Moment in Oddity - Chief Big Thunder's Death and Beyond
Suggested by: Rachel Gates
The Native American tribe known as the Potawatomi had a chief at one time named Big Thunder because he had a deep, booming voice. When his time on Earth was coming to an end, he instructed his tribe of people to place him facing the West. He wanted to be prepared to help his tribe fight in a great battle that was coming. He promised that he would come back and lead them to victory. He died around 1800 and Chief Big Thunder was placed on a bench on a high spot facing the West.A fence was placed around him to protect the body. The battle he foretold never happened and so he never rose from the dead. His tribe brought him tokens like tobacco and placed it in his lap. Big Thunder was not left at peace for very long though because a stagecoach trail ran near his burial spot and relic hunters took the chief’s bones and placed them on display. His skull was taken by Dr. Josiah Goodhue and legend claims that it ended up at Rush Medical College, but was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Dr. Goodhue had been a successful doctor who designed the first city seal for Chicago and he is the one who changed the city of Midway's name to Rockford. Despite being a good man, Dr. Goodhue would fall under a curse by the Potawatomi tribe. They were enraged that their chief's grave had been desecrated and his bones stolen and they felt that the theft of his skull was the most egregious. They swore that the curse would give them revenge. Dr. Goodhue had just left a patient's house when he fell head-first into a freshly dug well. He died shortly after his rescue. The death of Dr. Goodhue could just be a coincidence, but around here we don't believe in those and the circumstances of his death, certainly are odd!
This Month in History - The Watts Riots
In the month of August, on the 11th, in 1965, the Watts riots begin in Los Angeles. Two white policemen pulled over a black driver suspected of drunk driving in the predominantly black Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. The area was already experiencing racial tension and when a gathering crowd saw the arrest taking place, they became angry as they thought the incident was racially motivated. The anger fomented into a riot that moved from just a corner to several streets to a 50-square-mile area of South Central Los Angeles. The rioters looted stores, fought with whites and burned buildings. The National Guard had to be called in to restore order. The riots had lasted for five days and left 34 people dead, 1,032 people injured, nearly 4,000 people arrested, and $40 million worth of property destroyed. Other riots would happen throughout the sixties in other cities like Detroit and Newark.
Belle Grove Plantation (Suggested by: Sarah Clark)
Belle Grove Plantation is an estate and plantation house dating back into the 18th century that has witnessed over 300 years of history that includes colonization, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and is famously known as the birthplace of President James Madison. The pursuit of John Wilkes Booth also touched the grounds of this beautiful property. This is one of the best preserved 18th century homes in America and has been restored to its former beauty and runs today as a bed and breakfast. One claim to fame that is not as well known is just how haunted this property allegedly seems to be and that reputation led it to being featured on Ghost Hunters. There are reputedly dozens of ghosts lurking about the manor. Join me as I explore the history and hauntings of Belle Grove Plantation!
The land where the plantation would later be located started off as a land grant back in 1667. The land would pass down through the generations until we come to Francis and Alice Thornton. They had a daughter named Elizabeth in 1673 and she married Edwin Conway. They had one child together before Edwin died and they named him Francis. He would marry Rebecca Catlett and the couple would inherit the 700 acre property that came to be known as Port Conway, named for the Conway family. They had six children and one of their daughters was Eleanor Rose Conway who would marry James Madison, Sr. and they would have James Madison, Jr. who would later become president of the United States. Eleanor was known as Nelly and she returned to her paternal home to have James, so the fourth president was born on the property, but not at Belle Grove Plantation as it is today. The home he was born in, burned down shortly after his birth. The foundation can still be seen on the property.
Francis and Rebecca also had a son named Francis, Jr. and he inherited the property upon the death of his father. He was only fourteen at the time, so his mother stayed on the property with her new husband John Moore. Moore would be the one to name the property Belle Grove. Francis, Jr. would name his son Francis as well and he went on to become a Captain during the Revolutionary War. Captain Conway inherited Belle grove and he sold it to John Hipkins. John and his wife had a daughter named Fanny and she would be their only surviving child. He named one of his ships for her that was later captured by pirates. Fanny married when she was only fourteen to a nineteen-year-old William Bernard. Her father tried to get him into the family business as a merchant, but he was no good at it and so that is why Hipkins bought Belle Grove. He gave the property to the couple for five shillings to see if William was better at farming. John built the center section of the house that still stands at Belle Grove in 1791. Hipkins himself lived at Rose Hill Plantation, which can be seen from Belle Grove and people joke that he really bought the property so he could keep an eye on his daughter.
