With a rich, longstanding history, Williamsburg and the surrounding areas are home to Revolutionary and Civil War battlegrounds, ancient settlements and forgotten tragedies.
But as time marches on, a lot of things have been left behind. Roads are built over battlegrounds, homes are constructed over settlements and memories fade. Yet, every now and then, folks have caught chilling glimpses of people and things from a different time.
From haunted houses, wandering spirits, swamp monsters and phantom lights, Williamsburg and its surrounding areas are no stranger to the paranormal. In light of Halloween and the spookiest season of the year, here are a few of our local, obscure, infamously supernatural, unexplainable stories.
King William’s Ghastly Phantom Lights along Cohoke Tracks
Along a strip of railroad tracks located along Mount Cohoke Road in King William, just within West Point’s town limits, teenagers have ventured onto the tracks to catch a glimpse of the county’s longstanding mystery.
On certain nights, when everything is still and the only sounds heard are of gravel crunching under feet and the lonesome call of a whip-poor-will, the ghost light can be seen traveling down the line.
For decades, dozens of people have come forward sharing their own sightings of the light.
West Point Historical Society President Edwin Malechek said, in previous reporting, he had seen the light on as a teenager in the summer of 1960.
Heading out to the tracks with a group of friends, Malechek said he saw the light in the distance, swaying back and forth as it moved.
“Those who claim to have seen it, including reliable and sober witnesses, are often willing to accept as supernatural a phenomenon that seems to have no scientific explanation,” Palmer stated in a chapter dedicated to the railroad.
While no one is for sure the reason the apparition appears, many have theories.
Some claim the ghostly light is from a lantern carried by the spirit of a trainman who was decapitated in an accident. As a result, he is doomed to walk the railway line, with his ghostly lantern, searching for his missing head.
While some hold onto this theory, others share a more sinister story.
The theory is that on a cold night, sometime in the 1860s, Union soldiers ambushed a train car carrying wounded Confederate soldiers from Richmond. Everyone onboard died on the Cohoke tracks. The soldiers are said to roam the tracks, searching for the people who killed them.
But there have also been instances of trains derailing and people getting hit, which Palmer details in his book.
In the 1880s, inclement weather and poor railway construction led to a train derailing near the West Point Country Club killing and injuring several onboard.
“The raging torrent dislodged the trestle that crossed the spillway and swept it into the swamp,” Palmer stated in his book. “Halfway across the dam, the train ran out of rails. The locomotive, followed by the tender and seven cars, drove into the muddy abyss.”
Whether it is a phantom light carried by someone long dead or merely swamp gas, folks across the region still claim to see the light every now and then.
New Kent’s Chickahominy Swamp Monster
From the Chesapeake’s own Loch Ness Monster, Chessie, to West Virginia’s Mothman, to North Carolina’s Frogman, mysterious cryptids have been spotted all across America.
While some point to prehistoric creatures who managed to survive, government experiments gone awry or simply group hysteria, folks are no stranger to their existence and continue to marvel in their mysteries.
New Kent County is no stranger to this phenomenon. Holding close to its own cryptid, old newspaper archives reveal stories from the early 1900s of a serpent-like monster that called the Chickahominy Swamp its home.
“In the early part of the 18th century, a lot of people were traveling back and forth from New Kent and Richmond,” New Kent Historical Society Secretary Scott McPhail said. “Because of where New Kent is situated, it’s more rural, there’s a lot of woods and swampland, it became a hub for sightings and it sort of got blamed for them.”
In a 1904 Richmond-Times Dispatch article, the edition outlines the strange encounter of one New Kent woman, known as Mrs. Woodson, with New Kent’s Chickahominy Swamp Monster.
While tending to her land near the swamp, Woodson said she heard a noise similar to that of a bleating lamb. Fearing that a lamb had ventured into the swamp and had gotten itself stuck, she went to retrieve it.
But what she witnessed was not a lamb. Instead, just a few yards from her, she saw a creature coming toward her.
Woodson described it as having a head, with ears, similar in shape and size to a sheep but the body of a large snake. She estimated it was 4-feet in length and covered in scales. As the sun reflected off of its scales, it reflected bright, iridescent colors that hurt her eyes, the article details.
Woodson ran back to her home and got other members of the family in order to kill the beast. According to the article, they tracked it to the water’s edge but it had retreated into the depths of the swamp.
“Hunger had undoubtedly forced it from its hiding place, as two rabbits and three birds had been caught by the strange beast, as portions of each were found by the huntsman,” the article details.
