Richmond area haunted by ghostly homes, sites

If you suspect a paranormal presence in your home, Ken Ballos (left), Ray Rucker and Tina Boyd can help determine if you're just hearing things or if you may have company of the ghostly sort.

Contact a ghost hunter

Paranormal investigators won't bust your ghosts, but they will check out your unexplained creepy events. Here's how to reach groups mentioned in this story:

Richmond Investigators of the Paranormal, www.ghostraps.com

Virginia Society of Paranormal Education and Research, www.beth-brown.com or http://ghosts.meetup.com/644

The Center for Paranormal Research and Investigation, http://virginiaghosts.com/newsite

WHO IS HAUNTING US?

Poltergeist -- Means "noisy ghost" in German;it's known for making sounds and moving things around.

Shadow people -- Black masses resembling human forms. They move, but usually don't interact with people.

Orbs -- Balls of light. Some are camera anomalies and others are said to be paranormal activity.

Ectoplasm -- Some say it's an actual substance that you can touch, while others believe it's only visible in photos or on video.

Mists -- Known to form into what appears to be a person and hover, move from one point to another, materialize and de-materialize.

Messengers -- Ghosts who return to deliver messages to the living, such as a deceased person coming back to show itself to loved ones.

When Ray Rucker and his wife, Meriam, bought a home in a middle-class Mechanicsville neighborhood in 1990, they were told the brick rancher was haunted.

A ceiling light activated by a pull chain would mysteriously come on in one room, the previous owners said.

Rucker was skeptical. But what has happened in the ensuing years has made him not only a believer but a devout, card-carrying, night-vision-goggle-wearing ghost hunter.

The doorbell would ring, although there was no one near the front porch. When the doorbell was disabled by lightning, the sound changed to loud knocking at the door -- again, no one could be found outside. When Rucker installed a new doorbell, the knocking reverted to insistent ringing.

Rucker's oldest son heard footsteps in the basement family room when he was alone downstairs. "He saw footprints [leaving impressions] in the carpet," said Rucker, who marked the spot with a ball so that he could test it with dowsing rods -- traditionally used for finding well water but also used by investigators gauging paranormal activity.

Rucker recently demonstrated the dowsing-rod test for two skeptical visitors. When he approached the ball, loosely holding the rods parallel in his hands, they crossed. One of the skeptics tried the experiment; the rods stayed parallel. The other doubter tried it, and the rods crossed.

Did the rods indicate the presence of water or a water pipe under the house? Did one skeptic have shaky hands that caused them to cross? Was there another logical explanation? A spiritual presence?

"I don't know," said Rucker, a Botetourt County native and founder of the Richmond Investigators of the Paranormal (yes -- the R.I.P.).

He tries to debunk every event through multiple "sweeps," using devices such as audio/video recorders, electromagnetic-field detectors and common sense.

But after hundreds of investigations by his 16-member volunteer team, Rucker, a former nurse and military veteran who runs a firm that builds Web sites, said, "I've seen too much evidence to say there isn't paranormal activity." He shrugged and smiled. "My psychological profile says I'm OK"

If he's a kook, he has a lot of company. Citizens witnessing unexplained activities in homes, plantations and historic sites in central Virginia keep numerous area paranormal groups busy tracking ghosts. Most will investigate free or for a donation.

Local plantations, including Edgewood and Berkeley, and several paranormal investigators have been featured on such TV shows as "Ghost Hunters" on Syfy, formerly the SciFi channel. Ghost tours around the area are hot tickets, particularly around Halloween.

Investigators say history-rich central Virginia is one of the most haunted areas in the United States. Why? Countless old homes, cemeteries and, of course, the Civil War.

"Any time you have a lot of violent deaths, especially young people who weren't expected to die, it lends an air of spookiness to an area," said Bobbie Atristain of Blackstone, founder of the nine-year-old Center for Paranormal Research and Investigation, a volunteer organization of about 25 members. "A lot of people feel it's the result of unfinished business."

Edgewood owner Dot Boulware hasn't encountered Lizzie Rowland, the ghost who is said to inhabit her Charles City County property -- waiting for her love to return from the Civil War. Guests have reported seeing her face looking out of an upstairs window.

"I took care of the plantation and fixed it up" 31 years ago when it was in disrepair, Boulware said. "I think she's happy with me."

An R.I.P. investigation at Historic Polegreen Church in Mechanicsville a year ago turned up orbs and other unusual light activity. Local residents claim that at nearby Cold Harbor Battlefield, where thousands of soldiers died during the Civil War, ghostly battles still rage in the afterlife around 1 every morning.

Beth Brown, author of "Haunted Plantations of Virginia" (Schiffer, $14.99), investigated about 20 historic homes for her book, which was published this month. The founder of the Virginia Society of Paranormal Education and Research, Brown found the most activity at Berkeley -- ranging from unusual sounds and light spots on audio/video equipment to smells that were out of the ordinary for their location.

Some plantations, bed-and-breakfasts and hotels market their haunts to lure believers and curiosity seekers. But Brown doesn't buy the notion that innkeepers are pushing legends to pad their bottom lines.

"I've found the opposite to be true," she said. "It's like pulling teeth to get some people to talk about ghost activity at these places. In fact, it may be seen as a turnoff to visitors -- negative publicity."

Atristain, whose interest in paranormal activity was sparked as a child at her grandmother's spooky home in Gretna in Pittsylvania County, said 98 percent of the cases she investigates can be explained or debunked. She cited one woman from Northern Virginia who contacted her because she kept seeing a ghost by her bed.

