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Ghostly Misadventures in Historic Alexandria, VA!

When a family trip to go out to the east coast to visit my sister and other relatives popped into my family's mind, I knew exactly what I wanted to do while I was there: see family I haven't seen in years and catch up, of course... But the old, colonial history immediately turned my thoughts to one thing: GHOSTS.

Places that are old and steeped in history usually have the most paranormal activity. And Alexandria Virginia is considered one of the most haunted cities in the US. thanks to its rich past of the Founding Fathers and the founding of our country, and of a little squirmish you may have heard of called the Civil War.

And as luck would have it, my aunt, who we were staying with, lives in Alexandria, in a neighborhood that is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from historic old town!

After a quick search on the interwebz, I found a few places in old town Alexandria I wanted to explore. My first stop? Gadsby's Tavern, where I had read that a very mysterious ghost, nicknamed the Female Stranger, may haunt its halls.

Originally just a tavern built in the 1700's and located in downtown Alexandria, it was much later expanded into a restaurant where you can still eat. Our tour of the museum portion of the tavern was small, but our tour guide, who's name I forgot to ask and seriously wish that I had, was amazing. You could tell she was passionate about the history of the tavern and was open to all of our question.

Gadsby's Tavern was a big meeting place for the founders of the U.S., with George Washington often having supper there, as well as Thomas Jefferson, but was also an inn, where rooms and bedding were limited and up to three men would often share a bed in a small, plain room. You really got to know your fellow travelers, our tour guide joked. As the years went on and the tavern was expanded, more rooms were added to accommodate women and the richer travelers. These rooms were much more lavish, with canopy beds and a fireplace (remember these fancier rooms because they will come up again in the next few paragraphs!).

The tavern was usually not a place for ladies to stay, or even visit, but there are two giant meeting rooms/ballrooms, where performers (such as acrobats, or my personal favorite, a traveling pig who could spell, add, and subtract with blocks) would perform for the tavern's guests and townsfolk. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had birthday dinners or other important celebrations held in the ballrooms, where musicians on a balcony would play music as the party goers danced and dined.

The tavern has been painstakingly repainted and furnished to look almost exactly how it used to, down to the colors of the paint and chandeliers. Going into this unassuming old tavern, I had no idea that I would be walking into a place where history is literally seeping out of its pores. To think that you could be standing in the same room as the first President of the United States was awe-inspiring.

After the tour, we stopped by the gift shop (okay, I'll be honest, we started at the gift shop when we first walked in the tavern) and after thanking the tour guide for a the very informative and entertaining tour, I finally decided to ask (after the other people from the tour had left) about the ghost who exactly this mysterious ghost was. Her eyes lit up. "Oh! You mean the Female Stranger!" she said.

Back in the 1800's, a man and a woman arrived at the tavern. The woman fell deathly ill, and the man, who everyone assumed to be her husband, called for a doctor. She was put in room 8 in one of the nicer rooms (these were the rooms I said to remember earlier!). On her deathbed, the woman made everyone promise, including the man, the doctor, and the women who attended to her, to never reveal her true identity. They all swore and when she died, she was buried in St. Paul's Cemetery, where the man paid for a large, inscribed headstone, that must have cost a pretty penny in those days, especially since they charged by the word. Here is part of the beautiful and mysterious inscription:

"To the memory of a FEMALE STRANGER, whose mortal sufferings terminated on the 14th day of October, 1816 aged 23 years and 8 months. This stone was placed here by her disconsolate husband, in whose arms she sighed out her last breath, and who under God did his utmost even to soothe the cold, dead ear of death."

(Note to self: next time I visit Alexandria, make a special trip to see the Female Stranger's grave at St. Paul's Cemetery! Something else to add to paranormal bucket list?)

(Note to self II: Make up a paranormal bucket list?)

Our tour guide concluded that no one knows for sure who the Female Stranger was or what she even died from, but there are rumors and theories that are still debated still today. She then said that she wasn't supposed to talk about the ghost or the haunting, but unofficially, she had some experiences. She apparently lives very close to the tavern and late one night her boss calls her to check on the tavern because the security alarm kept going on. She arrived, and no one was there, of course, so she went on her rounds to check to see that all of the doors to the guest rooms were closed and locked. Just in case.

When she arrived at room 8, she had trouble unlocking the door. The moment she finally unlocked and opened it, it slammed in her face and locked. A little shaken, she unlocked the door again and opened it, just to have her slam violently back again. After giving it another try a few times, she said she was in tears and terrified and called her boss to tell him and to have him call her down. Our tour guide said she would like to think that maybe it was just a draft and not the ghost of the Female Stranger, but others who work and volunteer in the tavern have had experiences as well, so she says anything is possible.

I highly recommend touring Gadsby's Tavern. It was a pleasant surprise, walking into an unassuming brick building and finding all of it's rich and detailed history all wrapped up in a mysterious and chilling ghost story. And I certainly hope you get an awesome tour guide like I did!

(Learn more about Gadsby's Tavern here and the Female Stranger here)

After the Tavern, we stopped at another historical site in Alexandria, the Carlyle house, which was a beautiful old house with a rich history steeped in the Civil War. In their gift shop, I bought the book Ghosts of Alexandria by Michael Lee Pope, filled with all of the sites and stories of ghosts and spirits that seemingly haunt the very historic city. Reading it, I learned even more about the Female Stranger's story and who her "husband" might have been and even who she may have been. Some claim to know, but I don't think the mystery will ever be solved which makes the supposed haunting more mysterious and tragic. I also found out that Gadsby's Tavern's staff vehemently denies any sort of supernatural activity and refuses to discuss any mention of the Female Stranger. After learning that, I was so grateful that I had asked the tour guide about it after the tour and that she was nice enough to break an unwritten rule to tell me about her experiences! Again, best tour guide ever.

