Haunted Virginia: the Commonwealth’s top ghost stories and legends

Virginia News
pax grave in Hollywood cemetery angel statue tomb stone

A sculpture of an angel mourning over a grave in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va. (Photo: Amelia Heymann)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia is one of the oldest states in the nation which means there’s been plenty of time for ghosts to inhabit its homes and lands.

From the mausoleums of Hollywood Cemetery to the beaches of Hampton Roads, no matter where you travel in Virginia there’s likely something that goes bump in the night.

Bunny Man Bridge

The Bunny Man is an urban legend known to many in Northern Virginia. While sightings have been reported as far north as Maryland and as south as Culpeper, he is mostly believed to roam a railroad overpass near Fairfax Station known as “Bunny Man Bridge.”

There are many renditions of the tale, but one of the more common ones takes place in 1904 when inmates who were being transported from an insane asylum to the Lorton Prison escaped during a vehicle crash. According to Atlas Obscura, in this story, an escapee’s body was found hanging near a bridge. They could never find the other escaped inmate but found half-eaten rabbits hanging in the trees across the area.

While there has never been an asylum in Fairfax County, Brian A. Conley, a Historian-Archivist with the Fairfax County Public Library, said the story has been circulating since the 1970s and has only grown in popularity.

Conley said the tale likely originated in October of 1970 when the Washington Post reported police were searching for a man “who likes to wear ‘white bunny rabbit costume’ and throw hatchets through car windows.” However, police never found the elusive Bunny Man and found the only witnesses who had seen him were children.

While you may not run into the urban legend, Bunny Man Bridge is a real place located at 6497 Colchester Road in Clifton. And while they won’t throw hatchets at you in a rabbit suit, locals typically don’t like people hanging around the area.

Information from fairfaxcounty.com and atlasobscura.com.

The Richmond Vampire

w.w. pool grave mausoleum richmond vampire Hollywood cemetery
The mausoleum of W. W. Pool, which is the alleged home of the Richmond Vampire. (Photo: Amelia Heymann)

Hollywood Cemetery is home to many crypts, none of which is more famous than the mausoleum of W. W. Pool, the alleged home of the Richmond Vampire.

Richmond is a town known for its spooky past, with numerous books and tours dedicated to the ghosts and legends that walk its streets. The Richmond Vampire is one of the city’s most famous legends, even being featured on the popular scary story podcast Lore.

Pamela K. Kenney writes in her book “Haunted Richmond” that there are a few origins of the legend. The first is that Pool was born with a rare blood disease that lead to him being labeled a vampire.

Another says the vampire was a creature that dug its way out of a train tunnel cave and was discovered with blood from his victim all over his jagged teeth. It then ran to Hollywood Cemetery and hid in the crypt of W. W. Pool. Kenney said the more realistic version of this tale is that a fireman named Benjamin F. Mosby was burned beyond recognition and rushed to Grace Hospital where he died. She said people would say someone was “going to Hollywood” if they were dying.

Regardless, Kenney said Pool and his wife’s remains have been moved to an undisclosed location to prevent any further grave robbing, and the tomb’s door has been welded shut ever since.

Information from Haunted Richmond by Pamela K. Kinney.

Crawford Road

Crawford Raod runs through York County and Newport News, and is reportedly home to numerous hauntings.

mourning statue at hollywood cemetery
(Photo: Amelia Heymann)

According to author Pamela K. Kinney, there are a few legends surrounding the bridge, including a Black woman who hung herself rather than marry a man she didn’t like. Another legend is that the bridge is haunted by Black men who were hung by the KKK at the bridge or Civil War soldiers who still roam the area.

In addition to seeing ghosts, many people have claimed to have heard strange knocking and disembodied voices. Kinney said another common theme with these stories is often people’s cars will stop running and will either need to be pushed through the haunted bridge or shift into neutral and drift through. When the unlucky travels eventually leave their car, they’ll see handprints on it.

Information from Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle by Pamela K. Kinney.

The Wicked Witch of Pungo

Grace Sherwood was probably an average woman with a bad reputation, but numerous claims by neighbors eventually stuck and gave her the reputation as a witch.

Author L.B. Taylor Jr. said the first mentions of her witchcraft appear when her husband James Sherwood took neighbors to court twice for defamation lawsuits where neighbors claimed she cast spells. She filed another defamation suit against a neighbor in 1701, four years after her husband’s death. However, shortly after those same neighbors took Sherwood to court for practicing witchcraft and put her in the defendant’s seat.

A four-person jury was put together to examine Sherwood, including one member of the jury who had earlier accused her of witchcraft. Taylor said one of the pieces of evidence used against her was she had “several spots” on her body, such as warts. At the time these were seen as abnormal “teats” for the devil to suck on and apparently appeared on witches. Apparently.

gravestones at hollywood cemetery in richmond
Graves at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va. (Photo: Amelia Heymann)

So, she was put through “witch dunking” where an accused witch was tied up and submerged underwater. If she floated she was a witch and if she sank, she was innocent. Taylor said Sherwood surfaced the water and freed herself from the ropes and swam to shore. She was declared a witch and locked up, although, Taylor said Sherwood was never formally accused of being a witch again in court, and historians believe she was only locked up for a short period of time.

Even in death, Taylor wrote stories of her witchcraft persist. For example, no grass is said to have ever been able to grow in the spot where she underwent dunking in Lynnhaven Bay.

Information from the Big Book of Virginia Ghost Stories by L.B. Taylor Jr.

Hungry Mother State Park

Hungry Mother is a peculiar name for a state park, but the story behind it is one that sends shivers up guests’ spines.

P.M. Elton, the author of Ghostly Tales of Selected Virginia State Parks, said Hungry Mother State Park was founded in 1936. A popular origin story for the park’s name is that Molly Marley and her child were kidnapped by Native Americans after an attack. While the mother and child managed to escape, Molly eventually passed out from exhaustion. Her starving child was found wandering near the stream only repeating the phrase “hungry mother.”

Elton said the historical society discredits this version, saying the real Molly Marley lived in the area before these events ever occurred. Still, similar legends about the park still circulate and some guests have claimed to hear cries coming from the spirits of the dying mother or her child.

Information from Ghostly Tales of Selected Virginia State Parks by P.M. Elton.

gravestones and leaves in Hollywood Cemetery
Hollywood Cemetery during the fall in Richmond, Va. (Photo: Amelia Heymann)

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