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Parkersburg Haunted Walking Tour

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With Halloween quickly bearing down, Nathan and I decided we wanted to get in the spirit of fall. On Saturday, October 3rd, we headed to Parkersburg, WV to participate in their Haunted Parkersburg tour. Listed as one of the top ten for the past few years, we thought it would be a great way to while away our time.

We headed up early as it was a beautiful day. We stopped at the Blennerhassett Museum and I picked up a Christmas ornament for our tree (I had forgotten it last time we were there). They lady at the register was very friendly and we chatted with her about our last visit to Blennerhassett Island. She was very informative and offered to give us directions to hotel for the ghost tour as well as other places of interest. Smiling, we were on our way!

One place we wanted to go to but couldn’t due to time last year was the Trans Allegheny Bookstore. Nathan and I are both bookworms and a place boasting more than 500,000 different titles of used books sounded like heaven to us. Built in 1905, the Parkersburg Carnegie Library building has been home to Trans Allegheny Books, West Virginia’s largest used bookstore since 1985.

I knew the place would be big, but it was huge! We walked inside and the smell of old books hit us and the inner nerd began to salivate. Hearing a tiny “meow” I saw an orange and white cat lounging in a sunny place on floor. Of course I had to introduce myself and pet said kitty.

Divided into two sections, books stretched for four floors and were broken down by genre. We headed towards the wrought iron and brass spiral staircase first. Yes folks, this is where we found the famous glass floors. Three quarter inch thick plate glass allowed light to filter to the lower levels. Looking down, one could see the outlines of people walking underneath. Looking up, I had a close up inspection of the bottom of people’s shoes. The third floor had a beautiful stained glass window.

On the other side, I headed up the hand-carved stairwell and explored two other dimly lit floors of nonfiction books. Ornate fireplaces decorated each room. It would be so easy to get lost there as we spent the next two hours wandering from floor to floor in our pursuit of treasures.

With growling tummies, we tore ourselves away as we would have just enough time for supper before the tour. Turkey and dressing from Bob Evan’s was just the ticket!

With dusk falling, we headed back to the Blennerhassett Hotel for our tour to begin. Costumed people gathered us in the lobby of the hotel and we filed out the door and walked a couple blocks away for the first tales of the evening.

We met our guide/main story teller Susan Shepperd. A striking lady with long black hair, she had an air of mystery around her. Hopping up on a stool, she welcomed us on our tour. The Hotel, she explained, had a wedding in it that night and we couldn’t stay there to hear the stories about the hotel

Originally built in 1989, the Blennerhassett reopened its doors as a hotel in 1986. With the influx of new guests, stories of ghosts sprang up. The main ghost appears to be the man who built the hotel Mr. William N. Chancellor. He appeared to an unsuspecting guest in the summer of 2003 when the hotel was undergoing renovations. Late one night, the guest climbed into bed when a few moments later, he felt the bed wight down as if someone had sat down at the end. When the guest opened their eyes, they could made out the form of an older gentleman. The older man turned to the hotel guest and said, “I was here first!” and vanished! At the time, the portrait of Mr. Chancellor (which hangs in the library) was taken down due to extensive renovations. Once the portrait was put back in it’s original place, the ghost has quieted down considerably.

The Blennerhassett Hotel is famous for haunting besides Mr. Chancellor. Many have reported a spirit dressed in a suit. Called the “Smoking Gentleman,” the smell of cigar smoke gave his presence away even when he was not seen and no other cigar smokers were around. In addition, a lady is heard crying in empty rooms, a man in a white tuxedo and a newspaper boy from the 1920’s or 30’s is often spotted.

Ms. Shepperd told us the parking lot we were standing on was once the site of First Governor of West Virginia Arthur I. Boreman. She directed our attention to a brick house across the road. It was the site of a former Civil War Hospital (one of many in Parkersburg during the Civil War, but the only one still standing). With time, the incidents bled over to the home next door- now a restaurant called the Boreman Wheel House. The home was once owned by the daughter of Arthur I. Boreman. Over a century old, things are known to move from place to place. Reports have even said wine bottles from the home next door have been found in the basement!

We walked up the street and crossed the rail road tracks. This was the location of where the Sixth Street B and O used to stand. Here, Susan shared the tale of the Ghost of Silver Run. Silver Run is located in Ritchie County West Virginia.