Fanny eventually passed away and William remarried and moved from the property. He leased it out until his son William Bernard, Jr. was of age and he was given the plantation. At this point, the land had expanded in acreage as parts of Port Conway were folded into it. William Jr. passed away and the plantation was taken over by his father again who sold it to the husbands of his daughters Eliza and Sarah Bernard for one dollar. Sixteen days later, Belle Grove was sold to Carolinus Turner. The year was 1839. *Fun Fact: Carolinas got his name because when his mother was pregnant with him, his parents were sure they were going to have a girl and they had selected the name Caroline, which is a family name for the baby. To their surprise, their new daughter turned out to be a new son, so they named him Carolinus.
Carolinus would transform the manor house into much of what is seen today. The Federal style was converted to Greek Revival, he extended the sides, added the porticos, curved porches, the small extension on the second floor and added the curved steps up to the porch that were made in England. He also added the architectural details all along the roof line as well as on the exterior walls. Carolinus married and had five children and was doing very well financially until the Civil War started. The people who lived in the area joined the Confederate side and the Rappahannock River that flowed nearby was a keen asset. Most men joined one of three military groups: the 9th Virginia Cavalry, the 47th Virginia Infantry, Company E otherwise known as the Port Royal Guards or the Caroline Light Artillery. Fredericksburg was just up the road and that is where most men reported and in the end, most of them would fight within 75 miles of their homes.
Port Royal and Port Conway would come under attack several times, but always managed to survive when the Confederates would push back Union forces. The area was important to General Robert E. Lee because he was born not too far from Port Conway and Port Royal at Stratford Hall and his wife' cousin who lived at Cleydael, kept his two daughters through most of the Civil War and Cleydael was just nine miles from Belle Grove Plantation. He saved Port Royal from being attacked once, but on another occasion, in April 1863, a Union Army of around five hundred pillaged Port Royal. The Confederate forces from the area suffered heavy losses losing more than half of their numbers. Carolinus fought for the Confederate side and was issued a pardon. Historians believe that the Turner family was forced out of Belle Grove Plantation during the war.
On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln. As most of you know, this set off one of the most famous manhunts in history. Booth and his co-conspirator, David Harold, spent 12 days on the run traveling through Maryland and Virginia. On April 24th, 10 days after the assassination, Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty who was leading a detachment of men in the pursuit assembled them at Belle Grove Plantation. A private, John W. Millington, who was part of this detachment, gave his account to the Portland Journal in early February of 1937. I have included a few excerpts:
“On the morning of April 15, 1865, I was on guard, when news came that President Lincoln had been shot at Ford’s theatre. We were ordered to form part of a cordon to prevent the assassin from escaping. Our company was deployed through the brush...Lieutenant Dougherty showed us a photograph of Booth and told us he had crossed the Potomac near Port Tobacco. We arrived at Acquia Creek and went ashore about 10 o’clock that night. We started scouting through the country, searching all houses and buildings, routing out the inmates and making a thorough search. Next morning early we met some men who had been fishing. They said that a closed hack had passed a few days before, with two men in it. A Confederate captain was in charge, who warned them not to come near. They thought one of the men in the carriage resembled the photograph that we showed them of Booth. We were then on the road to the Rappahannock, toward Port Conway, where we arrived about 2 0’clock. We had not eaten since leaving Washington, so we were told to fall out and rustle some rations...The ferryman at the Rappahannock told us that Captain Jett of Mosby’s command had crossed with two men in a closed carriage a few days before. We arrived at Bowling Green at 11 o’clock