The Ghost Tour
By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 7 minutes
Scare Rating: 1/5 Ghosts
Nick was unimpressed. So far, the night tour of historic Colonial Williamsburg had been about as much a dud for the teenager as had the rest of the family vacation. It seemed that everything they’d done so far had been tailored to his younger brother, Matt.
This tour, focusing on the haunted history of one of America’s first cities, was supposed to have been for him. But the stories had been lame so far, despite the heat lightning and low rumbles of thunder that seemed custom-made to complement such an event. Nick was especially unimpressed by their tour guide and his linen suit and woolen socks — traditional garb from the mid-1700s.
“Do you feel that?” asked Charlton, their aged tour guide. “Feel that lone cool breeze blowing on a hot summer night? That’s a sure sign that there’s a ghostly spirit around!”
“More likely that we’re standing in front of an ‘historic’ shoppe with its air conditioner running and people coming and going,” muttered the boy. Dad’s sharp elbow to his ribs meant that his wise crack had been heard.
“This is the home of a family of Tories — loyalists to Britain,” explained Charlton outside an old brick home. “As the revolution heated up, they fled back to London to sit out the war. While they were away, the gentleman passed away, and at the end of the fighting, the lady returned to Williamsburg to resume the life they’d started in the colonies. But no one in the town would talk to her. The ladies wouldn’t let her into their societies, and at church, she’d have an entire pew to herself because no one would sit by her.
“Eventually, she went mad. They called her ‘Loonie Lucy,’ because of her erratic behavior. She took to stealing fashionable dresses off clothes lines in the night. Soon, she was committed in the town’s only hospital, which happened to be an insane asylum, where she died just two years later.
Nick was still not impressed.
“You might think the story would end there; however, just last year, a young couple from Richmond rented the historic home for the summer. When the lady went to her closet to retrieve her new dress for a night out with her husband, she found it was missing. The next time it was seen was on the figure of a ghostly apparition that was seen in the house in the middle of the night!”
Nick didn’t buy the story. How could a ghost wear real clothes?
“Let’s keep walking,” said their guide.
If Nick was impressed by anything, it was with the speed at which the old man moved down the rough brick sidewalks. He almost seemed to glide over the pavers.
“Ghosts are usually associated with tragedies,” said Charlton as he led the family across the street to another old brick residence. “This next tale is no different in that respect. The family that owned this home had more than 50 enslaved workers in the home over their lifetimes. The woman had found a few of the slaves to be troublesome, and had for years urged her husband to sell them, but he refused.
“Finally, after her husband died, the woman sold off the ones she couldn’t get along with. The most notorious of them was Netty, who had a husband and children who were also enslaved members of the household. When Netty was sold, she begged and pleaded with her former master to also sell her children and family along with her, but the cold-hearted woman refused. So as her new master dragged her away, Netty put a curse on the home and on the woman’s family.
“Within a year, tragedy struck the owner again and again. One of her three children fell out of the tall magnolia tree in the home’s front yard to his death. The oldest died in a farming accident. The third contracted small pox and died. The woman died herself just a few years later, a bitter and crazed woman.
“Today, people often see three small blueish-yellow lights in the second-story window to the right — that was the nursery where all three children lived. They say it’s the children’s small, playful spirits cursed to remain with the home for eternity, just as Netty’s children had to stay with the home. You might just see their lights yourselves tonight.”
Before Nick could comment, Charlton directed them along again.
“Let’s keep walking,” he intoned. As they moved on, Nick looked back on the home, and might have, for a short spell, witnessed three small lights peering at him from the same bedroom that the guide indicated.
“Couldn’t be … ” Nick said under his breath. By this time, the skies were dancing with lightning from the nearby summer storms, and he imagined that the window lights could have been a focused reflection of lightning in the distance.
“Our next stop is my last stop,” said Charlton. “This is Shield’s Tavern; it’s an infamous public house from colonial times. Indeed, it was where General George Washington is said to have acquired his taste for oysters-on-the-half-shell. It’s also where revolutionaries held meetings to debate actions they should take in the face of an increasingly tyrannical British monarchy.
“But it’s most fondly remembered as a dance hall, and in the cool spring after crops had been planted, or in the still-warm fall after all crops had been brought in, the young and the young-at-heart would come here to socialize and to dance.” The man’s blue, clear eyes seemed wet, causing them to sparkle with cheer, as if he was reliving some memory.
“The story of this place is that one night, one of the town police officers drove by and saw a lone candle burning in the window. Fearing a fire, he stopped to investigate. As he approached the building, he could hear raucous laughter, loud music and the footfalls of dancing. But when he entered the building, there was no sign of any activity; the hall was dark and silent.
“The guard went upstairs, found the candle, but again found no sign of habitation. He quickly extinguished the candle and left the building to file a report about the incident. As he got to his car, he glanced back at the building to find that the candle in the building was burning bright again. Already skeeved out from his first visit into the hall, he quickly left the scene. Today, whenever the candle’s burning in the window, townsfolk know it’s just because there’s a dance taking place.”
“Wow, what great stories, Charlton,” said Mom. “Don’t you think so, boys?” she added, in her special voice meant to encourage them to use their manners.
“Oh yeah!” enthused Matt, and Dad gave a hearty, “Mmm hmmm!” Even Nick had to admit that the tour, the stories, and even Charlton had grown on him.
“It was great, Mom. Thank you Mr. Charlton,” he said with earnest sincerity.
“My pleasure, laddies,” said the guide, briskly. “But if you’ll excuse me now, I must be off — I’m due at another occasion presently!”
With those words, he removed his tri-point hat, gave a deep bow, and turned away. As he did, a chilly breeze blew over the family. In the rising fog, his departing figure seemed to melt away into the night. Nick followed his form with his eyes, and saw the guide climb the steps of the public house. At the top step, he turned back to the family, gave a wave, and passed through the door and into the building.
Every member of the family saw the same thing, as judged by the fact that each turned toward the others with the same “did you just see what I just saw?” look on his or her face. As they did, the sound of a waltz rose in the night air, as did the timeless sounds of a party. The family turned back to the hall to find a single yellow candle glowing strong and bright in the second-story window.
“What an historic night!” exclaimed Nick, as the family turned and walked back to the modern, well-lit parking lot where they’d first met Charlton Leigh, tour guide and member of colonial-era Virginia Regiment.