Friday, October 29, 2010

Richmond History Comes Alive in the Spirit of Halloween

Listen to the full audio here.

Photos by Sarah Freiseis

With Halloween approaching, Richmonders have a chance to explore the city’s past. Many local attractions draw larger crowds this time of year as the mystery behind the history comes to the forefront.

Although Halloween is celebrated in varying ways, or sometimes not at all, one thing is for sure, history is, well history, and it’s not going anywhere. Historical sites and local businesses are gearing up for the 150th year anniversary of the civil war which is expected to boost tourism as travelers worldwide plan to visit Richmond. The Halloween festivities get the ball rolling as locals are invited to get in on the action.

The Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond actually opened on Halloween 115 years ago this Sunday. Rick Butts, Director of Sales and Marketing, said Halloween packages are offered and locals are encouraged to celebrate the Richmond landmark.

“I think certainly history is a huge draw, and the things that go along with that, the legends of the alligators that used to live here in the live pools, things like that, the allure of past presidents and famous people, that either worked here or stayed here, when we interact with guests they talk a lot about some of those neat events and history that’s taken place in this cool building,” he said. “I have heard quite a few stories, I think the historic tours that take place just a few blocks from us in the Shockoe area are very popular, certainly given the history of the civil war, I think there’s a lot of connection to that sort of haunted history.”

Butts said downtown is the place to be. He said that with the anniversary coming up there will be a great deal of focus on the capital city and to Richmonders it's a reminder we often overlook what's in our own backyards.

He said, “there’s really a lot to see, of course the river, the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, Saint John’s Church, just a multitude of attractions that really tie to this holiday, as well as just the history of the city.”

Keith Kaufelt, a tour guide for the Eerie Nights ghost tours, said their tours run May through October but there are naturally more participants this month as people are getting into the Halloween spirit.

“Our guides are dressed in nineteenth century costume and they have special effects horror make-up on and so that kind of adds to it so even if you again aren’t totally a believer in the ghost aspect, it’s still entertaining to have some sort of creepy kind of character there for you,” he said.

Kaufelt said that despite the additional "just for show" aspects of the tour, the core is based on real history, and the unusual occurrences and sensations people experience at the stops along the way.

"You have the 17th street Farmers Market which is where our tours actually take place, which has been a market since the founding of Richmond, it was very big in the slave trade in Richmond, so there’s a lot of stories that go along with that, people who see apparitions while they’re walking around late at night here, maybe coming home from the bars they’ll see a dark shadowy figure, others say that they have unexplained senses of fear and anxiety, on the ghost tour we talk about how we believe that’s probably residual emotions left over by you know the thousands and thousands of slaves that passed through the area, many of which ended up perishing,” he said.

Another tour guide, Melanie Armstrong, gives tours in Shockoe Bottom, Capitol Hill, and Church Hill. Armstrong is also the Education and Events Coordinator at The Poe Museum. She said the influx of interest this time of year opens the door for knowledge based tourism.

“I do ghost tours with haunts of Richmond, and definitely this is peak haunting season, so people have been coming out all month, getting into the Halloween spirit good and proper," she said. "We take people to sites that are said to be haunted, and then we tell people all about them.”

Armstrong said The Poe Museum has its fair share of fright factor, and the employees often hear peculiar noises while on the job.

“The alarm system which may have shown up on your recording just now has a micro chip in it, it’s a distinctly male voice when a door opens and closes, it’s not a radio signal, it’s a male voice, we sometimes get things that come through that alarm system that are not male voices, we’ve had female voices, we’ve had weird like somebody’s trying to tune a radio sort of squiggly noises, and all kinds of frequency noise, and it's not a radio signal, the alarm company assures us it’s not a radio signal.”

Local author Beth Brown has taken an interest in Richmond’s dark history. She recently released a new book called Wicked Richmond and told WRIR news why our city is so unique.

“I think Richmond has one of the best assortments of haunts because history is such an everyday thing for us in this city, he have so many sites that are held as honorable places that are untouched, for almost three hundred years, some of these things, so many layers of history as well,” she said. “Not only is Richmond significant historically as far as paranormal activity goes, we have a very special geological situation here where we have running water, we have a huge granite foundation under the city, which lots of paranormal researchers seem to think now that there is a connection between the crystals in this granite and the level of paranormal energy at a site, and we’re also on a fault line, that tectonic energy is feeding into supposed paranormal activity, and that is really the leading theory in the field now as to why this area in particular is so rich in ghosts.”

During this time of year, Richmond evokes excitement and intrigue for many as the memory of those lives that have come...and gone before us are relived right here in the very city where we work, play, and live every day.

-Sarah Freiseis

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