, so they rented the house out. Paradise died in 1795 and he had ran up so much debt before that, that he left Lucy destitute and she had to return to Williamsburg. Lucy had been a member of London’s social elite, so she expected to be treated accordingly in Williamsburg. She was very eccentric, walking the streets like a member of royalty greeting everybody. And she bathed a lot for the time. People began to whisper that she was insane and in 1812 they had her committed to the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds. She was locked away for two years. And then she committed suicide.

The house is haunted by the spirit of Lucy some say. One of the primary unexplained experiences is the sound of water either running, splashing or dripping when no water is on. It sounds almost as though someone is taking a bath. Perhaps Lucy bathed so much because she suffered from OCD and thus washed her hands and arms incessantly. The haunting seems to be residual in nature.

The Nicholson House

The Nicolson House was built sometime between 1751 to 1753. The house was built on land owned by the famous planter and lawyer Mann Page. His son had sold the parcel of land when Page died in 1730. Cabinetmaker James Spiers was the first to take over the lot, but he later sold it to a tailor named Robert Nicolson. He made a good deal of money from his tailor business, which also operated as a post office and general store. The house Nicolson built was two stories with a fireplace and bedrooms on the first floor. He rented out some of the rooms and one of the renters was violinist Cuthbert Ogle. It is his spirit that is said to haunt the home. People claim to have been touched on the shoulder or to hear scratching noises.

The Wythe (With) House

Next we have the Wythe House, which was built for George Wythe as a gift from his father in law. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and served in the House of Burgesses. He knew everyone who was anyone and was said to have quite an influence on Thomas Jefferson. He became the first professor of law at the College of William and Mary after the War. Wythe died from poisoning. His grandnephew had been staying with him and was what we would call in our vernacular, a deadbeat. He ran up huge debts and he decided that he would kill his uncle so that he could inherit his money. Unfortunately for the nephew, Wythe held on long enough to figure out what happened and to write his nephew out of his will. The only witness to the crime was Wythe's cook, a slave whom Wythe had freed. She couldn't testify since she was black and the nephew went unpunished.

Another owner of the house was the Skipwith family, Ann and Sir Peyton. Ann got into a very public fight with Peyton at a ball being held at the Governor's Palace. She accused him of having an affair with her sister. She ran home and took her own life in the master bedroom. Visitors claim hear the sound of a woman in heels running up the the stairs in the home. The apparition of a female in a ball gown has been seen as well. This is usually in the bedroom or near the stairs. The room where she died is said to occasionally have the scent of lavender and the closet door opens and closes on its own. There are people who test the spirit here by walking up to the closet door and loudly proclaiming, “Lady Skipwith, Lady Skipwith, I found your red shoe!” The spirit of George Wythe is also said to haunt his former home for an obvious reason, since he was murdered and never received justice. It is said that he returns to visit each year on June 8, the day of his death. Guests who have stayed in his former room have claimed to feel a firm and cold hand press down on their foreheads.

College of William and Mary

Reverend Dr. James Blair set sail for England in May of 1691 to ask King William and Queen Mary to grant a charter for a college to be founded in Williamsburg. They granted the charter in 1693 and the college was named for them, The College of William and Mary. The first building was constructed in 1695. One of the buildings that still remains a part of the college is the Wren Building. It was named for the famous London architect Sir Christopher Wren in 1931. The building was designed by Thomas Hadley and is said to be the oldest college building still standing in America. The structure was here before the founding of Williamsburg. The many purposes it served included a school for Native Americans and from 1700 to 1704, the Virginia General Assembly used the building while the state Capitol was under construction. A fun fact about the building is that Thomas Jefferson was not a fan and wrote in his "Notes on the State of Virginia" that the Wren was a “rude, misshapen pile which would be taken for a brick kiln. The genius of architecture seems to have shed its maledictions over this land.”

The building suffered a series of fires and later served as a wartime hospital and it is for this reason that the building just may be haunted. Apparitions of soldiers have been seen roaming the hallways from both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Disembodied footsteps are heard echoing through the building. Sir Christopher Wren is said to haunt his namesake as well, though no one knows why. A spirit matching his description has been seen pacing the floors. The spirit of a soldier is said to patrol the third floor. The students who see him most frequently are those pulling all-nighters. Ghostly legends are told here as well. There is a bridge that is said to either reward or curse collegiate sweethearts. This bridge is behind the Crim Dell and if lovers kiss at its peak  it is said that they will marry and live happily ever after, but if they break up a curse is placed on them that can only be lifted by one pushing the other off the bridge. A legend about the statue of Lord Botetourt, an 18th century Virginian Colonial Governor, claims that if it is touched it will grant good grades to students.

