graphical version

Ghosts and Haunted Houses
in Madison Virginia

A Research Report by Teresa L. Mills

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see a ghost inside your house? What do ghosts look like? Why do ghosts haunt certain houses? What houses in Madison County are considered haunted or have interesting ghostly tales associated with them? This is the focus of this research report and web site.

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Information in this report:
  1. Introduction
  2. What do ghosts look like?
  3. Why do ghosts haunt certain houses?
  4. What houses in Madison County are haunted?
    1. The Old John Fishback Home
    2. The Old Captain Andrew Carpenter House
    3. The Blankenbaker Home
    4. Hunton House
    5. Lovell
    6. Thoroughfare Mountain Farm
    7. The Reynolds House
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works cited and consulted in this web site
  7. Links to other interesting sites


There are many written accounts from around the world of sensible and down-to-earth people who have seen ghosts or experienced some sort of mysterious phenomena. Some people in Madison Virginia and surrounding counties once believed that there were no such things as ghosts; that is, until they experienced some unexplainable phenomena. Many of these people are now true believers that ghosts really do exist.

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What Do Ghosts Look Like?

A ghost is an alleged spirit of a dead person. Ghosts may be visible, though only a small percentage of cases involve visual images. Generally, ghosts make their presence known through mysterious noises, smells, sensations of cold, and the movement of objects. Some apparitions seem real and solid with definable form and features; others seem fuzzy, luminous, transparent, wispy, and ill-defined--nothing more than streaks or patches of light or a mere bloodstain. Apparitions appear and disappear suddenly. They can move through walls and objects, or walk around them. They can cast shadows, and their images can be reflected in mirrors.

Salubria, which was built in 1742 and is located in Culpeper Virginia, has a reputation for being haunted. Many people have seen ghosts or witnessed other strange and unexplanable phenomena while in this house. Mrs. Jennie Thornley Grayson lived for a time at Salubria. One night while she stood combing her hair before the mirror in her room, the same room where a former resident Lady Spotswood died, Mrs. Grayson describes the ghost that she saw:

A white mist seemed to have enveloped my form. I could not move nor utter a sound. As I looked intently the mist slowly took the form of a face peering over my shoulder and reflected in the glass before me. (qtd. in Lee, 141).
Mrs. Grayson describes the ghost that she saw as "a white mist," but there have been many different descriptions of what a ghost actually looks like from many other people. What exactly does a ghost look like? It is hard to give a general description since ghosts can appear in any form or even be invisible.

Interview with Douglas Campbell, Ph.D., who describes his ghostly encounter in Washington D.C.

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Why Do Ghosts Haunt Houses?

Contrary to popular belief, most ghosts are not seen in graveyards, but in houses and buildings. Ghosts seem to have a variety of reasons for their hauntings:

  • Some people believe that ghosts are trapped on earth because they do not yet realize that they are dead. There are those who believe that they can communicate with these ghosts and help them move on.

  • Some ghosts remain when their bodies have been improperly buried, or not buried at all; thus, seeking a proper burial.

  • Some ghosts seem to return to re-enact some crisis from their former lives--usually their death scene.

  • Some ghosts were a victim of a murder and feel they cannot move on until their attacker has been found and brought to justice.

  • Some ghosts return to seek revenge, or remain to punish the living for crimes against them or against their descendants.

  • Some ghosts are believed to be trapped by unfinished business: they return to complete some task left undone, to fulfill a promise made while alive, or to convey useful information to the living.

  • Some ghosts appear to remain on earth for the purpose of communicating danger to someone living, or to convey useful information to someone living.

  • Some ghosts appear to have strong emotional ties to a site.

  • Some ghosts appear to be worried about the loved ones left behind, and return to comfort grieving family members, or to give advice to them.

  • Many people believe that a ghost remaining in this world is a clear punishment. Evil-doers remain among the living after death because they have not earned the right to eternal peace and rest.

  • Sometimes there does not seem to be a reason for the haunting, or the spirit merely wishes to continue on.

Many ghosts stories have been told about Lessland, which is located in Orange County, Virginia. In an interview with Mildred Tyner, she told the interviewer that Lessland has been in her family since 1847. In the nine years that she has lived at Lessland, she said that she has not had any ghostly encounters, but she said that other people have. "I guess it depends upon your awareness and perception," she says. "All the neighbors believe that the place is haunted. It is the best security system you could have." Mrs. Tyner shared a fascinating story about her daughter's experience with a ghostly visitor:

One evening my daughter was upstairs sewing. She glanced out the window, and saw a man looking in through the window at her. Two days later, I received a picture of the tombstone of James Cooper Dickerson, who had been married to my great-grandmother. I thought that this was a bit odd. I located some old family photographs of James Dickerson and showed them to my daughter. She exclaimed, 'That is the man I saw looking through the window' and identified the ghost as Mr. Dickerson from the family photographs that I showed her. (Tyner)
Mrs. Tyner's great-grandmother is buried at Lessland, and Mr. Dickerson is buried in Caroline County. What reason could this ghost have for haunting Lessland? Perhaps the ghost of James Cooper Dickerson has returned to Lessland to search for his wife in the hope of being reunited with her.

