I was able to spend a little time in Abingdon while my daughter was going to Emory and Henry College. Of course, I always look for legends and ghost stories, so I took the ghost walk with Appalachian Ghost Walks. It started at 8:00pm and we didn’t get back to the hotel until 2:00am, but we had an interesting time. (I think he was testing a new program with us, so the tours are not usually that long.)
At the beginning of the tour, Stacey gave us a demonstration of dousing rods and told us stories of how he uses them during investigations. I had never seen them used before and was fascinated. He also told us that since he started investigating and studying, he is more sensitive to the presence of spirits. There was a time while we were walking down the street that he said he saw a man wearing a red jacket standing behind us. There was no one there, but I took a photo to see if any anomaly might show. I was rather shocked to see an energy orb in my photograph, right where he said the man was standing!
We walked all through the town while we listened to tales of the Barter Theater, the Cave House, various private homes, stores and churches, and of course the Martha Washington Inn. The best part of the tour was being able to walk the halls of this beautiful hotel at 1:00 in the morning. I came home with more stories to research and write about.
Martha Washington Inn
The ghost stories of this hotel are reported by many writers and I was thrilled to be walking the haunted halls. I was disappointed that I didn’t see the famous spirits walking down the stairs, but I soaked up the aura and the history that surrounded me.
The Inn started as a private home built in 1832 for General Francis Preston, Sarah Buchanan Preston, and their nine children, for approximately $15,000. The building standing now is built around the original home.
In 1858, the mansion was purchased from the Preston family and became a college for young women. The college was named Martha Washington College or “The Martha” and operated for seventy years.
During the Civil War, the college was affected in many ways. The students became nurses and the grounds around the building became training grounds for the Washington Mounted Rifles. Skirmishes were fought in and around Abingdon and like many buildings in Virginia, the college became a hospital for wounded soldiers from both sides.
The Martha closed in 1932, due to the Great Depression and opened in 1935 as a hotel. It has changed owners throughout the years, but the restorations have preserved much of its historic charm, and still includes a grandfather clock that one of General Preston’s daughters brought from Europe.
While we were walking the halls of the inn, we noticed some of the photos on the walls. One in particular intrigued me. It was group photo of women students. In front of the women were misty forms, that resembled people sitting. I can’t help wondering if some of the deceased decided they wanted to be seen in the photo also.
Many of the ghosts of Martha Washington Inn come from the Civil War. Here are some of the stories:
Beth and the Yankee Captain
During the Civil War, some of the college students returned home, but many stayed and volunteered as nurses. Beth was one of the students that stayed.
Captain John Stoves, a Yankee officer, was severely wounded and captured in town. He was carried through the cave system under Abingdon, and brought to the third floor of the college. For weeks, Beth nursed him and they found themselves falling in love. Often, Beth would try to sooth him by playing her violin., He would not recover from his wounds, and while he lay dying he called her to play for him. She was too late but she tearfully played a melody as a tribute. Beth died a few weeks later from typhoid fever.
Students of the college and present day guests of the inn report hearing violin music in the night. Others report visits from Beth in room 403, the room where her love died.
A young Confederate soldier was assigned to carry papers listing the location of the Union army to General Robert E. Lee. The young soldier was in love with a student at the college, and he wanted to see her before he left. He faced many risks going to the college but he braved them for his love. The soldier traveled through the cave system under Abingdon and used a secret stairway to enter the building.
While he was with the girl he loved, two Union officers came up the stairs and found him. He had no means of escape, so was shot down. Blood stained the place where he landed, and to this day the bloodstain continues to appear even after the floors have been refinished. Carpets over the area often develop holes over the stain.
The Phantom Horse
A Union soldier was shot in front of the building in 1864. On moonless nights, a black horse has been seem roaming the Inn grounds searching for his rider.
The Ghost in the Tunnel
An underground tunnel once connected the Martha Washington Inn with the Barter Theatre. In the 1930s and the 1940s, actors would use the tunnel to walk between the two buildings. The actors would report a sensation of an evil presence. The tunnel is not in use due to part of it being collapsed. The door on the Barter side is in the costume room. Present day actors feel uncomfortable in that room. The spirit is believed to be a man that was killed by a collapsing of the tunnel in 1890 or a Confederate soldier that used to run ammunition out of the college basement during the Civil War.