4. HENRICUS HISTORICAL PARK – CHESTER, VIRGINIA
Ghost or actor? At historical park, you can’t always be sure who’s living and who’s dead.
Image Source: Uploaded by cheryl h to Trip Advisor
When people think of historical parks, images of picnic tables, scenic hiking trails, and fun historical reenactments are usually what first come to mind. But that’s not the case for the locals of Chester, Virginia. The historical park in their town isn’t just where people go for recreation and history lessons. Henricus Historical Park is also a prime place to get scared.
To begin with, the town of Chester is no stranger to paranormal activity. Ghost sightings and strange occurrences have been reported by residents and visitors for quite some time. Be careful when you are steering up Ruffin Mill Road, for instance – vehicles are known to unexplainably break down while driving on it. According to local lore, it is haunted by the spirit of a woman who committed suicide after losing her child. It’s also believed to have once been an old Indian trail.
If you are on Ware Bottom Spring Road, avoid the old Parkers Battery that lies beside it. Many people have seen apparitions of Civil War soldiers emerge from its bunkers. It was an important part of the Confederate’s defensive line, so you can be sure that it’s seen its fair share of battles.
Then there is Eppington, one of Chesterfield County’s most famous plantation homes. This stellar Georgian style mansion was built by Colonel Francis Eppes in 1768. Besides their wealth, the Eppes family was known for its close connection with Thomas Jefferson. The Colonel was a cousin of his wife, Martha. When Martha Jefferson passed away in 1782, her two daughters were brought to Eppington. Jefferson asked the Eppes to raise his children while he was away serving as Minister to France. Unfortunately, one of the girls, Lucy, fell victim to illness and died just one month later. The last owners of the house, the Cherry family, would often hear Lucy’s spirit weeping on the second floor1.
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But Historic Henricus Park offers a much larger environment to do some ghost hunting. It also has had much more time to accumulate some tormented souls. Its site gives a nice overview of its long history2.
The story of Henricus dates back to nearly ten thousand years ago. Archaeologists have discovered the artifacts and skeletal remains of various Native American tribes, including the Paleo-Indians, the Arrohateck, and the Powhatan, at Henricus. For the Indians, the land’s close proximity to the James River and York River basins made it ideal for setting up villages and farms. The area thus experienced much tribe versus tribe warfare before the Europeans arrived in 1607.
One of the most well known members of the Powhatan tribe is definitely Pocahontas. By the early 1600s, Chief Powhatan had emerged victorious from all the competition over the area. He swallowed up over thirty tribes, including the Arrohateck, into his chiefdom. Pocahontas, born Matoaka, was one of the Chief’s daughters. Described by Captain Ralph Hamor to be her father’s “delight and darling”3, she enjoyed some status, despite her mother’s lowly ranking. She thus easily caught the eye of Captain John Smith, when he was captured by the tribe and brought to the Powhatan capital, Werowocomoco, to be interrogated by the Chief.
Image Source: Legends of America
Before his December abduction, Smith had arrived at Virginia with other settlers in April 1607. He was sent by The Virginia Company of London to colonize the land. In May of that year, the beginnings of Jamestown blossomed, as well as serious problems between colonists and Indians. Luckily for Smith, he would survive his stay at Werowocomoco. Pocahontas is believed to have played a pivotal role in his survival:
“‘…at the minute of my execution’, [Smith] wrote, ‘she [Pocahontas] hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown.’”4
Image Source: Loc.gov
Modern city planners were thus keen to celebrate Pocahontas for rescuing the man who helped establish our nation. They built a road in Eastern Henrico and named it Pocahontas Parkway. But sometimes, embracing history too much has its pitfalls: it disturbs the dead. People report of hearing the drums and chants of Native Americans as they drive along the parkway at night, sometimes even seeing apparitions emerge from the darkness.
Henricus, established in September 1611, was the colony’s second settlement. This time, it was Sir Thomas Dale who was sent by The Company to continue with colonizing Virginia. “Dale confidently expected that the new town would replace Jamestown as the principal seat of the colony.”5 But his aggressive plans to achieve this only strained tensions between colonists and tribes.
All of the uneasiness finally climaxed in 1622. During the famous Indian Massacre, also known as the Powhatan Uprising, Powhatan’s brother and successor Opechancanough led a surprise attack on Jamestown, leaving some 347 to 4006 settlers dead. Among the destroyed settlements was Henricus. The town’s once booming population was dwindled down to a mere 22 inhabitants7.
Fifteen years later, William Farrar, an investor of tThe Virginia Company of London, arrived in Virginia. He inherited 2,000 tracts of land where the “Citie of Henricus” once stood and patented his earnings “Farrar’s Island.”
Image Source: Genealogy: Our Astounding Past
The town of Chester played an important role in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. That’s why many of the reenactments staged at Historic Henricus Park are of these eras. During the Revolutionary War, Chester served as a training camp for new recruits of General George Washington. The British also made use of the town. General Charles Cornwallis set up temporary headquarters at Chester before making his way to Yorktown. Thus, where Historic Henricus Park now stands frequently fell in the path of conflict. During the Battle of Petersburg, for instance, a fleet from the Virginia Navy faced the gunboats of British commander Major General William Phillips at Osborne’s Landing. Though the British would emerge victorious from the conflict, the Americans put up a good fight.
During the Civil War, Henricus was also the site of an important naval skirmish. The scene during the Battle of Trent’s Reach, which lasted from January 23 to 25 in 1865, was one of chaos, gunfire, and explosions.
