There’s nothing I love more than a great ghost story, especially around Halloween. Virginia has its fair share of haunted tales too. One in particular caught my eye, involving Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.
Gadsby’s Tavern Museum includes two buildings, one a 1785 tavern and another the 1792 City Tavern and Hotel. With the buildings being that old, one can be certain there are some spooky happenings going on.
Liz Williams, director of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, shared more about its history. From the seven years it took from the circa 1785 tavern to add the 1792 City Tavern and Hotel, the young republic began to take shape through conversations and choices made in the tavern spaces.
“The impact of these choices and how far to extend power—political, economic, and social—is still being felt today,” Williams says. “Named for Englishman John Gadsby, who operated them from 1796 to 1808, the tavern businesses were central to Alexandria’s port-based economy, offering spaces to dine, entertain, and spend the night.” A large enslaved labor force made Gadsby’s renowned hospitality possible, Williams adds. Notable patrons that enjoyed the hospitality of the tavern included George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
What is perhaps the most famous ghost story involving the tavern includes Alexandria’s most famous urban legend— “The Female Stranger.”
In all versions of the story, a couple arrived in Old Town Alexandria from the Caribbean. They were quite wealthy, but the wife wore a black veil and was very ill. They hired a carriage to take them from the port to the City Hotel.
The husband brought his sick wife to Room 8, bumping the doorframe on the way in. The number was knocked onto its side, forming the infinity symbol, which ended up being a creepy glimpse into the future, according to DCGhosts.com.
The man’s odd behavior began when he called for doctors but refused to give his name or his partner’s. He made anyone who met them take an oath to never reveal their identities. The woman died three weeks later on October 14, 1816. The man borrowed money to pay for a tombstone and the “Female Stranger” was buried at St. Paul’s Cemetery off Duke Street. The stone was carved with a poem mentioning the “Female Stranger.”
The man left town without paying his funeral dues, and even though they were owed money, those who took the oath of secrecy held to it. To this day, no one knows who they were, but some think the infamous “Female Stranger” was Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr (who many may remember from history and the hit musical Hamilton). Others think the woman may have been a rich Englishwoman who had run away from her husband and escaped to the U.S. with a poor lover (which would be why the man left without paying for funeral costs). A third, more bizarre theory, was that it was Napoleon Bonaparte hiding in plain sight with a lover.
The Ghost Remains
People have allegedly seen the Female Stranger appear and disappear throughout Gadsby’s. According to DCGhosts.com, the ghostly figure has been spotted around the ballroom at parties and staring out of the windows of the infamous room 8. Those who have tried to speak with the ghost have found her vanishing into thin air. Sometimes, crying can be heard from room 8 and candles have been lit and moved around often. Williams has heard stories like these.
“Apparently, she appeared one evening in the [Tavern] ballroom where a man noticed her across the room,” Williams says. “He followed her into the East Bedchamber where she vanished.” The man was eager to search for the woman, so he picked up a lit candle for assistance in finding her. He unfortunately couldn’t find any trace of the lady. He then realized, frightened: Why was a lit candle in a deserted room?
Have chills yet? I sure do.
Over the years, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum has had a variety of events in honor of spooky season. They have a “Death at the City Tavern” tour and a partnership with the Port City Brewing Company, honoring the Female Stranger tale with a “Long Black Veil” black IPA named after the apparition.
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