Capitol Creepiness—Williamsburg, Virginia

Old Capitol
Duke of Gloucester Street

Pamela K. Kinney, author of Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle (now in its second edition), and her husband took a guided tour of the Old Capitol in 2010. As the guide and the group descended the stairs from the second floor, the pair was briefly alone, and Kinney snapped some photos before returning to the group. When she uploaded the photos at home, she was stunned to find that one of those pictures included the head of a person, Kinney and her husband were alone on that floor.

The man is standing in front of the photographer and his head is very brightly illuminated, with individual hairs quite visible. Did she capture the image of one of the spirits that lingers in this reconstructed building?

Old Capitol Williamsburg Virginia ghosts haunted
The Old Capitol Building, between 1934 and 1950 by Fay Sturtevant Lincoln. Courtesy of the A. D. White Architectural Photographs Collection, Cornell University Library.

The building that stands today is a reconstruction of the first capitol building constructed between 1701 and 1704. That structure was gutted by fire in 1747 with only “the naked Brick Walls only left standing.” Using those remaining walls, another capitol was constructed, though it was architecturally different from the first building. It was this second building that witnessed the fiery speeches of Patrick Henry and meetings of revolutionaries as they worked to throw off the shackles of British rule. After the removal of the colony’s capital to Richmond in 1780, the building was used for a variety of purposes before it was also destroyed by fire in 1832.

In his 1938 book, Old Williamsburg, William Oliver Stevens related two fanciful tales about the old capitol building: the first that Patrick Henry’s portrait hanging inside has come to bear a disgusted look thanks to the British flag flying overhead, and second, that Henry and other patriots assemble in front of the building at the stroke of midnight on July 4th and “use the most reprehensible language.” I presume they are cursing the modern government, though Stevens doesn’t clarify.

Aside from William Oliver Stevens’ fanciful tales and Kinney’s photo, there is little published on the building’s ghosts, though Jamie Roush Pearce features accounts from several interpreters in her 2013 book, Historic Haunts of the South. These accounts concern two spirits that staff members have encountered. The first is reported to be a little girl who has been heard to call out, “Mommy?” and some interpreters have sensed her following them as they close the building for the day.

The second spirit is a person in blue holding a handkerchief. Pearce and a friend actually saw this spirit while attending a historical reenactment in the courtroom. An interpreter saw this spirit descending the stairs one morning as he unlocked the door. After seeing someone disappear into the courtroom, the interpreter followed to find no one there, and no one should have been in the locked building. Those who have witnessed this apparition have been inclined to identify it as the shade of former guide who enjoyed her work so much that she has continued her duties in the afterlife.

Sources

  • Kinney, Pamela K. Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, & Other Haunted Locations, 2nd Edition. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2019.
  • Olmert, Michael. Official Guide to Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1985.
  • Pearce, Jamie Roush. Historic Haunts of the South. CreateSpace, 2013.
  • Taylor, L.B., Jr. The Ghosts of Williamsburg, Volume II. Progress Printing Company, 1999.
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