Belle Cross sees a ghost
"If anybody ever saw a ghost, Belle Cross did," Eleanor Campbell told me more than 30 years ago.
And, she would have known.
As a young girl in the early 1900s, Campbell was well acquainted with Belle Cross, a Berkeley Springs resident who was a true believer in Spiritualism. In fact, Campbell and Cross were related by marriage.
Campbell, it seems, grew up knowing all the scuttlebutt around Berkeley Springs since her father, N.S.D. "Nate" Pendleton, was editor of The News, a weekly paper that was acquired by The Morgan Messenger during the Great Depression and was folded into The Messenger in the 1960s.
The early 20th century was a time of seances, spirit photography and health quackery, not to mention "mystics" who simply made up their "ancient wisdom" as they went along. In other words, it was much like today.
Berkeley Springs had its own Spiritualist circle. Prominent in the group was the Mendenhall Family who lived on Wilkes Street. I learned this firsthand when I was asked to help sort through the family's books and papers so their house could be cleared out and sold at auction in the early 1990s.
Still sitting on the shelves were books like Arthur Conan Doyle's The Case for Spirit Photography and The New Revelation. In his personal life, the creator of that clear-thinking, scientific detective Sherlock Holmes put his skepticism aside and fell for nearly every conjuring trick that a charlatan pulled from his hat.
Belle Cross was deep into that other world, as well. She believed it was possible to talk with the spirits and that animals had a direct line to the other dimension. She could reportedly make a Ouija board sing, or spell as the case may be. She even attempted to read minds. On at least one occasion, she appeared to describe aloud exactly what another person was thinking, according to Marguerite DuPont Lee, who moved in the same social circles.
Lee, born in 1862, was a well-connected descendant of the Delaware DuPonts on her mother's side and the Virginia Lees on her father's. Her wealth allowed her to spend much of her time traveling and following her interests which included women's rights, the Episcopal Church, the Lincoln assassination and, very definitely, Spiritualism. She attempted to contact spirits through automatic writing, dabbled in spirit photography and, at some point, began collecting ghost stories from Virginia and its redheaded stepchild, West Virginia.
Lee's ghostly tales were collected in two volumes of Virginia Ghosts. Considered a classic of its kind, Virginia Ghosts inspired many later books of regional haunted stories. It didn't hurt that the first volume came out in 1930, during a time of great interest in collections of American folk songs, tales and lore.
One of Lee's stories came straight from her friendship with Belle Cross. While the events actually took place in Pennsylvania, not Virginia, the whole thing was right up Lee's circular lane since it involved communicating with the spirits and even an Episcopal vicar – a Rev. Arnold, said to be a clergyman at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley Springs.
Unfortunately, the story is short on hard facts, but, then, so are many other ghostly yarns. Lee didn't provide first names for Rev. Arnold and his wife, or even a date. Let's say it took place in late October of 1903, give or take a few months or years.
St. Mark's, which opened its doors around 1880, was a seasonal operation in its early days. The church shut down in the fall, after the "high season" visitors to the Warm Springs had gone home and cold weather descended on Morgan County.
Hearing that Rev. Arnold and his wife had to find a place for the winter, Belle Cross came to their rescue with the offer of her cottage at Blue Ridge Summit, about 40 miles northeast of Berkeley Springs, near Waynesboro, Pa. In fact, Belle did more than offer her home-away-from-home to the Arnolds. She went along to keep them company.
After a week or so, Rev. Arnold was called away to Washington on church business and the two women stayed on at the cottage.
Mrs. Arnold was no shrinking violet herself, but was said to be quite a social creature, a distant relative of Lady Astor, the first woman to serve in British Parliament. Originally from New Orleans, Mrs. Arnold had been married previously, though she rarely spoke of her former life.
Alone at the cottage, the two women spent their evenings sitting by the fire. Belle often knitted while the vicar's wife read Fifty Years In a Maryland Kitchen. Other facts may be sketchy, but Marguerite DuPont Lee was sure of their reading matter.
One morning at breakfast, Belle told Mrs. Arnold that she had seen an apparition in her bedroom the night before. As soon as she'd entered the room, she noticed the powerful stench of stale whiskey and immediately felt engulfed by a heavy atmosphere of fear. Suddenly, a large, blond man stood before her.
What does this mean? Belle asked herself.
It was as if the man understood her unspoken question. He pointed toward Mrs. Arnold's room next door and announced, "I belong to her." Then, he vanished.
As Belle gave her account of her night visitor, a terrified expression came over her face. She seemed to be looking at something near the breakfast table — something that only she could see. She proclaimed that the very man who had been in her bedroom was now standing right there in the kitchen with them, though Mrs. Arnold saw nothing.
Asked to describe the fellow, Belle said he was handsomely dressed and wore his blond hair brushed back.
"Why, that sounds like my first husband, who drank himself to death in New Orleans,"