that night. We left our horses, with every fourth man counted out to hold the horses. We surrounded the hotel, where we captured Captain Jett. At first he refused to tell us where he had left the two men, but after some forcible persuasion he agreed to show us. He said he didn’t know who they were, except that they were Confederate soldiers who had got into trouble in Maryland and wanted to hide out until the trouble had blown over...He led us back on the road by which we had come, to within about three miles of Port Royal. He pointed out a house some distance from the road. We opened the gate carefully and, after surrounding the house, knocked at the door. Garrett came to the door. Asked where the two men were, he said “I know nothing about any men being here.” Our officer said to a trooper, “Untie your picket rope. We’ll hang the old man and see if it will refresh his memory.” “A young man ran from the direction of an outbuilding and asked, “What do you men want?” Our officer said, “We want the two men who are stopping here and at once.” He said, “They’re in the barn.” Part of our company was detailed to surround the barn and part to surround the house. I was with the party sent to the barn. Our lieutenant, who heard some whispering in the barn, called, “Come out at once.” One of the men inside the barn asked, “Who are you?” Our officer said, “It doesn’t make any difference who we are, but we know who you are. You had better come out at once.” “The man in the barn who had done the talking was the man we were after – Booth. He refused to come out. He said, “If you will withdraw your men 30 rods, I will come out and we’ll shoot it out.” We could hear Booth accusing the man who was with him, David E. Harold, of being a coward. Harold was willing to surrender and Booth said, “You’re a coward to desert me.” Finally, Booth called out and said, “Harold will surrender, but I will not.” Our captain said, “Tell Harold to pass out his arms and come out.” Booth said, “Harold has no arms. They belong to me.” “Our officer told Harold to come to the door. He came and as he opened the door Lieutenant Dougherty grabbed him and pulled him out. With a picket rope he tied him to a locust tree, called me and told me to guard him. I said to Harold, “Who was in the barn with you? Was it Booth?” He said, “Yes, Booth is in the barn.” and he added, “Booth told me, when he asked me to help him, that he was going to kidnap Lincoln: he didn’t tell me he was going to kill him.” I said, “When you learned that Booth had killed Lincoln, why did you help him to escape?” Harold said, “Booth threatened to kill me if I didn’t help him get away. Booth came out of the rear of the theatre immediately after shooting Lincoln and we went to Dr. Mudd’s home. After Dr. Mudd had set Booth’s leg we went to Port Tobacco and hid that day. That night we got a fisherman to take us over the river into Virginia. It was so rough that the fisherman said it was unsafe, but Booth told him we had to cross at once and he would kill him if he didn’t take us.” “Once more the officer summoned Booth to surrender. Booth responded, “I’ll fight you single handed, but I’ll never surrender.” Detective Conger went to the opposite side of the barn and lit some loose straw under the sill. I heard a shot and a moment later saw the door was open. Booth had been shot through the neck. They brought him out, carried him to the Garrett house and put him on the porch. A soldier was sent to Port Royal for a doctor, who arrived about daylight. Meanwhile, the barn had burned down and some of the men were hunting in the ruins for relics. They found two revolvers and one of our boys got Booth’s carbine. The revolvers were spoiled by the fire. Booth lived about three hours. He was wrapped in a government blanket, his body was placed in a old wagon and a Negro drove the rig to Acquia Creek, which we reached at dusk.”One of the Turner daughters would lease the property to two other families who turned the house into a type of duplex. One side was leased to Samuel Andrew McGinniss and the other to an unknown African-American family. The house was sold in 1893 to John Tayloe Thornton for $9,900.00 with part being paid in cash and the other being secured after the deed was executed. The Thornton family held it until 1906 and then it passed to the Jack family for a decade, then the South and West Improvement Company. The Hooker Family bought it in 1930 and owned it until 1987.