Accounts tell of a raven-haired apparition with skin as white as moon light, one that haunts the old railroad tracks. Dressed in a long gown, the ghost always appears at the mouth of the Silver Run Tunnel.

Over lOO-years-ago, when the B & 0 railroad was a considerable force in West Virginia, and trains rolling through Silver Run was almost an hourly occurrence, an event happened so strange, it is still fresh in the minds of some older residents of Wood and Ritchie counties.

Nearing midnight one late August night, as mid-summer fog hung in thick, wet veils across the rails, an engineer making his way toward the Silver Run Tunnel spotted a young woman standing in dead center of the tracks.

As the engineer turned on his whistle to warn of the oncoming train, the woman turned and stared at him but seemed frozen in time. Although the lady was visible only for a matter of seconds, the engineer saw that she was thinly dressed in a filmy dress. But what was most striking was her black hair and white skin. At the moment the startled engineer thought that his train was about to slam into the woman, he watched her fly up into the air only to disappear into the night.

After several frantic moments, the engineer brought his engine to a stop. He was sure he’d find her dead body (or parts of one) along the tracks. With his engine fireman beside him, the engineer embarked on a short search for the woman. After searching the tracks for a while the men concluded there was no body. It so happened that this mesmerizing, dark-haired woman was indeed a ghost.

Convinced he’d had too much coffee and too little sleep, the engineer pushed this unsettling occurrence out of his mind and continued with his duties over the time. But the ghost of the young woman had a message to convey at the Silver Run Tunnel, and made several more appearances at the tunnel over the following weeks. Each week a train came to a stop and each time the figure flew upward and disappeared into the darkness of the night.

When sharing his unsettling experience with other engineers at the 6th Street station in Parkersburg, the engineer was surprised to learn that the apparition had appeared to other railroad men nearing Silver Run Tunnel over the years and nearly all were familiar with the scene as he had encountered it.

It so happened that one engineer by the name of O’Flannery hadn’t yet run into the Ghost of Silver Run. In fact, he had never seen any ghost at all and made no bones of the fact that he didn’t believe in ghosts, and anyone that did (according to O’Flannery) was a fool or at least a liar. After a pensive silence, one engineer challenged O’Flannery, saying to the effect that all engineers who had passed through Silver Run Tunnel saw the ghost, and up until then, they never believed in ghosts either. O’Flannery wouldn’t have any of it. He laughed with bitter sarcasm and vowed that no ghost was going to stop his train— he’d run her down first.

About two weeks later it was O’Flannery who was nearing the Silver Run Tunnel. The time was near midnight. An incandescent moon glowed inside the charcoal-colored clouds. As he came upon the Silver Run Tunnel, O’Flannery noticed a flutter of pale movement along the railroad tracks. Much to his surprise, he saw that it was a young woman standing there. She made no effort to move. And, as described by other railroad men earlier, it appeared the raven-haired apparition flew into the air and was spirited away into the darkness, to be seen no more.

He felt tremendously relieved to get his train through the Silver Run Tunnel. Even so, O’Flannery was still a boastful type who looked forward to bragging about how he ran the Ghost of Silver Run down to the other engineers. Later, as the Irishman pulled into the 6th Street train station in Parkersburg, O’Flannery noticed the place was in a bit of a panic bordering on bedlam. As he walked through the door, he asked another engineer, “Hey—what’s all the commotion about?”

The engineer answered, “Man, don’t you know? You hit a woman at the Silver Run Tunnel and she rode all the way into Parkersburg on your cow-catcher!”

Apparently, earlier in the evening, calls flooded the 6th Street train station in Parkersburg from smaller stations along the rails that reported a thinly dressed woman was riding the cowcatcher of O’Flannery’s engine as it passed by! As soon as the engine made its appearance at the 6th Street Station, the woman vanished.

Many of the B & 0 railroad engineers claimed to see or encounter the Ghost of Silver Run after the turn of the last century well into the 1940s. The reason for her ghostly appearances, however, remains a mystery.

One story goes that a richly dressed young woman was riding into Parkersburg to meet her betrothed and never arrived. After an exhaustive search, the woman’s body was never found. No one knew what happened to the young bride.

There is another old tale whispered by grandmothers to grandchildren in Ritchie County. Legend has it that when an abandoned house was torn down at Silver Run, the skeleton of a woman was found walled up in the chimney. The workers knew it was the skeleton of a woman because the skeleton wore a white bridal gown. Although the few remains were never claimed or identified, the skeleton was given a proper burial in an old cemetery not far from the Silver Run Tunnel. After funeral rites had ended, the Ghost of Silver Run was not seen again.

