Paxton Manor

Posted on August 15, 2017


Paxton Manor: Real ghosts, plus modern recreations – expansive estate-turned-scare-ground lends itself to both.

Paxton Manor, exterior facade.
Paxton Manor, exterior facade.

Image Source: NovaSpis

There’s the twelve days before Christmas, the eight days of Hanukkah… most kids even get a full school-free week to celebrate Thanksgiving. Indeed, some holidays just can’tbe bundled into one day festivities. Back in 2009, the team behind the today’s popularShocktober1, felt that Halloween should be one of them.

Leesburg, Virginia’s Shocktober is a month-long event that invites daring souls to get their scream on in a historical setting. It is hosted on the elaborate Victorian estate called Carlheim, a property which includes a labyrinth of underground caves, several outbuildings, and the infamous Paxton Manor. Throughout the grounds and the house’s over thirty two rooms, event organizers have staged trained actors and planted plenty of equipment (spiders, snakes, a casket simulator, and a clown-themed tunnel2, to list just a few) to ensure that visitors experience full-on fear.

But the event can’t just thank these modern additions for its success; Paxton Manor, a house whose list of occupants includes wounded soldiers, orphans, and a man accused of animal cruelty, has always been paranormally busy. For producers of a twenty first century scare ground, it was ripe for the plucking.

One of Shocktober's frightful additions to the manor.
One of Shocktober’s frightful additions to the manor.

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History of Leesburg

In terms of history, the house is built on an area which has experienced plenty of supernatural activity and warfare. Leesburg’s earliest occupants include the Algonquian Indians, who believed in the afterlife and practiced shamanic rituals. Perhaps their efforts to reconnect with the deceased are what have left portals to the hereafter still open.

Two other tribes, the Catawba and the Lenape, frequently butted heads, and had a particularly bloody battle right by Leesburg. You can imagine that the spirits of these warring warriors have been unhappily disturbed by the influx of present day tourists.

Leesburg’s colonial era is also marked by much black magic and bloodshed. Though Virginia was not as eager as Massachusetts3 to prosecute those accused of witchcraft, it too had its fair share of trials. You can be sure that the spirits of the wrongly convicted have yet to move on from the area.

Ghosts of dead soldiers are also believed to be a chief source of Leesburg’s paranormal activity. In fact, the famous Civil War Battle, the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, occurred right by the Carlheim estate. It is said that the Paxton house is haunted by traumatized troops who may have sought refuge at the building.

Sketch of the Battle of Ball's Bluff (October 21 1861.)
Sketch of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff (October 21 1861.)

Image Source: This Week in the Civil War 

Paxton Manor History & Construction

Paxton Manor, first known as Carlheim Manor, was conceived by a wealthy industrialist from Pennsylvania, named Charles R. Paxton. In 1869, Paxton moved into Leesburg with his wife, Rachel, and purchased 765 acres of land. His property’s massive extent afforded a home of extreme size as well, and so in 1872, it was certainly a lavish structure which architect Henry C. Dudley delivered4.

Dudley’s interlaced dark brown sandstone with pinkish ones to create a two and a half story main house that mimicked the look of Italian villas. His approach to exterior details was restrained and simple, but he gave the inside of the house much more attention. Dudley installed beautiful marble mantels, a massive central staircase, elaborate panel work… even a central heating system. For Rachel Paxton, this comfortable 20,000 square foot home was the ideal setting to host lavish parties and raise her only child, Margaret.

The Carlheim estate, in the days of the Paxtons.
The Carlheim estate, in the days of the Paxtons.

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Paxton Manner Deaths & Current Usage

Unfortunately, Rachel would outlive both her daughter and husband. Charles passed away in 1899; Margaret, just one year later. Rachel devoted the rest of her life to helping needy children and wanted her efforts to continue after her death. The Margaret Paxton Memorial for Convalescent Children was thus created in 1921, and the Carlheim estate transformed into an orphanage and then a childcare center.

