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First Person Friday: Paracon and the Haunted Exchange Hotel Museum

This is a guest post by author Pamela K. Kinney, whose newest book is Haunted Richmond II. She submitted it a while ago, and there was supposed to be pictures, but my email system kept screwing up and not allowing me to retrieve them. I decided to just go ahead and post as-is for First Person Friday today, since Pamela took her time to put this together. Didn’t want it to go to waste!

Back on the last Saturday in September, I was a writer guest for Paracon, a one-day paranormal conference held at the Exchange Hotel Museum in Gordonsville, Virginia. The hotel, now known as the Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel, was so named because the word “exchange” meant exactly that—you were changing trains.

The trains had to refuel with wood for the fireboxes and water, so they’d stop in towns like Gordonsville. In its heyday, The Exchange Hotel was like an upscale Radisson; at the higher end as far as hotels are concerned.

Approximately 150 people used the hotel’s facilities daily, some staying overnight in one of eight private guest rooms. Unattached gentlemen would spend the night in the Tavern Room, while rooms upstairs were strictly for ladies, couples and families. Rooms were not shared, as they were in Colonial times. When you got to your room, it was yours, but there was a price to pay–$1.25 per night—which was a lot of money in those days.

At one point, as the Civil War loomed, the Exchange Hotel was chosen as the site for a Civil War hospital because it was the northern most hospital and located at a prime juncture for north-southbound trains. The Confederate government “leased” the hotel and 125 acres of farmland to accommodate 111 different structures—from 14’ x 14’ hospital tents to ward buildings measuring 120’ long and 24’ wide.

On the ghostly level, reports from former staff members include stories of employees who refused to stay in the building after dark and who wouldn’t go into the summer kitchen building at all. One former staff member said there were about 80 recorded incidents since 1989 and while he personally never saw anything he did hear things, like doors closing or something heavy, like a chest or trunk, going across the floor and then it’s dropped.

Guests have heard that as well and the hotel has a number of cold spots. While staff has been trying to figure out who is the spirit or spirits responsible for the ghostly goings on, one said he was fairly certain one of them is Anna, the cook. There are diary entries indicating that an African-American woman named Anna was connected to Margaret (Meg) Crank, the second wife of the hotel owner. Although it is not certain whether she was freeborn, there is evidence she grew up as Meg’s best friend. Meg brought her to the hotel to run the summer kitchen. The diary entries describe her as having moderate complexion, 4’11 with an irascible nature and ungovernable temper.

“Anna the cook has been seen and recorded,” said Christopher Stephens, HGI Vice President. “When asked ‘What are you cooking Anna?’ a voice on the recording replied, “I cook fried chicken.”

A few years ago three women visitors came upon a gentleman sitting on the edge of the hospital cot. They carried on a 15-minute conversation before returning downstairs. They thanked the bookstore operator and said the re-enactor was quite helpful.

The bookstore operator said, “There is no one else here but me.”

They all went directly upstairs to find the gentleman missing.

Revenants from the Civil War: many people have caught the nurses, dressed in black, climbing the stairs and going room to room. Some of the ghostly guests are less than cordial. One who can be found above the room where Anna cooked, is a “not so nice” gentleman named Major Quartermaster Richards. He killed his wife when he caught her in an affair with the army surgeon and buried her in the woods, hanging himself afterwards. It is suspected it was he who pinned the museum’s president twice against the wall and pushed someone else down the stairs. He has also assaulted a couple of investigators when provoked, too.

A fourteen-year old boy and a girl named Emma also haunted the place. Wet tracks of a foot of what appeared to be a nine-year old child was found as they were mopping the wood floor before our Christmas opening. She was also captured in a photo of her looking out the valance of the second floor door, plus recorded laughing and singing.

My husband Bill and I got up early and an hour before the event opened at 10 a.m. We found the museum, as we crossed over tracks that ran before it. These tracks as we found out later, have coal trains roaring across them—most times empty—as they headed west towards West Virginia. I wondered how many EVPs done at the museum during investigations gotten ruined by these trains as they do not just day, but night too.

The museum person, Angel, I was to contact hadn’t gotten there yet, but I did get inside the place and got to check it out, snapping pictures as I did so. I did have a small personal experience. There was a room on the second floor. Now in another room across the hall form it was dark, and when you snapped a picture, you heard a click. This came from a night-vision camera hung near the ceiling. But the other room was not dark and I wasn’t taking photos at the time, when I heard the first click. It sounded like it came from a wooden chair across the room. I crossed the room to look at it. When I walked away, it made the sound again. Like someone sitting down on it! Later when I talk to those who worked in the place, I found that sounds like that would be the norm in that room—with no reason why.

Angel got to the museum and told me I had a table set up for me between a paranormal group and a dealer that would be to my left. Bill and I set up the books, brought out the cash box and Bill finally got the square reader on his Smartphone up and running for credit sales.

The daytime was spent selling and signing books, visiting the others, buying lunch from some ladies (the barbecue was delicious), meeting another author selling there, and speaking about ghosts of Virginia in the train depot by the hotel around 1:30 p.m. They even had a psychic there to do readings and the money she charged went to the museum.

By 6 p.m., the conference was done. It had been a long, busy day with the public checking out the hotel and us. Angel was going to let me do the paranormal investigation as her guest and since this would happen at 8 pm., Bill got directions from the chief of police (who happened to be on staff for the museum) and we went to eat at Subway. At about 7:30, we came back and parked. I grabbed my bag of equipment and slung my camera around my neck. I’d discovered that normally they had a paranormal investigation for the public on Fridays and Saturdays always belonged to the paranormal teams. But for Paracon, it looked to be mainly the public.

It wasn’t exactly 8 p.m., but maybe ten minutes later when the door opened and the people who had prepaid and I filed indoors. We got separated into teams of six or seven, each led by staff of the museum. Our team chose the hotel and the third floor. WE went to each room, recording and doing EVP sessions, taking photographs too. At one point, my camera’s new batteries died and I stopped to replace them. A young woman with a man took a picture of me doing so. She said she felt pretty sure she caught a face looking down on me, but the man and she left early, so I never got her email to let me know for sure. Another time, another member of the team and I sat out in the hallway of the second floor while the rest and the staff person went into a room to do an EVP session. At one point, our eyes on the room across the hall, just at the base of the stairs that head up to the third floor, we heard what sounded like a step leaving the room and stop at the bottom of the stairs. We just looked at each other.

After the hotel, our team did the train depot and also the second floor above the outdoor kitchen. In the depot everyone heard footsteps a couple of times and I thought I caught sight of a darkened shadow behind the staff member. Nothing appeared to happen in the kitchen building. I still haven’t listened to my recordings yet, so can’t report on that.

When it reached 1: 30 a.m., dead-tired (no pun intended), Bill and I drove home.

Is the Exchange haunted? Is it worthy of the title of as 15th on the top 100 most haunted places in America by the History Channel and A&E in 1993? There had been some personal experiences for me and some odd photos I took. I still need to listen to the EVPs.

That night didn’t jump as could be expected from a building making one of the top 100 haunted places. But I did learn they have been doing the public investigations on Friday and paranormal groups on Saturday for all summer and booked through December. Maybe the spirits are just tired of all the living asking “how they feel” and “What’s your name?” After all, wouldn’t you be tired if relatives kept visiting you all the time? I’ve noticed that with many “haunted” spots these days. Maybe the dead are tired of being “haunted” by the living.

 

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