Another building on the campus is called "The Brafferton" and it is the second oldest building on campus and was built in 1723 and is southeast of the Wren Building. This building was used for the instruction of some of the Native American boys, who arrived malnourished and many became ill and died. Their spirits are said to be trapped in the building and are restless as they seek to escape. The boys were said to not be happy to have been brought here and many would have liked to escape when they were alive. On foggy nights, ghostly boys are seen running through the Sunken Gardens.

The Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall has a haunting that is reputedly of a girl who was going to be the lead in a play, but she died while visiting home. A new lead was chosen and one night while she was practicing alone, she saw the dress she was supposed to wear for the show sitting upright in one of the audience’s seats. There is a ghost in St. George Tucker Hall that is said to belong to a girl who hanged herself in the third floor bathroom in the 1980s. It’s said that her ghost will visit students who are pulling all-nighters and ask them how their exams are going. If they answer that their exams are going well, she’ll scream and throw a fit until the student leaves.

Hangman's Road and the Public Gaol

Hangman’s Road is a road that sets just off from Colonial Road and is exactly what it's name indicates, a route from the Public Gaol to the gallows. The Gaol was ordered by the General Assembly in 1701 and construction was completed on the brick structure in 1703. There was an exercise yard that was twenty square feet and the property was surrounded by a ten-foot wall. All sorts of people found themselves in the gaol, not just criminals. Some were debtors, others were mentally ill. Punishment was harsh here and involved whipping or branding and there were many executions. Some of these executions were of members of Blackbeard's crew. Fifteen of his men found themselves in the Williamsburg Gaol after Blackbeard had been captured and killed. Thirteen of them were hanged on the gallows and their bodies left to rot in iron gibbets along the road. Another man held here was the Lt. Governor of Detroit, Henry Hamilton. He had paid Native Americans for the scalps of Americans.

The spirits that haunt the jail reputedly include the family of  Peter Pelham, who was a gaoler here and lived in a section of the gaol with his wife and children. People claim to hear conversations between two women and have seen the ghostly image of a child playing. Haunting sounds are heard here as well that include slamming doors and creaking floorboards. Haunting experiences are had on the Hangman's Road as well that include the sound of an old wooden wagon traveling down the street. Other eerie sounds are reported.

Bassett Hall

Bassett Hall is one location here that is unique in that it is staged as it appeared in the 1930s when the most famous owners of the property, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife, lived here. This is a two-story eighteenth-century frame house. It's white with black shutters and surrounded by gardens. Philip Johnson, who was a member of the House of Burgesses, built the home between 1753 and 1766. The home was later purchased in 1800 by Burwell Bassett who was Martha Washington’s nephew. He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1787 to 1789 and served on the Virginia State Senate from 1794 to 1805. The property would function as boarding house and tavern and exchange hands until the Rockefellers bought it in 1936. The Rockefellers had to do extensive restoration to the home, which was damaged by fire after lightning struck the structure. *Fun Fact: General Custer spent 10 days here after the Battle of Williamsburg to attend the wedding of a West Point buddy who was Confederate John Lea. Lea was engaged to the daughter of the owner of Bassett Hall at that time.*

The Battle of Williamsburg happened near the property and that may be why it is rumored to be haunted.  Tourists who visit the hall claim to hear disembodied voices and some have felt cold spots that defy explanation.

The Orrell House

The Orrell House is believed to have been built in the 1850s, but historians are unsure who initially owned the home that is today an inn. The house is two-stories and built as an almost perfect cube by its dimensions. James Orrell purchased the house in 1800 and the house is named for him. He lived there for about 20 years and then it passed through several hands.

The inn apparently has some ghostly chills in store for guests. One family had the following experience according to Steve Erickson, who is the general manager of the Colonial Houses-Historic Lodging. A family was watching television in the living room when they heard water running upstairs.The father went up to investigate and found that a faucet had been turned on. He assumed one of the kids had left it on. He went downstairs to scold whomever had left it on when he suddenly heard the water running again. The family had another fright when the father went to the bathroom. The drinking glass that had been in the medicine cabinet was now shattered across the floor, “as if it had been thrown.” The following morning, the bathroom was found strewn with toilet paper.