“With bullets whistling and shells exploding over their heads, [the soldiers’] job was increasingly hazardous. These soldiers also succumbed to fever and disease requiring an ever-ready flow of replacements.”8
Image Source: Virginia Department of Historic Resources
Besides restless ghosts, the battle also left behind the beginnings of the important Dutch Gap Canal, located about one mile away from Henricus Historical Park. During the Civil War, the James River was getting in the way of conflict, so Union soldiers and African American laborers attempted to construct a large duct to divert its waters. Battle play prevented them from seeing their project to completion – it took another five years for the canal to be truly realized. It then went through several renovations and improvements to become the popular tourist destination that it is today.
Today, the park’s staff have “recreated 1611 Citie of Henricus”9 in its entirety. Visitors can mingle with actors dressed in traditional 17th century garb, as they are taught the ways of being a colonist. Other interpreters dawn Native American costumes, as they show tourists what life was like for the area’s first inhabitants. Henricus Fort includes twelve colonial structures, such as taverns, pig houses, and colonial homes. The Indian Village features several long houses and miniature farms, not unlike the ones lived in and tended by the Powhatan tribe. You can learn skills like blacksmithing and canoe making at the park, but just don’t be too sure whoever’s teaching you is actually alive!
Image Source: Petersburgarea.org
John Pagano, who joined the reenactment team back in 2007, has experienced such mix-ups. Once, while he was in the Soldier’s House, he caught a glimpse of a female colonist walking outside.
“’By the time I got to the door, there was no one there,’ he says. ‘I didn’t have anyone on staff who even looked like that. That was the first big hint as far as thinking something [paranormal] was going on there.’”10
Indeed, spirits seem to be as eager as actors to interact with visitors. In buildings, tourists report of hearing unexplained noises, such as children laughing and footsteps. Others claim to have seen misty apparitions and objects moving on their own. Outside, cannon blasts and gun fire have frequently disrupted the serene atmosphere, despite the fact that no reenactments were being staged at the time. Paranormal specialists have thus become increasingly fascinated with Historic Henricus Park.
Horror author and ghost expert Pamela K. Kinney even includes Historic Henricus Park on her list of Top Ten Haunted Spots of Richmond, Virginia and Its Surrounding Counties11. When Kinney visited the site with Jackie Tomlin of Central Virginia Paranormal Investigations back in 2010, they left with plenty of video and audio12evidence of ghosts, both inside buildings and outside on the grounds. “A rapid temperature drop, a faint voice, and a sound that comes from right behind us…”13 they report in footage.
The paranormally busy park has entire events dedicated to its spectral tenants. Since 2012, Henricus Historical Park has been “lock downed”14 to avid horror fans. During the park’s annual Haunted Henricus: Things That Go Bump in the Night15 event, guests get a full evening of fear and fun. And since no children under six are allowed to attend, you can be sure that it is for real thrill seekers!
During the festivities, you will encounter actors reenacting spooky legends from European and Native American folklore. Members of the paranormal group Transcend Paranormal are also onsite to lead tours of the haunted park and share what they uncovered during earlier visits. They have plenty of evidence to go through, including a full-bodied shadow figure16, countless electronic voice phenomena, and strange video anomaly17. When asked about Henricus Historical Park, Transcend Paranormal’s Steve Dills replies: “It’s our go-to place. Sometimes we stay overnight.”18
Image Source: Uploaded by TranscendParanormal to Photobucket
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. Page 241-244.
- “History of Henricus.” About Us. Henricus Historical Park, n.d. Web. 5 September 2015.
- “Pocahontas Biography.” Biography.com. Bio, 2015. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 4.
- “Pocahontas Biography.” Biography.com. Bio, 2015. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 8.
- “1611 Settlement.” History of Henricus. Henricus Historical Park, n.d. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 6.
- Price, David A. “Jamestown Colony.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. No Date. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 21.
- “1611 Settlement.” History of Henricus. Henricus Historical Park, n.d. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 9.
- “Civil War.” History of Henricus. Henricus Historical Park, n.d. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 2.
- “Henricus Fort and Indian Village.” About Us. Henricus Historical Park, n.d. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 2.
- Gregory, Donna C. “The Hauntings at Henricus.” Chesterfield Monthly. No Date. Chesterfield Observer, 2015. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 9.
- Kinney, Pamela K. “Supernatural Friday: Top Ten Haunted Spots of Richmond, Virginia and Its Surrounding Counties.” Fantastic Dreams of Pamela K. Kinney. 2 January 2015. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 2.
- “Henricus Park Chesterfield, Virginia.” Henricus EVPs. CVAPI.com. Jackie Tomlin, 2008-2015. January 2011. Web. 5 September 2015.
- “Henricus Park.wmv.” YouTube video, 0.38, posted by “CVAPI Jackie Tomlin.”6 March 2011. Web. 5 September 2015.
- “Haunted Henricus Lockdown 2012.” Events. Transcend Paranormal. 17 January 2012. Web. 5 September 2015.
- “Haunted Henricus: Things That Go Bump in the Night.” Event. Henricus Historical Park, n.d. Web. 5 September 2015.
- Transcend Paranormal. “Transcend Paranormal: Henricus.” No Date. Photograph. Henricus Historical Park.
- “Transcend Paranormal: Henricus Historical Park Video Anomaly.” Uploaded by Transcend Paranormal. Youtube. 17 January 2012. Web. 5 September 2015.
- Harrison, Don. “The 13 Most Haunted Places in Richmond.” Style Weekly. 25 October 2011. Web. 5 September 2015. Para. 3.