The Haunted Hills of Roanoke Valley

A ghostly shadow is visible behind frosted glass, its hand pressed against the surface in clear relief

Our Favorite Ghost Stories from Roanoke and Beyond

It should come as no surprise that Virginia—with all its centuries of history—might have its fair share of ghosts. From skirmishes between native American tribes, to skirmishes between native Americans and colonists, to hundreds of Civil War battles, Virginia’s soil is soaked with generations of bloodshed. Could you blame these restless spirits for lingering?

Roanoke and the surrounding areas are home to a few spectral spooks of our own. Below are just a few of our favorites. What are YOUR favorite Roanoke ghost stories?

The Woman in Black

This is probably one of the most famous Roanoke ghost stories—possibly because it’s actually documented in local newspapers from the time. The story goes, for just a few days in 1902, a mysterious and beautiful woman in a black dress, the lower part of her face partially obscured by a black turban, terrorized the men of Roanoke. And not just any men—married men. As they walked home at night, she would materialize, whispering in their ears and calling them by name, sending chills down their spines.

According to a March 1902 article in the Roanoke Times, one midnight eve, she followed a prominent local merchant all the way to his front door:

The woman was only a couple feet behind him, and he naturally increased his pace; faster and faster he walked, but in spite of his efforts, the woman gained on him until, with the greatest of ease and without any apparent effort she kept along side of him. ‘Where do you turn off?’ she asked of him. He replied in a hoarse voice, ‘Twelfth Avenue.’ Ere he was aware, she had hand upon his shoulder. He tried to shake it off, but without success. ‘You are not the first married man I have seen to his home this night,’ she spoke in a low and musical voice. (1)

Just as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone.

Later that same year, accounts of an eerily similar woman were reported in West Virginia and Nebraska…but she never again returned to Roanoke. Some speculate she is a spurned woman out to get revenge by swaying men from their wives and causing discord in their marriages. Others suggest exactly the opposite—she appeared to guide men back home to their wives, ensuring they would not stray and no other woman would suffer as she had.

The Patterson Avenue Ghost

These days, all you’ll see of the haunted house at the southwest end of Patterson Avenue is an abandoned lot. But in the 1880s, this was the site of a beautiful, white…and haunted mansion.

The house was originally a funeral parlour—its basement was used for preparing bodies, the main floor was the funeral home, and the upper floor was where the mortician, his wife, and their four children lived. Eventually, neighbors began to realize they hadn’t seen the mortician’s wife or children in quite some time. When questioned, the mortician claimed they had gone out of state to visit some relatives. Two years later, they had not returned, and the mortician abandoned the home.

Decades later, the mansion on Patterson Avenue still sat vacant. Families moved in, but would move out within weeks, or even days. One Roanoke resident, who grew up next door to this house, recalls playing on its grounds with her siblings and other neighborhood children. They often saw a young woman, dressed in Victorian garb, watching them from one of the upper floor windows. She was never alarmed by the woman, but one day she mentioned it to her father, who took it upon himself to investigate—he knew that the house was not currently occupied, and no one should be inside.

He and a neighbor went into the house and saw the woman at the top of the stairs, looking out the window. When the sheriff’s department investigated this ghostly sighting, they dug up (literally) more than they expected—five bodies, suspected to be the mortician’s wife and children, were found buried under the dirt floor of the basement, and several more makeshift graves were scattered throughout the backyard.

Article-02-Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 10.47.10 AMPossible location of the former Patterson Avenue Ghost House; image from Google Maps

Grandin Theatre

A short drive from downtown Roanoke, Grandin Theatre is a local gem for many reasons. Not only can you watch films in a uniquely historic setting…you may also encounter a ghost, or two!

The theatre—one of the first in America built for “talkies” (movies with sound)—was built in 1932. It’s had a rocky past and has closed down a few times over the years. At one such time, in the 1950s, it’s said a homeless family moved into the projection booth. While they were there, two of their young children—one of whom was an infant—died.

At night, when the theatre is empty of customers, employees claim to hear the phantom cry of the family’s infant child. One former projectionist claims to have seen a young boy lingering at the top of a stairway. Thinking he might be lost or left behind after the last show, he followed the boy, only to seem him disappear through a closed door. Others have heard laughter and clinking glasses coming from upstairs, and one former employee claimed to have seen a ghostly face peering from the projection room…when he knew he was alone in the building.

Avenel Plantation

Also known as Historic Avenel or the William M. Burwell House, this 1838 Bedford plantation is home to the White Lady, among other supernatural presences. Said to be the ghost of Letitia Burwell, the oldest daughter of the Burwell family, the White Lady roams the property, dressed in a long, white, early 1900s-style dress. Local musicians who sometimes use the home to practice often hear a woman’s voice singing along, and visitors have smelled musty perfume wafting through the halls.

Ghost hunters who have investigated the property on several occasions have noted seeing an orb that looks suspiciously like an eye, and have heard someone murmuring, “the secret is in the wall” and “hi Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.” The Lee Room, where Robert E. Lee was a frequent guest of the Burwells, contains a bed that occasionally looks slept in, with rumpled blankets and an indentation in the pillow where a head might lay.

Roanoke-Area Ghost Walks and Haunted Houses

Want to check out the spooks for yourself? There are several local ghost tours and other haunted events, guaranteed to get your heart racing and your spine tingling:

Read More About Ghosts in Roanoke

 

(1) From “The Ghosts of Roanoke,” History Museum of Western Virginia, https://vahistorymuseum.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/the-ghosts-of-roanoke/comment-page-1/