Spirits crop up in garden, museums

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final story in a series about ghosts of Henrico.

In addition to having a haunted highway (the Pocahontas Parkway), haunted historical park (Henricus), and haunted houses such as Whichello and Twin Oaks, Henrico County can also claim to be the home of a few spirits in its shops, museums, and gardens.

Spirits have been reported at the Virginia Aviation Museum (VAM), for example, which was built on a Civil War battlefield near the airport and displays vintage planes and pilot artifacts from the World War II era. According to the website The Shadowlands, which reports on mysterious happenings around the world, there have been reports of occurrences at VAM such as the sound of footsteps leading to a particular plane, and a very old stopwatch that suddenly started up ticking again.

At the Glen Allen museum known as Meadow Farm – the home of the Sheppard family during the mid-19th century – spirits have long been rumored to roam the area as well.

In an October 2001 story about Meadow Farm Museum in the Citizen, interpreters who spent time in the old homestead recounted numerous stories that suggest the spirits of Dr. and Mrs. Mosby Sheppard and their nine children still linger in the house. From rearranged toys on the mantel of the children’s room, to mussed slipcovers on the parlor furniture, unexplained incidents alternately puzzled and delighted historical interpreters.

When interpreters at the museum originally arranged the Sheppard girls’ and boys’ bedrooms to reflect what they guessed to be the 1850s layout, for instance, they began to notice a flurry of activity around the period toys on the mantel. After the house had been secured for the night, they would open it up in the morning to find the toys out of place.

Eventually, deciding that they may have been mistaken in their placement of the bedrooms, staff members switched the two – and the movement of the toys stopped.

A reenactor who once spent the night on premises also recounted sounds and signs of a mysterious visitor; and an interpreter entered an upstairs room one day to be greeted by the overpowering scent of old roses.

“It smelled so good!” she recalled with a wistful smile, wondering aloud if the spirit of Mrs. Sheppard left the scent. “I keep hoping it will happen again.”

Giggling girls and stressed-out cats
The ghosts of the Lakeside shops are most likely from a different era from those at Meadow Farm – perhaps hailing from the first half of the 20th century, when homes stood on the site that now features stores and the Lakeside Farmer’s Market.

Tony Turner, co-owner of Feathernesters tea room and home store, said that he began noticing mysterious happenings almost the moment he moved into the shop in January 2004.

“Within days I heard knocking and creaking,” he said, adding that he initially dismissed the noises as the heating system, or attributed them to his unfamiliarity with the building. But then he began hearing what sounded like a little girl laughing.

“I have children,” Turner said, “but they weren’t there. And [the giggling and laughing] were coming from the rear of the store, but on the other side of the wall. That area of the building was still vacant.”

Again, he dismissed the voices, rationalizing that they were coming from the radio. Then, after about a month, Turner’s partner Mark Goswick asked him, “This is going to sound crazy – but have you ever heard children laughing?”

Turner had a key to the vacant space next door so that he could use it for storage; but when he went in to explore, he found only emptiness. He noticed, however, that the laughter always seemed to come from the bathrooms in the rear of the store. “If I had to pinpoint it,” he said, “it’s in the ladies’ room.”

As Feathernesters acquired new employees, the staff members noticed the sounds as well. “Have you heard a little girl?” they would ask Turner.

In 2010, Dee Shue moved into the vacant space next to Feathernesters and began painting and preparing to open her shop, Pass It On Consignments. Like Turner, she noticed strange noises almost immediately.

“I heard a door close, but I was the only one in there,” she recalled. On another occasion she thought she heard children in the bathroom, which backs up to the Feathernesters bathrooms. “It sounded like girls giggling,” she said. “I knocked on the door, and when I opened it, no one was there. It freaked me out.”

Shue also noticed that when she left her kitten overnight in the store, she would find him in the morning looking distressed. “He’d be at the front door, wanting to be let out,” she said.

“We took him home after he quit eating for three days.”

Pranksters
But the strangest experience at Pass It On centered around a ceramic pig lamp Shue acquired and put out for display in a booth. It had only been there a day or two when a customer came in and said, “Where’s that pig lamp? I want that pig lamp.”

Shue could not find the lamp where she had put it, but after an extensive search of the store, she found it in an armoire. No one could explain how it got there. Although that customer decided not to buy the lamp, another customer later expressed interest – and Shue found the lamp had been moved again. “I put it up front then,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m really losing my mind.’”

Both Shue and Turner believe the spirits in their shops are friendly, playful ones. Shue speculated that the girl spirits probably liked the lamp, and imagined them “running and giggling” as they played their prank.

Turner agreed, saying that the giggling he has heard sounded like a girl playing with her friends or her dolls.

“She’s a playful spirit, there's no doubt about that,” said Turner, noting that he hasn’t heard any noises in about two years. “But it’s eerie. . . My [teenage] daughter is so scared she won’t go in the bathroom.”

Ghost of the Garden
Just across Hilliard Road from the Lakeside Town Center, at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (LGBG), employees of the Garden often speak of the “ghost of Grace.” At a recent Lakeside Business Association social, a few business owners wondered whether the spirit playing in the shops might be a long-ago resident of the homes that were once on the site – or perhaps the young Grace Arents, Lewis Ginter’s niece.

Beth Monroe, LGBG director of public relations and marketing, noted that Arents – who lived as an adult in the Bloemendaal House and possibly played on the grounds as a child – had a generous nature and was known for her philanthropic efforts, such as establishing a convalescent home for children and founding Richmond’s first public library.

Arents was especially concerned with the plight of urban children, who would often be brought out from Oregon Hill to Bloemendaal Farm so that they could enjoy fresh air and eat healthy foods. “The site of the Children’s Garden is where she grew her vegetables,” Monroe pointed out.

Noting that “places like Lewis Ginter often have a patron saint of sorts,” Monroe said that Arents clearly fits the profile of the affectionate, benevolent, and playful spirit that seems to show up at the Bloemendaal House from time to time. While “Grace’s ghost” has not been heard to giggle, staff members and volunteers have occasionally reported feeling a rush of air when no one else was around, said Monroe. Others have caught a glimpse of a vision in white.

And like the spirit that frequents the Lakeside Town Center, the Garden’s ghost seems to be an especially mischievous one.

“Whenever something odd happens at the house,” said Monroe, “like the lights blink, or a door that was closed is left open, we say, “Ahhh, there’s Grace again!”
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