From the railroad tracks, we walked up the street and came to a stop in front of the bookstore we had visited earlier. I smiled as, while Susan waited for everyone to settle down, a cat peeked out the front door at us. Our guide explained how the place is an active site for ghost investigations. A small girl has been reported on the stairs and has even went so far as to trip people. Another ghost is that of a newspaper reporter who was murdered in her home in the 1980’s. She loved the library and, after her death, came back. Other ghosts wander around and keep the three resident cats company after the customers have went home.

While in front of the Library, Susan directed our attention towards Quincy Hill to our right. Now a residential area of downtown Parkersburg, with an excellent view of the city and the Ohio River, Quincy Hill played an important role during the Civil War. Not only was it a lookout point for Union troops, it also served as a tent-city Civil War hospital which housed anywhere from 500 to 1000 soldiers. Many of the soldiers not only were wounded from battle, they were also stricken with small pox, typhoid fever and dysentery.

There are a number of interesting ghost stories involving Union soldiers and haunted houses on Quincy Hill. A local ghost hunter had decided to go up on Quincy Hill one evening, take a few pictures and sit a while. He also took along his tape recorder. It seemed like an uneventful ghost hunt until he listened to his tape after returning home. There was a whistle on the tape. Not only was there a whistle -- the person was whistling the Irish Spring soap commercial. Curiosity got the best of him, so he decided to research the song.

Our ghost hunter soon found that the tune was a popular folk song among the Irish in the mid-1800s. When he called a local Civil War expert to ask what he thought of the song, the expert was stunned over the findings. The soldiers on Quincy Hill were ones kept separate from the others -- they were what was then call the colored troops and the immigrant Irish -- from exactly the time period as the Irish folk song.

We continued walking and came to an intersection. Here, Miss Shepperd told us the legend of the crossroads. Universally, the Crossroads is a place of spiritual power, but also danger, where ghosts, malevolent fairies, the old gods and goddesses of Europe and Africa, as well as devils are thought to lurk. The Crossroads, that place where two roads intersect, now exist everywhere, of course, but forks in the road weren’t as commonplace in the ancient world.

Hoodoo practices of the Mississippi Delta rely heavily upon the mystical and sometimes maligned powers of the Crossroads. Populations who are brought up on Hoodoo believe the Devil hangs out at the Crossroads, waiting for the right person to come along, to strike the right bargain, so he can steal the person’s immortal soul in exchange for a favor.

In the Crossroads ritual the bargain that is usually made is to learn a skill such as to play a musical instrument superbly, throw dice, sing, public speaking or preaching, and most popular to win in any kind of gambling. During the ritual, whatever object is wished to be mastered, the guitar, banjo, deck of cards or dice are brought to the Crossroads at midnight, or just before dawn for three to nine nights in a row. Certain animals should appear, such as a bear, a black dog or cat, to let the person know his spell is beginning to work. On the last visit a large black man should materialize. The black man (not dark-skinned, but completely coal black) will ask to borrow the object brought to the Crossroads. He will then demonstrate how to properly use the item. When it is returned, the bearer will then be gifted with almost supernatural powers when it comes to the object, winning all games or becoming the greatest musician in the town and beyond. But often the person who sells his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads for sudden wins will often die tragically, or will have his winnings quickly taken away.

Because the Crossroads is land that belongs to no one it is an area that invites ghosts and other creatures that might not belong in the natural world such as vampires and demons. In Eastern Europe it is thought that vampires carry their shrouds to the Crossroads looking for fresh victims. Malefic fairies are also believed to haunt the Crossroads looking for lost souls to lure into the half-lit world of the Fairyland.

In England, gallows were built at the Crossroads where the condemned were later hung. This was done to confuse their ghosts, in case they decided to return and revisit those who took their lives. Suicide victims were also sometimes buried at the Crossroads so their spirits would not search for those who had wronged them in life. It was thought the four directions of the forked path would confuse them, to keep such restless souls from “walking.” Certain routes were used for funerals and called “corpse way” and sometimes “corpse cross.” Part of the funeral ritual was to rest the coffin at the Crossroads before heading on to the graveyard.