Interview with Mildred Tyner

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What Houses In Madison County Are Haunted?

There are many legends and ghost stories throughout the world. Virginia ranks number one in the United States in the number of alleged hauntings according to an article in Rural Living entitled "The Spirits Of The Old Dominion" published in October 1995. Footsteps, rappings, rocking in unoccupied chairs, moaning, sobbing, voices, smells, cold drafts of air, loud crashing noises, and sightings of apparitions are all common parts of our supernatural folklore. L. B. Taylor, Jr.--author of five regional and two statewide books featuring Virginia ghosts--has investigated close to 500 ghost stories over the past 10 years. "The reason is because so much history, trauma, and tragedy has happened in Virginia," says Taylor. "The state's abundance of old houses also adds to the folklore.

Madison County has many old and historical houses, some dating back back as far as the 1700's, that are said to be haunted such as The Old Fishback House, The Old Andrew Carpenter House, The Blankenbaker Home, Hunton House, Lovell, Thoroughfare Mountain Farm, and The Reynolds House.

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The Old Fishback House

A ghost is said to have haunted the Old John Fishback House. This house, located one mile east of Madison on Route 29, was built during the 1790's. It has since been torn down. Gracie Maude Weaver, wife of Robert Edward Lee Fishback, often saw a ghost in the home. She would wake her husband during the night, but he could never find the ghost in the house. According to her husband, the description that his wife gave of the ghost was a perfect match to his father, Staunton Fishback. (Dove 87). Perhaps Staunton was checking to make sure that his family and his home were okay.

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The Home of Old Captain Andrew Carpenter

A noisy ghost once haunted the home of Old Captain Andrew Carpenter, located on Route 629, south of Brightwood. It is said that the ghost of Mrs. Marc Wayland appeared on the night of her death at this home:

A terrible noise was heard on the second floor of this house. It was the sound of a walking cane and rubbing across the floor, and as it became more violent, the sound of the cane raking on the shingles of the roof became louder and louder. Suddenly, Aunt Pus [Mrs. Marc Wayland] went out of the house through the roof, they say, and neither she nor the noise was heard again. (Dove 349)
This ghost is an example of a post-mortem apparition. Many people have reported seeing a loved one, only to find out that person died hours before they actually saw them, perhaps, even hundred of miles away. This is the case with Mrs. Marc Wayland: she died in Roanoke, and on the same night as her death, she was heard and seen in Madison County at the Old Captain Andrew Carpenter's house.

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The Blankenbaker Home

Another ghost has appeared several times at the Blankenbaker Home which was built in the 1800's. This home is located on Route 649, a mile from Haywood in Madison County. Mrs. Corrie Tanner gives the following description of the ghost that she saw at this house:

The lady was dressed in a gray dress with a deep ruffle. The wind blew the gray ruffle as she walked; she wore no bonnet....Some say it was the spirit of Sarah Ann Blankenbaker, but Mrs. Tanner recalls the lady in gray as being much taller and thinner than her great-grandmother. (Dove 129)
A cook at the Blankenbaker home also reported seeing the ghost of Sarah Ann Blankenbaker:
On her way from the hen house she heard the back gate open and latch close. Thinking it was the wind, she went on with her work. Presently, she heard a chair on the porch rocking and upon investigation, she saw just a glimpse of Sarah Ann Blankenbaker in the chair. She [Sarah Ann Blankenbaker] quickly vanished. (Dove 129)
Mrs. Jesse Evelyn Fitzgerald has seen just the shoe of a ghostly visitor coming from the bathroom into the dining room; this would be from the old part of the house into the addition. She said that this has happened only twice (Dove 129). It would appear that Sarah Ann Blankenbaker and possibly even other family members have such a strong emotional tie to their family home that they no intentions of leaving their home.

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The Hunton House

Periodically a ghost haunts the Hunton House, an old hotel at the north end of Main Street in the town of Madison. Originally built around 1800 as a private home, it was opened as a hotel in approximately 1849. Although only certain members of the past owners living in the house have heard the ghost, the ghost is said to walk when there is a family crisis or when the property is about to change hands. It has been heard coming up from the second front porch. The ghost then opens the door and walks down the front hall, turns left, and walks down the back hall which used to be a porch (Dove 259).