Using her electromagnetic-field meter, Atristain discovered that the house's main breaker box was on the opposite side of the wall from the bed's headboard. High readings, she said, can cause hallucinations, peculiar sounds, tastes and smells. She told the woman to move her bed across the room. She did -- and never saw a ghost again.

Brown believes her own home in Richmond's Church Hill is haunted. The original owners lived in the house more than 70 years and died there.

"Every time we renovate," Brown said, "we experience really peculiar things" such as sounds on the stairs and kitchen cabinets opening.

"But I will not investigate my own house," she said firmly. "I still have to live here at the end of the day."


Contact Julie Young at (804) 649-6732 or jyoung@timesdispatch.com.


Haunting tours of historic plantations, sites

Historic Haunts of Hanover: Sites in Hanover that harbor strange, haunted tales.

Cold Harbor Battlefield: 1 to 3 p.m. tomorrow. Ranger on site; admission free.

Historic Polegreen Church: 3 to 5 p.m. tomorrow. Richmond Investigators of the Paranormal on site; admission free.

Hanover Tavern: 5 to 6 p.m. tomorrow. Tours and refreshments; admission free.

Scotchtown, home of Patrick Henry: 7 to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow. Tours and refreshments; $5 per person.

For information: scotchtown@preservationvirginia.org or (804) 227-3500; director@historicpolegreen.org or (804) 730-3837.

Haunted tours at Edgewood Plantation

Hear the story of Lizzie Rowland, a past resident of Edgewood, 4800 John Tyler Memorial Highway, Charles City County. Legend has it she lost her love during the Civil War and awaits his return as a ghost.

Haunted candlelight tour, dinner: Friday and Saturday nights through early November; $58.

Haunted candlelight tour, lunch: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons through early November. $32 per person.

Haunted candlelight tour, breakfast: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings through early November. $22 per person.

Witches Brew Lunch: Through October; $32 per person.

Haunted tours and wine: $24.

Haunted tours only: $10.

For information: (804) 829-2962; www.edgewoodplantation.com.

James River Plantation Progressive Ghost Tours

Start at Piney Grove at Southall's Plantation, 16920 Southall Plantation Lane (private drive off The Glebe Lane, Route 615, in Charles City County). Continue to Ladysmith House and end at Ashland Plantation House. Candlelight tour features suspenseful stories, cider and cookies. Tours will be held today, tomorrow and next Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. and, if those times book up, tours will be added from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person, reservations required. For information: (804) 829-2196

Eerie Nights Ghost Tour

Tour Richmond's Shockoe Bottom in search of restless spirits. "Ghoul Guides," the walking dead doomed to haunt the streets of Richmond, will reveal its tragic past. Tours are Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.; "Death at Dusk" tours, Sundays at 6 p.m.; midnight tours, last two Saturdays in October. Meet at 17th St. Farmers' Market, 100 N. 17th St., Richmond. Tickets are $13; $10 for seniors 60 and over; $10 for groups of 10 or more. Purchase tickets online at www.eerienights.com/tickets.html or on site (cash only). For information: www.eerienights.com

Haunts of Richmond Ghost Tours

Shadows of Shockoe and Haunted Capitol Hill walking tours. Tours are Thursdays through Saturdays at 9 p.m. in October, and select nights at 7:30 (check Web site). Meet at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, 1914 E. Main St., Shockoe Bottom. Tickets are $15; available at www.zerve.com/Haunts or (800) 979-3370. For information: www.hauntsofrichmond.com

Mourning Obsessions at Maymont

Immerse yourself in the Victorian-era fascination with death, mourning and the afterlife. Tour and special exhibits focus on 19th-century customs, beliefs and macabre memorabilia associated with a loved one's passing. Tour is tomorrow from 5 to 7 p.m., at Maymont, 1700 Hampton Street, Richmond. Tickets are $10 per person; $8 for Maymont members, reservations required. For information: (804) 358-7166, ext. 329

Things That Go Bump in the Night!

Living-history interpreters revive old English and Native-American legends and folklore. Join colonists and Indians by the firesides of 1611-1622 Virginia as they recount eerie and strange tales of their homelands. See what it felt like to be a colonist in a dark, mysterious, wooded landscape, exposed to uncertain perils. Tours are tonight and tomorrow night from 6:30 to 8:30. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for children, reservations required. Light refreshments will be served. Henricus Historical Park, 251 Henricus Park Road, Chesterfield. For information: (804) 748-1613 or www.henricus.org.

Ghostly Tales and a Graveyard Trail

Guests will tour the 17th-century Shirley Plantation house where "Aunt Pratt" once lived to hear tales of mystical figures that still linger. The spooky festivities continue on Halloween, when Aunt Pratt will lead guests on a graveyard tour to share mourning customs and other family secrets. Tours are Sunday through Oct. 31, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at Shirley Plantation, Route 5, 10 miles east of Richmond in Charles City County. Tickets are $11 for adults, $7.50 for children 6 to 18. For information: (800) 232-1613 or www.shirleyplantation.com.

Petersburg Museums' annual "Historic All Hallow's Eve Tours"

Hear accounts of some permanent residents of Blandford Cemetery portrayed by interpreters. Sixty-minute tour; participants encouraged to bring a flashlight and wear walking shoes. Tours are next Saturday; reservations required. Meet at Blandford Cemetery, Crater Road. Parking will be available at the gravel lot next to the McIlwaine House (corner of Cockade Alley and Old Street). Shuttle bus will run from parking lot to the cemetery reception center. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for children under 12. For information: (804) 733-2396.

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