Weird, scary, true: The Queen City boasts a history of ghosts


The 1901 Augusta County Courthouse has a whispering problem. Staff report hearing unexplained whispers. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Staunton is alive with the spirits of the dead.

You can walk with them.

Well, not really with them, but you can walk downtown and learn about them.

Ghosts of Staunton provides several walking tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with opportunities to learn about the city’s paranormal life.

On the hill on Greenville Avenue, across from the entrance to downtown where you see the large watering cans, sits the former Western State Lunatic Asylum, which opened in 1826 and was renamed Western State Hospital in 1894.

The hospital’s first director created a resort-style asylum on the hill, but then came along Joseph Dejarnette in 1905. We may never know all the horrors experienced by patients during his 38 years there.

We do know about Sarah, an Irish immigrant, who was brought to Western State after killing her abusive husband. After she killed a couple of guards at the hospital and was lobotomized, she was left on her own in her room and fed until she died. Her spirit is believed to linger the grounds.

During renovations for The Blackburn Inn a few years ago, two construction workers vanished. Their bank accounts were left open so that police could detect activity but the accounts have never been used. Did they choose to vanish on their own or did paranormal activity cause their demise?

Four JMU interns assisted in gathering and sorting hospital documents. One day, one of the interns was found dead facing the corner with a file in his lap.

By now you’ve probably heard about Dejarnette and his program of sterilizing patients, many of whom were also buried on the hospital’s property in unmarked graves. Dejarnette and Adolf Hitler were pen pals, exchanging human experiment ideas during World War II.

On South Coulter Street, not far from the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, Charlotte Coffman lived a quiet life for many years until her death in 1980. Both of Coffman’s husbands died while married to her. Ever since her death, nobody has lived in the house except for one woman in 2016 who died of “natural causes” after 11 months.

By the steps to the 1901 Augusta County Courthouse, criminals, and probably others who were victims of prejudice, were hanged up until 1918.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped to revive American life with jobs as part of The New Deal. This economic whirlwind found its way to Staunton, but when residents kept disappearing, possibly buried in caverns near the train tracks, the president himself sent a note asking that such activity stop. Murder was not part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

And if you haven’t heard about what happened downtown in 1910, Google 1910 cave in. The city was built on an underground source of water and limestone. The perfect ingredients for the conduction of electricity and the lingering of spirits.

Happy Halloween.

 

 

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