Today, it is known asPaxton Campus5, a place that provides convalescent children with shelter and schooling, and underprivileged families support and medical care. In fact, all proceeds from Shocktober go to the non-profit organization. This seems more than befitting; when psychic Sherry Sherry was brought in to investigate a series of odd occurrences in Paxton Manor6, she attributed them to the ghosts of previous orphans and even Rachel Paxton herself.

But the house also has more formidable forces residing within (and under) it. The theme behind Shocktober’s nights of theatrics last year, for instance, was based on the legend of Jedidiah Carver, a man who lived at Paxton Manor and was exiled from Leesburg after being found guilty of mutilating animals.

Some say that rather than leave the property, he and his family secretly relocated to the massive underground lake that lies beneath it. Visitors who descend into this “Well of Souls”7 from the house’s basement have a maze of dark caves to explore and plenty of terrifying Shocktober creations to run into:

“Specific characters in the house include Shiner Carver, a bartender that blew up half of his face with a moonshine still, and Doctor Stitch, who experiments with animals and has half a pig’s face.”8

Who knows what you'll find lurking in the dark "Well of Souls"?
Who knows what you’ll find lurking in the dark “Well of Souls”?

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Supernatural Activity

To be sure, evil forces lurking in Paxton Manor are not just the handiwork of Shocktober producers. Several squads of paranormal investigators have been invited to the house to analyze and experience its real supernatural activity, and none have left disappointed. During the Antietam Paranormal Society’s 2012 visit, for example, an eerie voice appears to answer a team member’s question9 (“Is there anyone still here with us?”) with “Help… me…”

In fact, during the initial stages of Shocktober, mysterious occurrences (scissors disappearing, volunteers being unexplainably pushed, etc.) hampered progress; psychic Sherry Sherry was thus asked by producer John Lombardi to diagnose their source.

Sherry said she was picking up on energy left by visiting spirits. They are traces that are left behind that are perpetuated through visitation,” she said. ‘When spirits like a place, they’ll come back regularly. Similar to the way we might visit the same grocery store,’ she said.”10

So whether it is a recreation of Paxton’s disturbing past, or an actual remnant of its tainted history, visitors have scares aplenty to enjoy. From Paxton Manor and its haunted Well of Souls, to Shocktober’s spooky Funhouse and hair-raising Last Ride, you have a wealth of staged and real horrors to experience.

Shocktober's "Autopsy Doc."
Shocktober’s “Autopsy Doc.”

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Works Cited

  1. Shocktober. The Arc of Loudoun, 2012. Web. 3 August 2015.
  2. Kosin, Leah M. “Paxton Manor Prepares for Halloween.” Leesburg Patch. 20 September 2011. Web. 3 August 2015.
  3. Witkowski, Monica C. “Witchcraft in Colonial Virginia.”Encyclopedia Virginia. Last modified 30 May 2014. Web. 29 July 2015.
  1. “Carlheim.”National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form. The United States Department of the Interior National Park Service. 28 December 1979. Web. 3 August 2015.
  2. Paxton Campus. Paxton Campus, 2015. Web. 4 August 2015.
  3. Gibson, Caitlin. “Paxton Manor in Leesburg turned into haunted house for Halloween.” The Washington Post. 31 October 2010. Web. 3 August 2015.
  4. “The Well of Souls.” The Well of Souls. The Well of Souls. Web. 3 August. 2015.
  5. Stancik, Mike. “Shocktober In Full Swing At Paxton Manor.” Leesburg Today. 2014 October 17. Web. 3 August 2015. Para. 6.
  6. Antietam Paranormal Society. “APS Paxton Manor ~ 1/14/2012 ~ “Help… Me.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 16 February 2012. Web. 4 August 2015.
  7. Gibson, Caitlin. “Paxton Manor in Leesburg turned into haunted house for Halloween.” The Washington Post. 31 October 2010. Web. 3 August 2015. Para. 10.