Belle Grove eventually fell into decline until it was bought by the Haas Corporation of Austria on August 28, 1987. The Haas Corporation had an office in Richmond and was responsible for making the equipment that makes waffle ice-cream cones and all sorts of wafers, cookies and crackers. A major restoration wouldn't begin until 1997 and it was just in time as the house was nearly on the brink of collapse. To keep the house looking more original, contractors made unique fixes to certain items. For example, they hollowed out wooden columns and filled them with an acrylic substance. The slate roof was replaced with a copper one. One of the interesting things found during the restoration is no war damage to the house. So it probably received no cannon or musket fire. Another unique feature is that in the 1870s and 80s, curved front walls and porches were added to the home and so curved doors were fashioned from single, large-trunked trees. Crews working on the restoration had never seen such doors before. I've seen them in two houses that I've visited, one being the Sorrell Weed House. Today, Belle Grove Plantation stretches over 600 acres and that house itself sits on 20 acres and has 7,200 finished square feet with 11 fireplaces (both wood and gas) and 11 full and half bathrooms. A new kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances has replaced the smaller, obsolete kitchen that was elsewhere in the house. Brett and Michelle Darnell purchased it in July 2011 and have transformed it into a world class bed and breakfast.
Many guests and the Darnells themselves claim that the house is haunted. The rumors of hauntings caught the attention of SyFy's Ghost Hunters and they featured it in the "Dead Presidents" episode.
A total of 23 full body apparitions have been reported since March 2013. Most of these are Union soldiers who are seen standing guard at entry posts or walking in the fields. There are also two ghost cats. Visitors and staff have heard their disembodied meowing and felt them walk across beds during the night or even curl up on the pillow beside them! One guest claimed to actually see the cat and couldn't believe it when the Darnells said that they had no cats. Ghostly faces and orbs with faces have been captured in pictures.
Michelle Darnell says that the more well known ghosts are a girl dressed in white who stands on the balcony, an African–American girl in a yellow dress that wears a turban and is carrying an object and an apparition of a soldier that has been so clear that Michelle says she could see the color of his hair. Michelle said, "Back in September, 2012, our caretaker and his family were living in our quarters in the mansion as their home was without power due to an electrical fire. They told us during their stay, they woke up around 4am in the morning to what sounded like a rubber ball bouncing on the floor. It really scared them. To this day, the caretaker’s wife doesn’t like to come in at night alone. Just after this event, I started having 'things' happen during our visits to the mansion. (This was before I moved up in April 2013.) I had heard if you set down the 'rules' with the ghosts, for the most part they would follow them. So that is just what I did. My rules are as follows:
1. You can’t call or whisper my name
2. I don’t need to hear footsteps or door slams to let me know that you are here, because I know you are here.
3. I don’t want to see you because it can scare me.
4. If we have guests that are afraid of ghosts, we ask that you don’t make your presents known. We don’t want people scare of the mansion because we have to make money to keep the doors open.
5. If a guest comes and is wanting to see or talk to you and you are up for it, then you have our blessing. Go for it.
6. When I am in my room (which is in the mansion) and my door is closed, you aren’t to come in. I don’t want to see you standing in the room or wake to see you watching me. This is my space and I need to feel safe.
Since I made the “rules” things have really calmed down. For the most part, they seem to understand and comply with them."
The Darnells had a medium come into the home in December of 2012. Her name was Laine Crosby and she claimed that there were two boys (twins) that were standing at a door. She told them to come in, but they claimed that they could not because ”Mama says we can’t play in there any more.” Laine also explained that the boys said that they were the ones who bounced the ball. She didn't know what they were talking about, but Michelle did. The ball continues to bounce every so often in the second floor hall. There are reports of a boy named Jacob bouncing a ball in the house and I wonder if he is one of these twins. He is described as being mischievous in his nature and loves to move and even steal kitchen utensils from time to time. Paranormal teams have recorded EVP’s of Jacob in the Turner Suite which is one of the most active spots in the entire building.
Michelle also said, "In July, 2013, one of our guest, who had stayed the night told me that she had heard a woman’s voice on the second floor, where she was sleeping. The woman called out, “Twins” in a song like manner. We figured the boys and their mom were now hanging out upstairs. This morning, around 4am, I woke and couldn’t get back to sleep. I sat up for an hour and watch a little television to relax myself and tried to get back to sleep around 5:30am. Just as I got comfortable, I heard at the end of the bed, a rubber ball bouncing. I knew at once it was the twin boys playing. These boys have been a little more active over the last month. They have gone as far as to hide my kitchen utensils from me only to return them later. So I knew they were being mischievous this morning. So I called them out saying. “Okay, you know you aren’t suppose to be in here. Please leave so I can sleep.” Just after I said that, I heard a woman’s voice say, “Come”. So I guess the boys were called down by their mother and she got them out of the room."
