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Roanoke’s Haunted Sites

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Michael Watts

Halloween is just around the dark and creepy corner and for some the term brings hauntings full of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to mind. Whether or not you believe in them, here is the scoop on haunted places in Roanoke and the surrounding area.

One such haunted place is the Grandin Theater in Grandin Village, which is not far from Roanoke College. The theater first opened for business in 1932 and became the first movie theater built for sound. The theater has been around for many years and gradually developed strange occurrences. Back in the 1950s, according to recent staff, while the theater was closed for a time, a homeless family resided in the projection booth. It is said that two of the children in the family died from cold and illness- one of which was an infant. They say, sometimes late at night if you listen closely on the stairwell, you may recognize a baby crying.

Others say that several years ago, a projection was closing the theater and happened to glance up toward the projection window and saw a face staring downward at him. In 1995, Simon Nolan, former projectionist, was about to leave for the night, had seen a boy at the top of a stairway. Assuming it was a child who didn’t leave after the film was over, Nolan followed the boy upstairs then saw that the boy walked straight through the closed doors of the nearest screening room.

Employees at the theater say they have heard sounds coming from upstairs, including the clinking of glasses or laughter. They say it almost sounds like as if there was a celebration, but they don’t know what’s being celebrated.

Another place is Avenel House in Bedford County, a town 45 minutes away from Roanoke. The house was built in 1838 by William M. Burwell and his wife, Frances Steptoe Burwell. Today, Avenel House is said to have more than one ghost wandering the grounds. “The Lady in White” is the most recognized ghost to roam the property. She is seen to be wearing a white, 1900s-style dress. Many people believe the figure is the ghost of Letitia Burwell, the oldest of the four Burwell daughters. She died in 1905 at age seventy-five.  It is said that the first sighting of The Lady in White was in 1906. Many claim to have seen her walking through the halls of the house and in the plantation gardens.

Ghost investigator, George Wills, says that he has seen her and describes her as a small woman at about 4 foot and 11 inches in height with black hair parted in the middle. She also has been seen wearing a satchel. Another occurrence includes a bed which unmakes itself and is seen to have indentions on the pillows, as if someone lied in it. Furthermore, there have been reports of slamming doors and opening windows without anybody touching them. Tiffany Mays, who oversees the plantation, has had her fair share of ghostly encounters.

“I was in a room on the computer, and in a room behind me I heard a very loud crash,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Great, what broke now?’ And when I went into the room, nothing was out of place.”

For those of you who are skeptics, you may want to take a visit to the Avenel House and then your mind might change.

“Ghosts are very, very real,” says Wills.

In a documentary he made about Avenel House called, “Portrait of a Plantation,” Wills says he captured The Lady in White in the video. For those who are curious, check out this link: www.ghostec.us/documents/investigations.html.