Washington has its share of haunted places

Published 7:20 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

Each October, as the air takes on a chill and the days grow shorter, fall makes itself known. It’s there in the subtle turning of leaves, in the pumpkin spice everything for sale, in the shelves stocked with candy for the scariest holiday of the year.

And as Oct. 31 approaches, thoughts turn to spirits and haints and anything that goes bump in the night. Helped along by movies and TV — including the popular new Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House,” based on a gothic horror novel written by Shirley Jackson in 1959 — the fascination with the paranormal reaches its peak as Halloween draws near.

There are believers in the otherworldly and there are the non-believers, who explain away unusual sights and sounds — rattling pipes and wind moaning through unseen openings; shadows, houses settling and vermin in the walls.

But tales of hauntings continue to be told about places such as the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans, where screams of murdered slaves can still be heard; at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River Massachusetts, where guests have heard footsteps, doors opening and closing, muffled conversations in unoccupied rooms, in the very place where Lizzie Borden allegedly murdered her parents in 1892. Myrtles Plantation, another bed and breakfast in St. Francisville, Louisiana, is known as one of America’s most haunted — a young slave named Chloe, who was killed after poisoning her master’s two daughters, has been regularly seen, and photographed, by guests.

While Washington homes don’t show up on any “Most Haunted Places in America” list, that doesn’t mean specters can’t be found around town. They can. And they have.

HYATT HOUSE, Water Street

Built in late 1700s, the Hyatt House has a storied history and is said to still be the stomping grounds of Capt. Lockwood Hyatt, a sea captain who once stood at the attic windows of his home watching his ships come and go from the docks on the Pamlico. Hyatt has become the stuff of legend, as his black-caped figure and pillbox hat atop long hair have been spotted over the years, most notoriously by two young girls, awoken by the long-dead seafarer during an attic slumber party.


This East Main Street home harbors a benevolent spirit, one that has helped its current owners, Vann and Colleen Knight, restore the home. The mystery of non-drying paint uncovered a second-floor bathroom with no structural support; termites infesting only one spot in the floor, exactly where live wires were sparking beneath the floorboards; the only pane of replaced glass in the house falling outward and shattering on the driveway just as the contractor said he had a source for old, wavy glass panes — all of this ghostly help has been accompanied by the sweet and smoky scent of a cigar. Add to that the fact that the Knights’ dog (and the dog of the owner of before them) would refuse to walk upstairs on their own points to spectral influence.

“I’ll be honest — when they told me the house was haunted I didn’t believe it,” Colleen Knight said in a past interview. “But now I’m an absolute believer.”

SOME SPECTRAL HELP: The Franklin Bryan House is known for its cigar-smoking, benevolent ghost that has saved its current owners from construction disasters and more.


“I was always one of the people who explained away those things — it’s an old building, floors creak, pipes groan, wind blowing through a cracked window making a moaning sound. This was the first time when there was actually something definitive,” former Turnage Theatre technical director Stuart Lannon said in a past interview. For someone who’d worked in old theaters his entire career, the Turnage’s vaudeville theater could change Lannon’s mind about the existence of ghosts had to be a pretty strong message.

The first time it happened to Lannon, he’d gone upstairs to the vaudeville theater to turn off the Turnage marquee — the switch is near the windows on the Main Street side of the building; the door to the theater at least 100 feet away.

“I was walking back and looked up and there was someone in the balcony, hands on the rail, looking down at me,” Lannon said.

He was 15 feet away from this apparition, and knew the only way to get into the balcony was by extension ladder — and there wasn’t one up there.

“I’d never believed in ghosts before that. I nearly broke my neck getting down the stairs,” Lannon laughed. “It was clearly a human figure up there, and being as I knew there was no way to get up there, that one kind of got me. … I would not openly admit to the kind of scream I let out.”

A CHANGED MIND: Stuart Lannon went from a non-believer in the ghostly to a believer during his time at the Turnage Theatre in Washington. Here, he sits beneath the balcony where he had his first brush with the otherworldly.

These are just a few of the properties said to be haunted in Washington, and each is on the Washington Haunts Ghost Walk on Oct. 27 and Oct. 31. To see more, join the walk at Harding Square. Ticket sales begin at 6:30 p.m. and the walk starts at 7 p.m. For more information, visit the Washington Haunts Facebook page.

Happy haunting….