Michelle has seen soldiers countless times and said, "I saw four late one evening as I was leaving the house to go to dinner. It was just twilight, but I could still see pretty well. As I turn the corner of the walkway, there standing between me and my car were these four soldiers. Dressed as you would expect Civil War period, you could even make out their height and difference in looks. At this point I had seen so many, it had become common place. So I jokingly said, “Well you could have at least turned the light on.” The light is a motion detected light we have on the garage. We have two of them, one on each side. At the point I said this, I wasn’t close enough for it to turn on. But not a second later, the lights came on. Now they think it’s their job to turn them on. The last time was during a really bad storm that produced a tornado in the area. I was racing home to beat the storm. When I arrived at our white entry posts, the lights came on. I was over an acre away! I laughed and said, “Guys, I’m not there yet.” My husband said that he thought an animal could be triggering it. So on the way back to the house one night, just as we got halfway down the drive to the garage, the lights turned on. I looked at my husband and said, “See!”. There were no animals around.
The soldiers have also been seen by our overnight guests. One couple were leaving for dinner when they saw what looked like riding boots quickly crossing the driveway. They caught this when their headlights flashed around as they turned out of there parking space. Other soldiers we have seen – One standing guard at the white entry posts. He had a gun resting beside his leg as if he were standing at attention. Another was seen as we came home from dinner. As we drove down the highway that runs beside our property, I saw a soldier cross the highway and walk into our plantation field. Our plantation was held as a Union (Federal) headquarters from 1861 to the end of the war. General Burnside, General Robert E. Lee and General Stonewall Jackson have all been here.
One last sighting of a soldier happened when I first arrived. The next morning, I was up sweeping the formal dining room. We didn’t have any furniture at the time and I was just doing something to keep busy. As I glanced out of the formal dining room window, I saw a Union (Federal) soldier walking from the side of our porch along the outside wall area going towards the south side of the house. He had a blue shirt, untucked, black belt on the outside of his shirt, blue pants, a Union (Federal) cap with a symbol on top, no pack or gun and had brown hair that was shoulder length. He didn’t have glasses and he was walking with his head down so I couldn’t see his face!" Michelle says that she is not afraid to be in the house alone and feels almost comforted by the ghosts. Much of the activity has settled since the remodeling is done. And the Darnells feel that the ghosts are happy with them because they are remembering and honoring their past.
Southeast Virginia Paranormal Investigation hosted a ghost hunt in 2013 and reported, "On Saturday, in the Summer Kitchen, using the spirit box, Todd asked questions and was getting responses! He found that he was talking to someone named 'Robert.' 'Robert' stated that he was a visitor to the plantation during the Conway period. He also stated that he had died from being hung. He stated that he was hung by someone named 'Edward.' From what I know of the plantation and its history, I do not have any confirmation that anyone was hung here. But of course, things happened that were never reported or recorded." They also had experiences in the Turner Suite using a ghost box. A man and woman came through. The Belle Grove website says, "The woman didn’t speak much, but the man did. When Todd ask if the man could see him, the answer was “Yes”. Todd asked if the man could see him all the time and the answer was “No”. Todd asked him what he (Todd) had on his head and the man answered “hat”. Todd started waving his hand. He asked the man what he (Todd) was doing. The man answered “waving”. Todd grabbed his vest that he was wearing and pulled on it. Todd asked the man what he was pulling. The man answered “vest”. When Todd asked the man his name or time period, the man would not answer."
The Ghost Hunters caught evidence on their investigation in 2014 as well that seems to back-up many of the claims made by the Darnells and their guests. Jason and Steve heard growling, Tango and Sam heard a whistling noise and the team agreed that the basement definitely was haunted. Regular ghost hunts are hosted at the house and a Facebook page details their findings. It would seem that the plantation is not only famous for its rich history, but also for its plethora of spirits. Is Belle Grove Plantation haunted? That is for you to decide!