- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

LEESBURG, Va. - Col. Burt walks. On Oct. 21, 1861, following the Battle at Ball’s Bluff, Confederate Col. Erasmus R. Burt, commander of the 18th Mississippi Infantry, was carried seriously wounded into Leesburg to Harrison Hall, the home of Henry Harrison. For a short while Col. Burt lay on a stretcher in the front hallway. He was then taken upstairs and placed on a bed in a second-story bedroom, where, four days later, he died of his wounds.

The house is still there today. And, apparently, so is Col. Burt.

In the nearly century and a half since his death, Col. Burt has been heard, felt and even seen by the people who have lived in or visited the house. Now named Glenfiddich House, it’s owned by the Miles/LeHane Group, a career management company run by David and Melanie Miles.

Both say they’ve heard loud, marching footsteps in the hall outside of a bedroom. Mrs. Miles says she once saw “the figure of a man dressed in full Confederate uniform, with a hat having a very large plume, standing in the hallway looking at me. He then just disappeared.”

Mr. Miles, who says he wasn’t at first a believer, has his own story.

“One day I went into the bedroom where he died and there was a very distinct impression of a body on the bed, when no one else had been in the house,” Mr. Miles says. “That’s when I started believing it.”

In Leesburg, however, Col. Burt is not an anomaly. He’s not even close. You can’t swing a dead cat in Leesburg without hitting a house that has a resident ghost.

The town has so many haunted houses it boasts two separate tours dealing with its ghostly heritage — one hosted by paranormal investigator Joseph Holbert on weekends from May through November and one conducted by the Leesburg Museum on the last weekend of October.

There may be good reason for the abundance of spirits. Leesburg, which dates from 1757, when it was a small settlement named George Town after the reigning King George II, has a long history.

“Leesburg is unique in that so many houses and buildings have survived from the very earliest days,” says Erika Castillo, a former director of education at the Loudoun Museum who wrote the plan for the museum’s hauntings tour.

“So many memories survive in the land and the buildings, it keeps the area familiar for the ghosts. And the people who live and work here are familiar with the events, which solidifies the stories.”

• • •

That means the town’s ghost tours have plenty of material to work with. Mr. Holbert, who runs the Leesburg Ghost Tours, and his team from Virginia Science Research have found 56 houses in Leesburg that have some form of presence in them, “with about 100 or more throughout the county,” he says.

Across North King Street from the Glenfiddich House, for example, is the Lynch House, built in 1811 and owned since 1973 by Thomas and Martha Lynch.

The Lynches are believed to harbor three entities — two poltergeists and a primary ghost that is considered the most active in Leesburg. This “lady in white” — thought to be Eliza Thompson, widow of the house’s owner circa 1861 — has been seen, heard and felt, and actually obeys commands to be gone.

“One evening I was sitting on the sofa, reading,” says Mr. Lynch, a retired naval engineer who began as a skeptic. “The fireplace was going and the room was warm. Then I suddenly felt a chill on my shoulder. Then the chill started moving around. So I said, ‘I know you’re here, now leave.’ So it left.”

Then there is Miss Lilias Janney, the organist and choir director of Leesburg Presbyterian Church who died in 1963 but has been seen repeatedly revisiting her church since the early 1970s. There’s the frontiersman carrying a musket who will suddenly appear in an office building on Loudoun Street, walk through two offices and the wall that connects them, then disappear. Two mischievous children at the Norris House Inn untie shoes, lock doors and run up and down the stairs in their pajamas.

• • •

But are these really ghosts, despite the fact that they have been clearly seen by different people on different occasions?

Mr. Holbert says no. His tours — unlike the Loudoun Museum’s Hauntings Tour, which doesn’t delve into the “why” or “how” — are a study in the paranormal aspects of what we think of as ghosts.

He and his five associates in Virginia Science Research respond to requests, usually by owners, to investigate anomalies in their buildings. They research land and title records, photograph and videotape the site, record its sounds, interview the people who claim to have experienced the visitations and assess the “ghosts” with AC and DC electromagnetic sensors.

Roughly 95 percent of apparitions, or psychic presences, are some form of “residual imagery imprinting,” Mr. Holbert says, created by electrical fields that can be measured in this way.

