Pamela K. Kinney,
Haunted Richmond
(Schiffer, 2007)

Patricia Kinney lives in Virginia and often writes about the paranormal under a pen name, Sapphire Phelan. For this book she did a lot of research, though one suspects it was pretty pleasant research, through the literal "haunts" of Richmond.

It's no surprise that old mansions house more than history; the tales of ghostly appearances are rife in many old houses but even moreso in the homes of the antebellum South where one group of people oppressed and tormented another, where wars were fought, soldiers were quartered and slaves were often instructed to hide the family silver along with the family secrets. The ghosts of Richmond made their way to the highest homes in the land, including the Governor's Mansion, orginally constructed in Richmond in 1813. By 1890 the mansion had acquired a ghost, a lady who appeared in an upstairs bedroom. Her footsteps have been reported by a security officer and various servants, who related hearing "the sounds of her taffeta dress rustling along." Sometimes doors would slam upstairs. During Hurricane Agnes in 1972, when the city lay shrouded in an electrical black-out, a dim light burned all night in the ladies stairwell of the Governor's Mansion.

Kinney, sometimes accompanied by her husband, has investigated unearthly sights and sounds at the Castle Thunder Prison, where a photograph, included in the book, revealed a strange pattern of windows. She visited historic Berkeley Plantation, birthplace of William Henry Harrison. The mansion contains a "balky bedroom window" said to be the cause of death of two young girls, who came to try to help their father, Benjamin Harrison IV, unstick the window and were struck and killed by lightning. Harrison himself nearly died but was saved by a doctor's care, and lated sired the ninth President of the United States. Rattling noises and footsteps are features cited by those who believe Berkeley is still visited by the girls who died that stormy night in 1744.

Another tragic story involves a mysterious prophecy. One day before her 16th birthday, Nancy Green heard a voice chanting that "You'll die before you are sixteen." Despite trepidations, she went with relatives to a play that evening at Richmond Theater. The theater caught fire that night and indeed, Nancy was among those who tragically lost their lives.

The stories in Kinney's book range from tales of the famous people who have lived and visited in Richmond to stories of prisoners, soldiers and ordinary people caught up in tragic circumstances. Most ghosts, it seems, come back to places where they were wronged or even murdered. The Southern setting adds a dash of intrigue and romance to the notion of ghosties and ghoulies. You can take it all with a grain of salt or simply sit back and enjoy the well organized book that Kinney has put together, full of screams, dreams and things going bump and scrape in the night. I would advise a bit of both.

review by
Barbara Bamberger Scott

22 September 2007

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