From here, we began our trek into the historic district. Massive homes with turrets and ornate stained glass windows lined both sides of the street. I told Nathan I wanted to come back during the day sometime and photograph these sleeping giants.

Our first home was the Burwell House. This grand Juliana Street home was built by Mr. William N. Chancellor in 1865. Chancellor was the mayor of Parkersburg twice following the Civil War, and built many of the most enchanting homes and hotels in Parkersburg, including the historic Blennerhassett Hotel where his ghost is frequently seen along with the ever-present cigar smoke that the staff associate with his spirit. Mysterious lights are reported in the widow's walk of this elegant, but hair-raising house. Other spirits have been seen peering out the front door at passer-bys, especially in October.

We walked down the street a little more and Susan has us sit on the steps of a church. She pointed to a gray sided house across the road and talked about how most scary houses don’t look haunted. That particular house is haunted. She went on to say that when they were putting new siding on the house, the words “There be spirits here” were carved into the wood. And yes, there are ghosts there in the form of footsteps, knocks, and other odd occurrences.

As we sat, Susan shared stories about the Banshees known to visit certain families in Parkersburg.

Throughout history and across cultures there are stories and myths of beings that forewarn of human death. In past centuries (and even today) humans look for signs of eccentricities of domestic time to portend the snipping of the thread of human life. Clocks chiming irregularly or stopping, roosters crowing at night, candles melting in winding sheets or bees swarming at doors or windows to accompany a soul in flight. Birds perching at windowsills or housetops such as owls, robins and ravens have often been seen as harbingers of gloomy news. In Scotland, the "bean-nighe" or washing woman is seen by travelers around pools or fjords washing the shrouds of those who are about to die, singing a dirge or crying. The bean-nighe will tell for whom she is keening and also the fate of those travelers who would dare to ask her. The bean-nigh is thought to be the ghost of a woman who died in childbirth. The feminine gender of this grieving spirit is a theme found again in the exclusively Irish form of the "bean-si", or Banshee.

The Banshee tradition occurs throughout Ireland and nearby islands. The gaelic terms used most frequently to describe the Banshee are the "bean-si" (a female dweller of a sidhe, or fairy mound), the "bean chaointe" (a female keener, a term found in east Munster and Connaught) and the "badhb" (referring to a more dangerous, frightening bogey).

More likely the Banshee should be thought of as the "spirit of the family", a spirit who attends to the family in a time of transition. The Banshee is described as a wee woman with long white, blond or even auburn hair who appears in the vicinity of the birthplace of the soon to be deceased. When seen, she is wearing the clothes of a country woman, usually white, but sometimes grey, brown or red. The former hues represent the colors of mourning while red is associated with magic, fairies and the supernatural. In some accounts she is seen combing her hair as she laments. She is heard more often than seen, wailing as she approaches the abode in the late evening or early morning, sometimes perching on the windowsill two to three hours or even days before a death.

Banshees also wail around natural forms such as trees, rivers, and stones. Although there have been reports of Banshees accompanying Irish families who emigrated to the Americas, it appears the Banshee more often grieves for an emigrant at the ancestral family seat in Ireland.

The announcement of the Banshee was heard by non-relatives and friends, not usually by close family members of the dying. With this warning, friends from far and near would travel to the failing individual knowing it was the last chance to say goodbye. Upon being told of the Banshee's pronouncement, surviving family members could admit the finality of the situation and accept the support of the community that had gathered around them. The visitation of the Banshee gave the tribe the opportunity to talk openly about the death with family members and thereby ease the mourning process. Although human death is inescapable, the foreknowledge of such an event does provide advantages, to the soon-to-be-deceased, the survivors and the community -- thereby honoring both the living and the dead.

“Black Fairy” is a term that is sometimes used for Irish or Scottish Banshees. The Black Fairy is a death spirit associated with ancient clans or septs of the British Isles. There were other types of fairies referred to as black fairies, as told by John Walsh in 1566, and later written down by Lady Wilde, who wrote extensively on the fairy races, “There be three kindes of fairies, the black, the white, and the green, which black be the woorst.”

In Appalachia, a female should never be buried in black clothing or else she will return to haunt relatives or the graveyard where she is buried. In pre-Victorian times fairies were always associated with the realm of the dead.

