Wednesday, October 25, 2006
The Patriotic Ghost
Revenge is an inescapable part of human nature. Like tides or the changing seasons, a lust for revenge is an ever-present specter in the soul of man. Some would say it haunts 210 Prince Street. The Barrett Branch Library's Alexandria history collection is full of old news clippings about a ghost that supposedly haunts the house, one that has a Revolutionary War era hatred of anything English.
The story of the house's poltergeist dates back to the 1700s, when the house was built by Alexandria founding father William Ramsay. He mortgaged it to John Dixon, who held it until 1774. According to local legend, Dixon joined the American militia and was eventually executed for spying on the English. His ghost has haunted the house ever since. Many occupants have supposedly reported feeling his presence; some have even seen a man in full Revolutionary War garb walking through the house. Neighbors have reported hearing the piano play when nobody was home.
The most frightening appearance of Dixon's ghost occurred in the 1930s, when the house was for sale. A potential buyer was touring the house.
Unfortunately, she was English, which apparently did not go over well with Dixon. While touring the old home, the English woman was stopped from climbing to the third floor by a mysterious force. She said that she could feel a psychic phenomenon that physically stopped her in her tracks, and she declined to buy the house.
Apparently, old grudges die hard.
City Hall's Devil-Bat
City Hall's distinctive clock tower has been a fixture of Alexandria for many generations. Its iconic presence over the City Council chamber is an ever-present landmark in Old Town. But its belfry supposedly hides some secrets of its own. According to one local legend, the tower is inhabited by a devil-bat.
The story is documented in a 1976 publication titled "Alexandria Ghost Stories," in which a man named Louie Robert recalls the legend of the devil bat. Puffing on a pipe in his frame shop as he recounted the story to the book's author, Eric Segal.
"Well, I guess one of the oldest stories goin' back I don't know how long is the story of the devil bat of Market Square," Robert told Segal. "They say it lives up there in the belfry of City Hall. I don't know much about the story, and I don't know if anyone says they seen it. But I thought I saw it once."
According to Robert's account, the devil bat appeared one night when a boatload of rowdy men arrived at night. As the rioting crowd caroused up King Street, breaking windows and screaming wildly, the men apparently stirred the ire of the devil-bat.
"I heard 'em saying something, believe it or not, about tearin' down City Hall," Robert said. "All of a sudden, for some reason, I still don't know why, I said something like Devil bat, devil bat, keep this crowd back!"
From out of nowhere, according to Robert's story, a giant devil bat appeared from the clock tower on the Royal Street side of City Hall and attacked the rioting crowd. Seeing this frightening creature, they scampered away. And thus the mysterious animal saved the municipally owned building.
"I was scared, but I was curious too, so I checked to see what it was and there in the middle of the street was the biggest darn skunk anybody ever saw," Robert said.
"Some say that proves the devil bat doesn't exist, it's just some skunk. But other say that it proves it does, it just turned into a skunk to protect its old home. I'm not sure, but, as far as I know, that's the closest anyone's ever come to really seeing it."
Ghosts at the Prescott
One of the intriguing things about Old Town is that it hides so many mysteries. Last year, for example, remains from the old Colross estate on Oronoco Street were unearthed when a layer of concrete was removed to initiate the construction of luxury condominiums known as the Prescott. A team of archeologists assembled on the site to learn its secrets, and the old legend of Colross was rekindled.
Colross was home to Thomson Mason, a former mayor of Alexandria and a descendant of George Mason. The estate dominated the 1100 block of Oronoco, with its federal-style mansion ringed by a formal garden. It was an idyllic place to grow up for the two Mason children, William and Ann.
One spring day in the 1850s, as the tulips were gently pushing their way into view, tragedy descend upon the estate. The children were playing a game of hide-and-seek when William decided to hide in an old abandoned chicken coop. A strong gale swept through and knocked the coop down, crushing the boy in its wreckage. Ann was devastated by the loss, and her body was later found drowned in a bathtub.
Since then, legend has it, the two children have haunted the grounds. The sound of children's playful laughter and restless antics have been heard on the site for years, and some say that the William and Ann inhabit the block in a perpetual state of ghostly childhood. Perhaps the future residents at the Prescott may even hear the patter of tiny footsteps and the incessant giggling of children who died 150 years ago.
Captain's Lady of Red Hill
Most people know it as Braddock Hill, but in the old days it was known as Red Hill one of the highest elevations in the city, with a clear view of the Potomac River before widespread development in Alexandria. According to local legend, this was the site of the Anchorage House. It's not around anymore, but apparently it once stood somewhere near the intersection of Ruffner Road and Hanson Lane.
The Anchorage was home to an introverted merchant captain and his wife. They lived a life of seclusion, preferring to keep to themselves and stay out of the bustling streets of Old Town. The sea was his mistress, though, and he spent months traveling to distant ports of call. In his absence, she found a companion of her own, the garden at Anchorage, which she lovingly attended with boundless attention.
One of her hobbies was watching for the return of the captain with an Oriental telescope from atop her perch on Red Hill. While docking his ship, the captain would wave to his lady. But one day the ship docked without its captain. Distraught and panic-stricken, she ran to the shed and grabbed the captain's gun — turning it on herself and committing suicide in her beloved garden.
According to local legend, the captain's lady still haunts the area where her garden once stood. In her infinite loneliness, she walks the grounds in a hopeless attempt to spot the arrival of her captain. People who have seen her say that she always wears the deep suicidal scarlet of her last day on Red Hill. Those who have spoken to her have apparently been shocked when she disappears into thin air, retaining her introverted nature even in death.