In addition to the ghost that can predict a family crisis, a chest of drawers at the hotel has puzzled owners for years. It cracks like a pistol shot just before a family death occurs. Seeking an explanation, owners took it to E.A. Clore and Sons, a local furniture manufacturer, where it was found to be sound and solid. No explanation could be offered to explain the popping sound. The sound does not seem to be caused by changes in temperature, but only occurs to fortell a family death (Dove 259).

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A headless ghost haunts Lovell, a house built in 1840 and located one mile north of the Locust Dale Post Office on Route 614. An interesting tale about this ghost is found in the book, Ghost Stories and Legends From The Old Confederacy: Volume II written by Dr. Kenneth Stuart McAtee:

During the Civil War, the Yankees came to kitchen demanding food from the cook. She told them that there was no food because earlier Yankee soldiers had already raided the kitchen and taken all of the food. All the invaders left with the exception of one soldier, who had spotted a loose flagstone in the kitchen floor. He lifted it and discovered food hidden there. While he was lifting the stone to steal the food, the enraged cook beheaded him with a meat cleaver. She dragged him into the back yard and buried him in a shallow grave under some coffee trees. It is reported that on moon-lit nights when the wind is howling a soldier can often be seen on the observation platform on the top of the main house. He waves his arms and is believed to be looking for his head. (67)

A brutal murder such as this one can certainly be a reason why a ghost would choose to haunt a house.

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Thoroughfare Mountain Farm

While a headless Yankee soldier haunts Lovell, the ghost of a headless horse haunts Thoroughfare Mountain Farm, located southwest of Leon on Route 631. On the lawn in front of the home is a burial ground in which southern soldiers, who were killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, are buried. In the book, Ghost Stories and Legends From The Old Confederacy: Volume II written by Dr. Kenneth Stuart McAtee, an interesting story regarding the sighting of the headless horse is documented:

An old farmer, who was in charge of horses on his farm, saw the headless horse run past him and disappear in a gulley. The next morning the worried farmer checked his herd of horses and found that all were present and in good health. The theory as to why this horse appeared here is that his its rider, a cavalryman, and his mount were killed during the Battle of Cedar Mountain. The luckless rider was buried at Thoroughfare Mountain and the mysterious horse was searching for his former rider. (76)
Animals can also be ghosts. Animal ghosts haunt houses and sites for many of the same reasons as humans.

Other residents at Thoroughfare Mountain Farm have seen both confederate soldiers and headless horses. In an conversation with Ms. Essie Aylor Nicholson, she told me that her brother-in-law went for a horseback ride on the farm, and reported seeing a headless horse run past him with a Confederate soldier riding it. On many occasions, the Aylor family saw headless horses, some with riders and some without riders, running up the driveway; then, they would vanish.(Nicholson) Frequently places where battles took place have alot of ghostly activities. This is not surprising since during battles and wars many lives are lost under brutal circumstances.

Another story associated with Thoroughfare Mountain Farm is that a family formally residing there neglected their young child and the child starved to death in the cellar. James Aylor recalls hearing those cries of this ghost (Dove 191) and upon investigation no explanation could be found for these sounds.

James Aylor died in 1988, but the researcher had the opportunity to talk with Mrs. Essie Aylor Nicholson, his widow. She remembered many stories that her husband told her about the ghostly encounters at the farm where he grew up. Mr. Aylor and other members of his family would often hear strange noises in the house such as doors opening and closing. Upon investigation, nothing could be found to explain the noises that they heard. She told me a fascinating story that her husband had told her:

James, his father, and his two brothers, went hunting on the farm. The hunting dogs treed something and they were barking. When they looked up in the tree to see what the dogs had cornered, they saw a white thing--like a cloud--hovering over the tree. Suddenly, it fell toward the ground and vanished before it hit the ground. The dogs tucked their tails between their legs, as though they had been beaten, and ran away from the site. (Nicholson)

Thouroughfare Mountain Farm has quite a history of ghostly events. There seems to be numerous spirits that still reside there, some of them victims of the neglect and others casualities of war.

