Historic Henrico homes ‘are spiritually busy’
Ghost tales echo in county’s Near West End, from Monument Avenue to River Road
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories about ghosts of Henrico.
In addition to the legendary spirits who haunt prominent Henrico sites such as Henricus Historical Park and the Pocahontas Parkway, the county also boasts a few storied ghosts who have made their presence known at homes and other privately-owned structures. Among these are Twin Oaks on Monument Avenue and Whichello Tavern and Woodside on the far western edge of the county.
Woodside, the ancestral home of the Wickham family, was built off Gaskins Road in 1858 on property that was originally owned by the Randolphs of nearby Tuckahoe Plantation.
A historian who wrote about the house in 1976 described unique nine-foot-tall windows in the front rooms that were only five inches off floor. When a family member raised the lower part of the window, the top would disappear through a trap door into the wall above and allow the person to step onto the portico. The house also boasted a secret door in the library.
Believed to be constructed on the site of an old Indian village, the house was raided during the Civil War by Col. Ulric Dalhgren’s Union cavalry, who emptied the smokehouse and freed the estate’s slaves. The Civil War years were tragic overall for the Wickham family, bringing the loss of at least two members in battle, and the additional loss of a young mother who perished with two of her children.
During the post-war years the house became run down, inspiring rumors that it was haunted, but a resident interviewed in the 1970s stated that since the house had always been in Wickham hands, any spirits most likely were relatives and strictly friendly.
In L.B. Taylor’s book The Ghosts of Virginia, one of the home’s modern-day occupants noted that among the resident spirits there seemed to be a “tidy ghost” who would replace books that she and her husband left out of the bookcase. The resident also said that she could feel the spirit of her grandmother, who was born in the house and had lived there until the age of 93. When she was crying shortly after her grandmother’s funeral, the resident told Taylor, she felt someone give her hug. Thinking it was her husband, she turned around and found no one in sight.
At other times, she said, she would hear talking or someone calling her name. Also, friends who once stayed the night told her that they had heard carriages being driven up to the front of the house. Today, the driveway is in the back of the house, but in the 19th century it was in front.
Additionally, after hearing of various sightings of an apparition or vision of a young boy in a sailor suit, the owner came upon an old family photo depicting her uncle in a sailor suit as a boy.
Not quite so friendly are the ghosts of Whichello Tavern, which is located on River Road near its intersection with Gaskins and was long known locally as “Tall House.”
Built in 1827 at a cost of $2,000, the tavern sat on property that, like Woodside, was thought to be originally owned by the Randolphs of Tuckahoe Plantation. Because the tavern was located so close to Richmond, historians have speculated that it served as something of a rest stop between Richmond and Charlottesville or Lynchburg – used mostly for drinking and eating rather than lodging.
In 1850, however, a cattle drover from the valley region arrived with a herd and bedded them down in corrals near the inn while he stayed overnight. Continuing into the city the next day, he sold the cattle, then returned to Whichello on his way back.
The tavern took its name from Englishman Richard Whichello, who had acquired the place in the 1830s or 1840s and had a reputation as a miser who mistreated his slaves, employees and customers. As the story goes, Whichello invited the cattle drover to have drinks with him after dinner, and the two got involved in a poker game. The guest lost his entire profit from the cattle sale to Whichello – who was found murdered the next morning, his head brutally beaten in by an axe. Neither the drover, his horse, or the money were ever seen again.
Because Whichello had been so widely disliked, his friends were not sure how to bury him; they worried that slaves or others seeking revenge might mistreat the body. Eventually they dug a tunnel under the house and shoved his coffin under the chimney.
Once the story circulated about Whichello’s entombment and the circumstances surrounding his death, however, it wasn’t long before treasure-seekers began showing up at the tavern – believing either that Whichello’s killer had left without finding his money, or that he had buried it under the tavern in a panic. In the years that followed, numerous reports from residents, servants, and visitors seemed to suggest that Whichello was bothered by these efforts to find his wealth and had returned to guard the treasure.
A Mrs. Crenshaw, who ran a tea shop in the house in the 1930s, said a black servant told her he had unearthed the treasure box three times – only to have it sink out of sight into a hole that quickly filled with water. Crenshaw thought this was quite plausible, since there had once been holes under the floor caused by wells – wells that were eventually cemented over with great difficulty because they filled so fast.