Appearing as a black dog, Black Shuck is a portent of tragedy or sudden death. Seemingly spectral, and completely black, Shuck is reported to have the same glowing red eyes much like the Banshee. Like most of the supernatural creatures that haunt the British Isles, Black Shuck is strongly linked to the fairies. Sometimes appearing without a head, he is always larger than the average dog.

We stopped briefly at the Bartlett House. The very ordinary-looking house was built in the 1870s by a prominent dentist by the name of Dr. Charles Bartlett who also kept his dentistry practice in his home.

Dr. Bartlett had a daughter named Bessie whom he dearly loved. Unfortunately, Bessie contracted what we now believe to be Typhoid Fever in 1879 and died at eleven years-old in the basement. Stories tell this is where Bessie's sick bed was placed because of the heat of late summer and that is why she was in the lower room.

After Bessie's death, the Bartlett family went through tremendous grieving. And she wasn't the only Bartlett child to die. An infant son also died in the home, and Bessie's brother would later die in California after becoming a Reverend in his late 20s.

In the 1980s, a man, who was considering moving his family into the historic house, took a picture in the basement of the former Bartlett home and was shocked to get an image of a little girl in a pink dress in the basement. One can guess this is the image of Bessie. From time to time, paranormal activity occurs in the home, but Bessie's ghost has never been seen -- except for in this picture. She is buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Parkersburg, not far from Arthur I. Boreman, the first governor of West Virginia.

We then set off for Riverview Cemetery. Despite its reputation for hauntings, Riverview Cemetery on upper Juliana Street in Parkersburg, is an extremely important cemetery in terms of West Virginia history, and in some respects, in American history. It houses the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, as well as important abolitionists, early governors of West Virginia, Marie Lavassor, the French wife of Joseph H. Diss Debar who designed the state seal, riverboat and sea captains, unmarked graves of slaves, cousins to the confederate General Stonewall Jackson, and a number of interesting statues and graves, including the famous Weeping Woman statue who grants wishes to the pure in heart and the good.

We were told to look closely at an ornate gravestone with a clippered ship engraving. This is the burial site of the fascinating Captain George Deming located only a few blocks from his former home at 11th & Juliana Street. Captain Deming was a native of Connecticut, but made Parkersburg his home before the Civil War. He was a native of Connecticut and a real sea captain.

Next to the Captain's grave, Susan pointed out a grave with Chinese writing on it. She stated this was the only grave in the cemetary that was empty. The story went was that a young Chinese girl had been employed in one of the laundries and died in one of the fevers that swept through the area. A plot was donated for her (as she had no family in the area) and money was raised to get her a headstone. The Chinese believe that the dead cannot rest if they are not buried in their homeland. Ten years after her death, her brother came with a metal suitcase in hand. He was granted permission to dig up her bones and take them back to China to be buried.

Another gravestone pointed out to us was the Weeping Woman statue that seems to date from a time shortly after the Civil War. Some declare she stands up and walks through the graveyard during the night around the Full Moon. Many have claimed to see her actually move and have photographed her hands in different positions. There are a number of unexplained powers that are associated with this curious statue, for instance, the granting of unselfish wishes. Otherwise, this fascinating, morose lady watches over the Jackson Family plot. An early family in Parkersburg, the Jacksons were cousins to famed Civil War General Stonewall Jackson, as well as being judges and artists. It is reported that the Weeping Woman sometimes strolls through Riverview Cemetery weeping over the conflict between North and South during the Civil War. There are actual photographs taken that show the Weeping Woman statue with her hands folded in different poses.

Continuing on, we passed some other homes that were carriage houses, homes of governors, and folk heroes. Our last stop was the Captain’s House. Also once called the "Markey House," the Captain's House on Juliana Street was actually built by New England sea Captain George Deming, in the 1850s. The house is interesting from the standpoint that it is in the style of a New England street house and does not have much of a yard.

One eerie happening in this house occurs in the attic which you can see on the right. Strange foot prints appear in the dust and they are small, the size of a childs'. Light flutters in the windows where light should not be. The glowing orange light of a pipe is witnessed in the casement window. The Captain's grave is only a few block up the street in Riverview Cemetery. He died in 1861. Beside his grave is the grave of his small child, who died in 1862, probably of Typhoid Fever. It is very likely the footprints that always reappear in the dust in the attic belong to the Captain's young son.

With our tour complete, we made the trek back to the hotel and on toward Charleston. Our feet were sore and we were tired, but what a way to bring on the Halloween season!

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