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Haunted stories tell history of people, places in Morgan County

by Lisa Schauer

Searching for ghosts in Morgan County leads to a trip through time. Each story holds clues about the places and the people who’ve lived here.

Actually seeing a ghost is quite rare, according to experts like Susan Sheppard, who leads ghost tours in Parkersburg.

According to Sheppard, most people experience hauntings in other ways, such as the sound of a door opening or closing; distinct smells, such as perfume or cigar smoke; the moving or disappearance of objects; cold spots and electrical anomalies.

Some believe intelligent spirits remain attached to places, people or things they left behind on earth. Oftentimes unfinished business will bring these intelligent spirits back to earth to communicate with the living.

One’s belief in the paranormal is a matter of personal opinion. But each spirit in every ghost story represents a real life and a family with real feelings. Proceed with caution and respect through the haunted locations of historic Morgan County, as told by its residents and visitors.

What follows are a few select ghost tales, gathered from books written about Morgan County and the surrounding area, and repeated over the years by locals who’ve heard the tales passed down from their neighbors and ancestors. Some of the stories are based on actual eyewitness experiences and recounted here for Halloween.

 

Berkeley Castle

A ghost called “Jawbone”, believed to be a beau of original castle owner Rosa Pelham Suit, was reported by the local press in 1893 to haunt the castle following his untimely death.

Jawbone’s spirit has been said to haunt the library and the ballroom, and to hide behind an unopened door on the second floor at the end of the hallway.

In 2000, a group of paranormal investigators from Leesburg claimed they detected paranormal activity in Rosa’s bedroom and the drawing room, according to the 2016 book by the late Jeanne Mozier, The Story of Berkeley Castle.

As a rich young widow, Suit partied and lived extravagantly at the castle for about a decade, beginning in the late 1880s. After spending her fortune, she eventually had to be evicted after the castle was sold in 1923.

Perhaps Rosa’s spirit, and that of an unfortunate lover, still resides at Berkeley castle.

Old German (Dutch) Cemetery

Located on the original Town of Bath lots one and two, purchased from Lord Fairfax in 1777 by members of a German (Deutch) church, this part of the Washington Heritage Trail has a dark past.

A reported scoundrel, crook and accused murderer named Samuel Crawford is buried here somewhere. In 1876, a lynch mob dragged him from his jail cell and hung him from a large white oak tree south of the old Berkeley Bottling plant on S. Washington Street.

A detailed account of the grisly incident is included in A Fog of Ghosts, the 2013 book by the late John Douglas, former editor of The Morgan Messenger.

Crawford’s ghost has reportedly been seen standing over his grave, according to the plaque erected here by the Washington Heritage Trail.

Cacapon State Park

Staff members at Cacapon State Park have claimed to have a poltergeist that worked at the lodge in life.

 

But the snack bar at the lake beach is where a kitchen manager says she had a hair-raising experience late one spring while working alone.

Although the beach was closed, the staffer said she spied a young boy of about seven or eight walk into the snack bar wearing swimming trunks. He put his hands above his head as though he wanted to be picked up.

When she stood up and asked the little boy what he was doing in there, he just walked away and disappeared.

Sometime later, the worker heard about a boy around the same age who had tragically drowned at the lake one summer. Hopefully, the little boy has found his way home.

Mahnes Chapel

Growing up around Sleepy Creek and Cherry Run, people told ghost stories of an accused witch who haunted Mahnes Chapel at her barren grave.

Others claimed to have heard a fiddle playing in the graveyard here at night. They told of a famed violinist buried here.

A recent visit to Mahnes Chapel revealed no barren graves or fiddle concerts. Perhaps its somewhat eerie entrance at night inspired the ghost tales.

What is for certain is that its isolated spot could have been an ideal spot for miscreants.

Nebo Cemetery

On occasion, Morgan County Historical & Genealogical Society (MCHGS) publishes cemetery books. This effort requires volunteers to visit local graveyards and document the people buried there.

In its nearly 50-year history, the group has encountered only one haunted cemetery, according to MCHGS past president Fred Widmeyer.

According to Widmeyer, a volunteer on the graveyard committee reported seeing a full-body apparition at Nebo Cemetery in Great Cacapon.

 

The volunteer claimed she saw a lady ghost hanging around the cemetery. Does the stern warning from Revelations on the cemetery’s cryptic sign drive the apparition at Nebo cemetery?

Paw Paw Tunnel

Paw Paw Tunnel is inarguably the location in this area with the most haunted stories. Ghost hunters and natives tell of paranormal experiences in and around the eerie darkness of the quiet, cold tunnel.

A lone hiker heard unexplained noises approaching the tunnel. Something here seemed aware of her presence and movements.

Soft shale encountered by workers building the tunnel in the mid-1800s led to many cave-ins. Injuries and and deaths were commonplace. The workers built an encampment with a school not on the hill above the tunnel. Bricks from the old school can still be seen.

In 2018, a Paw Paw resident claimed she witnessed a line of children led by an old man holding a hurricane lantern silently pass by as she walked through the tunnel with her boyfriend.

When the couple reached the other side of the 3,118-foot tunnel, the children were nowhere to be seen.  Did the man lead the children back to their school? Or was it just another unexplained phenomena in the Paw Paw tunnel?

WV State Police barracks

Back in the mid-1990s, the Associated Press reported on a ghost said to be haunting the West Virginia State Police barracks on Valley Road in Berkeley Springs.

According to the AP story, state troopers moved into the building in 1974, more than a year after its original owner, Ercel Michael, passed. Neighbors remembered Ercel as being very meticulous about this lawn and garage.

Soon the troopers began to see lights going on and off inexplicably as they drove by the empty building while on patrol at night. Unexplained noises and doors slamming became so common that troopers began refusing to sleep in the barracks at night.

Years later, with no recent activity, it appears Ercel has quieted down. According to a staff member on a recent visit, so long as the lawn is kept tidy, Ercel will behave.

But if the grass is allowed to grow a little too long, or the hedges need a trim, expect a knock from a former displeased owner.

Johnson’s Mill

In 1859, toward the end of the Civil War, Johnson’s Mill was as busy as any factory. On this site, slaves were forced into labor, converting wagonloads of grain into heavy bags of flour.

Willie, enslaved by Mr. Johnson, was accused of stealing a bag of flour that harvest season, according to local legend. Willie died from his injury after a cruel mill boss reportedly cut off his hand with a Bowie knife and tossed it in the mill raceway.

In May, the mill boss died mysteriously beside the millpond, strangulation marks on his neck. People speculated it was Willie’s hand that crept up out of the water that night, clutching the mill boss’ throat to his last breath.

Older folks tell of a lawyer who came to town after the Civil War, swindling widows out of their estates. One summer night, the swindler got drunk and passed out by Johnson’s millpond, never to be seen again. Was it Willie’s hand that dragged him to his death? And did poor people really wake up that morning to find their money and deeds restored?

Al Capen, a longtime columnist for the Morgan Messenger, told the story of the avenging hand that’s included by John Douglas in A Fog of Ghosts.

It is a chilling reminder for anyone with hatred and meanness in their soul that vengeance could be waiting beside Johnson’s millpond.

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