The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum

Posted on August 15, 2017

3. THE EXCHANGE HOTEL CIVIL WAR MEDICAL MUSEUM – GORDONSVILLE, VIRGINIA

Varied functions affords the property to have an eclectic roster of restless ghosts.

The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum, today.
The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum, today.

Image Source: Piedmontsub.com

The United States got its first railways during the early 1800s, and train travel has come a long way since then. At first, trains were just used to shuttle commodities, but by the 1830s, they saw their first human passengers.

The first train “cars” were actually more like carriages, “coupled together with chains or chain-links.”1 Though rides were short, they were extremely hazardous. In 1831, passenger trains looked like the one sketched below.

The earliest rail cars were merely mounted carriages.
The earliest rail cars were merely mounted carriages.

Image Source: The Transcontinental Railroad

The first real rectangular cars, installed in 1834, were extremely crude. As a result, rides continued to be uncomfortable, unreliable, and pretty dangerous. Traffic control was limited, so frequent wrecks and crashes were not unexpected. And forget cushioned seats, air conditioning and food – passengers had to sit on hard wooden benches, endure the heat during hot summers, and gobble meals down quickly in station cafeterias.

By the time of the Civil War (1861-1865), things had somewhat improved, at least when it came to avoiding collisions. Schedules ran smoother thanks to the invention of the electric telegraph – traffic controllers used it to communicate with one another. The wealthy in particular began to enjoy more pleasant rides – the idea of segregating cabins by class had been introduced in the 1840s. But for everyone else, trains were still a miserable means of travel. Thus, in major railroad towns, little hospitality establishments known as exchange hotels began to spring up. They catered to weary passengers, who needed somewhere to stay while they waited for their trains to be refueled. One of the most important and famous exchange hotels is located in Gordonsville, Virginia. Today, it is known as The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum. Just from its title, one can see the variation in its history. From 1860 to 1862, it served travelers in desperate need of a warm meal and a good night’s sleep. From 1862 until the end of the Civil War, it was where Union and Confederate soldiers were treated for battle wounds, or perished because of them. During the Reconstruction Period, it was turned into a healthcare and educational compound for freed slaves. It then resumed its original function for awhile, until it became a complex for private homes in the 1940s. Finally, in 1971, it was acquired by Historic Gordonsville, Inc., which transformed it to what it is today: a place where tourists go to see Civil War artifacts, learn some American history… and encounter ghosts.

Another present day shot of the museum.
Another present day shot of the museum.

Image Source: Historic Gordonsville

To understand what affords The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum to boast “80 recorded incidents”2 of ghost activity, you need to learn some more specifics of its past.

The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum stands where a tavern once operated. This lively pub was opened in the 1840s, right around the time the Gordonsville Depot was built. It served as a great watering hole for thirsty travelers, until it burned down in 1859. Perhaps the hotel’s current roster of spirits includes those who perished in that unfortunate fire.

The depot serviced two major railways, The Alexandria & Orange Railroad and The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Thus, like the hotel, it also fell in the path of many Civil War battles. No wonder it too is believed to be haunted. When Spirit Search Paranormal Investigations3 visited the abandoned station, for instance, they recorded many EVPs and photographed several eerie shadows.

Gordonsville's first depot.
Gordonsville’s first depot.

Image Source: Historic Gordonsville

After the tavern’s demise, Richard F. Omohundro, the owner of the property at the time, decided that the next best thing to open on it was a hotel. The hotel included a three story main building and an older, two story dependent structure. The establishment is believed to be the work of master architect Benjamin F. Faulconer.

For about two years, The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum drew in many travelers. Its elegant, late Greek Revival design and excellent accommodations made it a luxurious (though pricey) place for passengers to get a much needed respite along their journeys. Those who were checking in were greeted by “shady porches”4 and a well-groomed lawn. After dumping their bags in a decoratively furnished, high-ceilinged room, they could head downstairs to enjoy some good food in the hotel’s tavern.

In March 1862, hotel operations were brought to an abrupt halt. A name change captured its new function: The Gordonsville Receiving Hospital. Within just one year, over “23,000 sick and wounded”5 were brought to its doors. By the end of the Civil War, its total number of patients reached more than 70,000. Around 700 of these men would not be saved and had to “be buried on its surrounding grounds.”6 All the pain and agony experienced by soldiers taken to the hospital made it prime breeding ground for unhappy spirits.

Surgeons attending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War.
Surgeons attending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

Image Source: Mental Floss

The North would emerge from the Civil War as its victors. As a result, in January 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. Congress’s next step was to figure out what to do, where to place, these four million emancipated African-Americans. The Freedmen’s Bureau was thus established. For freed slaves, it “provided food, housing and medical aid, established schools and offered legal assistance.”7 The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum temporarily became a Freedmen’s Bureau hospital. In 2002, it was recognized as an African-American memorial site. This explains why many of the ghosts seen at the museum are African-American.

Historic Gordonsville, Inc. has been restoring and maintaining The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum since 1971. But their efforts have been disrupted on more than one occasion by paranormal activity. Strange occurrences, such as doors closing on their own and eerie orbs appearing suddenly in rooms, have led many employees to avoid night shifts at the museum. In its hotel days, guests also experienced spooky phenomena. They’ve awoken to screams and moans (perhaps of soldiers, enduring painful amputations in operation rooms), for instance. Others would encounter nurses, garbed in black, wandering the halls.