That, he says, is because an apparition is not what we think of as a ghost, nor is it necessarily a result of someone’s dying tragically or suddenly on that spot, and it may have nothing to do with an actual dead person.

It is the imprint of an image that someone else saw or felt, left behind by some strong emotion and recreated by a build-up of energy in the living people who follow.

The most common type of paranormal activity, Mr. Holbert says, is the aural imprint. Most people who report a presence in their home say they hear the sound of footsteps, either in a hallway or in a room above, or the movement of furniture or some object.

Also common is the olfactory, or aroma, imprint, in which people smell something that isn’t there. The other types of paranormal activity are the visual imprint, in which someone actually sees the “ghost,” and the psychological, the feeling that someone — or something — is there.

Since these measurable “entities,” or presences, are created by strong emotional energies given out either by the departed person or by people subjected to some strong emotional experience, the obvious sites for them are battlegrounds, such as Ball’s Bluff, Manassas or Gettysburg.

“But you can also record the presence of residual images at places such as train stations where soldiers went off to war in World War II, leaving behind wives or parents who knew they may never see them again,” Mr. Holbert says.

• • •

A specific instance of olfactory imprint can be found at the Loudoun Museum itself, the first stop on Mr. Holbert’s tour. There people report the strong, almost overpowering smell of flowers when no flowers are present.

The museum, it seems, is housed in what was the Colonial Funeral Home, established in 1877, which used formaldehyde for embalming and flowers in abundance to mask the smell. Mr. Holbert says the smell of flowers today is a residual imprint of people who were smelling the flowers while feeling great emotion over the loss of loved ones. When the energy level in the building builds up sufficiently, that residual imprint is released and produces the smell of flowers.

• • •

Another stop on Mr. Holbert’s tour is the Eiffel Tower Cafe, where anyone seated upstairs by the fireplace may be joined by a man who will appear from nowhere, sit quietly for a short time, then return to nowhere.

People who have seen him say he is dressed in gray, and is possibly the son of the original owner. The son is believed to have marched off to the Civil War but returned to die of wounds in his own home.

Late at night the ghost walks around upstairs, with the footsteps always going from the front of the house to the back, never from the back to the front. He was first reported by workmen who came in late at night when the house was being converted to a restaurant. They reported footsteps upstairs when they knew no one was there. When it happened the second night, they left, supposedly never to return.

Today the restaurant is owned by Madeleine Sosnitsky, a level-headed businesswoman who trained at the Sans Souci in Washington. She admits to hearing strange noises and being aware of strange happenings, but would just as soon not know what is causing them.

When she and her husband Pierre bought the place in 1998, they would have all the chairs put on the tables at closing time to allow the floors to be cleaned — and each morning her husband would come in to find one chair back on the floor, facing the fireplace.

At the back of the second floor is a room with a domed ceiling that is used as a combined office and mini-apartment. According to Mrs. Sosnitsky, a young man who worked at the restaurant and slept in the upstairs apartment awoke one night to see a figure floating in the domed ceiling looking down at him. He found a new residence shortly thereafter.

• • •

Across Loudoun Street from the Eiffel Tower Cafe is the Norris House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast run by Roger and Carol Healey, an English couple who live next door in the historic Stone House. Both houses date to the late 18th century, and both have resident ghosts.

Two small children seem to reside in the Norris House. On the rare occasions they have been seen, they were wearing striped pajamas and either sitting at the top of the second floor landing, looking down to the entryway, or running down the stairs laughing, then disappearing as they get to the bottom.

Renee Cardenas, the housekeeper, has often heard noises in the upstairs country room, which is where the children would have slept. It is here that most of the activity takes place, Mrs. Healey says.

The children are noted for mischievous pranks. Ms. Cardenas says that she will be cleaning in the upstairs rooms and suddenly notice that her shoelaces are untied. So she will tie them, then find them untied again a few minutes later.

The children also lock her out of the bathroom. She will try to get in and the door will be securely locked.

“So she goes down and gets Roger, who goes up and opens the door, which is now unlocked,” Mrs. Healey says.

