Monday, May 21, 2012

Old Town Alexandria

Welcome back ghost lovers! Recently we went to Old Town Alexandria, VA for a colonial ghost tour of what used to be one of he nation's most major ports. A little history: the city was originally founded by John Alexander in 1669. In 1732 it became known as Hunting Creek Warehouse, and wasn't actually called Alexandria until 1749, when a gaggle of Scots moved there and named the land after - you guessed it! - John Alexander. The city was actually part of the District of Columbia from 1801 - 1847.
Now, as per usual, our favorite three haunted tales, plus a little bonus story:

1. The Bride of Alexandria: In 1865, the town of Alexandria saw the local beauty - Miss Laura Schaeffer - become engaged to the charming and successful Charles Tennyson, undoubtedly a perfect match. On the day of the affair, while guests mingled downstairs, Laura's bridesmaids buttoned up the pearl buttons running up the back of her dress, and tended to her 45 foot train. Laura asked her girlfriends to give her a moment, to calm her nerves. She built a little fire on this unusually cool June day, and almost immediately smelled something burning - her train. She tried to fan it out with he skirts, but it only grew. She raced to the bedroom door, but it was jammed shut. She screamed, but no one could hear her down below in the garden. Finally she wrenched the door open and was able to scream loud enough for her beloved Charles to come racing the bottom of the steps - just as a burning Laura came tumbling down. Laura would died due to the severity of her burns, and within the year Charles would die of a broken heart. The building would later become a real estate office, where an employee would claim to hear a noise coming from an upstairs bedroom. When the woman went to open the door to the bedroom from which the noise was coming, it was jammed shut. When  - after many attempts - she finally got it open, she was knocked down by a large gust of wind, but there was no one inside. At the bottom of the stairs, though, she could hear the sighs of relief coming from Laura's ghost. Later, the building would go on to become what it is today - a candy store. It seems that children see Laura more than adults, as more than one child has asked, "Why is that lady crying?" presumably referring to the ghost of Laura Schaeffer, crying over her severe burns and ruined wedding.
The candy store where Laura Schaeffer died. 

2. The Couple Who Cried Ghost: Dr. James Craik was a revolutionary was surgeon, as well as best friend and personal physician of George Washington. His home in Alexandria (on Duke St.) is known to be one of the most haunted properties in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Many years after his death, a young couple was renting the property when - on a cold, rainy night - they heard a knock at the door. The wife opened it to find a tall, gaunt man dressed in a sailor's raincoat. "Can I help you?" she asked politely. The sailor gruffly responded, "I want to see James." Coincidentally enough, the woman's husband shared the same name as Dr. James Craik. So she invited the sailor in and told her husband he had a visitor. "You're not James!" he  cried, and he stormed not back out, but to the second floor bedroom! The couple became even more confused when they heard him muttering to himself - and then heard someone muttering back! Suddenly they heard fighting, so - huddling by the front door - they called the police. As soon as the officer arrived at the front door, the noise upstairs ceased. The officer is getting suspicious of the couple now, but the wife pipes up, "I think they killed each other," so the officer gets out his gun and begins to make his way to the second floor, where he finds... nothing. After scolding the couple, he leaves, but so do they - to a local hotel, where they spend the night before packing up and leaving town the next morning!

3. Short(er) Jack: At the turn of the 20th century, Alexandria was frequented by a short man with long, crazy red hair and a matching beard named Jack, but (not so) affectionately referred to by all as Short Jack. Short Jack worked on a ship, and whenever that ship came to Alexandria's harbor he would make his way to the local bar. Frequently Jack would take his drinks to go, and whenever he was halfway done his bottle he would fall asleep. This was never a problem for Jack before - until he fell asleep on the trolley tracks. One foggy night, as the trolly conductor was making his way through the streets, he hit a bump. He stopped and got out to see the bloodied body of Short Jack - but no head. Panicked, he calls the police and they searched for Short Jack's head for hours before giving up, and ultimately decided to bury the little sailor headless. Several weeks later, as the conductor was on his route again, he saw several children and dog playing with something - a red, hairy something. As he approached them he saw Short Jack's head in the clamped-shut jaws of the dog. He tried to pry it out, but to no avail. The dog sprinted away with the head, and it was never seen again. Now, on dark, foggy nights, one may see Short (now shorter) Jack, stumbling around and looking for his lost head through the streets of Old Town Alexandria.

Bonus!: The Story of Pink Lemonade: Back in the colonial period, ice was a little harder to come by than today: it would be sent on barges down the Potomac River, and then kept in an ice house where the locals would come buy it by the pound. Ice was also used to preserve dead bodies: one could rent a slab of it to "put that stiff on ice" - i.e. keep the body from decomposing too badly - and then return it. When the owner of the local tavern bought some ice for his bar, he didn't realize he was getting the used stuff. One night, he sent his tavern servant down to their ice well to fetch the recently purchased ice. Well, the boy wasn't the brightest of the bunch, and he brought up some not-so-clean ice. Soon customers started commenting on the unusual taste and pinkish hue of the drinks that evening. The tavern owner quickly realized what was happening - they were drinking the ice that once held a dead body! Cleverly thinking on his feet, he added a little sugar and lemon and voila - pink lemonade!

What used to be the ice house of Alexandria. 

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