27 October 2010
In a county that’s over 230 years old, it should come as no surprise that good stories concerning locals abound. Add the fact that before the age of television and radio, the only form of entertainment for families was sitting around telling stories, and what do you get? You get a slew of juicy gossip, funny anecdotes, and phenomenal ghost stories. Whether they are true or not are for you to discern yourself. Here are a few of Fluvanna’s finest in honor of All Hallow’s Eve.
Footprints at Oakland School
When school principle Margaret Shepard and her husband moved into the house at Oakland Farm off of Union Mills Road, weird things began to happen. They heard sleigh bells, but saw no sleighs. They heard loud raucous parties in nearby rooms that were empty. They heard slamming doors and loud footsteps, when no one else was in the house. Noises such as these continued for several decades.
What makes this story different from other ghost stories is what happened one winter in the 1960s when an electrician came to install a light switch in the attic. He left a thick coat of plaster dust on the floor. The next morning the housekeeper, Mrs. Clement, found big bare footprints coming from the attic to the bedroom and back. The tracks reappeared two weeks later, this time with a set of small child-like footprints. Then, every spring in the pollen dust, the two sets of footprints would reappear.
The case grew in publicity until a team of parapsychologists came to investigate. Their perceptions told them that the footprints belonged to those of a Caucasian little girl and her African-American nanny. One of the mediums had a vision of women sobbing, and several men walking to a place that was once an old icehouse and coming up bearing a coffin. Shepard said that this aligned with what she knew of the house. She was told that a little girl about 7-years-old had died of diphtheria in the house. Out of deep grief, her father refused to bury her. One night, while he slept, a black servant and the family doctor took the girl from the house and buried her.
Today, Oakland Farm is a school for children with learning disabilities. Although Margaret Shepard died in 1991, staff members working there say they, “still enjoy the mystery of perhaps having a ghost in the house.”
“We do believe that there is some presence here beyond us,” said Carol Williams, Director of the Oakland School. “We’ve all heard footsteps on the stairs, and a few years ago, workers came in to redo the ceiling in the room we believe to be the girl’s bedroom. I took a picture of the workers, and when I downloaded the picture onto my computer there were all of these perfectly round little orbs everywhere around the room that weren’t visible to the naked eye.”
“We’re open to the possibility of spirits and if they are here we believe they’re very happy to see all the things that are going on today,” said Williams.
The Lady of Bremo-Recess
General John Hartwell Cocke (1780-1866) was one of Fluvanna’s most famous residents. Not only was he a friend of Thomas Jefferson’s and helped institute the University of Virginia, he was one of our country’s first abolitionists and was a founding member of the African Liberian Colonization movement. He was also a “teetotaler” and was elected the first president of the American Temperance Union in 1836.
Over the course of his lifetime he built not one, but three mansions in Fluvanna county on the James River – Lower Bremo, Upper Bremo and Bremo-Recess. Gen. Cocke and his wife Ann Blaws Barraud Cocke, whom he loved dearly, lived in Bremo Recess while Gen. Cocke worked on finishing his “most magnificent conception of a house” – Upper Bremo. Then, suddenly, Ann died in December of 1816 leaving behind her husband and six young children, one of whom was only 3-months-old. Because the house at Upper Bremo was still not completed, she was buried at Bremo Recess. Then, in 1819, the family moved to Upper Bremo.
In 1910, a Dr. Lewis Greene was a guest at Bremo Recess. He was in the house alone one night, left a bottle of wine in the kitchen and went to read in an adjacent room. While reading, a shadow passed over his book. He looked up to see a woman in a green dress. He followed the woman into the dining room, where she disappeared. After looking around Dr. Greene also realized the bottle of wine was gone.
Did Gen. Cocke’s ardent advocacy of temperance cause his wife to spend her afterlife in search of alcohol? Or was Ann’s soul destined to wander the grounds of Bremo Recess searching for her beloved family while her family enjoyed the lavish amenities of Upper Bremo?
Moon Ghost of Scottsville
From 1866 to 1868 the story of the legendary “Moon Ghost” of Scottsville was so popular that when the Scottsville Register printed a detailed account of the haunting on November 11, 1867, multiple reprints had to be made and sent across the country.