Also, after reading the chapter about Carlyle house, I learned that the house itself is also supposedly haunted by three separate spirits. After I had purchased the book in their gift shop and left! Ugh. Well, that's just another reason to visit Alexandria again. Plus the garden in the back of the house is beautiful. They hold weddings there, and while we were in the gift shop, a couple was there inquiring about booking their wedding there. All of the women in the room (me included) gasped, saying congratulations and what a wonderful place for a wedding it would be! The garden was that lovely. (Learn more about Carlyle house here)

(Ghosts of Alexandria is a great ghostly guide to exploring the city! I highly recommend reading it to plan out your trip. Check out the book here)

The next day we went to the Woodlawn Plantation, located right near Mount Vernon. Which makes a lot of sense after we learned that it was a wedding present from George Washington to his step-granddaughter Nellie. President Washington was devoted to his grandchildren, but Nellie was his favorite and she adored him.

My family and I had actually stopped at Woodlawn a few years back when we went looking for a Frank Lloyd Wright house to tour very near Mount Vernon. Woodlawn is a beautiful house that looks right out of a Jane Austen novel and I really wanted to take a tour of it, but at the time it was undergoing some renovation. This time around, I was determined to go back, not only because it's a gorgeous house and property, but because of what I had just read in Mr. Pope's book: it's reportedly haunted.

Our tour guide this time was a bit different than our first. Less outgoing and smiling, but quick with dry humor and information. I liked her instantly. She explained the history of the Washington family, and of how Nellie and her brother came to be part of it and live with them, and also General Washington's affection and love for his granddaughter. Nellie was an accomplished singer, musician, spoke and sang in different languages, and was very beautiful. Basically, she was the whole package and with Mr. and Mrs.Washington as her dedicated grandparents, she had it all and every opportunity handed to her (lucky girl). She loved and admired him so much that she got married on his birthday. Their devotion to each other, our tour guide said confirming our thoughts, was a little much. "I don't love my grandfather that much," she commented wryly.

We explored the beautiful rooms of the house, including a sitting room with several old instruments, like a piano and a harp that were on display. Another part of that particular sitting room that I absolutely loved was one of the windows. It wasn't the original window of the sitting room, but an original of one from an upstairs rooms. I don't remember exactly who did it (either a young relative or family friend of the Washington family) but a young woman back in the 1800's got engaged or married and to commemorate the happy occasion (and to test the ring to make sure it was a real diamond) she etched her name on the glass, which is still visible. It's such a nice reminder of the people who used to live and visit the house during those times. Also, it's impressive that she signed/scratched her full name, in cursive, on the glass of a window. Her penmanship was flawless.

After walking up the gorgeous floating staircase, we saw the bedrooms and the different ways they would have been laid out during the years. The furniture was old but very well preserved and they featured many different intricate designs, such as pineapples, to show off wealth. After our tour upstairs, we passed by the roped off wooden staircase to as we were heading back towards the top of the staircase. "That's the attic," our tour guide pointed out. "It's not part of the tour, but I think during Halloween they offer haunted tours that go up there. I personally would not go up there if you offered me any amount of money."

(Note to self: go back to VA around Halloween time and go on all of the haunted tours historical sites have to offer?)

That peaked my interest. "Oh, have you had a lot of experiences?" I asked rather innocently, but really I was fishing for some personal paranormal stories.

"Oh yeah," she said, shaking her head. "I've had enough experiences with ghosts to last a lifetime. I don't need to have anymore."

I decided to leave asking questions about ghosts til the end of the tour, like I did at Gadsby's Tavern, and once we went back downstairs and the tour had officially come to an end, I asked the tour guide what exactly happened in her experiences.

"I've had so many experiences," she said, rolling her eyes, as if the experiences with ghosts had once been terrifying, but they had happened so much that they were now annoying. "One time I was in the downstairs entry way and all of the doors in the hallway on both sides opened all at once. I used to work at Mt. Vernon and I was touched there multiple times. As in I was alone in a room at night and then a I would feel a hand touch my shoulder from behind. That was it for me and I decided to leave that job and work here." After the goosebumps on my arms had all but disappeared, we thanked her for the very informative and interesting tour.

All in all, my family trip to Virginia was fun and informative and the weather was wonderful and rainy (what can I say? Growing up in the desert you learn to appreciate rain). Though I didn't have any personal experiences with ghosts (I'm assuming most experiences happen to the people who work or volunteer at the historical places, when it's night or they are alone. Apparently ghosts aren't known to perform for large groups of people), it was incredible to be in these historical places and be reminded the people and times that came before you. It's a learning experience that's also fun, plus you get some great ghost stories out of the deal. Win-win-win! See you soon, Alexandrian ghosts! I'll be back :)

(Learn more about the history of Woodlawn and its gorgeous property here)

Stay Weird,

PS. Another thing I wanted to do in Alexandria but never got a chance to (this visit and the time before that) was to go on the Ghosts and Graveyards tour in old town Alexandria. Maybe next time, but you can check it out hereThough honestly people in historical costumes pretending like they're from another time period freaks me out but I'd risk it for some historical ghost stories)

PPS. I know I suck at taking pictures. Sometimes on tours I get so wrapped up in the history and information that I completely forget to take any pictures. But hopefully my descriptions and anecdotes make up for the lack of visual material!
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