The DMV has spooky areas aplenty, including the cobblestone-lined streets and dark alleyways of Old Town Alexandria. To really explore the legends and lore of this historical part of the DMV, follow a Colonial-costumed guide by lantern during a ghost tour by Alexandria Colonial Tours, which offers them in-person (and now virtually) all year round. The president and owner of the outlet, Wellington Watts, started out as a tour guide. He shared with us how he got his start, what to expect and the experience that left a fellow guide as white as a…you know what.
How and why did you get into doing these tours?
“I took the tour 25 years ago as a customer and thought it was a lot of fun; I applied to become a guide and before long I was in Colonial costume and giving tours. A few years later the opportunity opened to own the business, and I’ve been owner now since 2001. The previous owners conducted a lot of research into the ghost stories and we’ve added to them over the years, and a number of Old Town residents tell us tales every year about their homes or neighborhoods, so the legends and folklore always grows.”
Why is Halloween the best time of year for these tours?
“Halloween is a great time for a ghost tour because the leaves are changing, the air is cooler and the earlier darkness inspires people to seek out the things they can’t explain.”
How do the virtual tours work?
“They are offered on Zoom; customers buy a ticket online just like buying a ticket for a tour in person, then they click the link and get haunted! We provide two guides who conduct the tour telling ghost stories and history about Alexandria. We also use a powerpoint presentation so customers can see the haunted streets and historic places as well.”
What can you expect when you come in person?
“Everyone needs to wear a mask; we’ll check you in, put you in a group and then take you on the tour. Each group is led by a Colonial-costumed guide with lantern in hand. The tour lasts about an hour and will cover six city blocks. We’ll then abandon you in a graveyard!”
Any cool or scary anecdotes about anything you have seen or heard?
“A few years ago one of my guides was telling a story at the Carlyle House with his back to the mansion. Just before finishing the story he felt a tap on his right shoulder, but he turned and no one was there. He finished the story, picked up his lantern and led his group off the grounds. Another guide brought her group to the same spot as the previous guide. Just before she ended her story she too felt a tap on her right shoulder; she turned around and no one was there. Neither guide thought much of it until they returned for the 9:00 tour. As I was organizing a group of customers the first guide leaned over to me and said, “I had a strange incident at the Carlyle House. Just before I finished my story I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I turned around and no one was there.” The other tour guide, who had the same experience, was standing right next to me. She overheard what happened and turned white … she now lives in Hawaii.”
Alexandria Colonial Tours offers in-person and Zoom virtual tours all year; the one-hour walking tour covers approximately six blocks of the Old Town district. In-person tours are offered Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; Zoom tours are offered upon request, though they will definitely be offered on Oct. 30 and 31. Tours cost $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and $10 for children; kids under the age of 6 are free.
Photo credit: Sam Kittner for Visit Alexandria
Want more seasonal stories like this? Subscribe to our Things to Do newsletter.