Crenshaw also reported – and was backed up by her maid– that she occasionally heard mysterious clicking noises that resembled the sound of a telegraph key and seemed to follow her from room to room. During a couple of seances that were held at the house around that time, the visiting spirits included not only Crenshaw’s childhood mammy but also Richard Whichello – who always made his appearance dressed in hunting clothes.
‘A little man with a chin beard’
According to legend, another buried treasure could lie under the house on Monument Avenue known as Twin Oaks.
Located at the corner of Bevridge Road, the house was built around 1800, with the Skipwith family making additions in the 1920s. As Taylor wrote in his account of events at Twin Oaks, most reports of spirits centered around a “little man with a chin beard.” One former owner, Donald Wiltshire, was so startled to encounter the man on a stairwell that he fell down. After others in the family said they had glimpsed the same apparition, Wiltshire commissioned a historian to research the background on the house.
Although Wiltshire never found any clues to the identity of the mysterious visitor, he learned that the house had been used as a hospital in the Civil War and as a temporary prison for Yankee troops. Nineteen bodies apparently are buried somewhere on the grounds, as is a possible treasure – a half-million-dollar sum that supposedly was hidden by a bank employee accused of theft.
The owner who took possession of the house in 1841, Ben Green, was linked to the biggest bank robbery in the history of the city at the time, and rumors have long prevailed that he buried the money in or under Twin Oaks.
Another interesting fact noted by Taylor about the building is its connection to two of Richmond’s most infamous events. The original owner lost his wife in the theater fire of 1811, which killed 72 people and led to the building of Monumental Church. And a later owner, Hugh Skipwith, used tiles taken from the Capitol building following its tragic floor collapse in 1870 and re-laid them in his foyer.
“A curious tie-in,” remarks Taylor of Twin Oaks, “to two of Richmond’s greatest tragedies.”
Among the mysterious happenings at the home in modern-day times were several reported by the Scotts, who owned the house beginning in 1974.
Two days after moving in, the Scotts celebrated their wedding anniversary. Too tired from unpacking to go out, they lit candles, fixed dinner, and relaxed listening to piano music from the next room. But when Mrs. Scott complimented her husband for so thoughtfully and romantically turning on the radio, he said he had done no such thing.
The next morning, they found several objects, ranging from figurines to wine glasses, that had been moved from place to place, rearranged, and turned upside down.
Mrs. Scott also felt a touch one night as she was getting ready to step into the tub, and her son and some friends had an encounter with an apparition one day as they played in the yard. The boys ran up to say they saw a strange-looking man, and proceeded to describe a little man in a gray uniform – with a chin beard.
On Mrs. Scott’s last night in the house, she said she got the feeling the spirits didn’t want her family to leave. Having packed up everything except the bed, she and her husband had just turned in and dimmed the lights when the door creaked open. Three apparitions appeared at the foot of the bed, varying in height, but sharing one crucial characteristic: Mr. and Mrs. Scott could see right through them.
One psychic who visited Twin Oaks and wandered around the building and grounds pronounced the house “spiritually busy” and said it contained “multiple presences.” Another psychic, known to area police for her abilities, can recall vividly the experiences she had when she visited a home adjacent to Twin Oaks many years ago.
Vicky Moore, whose childhood friend lived in a house built on the old Twin Oaks estate, said her friend requested her help because someone was disturbing her sleep by moving objects around in her art studio.
Although she has had many encounters with spirits, said Moore, this one frightened her because of his great energy. When she stepped into the studio, she said, “I felt the energy go up through my feet. It was razor-sharp; I’ve never felt anything so intense physically.”
Not only that, but the spirit followed Moore home, she said, and bothered her for several days afterwards: “messing with” her answering machine, hiding her crucifix, and once even gripping her arm and twisting it to get her attention. Another time the spirit put his hand to her head, and she could see just enough of his arm to notice that he was wearing a cotton blouse with lacey sleeves, resembling those worn in the 19th century.
Moore speculated that the spirit may have belonged to a woodcutter who was said to have bled to death on the property after a slip of his ax. Although he seemed “benevolent” enough, Moore said, his efforts to get her attention were simply too aggressive to tolerate, and she made repeated (and exasperated) requests to him to leave her
alone. After a few days, he faded away, and never bothered her friend again.
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