John Schuyler Moon was a successful lawyer who had prosecuted several criminals in the post-Civil War era. At 1 a.m. on August of 1866, a candle box filled with rags saturated with whiskey was ignited and placed next to Moon’s home, a property five miles south of Scottsville known as Church Hill. After the fire was extinguished the rags were discovered to be garments missing from Mr. Moon’s house over the past several months. For the next ten months mysterious break-ins of this nature continued, despite reinforcing windows and changing locks. Moon even arranged for armed neighbors to watch the house around the clock.
But hardly a night went by without a strange happening at Church Hill. Some nights it was scratches and knocks at the door, some nights breaking windows, and other nights, strange, inexplicable dancing lights. Frances Moon Butts, John Moon’s niece, claimed that, “the bed of my uncle’s beautiful young daughter used to rise up to the ceiling when the ghost came near … one night the butler returned late and left his groceries on the dining room table. The ghost emptied everything together, coffee, sugar, flour, meal, salt and soda, and then pour New Orleans molasses over the mixture. Gathering up the four corners of the cloth, he deposited his ‘witches brew’ and a family Bible on the roof, a favorite spot with him.”
It was from this same roof where the ghost was said to have hurled rocks and dinner plates through the air. A brick was also hurled at a nurse rocking an infant. The brick grazed the baby’s hand. The “burglar” was claimed to have been seen and shot at over 6 times sometimes by more than 40 different people, with no tangible result.
Then suddenly, in the summer of 1868, nocturnal activities ceased at the Moon house. In the morning the family found a note tied to a long reed which simply stated, “Master Jack … I will not pester you any more … Jack Ghost.”
Two years later, Moon sold Church Hill and bought another home, called Snowden, on the south side of Horseshoe Bend, overlooking Scottsville.
Skeptics say that the most likely suspect was a notorious horse thief, Lucian Beard, who Moon had once sentenced to a long jail term. Years later the horse thief, jailed in Richmond, wrote the Moons that if Judge Moon would clear him he would unravel the ghost story. Moon declined, however.
Great-Aunt Mana Payne
Donald Payne, author of “A Legacy of Rural Virginia,” is a descendent of Thomas Greene Payne, one of the first families to settle in Fluvanna County as grist millers in the early 1700s. His book chronicles multiple ghost sightings and sensational murders in Fluvanna County. The most documented and discussed of which is that of his Great-Aunt Mana Payne.
After his great-uncle, Luther Payne, died of a heart attack in 1940, Mana and their son, Russell, who they called ‘Tuss’, took over the farm.
“Mana began thinking that Tuss was cheating her out of farm profits,” said Donald Payne. “One day, Mana sent Tuss for the doctor. It took him forever to get back, and by the time he returned with the doctor, she had died of a kidney infection. She died unhappy thinking that her son was cheating her. It’s been said that Russell never slept again in that house without a kerosene lamp burning all night right by his side.”
“Later, when my great-uncle Tom Peter Payne and my great-aunt Sis were living in the house, great-aunt Sis saw clear as a crystal my aunt Mana looking out the side window,” said Donald Payne.
“Sis also said she was cooking lunch one day when she heard an old rotary mower in the yard, but there was no one there,” said Donald Payne. At the time the family no longer owned a rotary mower, Payne added.
The next family that moved into the house, the Abbotts, came down early one morning to cook.
“The kitchen had a swinging door, and she heard pots and pans rattling around like someone was already making breakfast,” said Donald Payne. “She eased the door open with her elbow, but it was dark and there was no one in there.”
The present owners say that as a child their daughter frequently complained of an old woman in an “old-timey” dress sitting in her room. Don Payne verifies that this is the same room where his great-aunt Mana died. However, the family also says they aren’t afraid because, “we know she’s a friendly ghost.” They told of a time a child almost fell through a window, and they saw something push the child back up. This saving of the child, maybe proof that Great-Aunt Mana is still around.
In addition to “A Legacy of Rural Virginia,” by Donald W. Payne, other books referenced for this article were “The Ghost of Virginia: Volume I,” “The Ghost of Virginia: Volume 5,” and “The Ghost of Virginia: Charlottesville, Lynchburg & Surrounding Environs” all by L.B. Taylor, Jr. Also used was the “Fluvanna County Sketchbook: 1777-1963” by Ellis Snead Pollard.