Next door is the Stone House, whose front room constituted the entire original house dating back to the late 1700s. There one can take afternoon tea, read the note written on the wall by Henry Clay announcing that he wanted to be president and, with luck (good or bad, depending on one’s view), see a white apparition appear near the ceiling, then disappear. This is believed to be an elderly woman who saw her sons killed on the street directly outside the house — but no one knows.

Then there is the clock on the door leading out to the street, which is not supposed to tick — but does.

“One day I walked into the room,” Mr. Healey says. “It started ticking, so I went over to it and said, ‘We know you’re here,’ and it stopped ticking. I’m afraid I left the room rather hurriedly at that point. This went on for about four or five months, then it just stopped.”

• • •

So what, precisely, is a ghost? Even as Mr. Holbert says that 95 percent of what people label as ghosts are “residual images,” he also says that the other 5 percent “are beings that have intelligence.”

Are the remaining 5 percent the “ghosts” we so often hear about?

The Loudoun Museum’s annual Hauntings Tours of the haunted homes of Leesburg do not answer these questions, nor do they really try. But they do provide sterling examples of the types of psychic phenomena that people call “ghosts.”

Begun 14 years ago, the Hauntings Tour is designed to meld stories of ghostly happenings and strange occurrences into the history of Leesburg, according to Peter Kelpinski, a longtime member of the Loudoun Museum board and one of the founders of the Hauntings Tours.

“A lot of the people who have ghosts kind of like their ghosts, so they are willing to share the story. So we’ve sat down and talked to them,” Mr. Kelpinski says.

“Over the years we developed a tour so that you hear some very good ghost stories, but you also walk away knowing a lot more about what happened in Leesburg. That fits into the mission of the museum, imparting the history and carrying on the oral traditions and the folklore that is present in the county.”

The tour visits half a dozen buildings inhabited by some form of ghostly presence. This weekend’s tour includes stops at the Loudoun County Courthouse, the Leesburg Presbyterian Church, the Loudoun Museum, the Lynch House, the Glenfiddich House and the Seccombe House.

Volunteers, usually dressed in period costumes, are stationed at each house to greet the groups. All but the last have been the site of some form of paranormal manifestation; the Seccombe House will be the scene of a re-enacted Civil War funeral.

• • •

The Loudoun County Courthouse is believed to be the home of at least two ghosts: Mercer the slave, publicly hanged, quartered, decapitated — with his head displayed on a pole — and buried in four separate spots throughout the county in 1768 for murdering a white man; and the Leesburg lawyer and state legislator Cecil Conner, who dropped dead of a stroke during a particularly stirring summation in the courthouse in the 1930s.

No one has actually seen either presence. But people working at the courthouse have heard footsteps in the hallways and voices in the courtrooms when no one else was there. Alice Alkire, administrative manager for the Office of the Circuit Court Judges, has worked in and around the courthouse for 20 years and is very familiar with the ghost, or ghosts.

“I was very skeptical at first, then I started experiencing them myself,” she says. She heard the sound of someone knocking on a door, footsteps on the floor above her or coming up the stairs behind her when she would be working at her desk, voices in the courtroom when no one else was in the building.

One afternoon, when she was working with a visiting judge, they both heard the sounds of papers being moved about and books being picked up and put down on a table in the next office. When they went to see who had joined them, the room was empty.

“I’ve never been afraid of the ghosts and I’m very comfortable with them,” Ms. Alkire says. “I don’t think there is anything to be afraid of.”

And if she were to see one? Then, she says, “it might be a different story.”

• • •

Also on the museum’s tour is the Lynch House, owned in Civil War times by Eliza Thompson — thought to be “the lady in white” — who lived there with her daughter Martha and held onto the house despite protracted efforts by the widow of her dead husband’s banker to evict her.

Evidently Eliza means to stay. The Lynches discovered her presence shortly after they moved into the house in 1973, when their young son and assorted relatives visiting for Christmas reported seeing a woman dressed in a white working dress with a shawl. And once Mrs. Lynch awoke to see a woman dressed in white standing at the foot of her bed.

That’s not all: Martha Lynch kept hearing someone calling “Martha.” She assumed that someone was calling her — until the family found out that Eliza’s daughter also was named Martha.

Mr. Lynch says he is starting to be a lot less skeptical than he once was.

“Once you have opened up your mind to the paranormal, you start seeing things in a different light,” he says.

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