Notes taken after a conversation with Mrs. Essie Aylor Nicholson

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The Reynolds House

The final story is about a ghost who haunts a house in Madison County and moves furniture around the house. In an interview with Sue Reynolds on November 11, 1995, she states that she believes that her house is haunted and asks that her address remain anonymous. Her house was built in 1991 on the foundation of another house. In the previous house, a women had poisoned her husband, her mother-in-law, and the family dog, so that she could inherit the property. Mrs. Reynolds did not remember the exact date of these murders, but she thinks it was around 1964. She believes that the ghosts that haunt her house are the spirits of the murder victims. Mrs. Reynolds says, "I have never seen any ghosts, but strange things happen in my house." She hears loud noises in the house, and things fall or move unexplainably. She commented that her furniture moves mysteriously:

I had two rockers upstairs. I placed them in the room facing toward the center of the room. Frequently, I would find that the chairs had been moved over to the windows--almost, as if someone had been sitting in them looking out the window. I would, once again, move them to back where I had them. Finally, I got so tired of moving them, I just got rid of them. Also, the chairs in my kitchen are constantly being moved from the table over to the window. (Reynolds)
Recently over the last month, she has seen shadows that move so quickly that she barely gets a glance of them. She notes that whenever she sees these shadows or when something strange happens in the house she feels a breeze. This type of ghost is an example of a poltergeist, a noisy ghost that has the capability to move objects.

Interview with Mrs. Sue Reynolds

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This research report and web site has attempted to answer three questions concerning ghosts, hauntings and strange phenomena: what do ghosts look like; why do ghosts haunt certain houses; and what houses in Madison Virginia are considered haunted or have strange phenomena associated with them?

In conclusion, ghosts can take on any appearance from solid shapes to wispy fog so it is difficult to give a description of what a ghost might look like being that there are so many different descriptions from people who have actually seen a ghost. They can look like humans or animals. Some ghosts make sounds or move objects while others are not even visible to those in the house. Ghosts haunt houses for numerous reasons as noted in the report. Finally, many people have either seen ghosts or experienced some strange phenomena at houses in Madison County such as The Old Fishback House, The Old Andrew Carpenter House, The Blankenbaker Home, Hunton House, Lovell, Thoroughfare Mountain Farm, and The Reynolds House.

If you still do not believe in ghosts, then you must ask yourself one more question: if there are no such things as ghosts, then what are these people really seeing?

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Works cited and consulted in this web site:

Campbell, Douglas. Personal Interview. 18 Nov. 1995

Dove, Vee. Madison County Homes: A Collection of Pre-Civil War Homes And Family Heritages. Tennessee: Kingsport, 1975.

Grossman, Robert. "The Spririts Of The Old Dominion," Rural Living, October 1995: 10-13.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. "Apparition," Encyclopedia of Ghosts & Spirits. New York: Facts on File, 1992. 13-17.

---. "Ghosts," Encyclopedia of Ghosts & Spirits. New York: Facts on File, 1992. 134-135.

"In Search of Apparitions," Vol. 5 of The Unexplained. 8 vols. New York: Marshall Cavendish. 601-605.

Lee, Margarite DuPont. Virginia Ghosts. Virginia: Virginia Book Company, 1966.

McAttee, Dr. Kenneth Stuart. Ghost Stories and Legends From The Old Confederacy Volume II. Privately Printed, 1994.

Nicholson, Essie Aylor. Notes from informal conversation. 28 Nov. 1995.

Riehecky, Janet. Haunted Houses. Minnesota: Child's World, 1989.

Reynolds, Sue. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 1995.

Tyner, Mildred. Personal interview. 28 Nov. 1995.

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Links to other web sites:

To find out more information about ghosts and other related subjects click on one of the links below to visit another web site. You will be leaving my web site. Feel free to email comments to me or bookmark my site for future reference. Thanks for visiting and I hoped that you enjoyed this web site and found it informative.

Virginia Supernatural Investigators
This site has information about ghosts, investigations and findings, recordings of ghosts, and pictures of ghost.

Hampton Roads Paranormal Research Group
This site has information about ghosts, signs of a haunting, ghost hunting information, information and findings from their investigations, true ghost stories, and ghost photos.

International Ghost Hunters Society
This site has over 500 photographs of ghosts, a page of links to other sites about ghosts, ghost tales and articles, newsletters, information about a home study course about parapsychology, and information about ordering tee shirts, videos and other products.

American Ghost Society
This site has information about ghosts, where to find ghosts, and a ghost hunting manual.

Southwestern Virginia Ghost Hunter's Society
This site has information about the Southwestern Virginia Ghost Hunter's Society and a link to true ghost stories from the files of investigations.

The Pathwork Center
The Pathwork is a spiritual path of self-purification and transformation based on the teachings channeled by Eva Pierrakos. These teachings, originating from a spirit entity of immense wisdom known as the Guide, are contained in a series of 258 lectures delivered through Eva from 1957 until her death in 1979. The Guide Lectures are profoundly concerned with self-responsibility, self-knowledge and self-acceptance.

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