The Peyton Randolph House

Our next stop is the Peyton Randolph House. This house was built by William Robertson in 1715 and then later purchased by John Randolph who was considered the colonies most distinguished lawyer. He was even knighted for service to the Crown. The home has been restored and is actually three buildings, two of which are connected to each other. An east wing is more like an outbuilding. The main center part of the house is two stories and burgundy colored clapboard in style. There is a hall with a large roundheaded window and a grand staircase that connects single rooms on each floor. When John died, he left the home to his wife and then his first born son Peyton, for whom the home is named. Peyton went to law school and served as attorney general, served in the House of Burgesses and was eventually elected Speaker of the House in 1766. Peyton had a brother named John and the Revolutionary War would fracture the family. Peyton was a Patriot, while John Jr. sided with the Crown. Leading revolutionaries from Virginia met at the Peyton Randolph House before going on to Philadelphia. A little fun fact is that the Randolphs' cousin was Thomas Jefferson and he inherited the library Peyton had built and those added with his books were part of the formation of the Library of Congress. Peyton was said to be the "father of his country" before that title was given to George Washington. He died in 1775. The house was auctioned off after his wife's death. It is interesting to note that Peyton died in Philadelphia and his body was pickled in a barrel for the trip back to Williamsburg.

There seems to be several spirits in the home and this home is said to be the most haunted in Williamsburg. One belongs to a young soldier who stayed here when a family named Peachy owned it. They owned the home in the 1820s. The soldier was staying at the house while he studied at the college, but he fell ill and eventually died in the home. People who visit the home claim to hear heavy booted feet wandering through the halls and to see the apparition of a young male. The Peachys housed French General of the American Revolution Marquis de Lafayette when he returned to Williamsburg in 1824. He claimed to experience something unexplained and wrote, "I considered myself fortunate to lodge in the home of a great man, Peyton Randolph. Upon my arrival, as I entered through the foyer, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It nudged me as if intending to keep me from entering. I quickly turned, but found no one there. The nights were not restful as the sounds of voices kept me awake for most of my stay.”

One guest who stayed here in the 1960s said, “I was resting comfortable when awakened by the peculiar feeling that someone was tugging on my arm. Naturally, I assumed I was dreaming, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. A short while later, I was being shaken violently! As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see that I was completely alone. I darted out of bed and ran as fast as I could. I didn’t even go back to collect the things I’d left behind.” There have been many claims through the years of violent shaking and tugging. Another spirit here is our lady in white. She is said to be an older, friendly woman who wears a white flowing gown. And a young girl who died in a fall down the stairs or out a window still seems to have her essence lingering here.

A security guard who was watching the house became trapped in the basement. He a terrifying growl behind him and felt something grab his legs and his feet felt as though they were firmly rooted to the floor.The shutter doors that he was going to exit out of, slammed shut on their own and his flashlight turned off. He grabbed his radio and called his lieutenant for help. When the man arrived, he had to pry open the cellar doors. At that same moment, the security guard was released by whatever had been holding him. He quit the following day. Other activity that has been reported are strange knocking sounds and furniture moving on its own. The Peachy family had a son die in the house and the sound of children laughing when no children are present has been heard. The second floor is said to be the most haunted and people claim that something has tried to push them down the stairs.

An alarm once went off at the east wing of the house. Security couldn't find a key to the house, so they entered through a window. They thought perhaps there was a fire inside, but they found no smoke or flames, but they did find a fire extinguisher resting in the middle of the floor, its contents completely emptied around it in what looked like a controlled circular pattern. They searched the house for intruders and found no one. They also never found the pin to extinguisher. No residue was found underneath the fire extinguisher, nor on its bottom and there were no footprints through the discharged spray.

Colonial Williamsburg is a must stop for anybody visiting this area of Virginia. A chance to be immersed in the eighteenth century is hard to find. And for those of us that love the darker side of history, Williamsburg offers a lot of stories and what could be lots of haunts. Are these historic buildings in Colonial Williamsburg haunted? That is for you to decide!

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