Ensuring the accuracy of the sighting, the article details all of the members of the family were in sound mind as they were able to maintain their farm and all of their animals through the harsh winter.
If ever traveling through New Kent and are near the Chickahominy Swamp, be careful for what might be lying in the murky water.
Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg
The Peyton Randolph House is one the oldest homes in Colonial Williamsburg, and also one of the most haunted on the East Coast, according to local ghost tour company Colonial Ghosts.
The house was built in 1715 by William Robertson and purchased by Sir John Randolph in 1721. This two-story, red-sided home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973 as the home of Peyton Randolph, the first president of the Continental Congress.
About 30 people have died in the house over the centuries, from children to adults and in a grim variety of different ways. According to the Colonial Ghosts website, a young girl fell to her death out of a second-story window. One Confederate veteran mysteriously fell ill and died in the house. Two men stayed at the house in the late 18th century, only to shoot and kill each other after an argument.
“Those are just some of the deaths that actually happened,” said Josef Kruger, operations manager and ghost tour guide for Colonial Ghosts, “and then of course there’s all the hauntings.”
There are those who have heard the sounds of knocking and of children playing coming from inside the house. The second floor of the house is where the Randolph family once slept, and this is considered to be the most haunted, with people reportedly feeling a “malicious″ presence, according to colonialghosts.com,
One of the more recent stories about the house concerns a Colonial Williamsburg security guard who was trapped in the basement.
The guard entered through the shutter doors behind the house one night with his flashlight. He was getting ready to leave back up the stairs, and then heard a terrible growl. Then felt something grab his legs and hold his feet down. He couldn’t move, and that was when the shutter doors slammed shut and his flashlight cut off.
The guard used his radio to call for help, and the story goes that he wasn’t released from this thing’s grasp until backup had pried the cellar doors open.
York County’s Crawford Road bridge
Urban legends, dark entities and a mysterious “guardian” hang over winding Crawford Road, a Yorktown passage that has been the setting of many reported sightings of paranormal activity over the years.
Jeff Santos, director of Yorktown Ghost Walks, detailed the stories of Crawford Road in his 2018 book “Ghosts of Yorktown Virginia.” Santos wrote that the focal point of the activity is centered around a small bridge that passes over Crawford Road.
“That’s where people report the most activity,” Santos said in a phone interview, such as cars malfunctioning as they pass under the bridge after dark, or the sounds of soldiers marching. “They say that something always happens around the bridge.”
This overpass is said to be where a lonely, betrayed bride hung herself a long time ago. The urban legend states that if you park your car under the bridge at night with the engine off, you will hear the sound of something hitting the top of your car. This would be the feet of the bride, and an another echo of her last, painful moments on this earth.
Then there’s the “dark entity” that stalks Crawford Road, which is reportedly described as a “dark mass with glowing red eyes” that instills dreadful fear in witnesses. The entity could have been manifested from the murders that have occurred in the dense woods that swallow the road, or from the bloodshed of so many killed in war, Santos wrote.
But it could be something else entirely, as Santos discovered during one Crawford Road excursion with fellow members of Virginia Paranormal Investigations.
There was a woman in the group who was a medium, and she saw a tall, dark figure near the intersection of Tower Road that night.
“She went into detail about the figure, explaining how it was not something that ever walked the face of the earth in human form,” he wrote. “She described this dark figure as a guardian that was keeping other spirits trapped there.”
After that night, Santos continued to investigate and conduct interviews around Crawford Road for the next few months. Some people said they saw a hanging woman, others described a dark figure. All of these stories were typical for Santos by this point.
But then one of them said the word “guardian.” According to Santos, the person he interviewed explained how a tall, dark guardian watches over the area.
This guardian mostly appears near the Tower Road intersection — the same place where the medium saw a tall, dark guardian months before.
“I have to say, receiving these two similar reports, from two completely unrelated people, definitely sent a chill down my spine,” Santos wrote.
A region’s paranormal underbelly
As the nights grow colder and the leaves begin to change, folks have shared stories of ghosts, apparitions and monsters around campfires, among friends and to anyone willing to listen.
From as early as the colonies, the supernatural and the paranormal have fascinated, leaving us with questions unanswered. Carrying on our past traditions, there is one thing we know for certain: these stories will remain passed down from generations, keeping memories of people long-dead alive until the end of time.
The sound of footsteps down a hall, a soft glow in a sea of darkness, a faint whisper in someone’s ear, an attempt to explain the unexplainable: As the tradition continues, who knows, you might find yourself in someone else’s ghost story one day.