Today, one of the hotel’s most famous spirits is known as Anna, a slave and close friend of Margaret Crank, the second wife of one of the hotel’s early owners. Frequent sightings of Anna in the museum’s dependency, known as the Summer Kitchen, have made it a favorite for ghost hunters.

’Anna the cook has been seen and recorded,’ said Christopher Stephens, HGI Vice President.  ‘When she was asked ‘What are you cooking Anna?’ her response was, ‘I cook fried chicken.’”8

When NightQuest Paranormal visited the Summer Kitchen, they too might have encountered Anna. A photo9 they took from outside the side building contains what suspiciously looks like a face, though no one [living] was in the structure at the time.

An eerie face looks out from a Summer Kitchen window.
An eerie face looks out from a Summer Kitchen window.

Image Source: NightQuest Paranormal

The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum thus quickly got the attention of a team of paranormal film makers, The R.I.P. Files. In fact, their 2010 investigation10 was so successful that they took a second trip in 2014. When asked about round two, founder Patricia Marin states:

On our earlier visit, we experienced being touched by several spirits as well as cold spots, especially in the kitchen building. […] I understand that the paranormal activity has increased considerably since and we’re hoping to capture even more evidence this weekend.”11

2010 was also the year Biography Channel’s My Ghost Story featured The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum in one of its episodes. The Face in the Window12 opens with the museum’s president, Tim Burnett, and volunteers recounting some of the scary experiences they’ve had at the property: being pushed by invisible forces, hearing footsteps and loud banging, seeing shadows and strange lights, and so on. One woman had an especially frightful run-in with one of the museum’s most hostile spirits, Major Quartermaster Richards. According to local lore, Richards’ wife had been cheating on him with a surgeon. Upon discovering this betrayal, the Major took the poor woman into the woods, murdered her, then hung himself. Before taking his own life, he vowed to “hold her spirit hostage there for eternity.”13

Keen to understand (and prevent further) hauntings, HGI has welcomed many paranormal groups to the museum. The team behind Spirit Search Paranormal Investigations has become one of its go-tos. SSPI has done over 20 investigations14 at the The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum, and a lot of the evidence they have gathered – such as “EVPs and green mist photos”15 – are shown in the My Ghost Storyepisode.

One of the "unexplainable photographs" captured by SSPI.
One of the “unexplainable photographs” captured by SSPI.

Image Source: Spirit Search Paranormal Investigations

Black Raven Paranormal has also visited the museum twice. During their investigations, they encountered a “shadow person“16, as well as Emma, the ghost of a little girl who is frequently photographed at the property. Another child who haunts the museum is a little boy, who worked at the museum when it was a Civil War hospital. Apparently, he couldn’t handle to torment-filled environment – it is said that he hung himself from one of the upstairs windows.

You can of course experience scares at The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum for yourself. HGI sponsors annual ghost walks at the museum, around the Halloween season. Its Halloween Scarefest‘s17 Trail of Terror will take you through the museum, then to the Depot of Death. Along your trek, both actors and real spirits will certainly interact with you.

 

Works Cited

  1. “Rail Cars of the 19th Century.” Essays – The Transcontinental Railroad. Linda Hall Library, 2012. Web. 8 September 2015.
  2. DiMaggio, Joanne. “The Exchange Hotel: A Haunting in Gordonsville.” C-Ville. 20 October 2011. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 17.
  1. “The Old Gordonsville Railroad Depot – Gordonsville, Virginia.” Spirit Search Paranormal Investigations, n.d. Web. 8 September 2015.
  2. “Hotel Architecture.” History. The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum. HGI Exchange Hotel, 2010-2015. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 3.
  3. “Exchange Hotel.” Journey Through Hallowed Ground. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 2.
  4. “Exchange Hotel.” Journey Through Hallowed Ground. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 2.
  5. History.com Staff. “Freedmen’s Bureau.” 2010. A&E Television Networks, LLC. 2015. Web. 8 September 2015. Para 1.
  6. DiMaggio, Joanne. “The Exchange Hotel: A Haunting in Gordonsville.” C-Ville. 20 October 2011. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 19.
  7. “Exchange Hotel.” NightQuest Paranormal. 2007. NightQuest Paranormal / RIP Ghost Hunters, 2006-2015. Web. 8 September 2015.
  8. Marin, Patricia. “Trailer for ‘The R.I.P. Files: Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel’ now available.” 25 April 2010. Web. 8 September 2015.
  9. “Paranormal probe this weekend at The Exchange Hotel.” 26 June 2014. Web, 8 September 2015. Para. 4.
  10. “My Ghost Story S01E06 – The Face in the Window.” Posted by www.ParanormalDocs.Com. Video. 21 November 2014. Daily Motion, 2005-2015. Web. 8 September 2015.
  11. Virginia Paranormal Investigations. “The Exchange Hotel.” Albums. Album Description, posted on Facebook. Taken at The Exchange Hotel Civil War Museum. 13 November 2014. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 11.
  12. Fitzgerald, Brendan. “Investigators say hundreds of ghostly voices speak out in this Gordonsville hotel.” 10 August 2010. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 20.
  13. “My Ghost Story.” Spirit Search Paranormal Investigations, n.d. Web. 8 September 2015.
  14. “Investigation – Exchange Hotel.” Black Raven Paranormal & Marty Seibel, 2011. Web. 8 September 2015. Para. 4.
  15. “Halloween Scarefest 2015.” Halloween EventThe Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum. HGI Exchange Hotel, 2010-2015. Web. 8 September 2015.