Surprises around every corner

06/08/15 12:41 AM

August 5, 2015

Monday and Tuesday this week, I finally had a chance to take a breather. I love this time of year, but with the National Geographic Diggers episode, we have really seen a jump in weekly tours as well as overnight stays. It’s been keeping me as busy as one arm paper hanger.
Of course, I may have had the day off, but that doesn’t mean I am going to just lay around. I spend my time off generally going somewhere that might help me learn more about history or put me in touch with people who might enjoy coming to see us at Belle Grove.

Tuesday was no exception.

I had the opportunity to spend the day in Colonial Williamsburg. I know what you are going to say, “Were you just there on Friday?” Yes I was, but Tuesday I had the chance to visit some of the other places I enjoy in Williamsburg.

The whole idea of me being there started with a new tour we are about to open. We have tours of the mansion and grounds Wednesday to Sunday from 1pm to 4pm. But really, how many times can you come and see our beautiful antiques in this grand home?
Okay for some of you, the answer would be a couple hundred times.

But for most, once or twice is all they need. Let’s face it, our history doesn’t change. So we wanted to add some other tours that might interest people. One of the tours we are going to be adding is a Ghost Walk Tour.

Since being on SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters, we have had many people come and see us. Or at least to try and see our ghosts. Some of them are kids as young as ten. We do our Paranormal Investigations in October, but only for people over 16 years old. Our ghosts can be very interactive and we don’t want young ones growing up scare of the dark.

So we thought it would be good to have a more “family friendly” tour that talks the ghost stories of Belle Grove. Something the whole family can enjoy.

So my main focus Tuesday was to do the “Tavern Ghost Walk Tour” in Williamsburg. I have never really been on a Ghost Tour so I wanted to see how they conducted the walk and what the reaction was of the people on the walk.

When I arrived at Colonial Williamsburg, I made sure to get my ticket early. I have heard these tours tend to sell out. In talking to the young lady at the ticket window, we discussed that I was from Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of James Madison. Come to find out, not only did she know of Belle Grove, but she is familiar with the gentleman who plays James Madison from Montpelier. John Douglas Hall has been our “James Madison” from the beginning. But she was nice enough to give me a single day ticket as a courtesy; from one museum member to another.

I had not planned on spending the day in Colonial Williamsburg. Frankly a stroll down the Duke of Gloucester would have resulted in me being covered in sweat and hotter than I really wanted to be. But I did know that one of the Founding Fathers would be giving a speech at 3:45. Last Friday, I had hoped to go and see it, but I found out that Patrick Henry would be speaking.

I decided not to attend. What can I say? I am “Team Madison”.

But I thought I would ask who would be speaking today. When she informed me that Thomas Jefferson would be speaking, I think I lost my breath for a moment! The gentleman that plays Thomas Jefferson, Bill Barker, is the embodiment of Jefferson. I have long wanted to meet him. He is also a friend of John Douglas Hall. John and I have spoken of him many times. It is our hope to get him and John to Belle Grove one day. So heat or no heat, I would be attending this one!

In need to lunch and a place to stay cool, I headed down Richmond Road and grabbed a bite to eat at Kyotos. There I met a wonderful family from Washington DC. One of the two boys, around 9 or 10, spent most of the time questioning me on Belle Grove and our ghosts. But there were a series of questions that I think his mother would have preferred he not ask. In fact, at the last question, I think she would have preferred to slide right under the table.

After several questions about Belle Grove, this young gentleman asked me, “Is your husband as old as you?” I laughed a bit, knowing what he meant. Mom just said that we don’t ask questions like that. I told her that it was okay and said, “Let’s think of a better way to ask that. Let’s say, is your husband an adult like you.” Mom agreed and I answered yes. Then he asked, “How old are you?” Mom quickly said don’t ask that. He looked back at me and I said, “Well, you really shouldn’t ask a lady her age. Most women don’t like saying how old they are. But I am okay with tell you. I am proud of the years I have lived and proud of each of the ones I have earned. I will be 50 years old in January.”

The young gentleman said, “Oh wow!” Mom started to slide under the table. I just laughed.

My next stop was to Williamsburg Antique Mall. A great place to waste time and stay cool. There were so many things I could have used. But no worries Brett, I left my credit card in the car.

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Before I knew it, 3:45 approached. I parked in the tavern parking and sat for about 20 minutes trying to freeze myself out of the car. I just thought, “If I can get cold enough, maybe, just maybe it will last me for some of the time I am sitting at the presentation.
As I walked over to the stage area, my theory was disproven. I was hot and started to sweat by the time I got a seat. At least it was close and in the shade.

Shortly after, Mr. Jefferson appeared.


It was a wonderful speech. He was everything I had imaged and then some. I could see why people look to him as a historic performer of Thomas Jefferson.

During his speech, he even made a “little” joke about Madison. Poor James, people always recalling his height instead of the “heights” he brought America to.

Afterwards, I met Mr. Jefferson. I gave him a message from John Douglas Hall (James Madison) and wished him “hello” and that we hoped he would consider a visit to our plantation. I gave him one of our new brochures and left him to the crowd.

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After a quiet dinner at a local Italian restaurant and a chance to cool off again, I headed back to Shields Tavern for my Ghost Tour. I was surprise to see the young guide dressed in modern clothing. I was expecting someone in period dress. But she told me that the tales we were going to talk about were modern so they decided to dress for the times.

So what do you think? When we do our Ghost Tours, would you like to see us in 18th century clothes or modern clothes? The tales we would be sharing would be that of our time so do we dress as we do today?

During the tour we stopped at five locations and heard five stories. At the Kings Arm Tavern, we hear a tale of a lady ghost that requires respect and common courtesy. The story is if you cross her, she lets you know by pushing or tripping you.

But the best part was when we walked up to the front. As the guide started talking, my eyes were drawn to a window on the second floor. Standing in front facing it, it would be the second from the left side of the building. I looked up and there staring back at me was an African-American woman. I could make out her face, her neckerchief and her mop cap. I wasn’t sure I was seeing her as she was leaning to the right, watching out the window.

So I looked away.

Then I looked back.

She was still there.

When the guide said that the ghost lady’s room was on the second floor, I thought maybe this has something to do with her. So when she finished, I asked her which window was the ghost lady’s window. She told me the one on the end. I just shake my head and smiled. We moved on.

Just as we were walking to the last stop, another tourist came up to me and said, “You saw something didn’t you.” I smiled and said yes. It gave her a thrill.

After the tour, when everyone else was gone, I walked back to Shields Tavern with the guide. We discussed what I saw. She told me that others have seen a man, but this was the first time they had heard about an African-American lady. I told her that I didn’t know about others, just what I saw.
I head to the car and started on my way back to Belle Grove Plantation.

All I could think was, “What are the odds that you see a real ghost on a ghost tour? And what’s more, on your first Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Tour.” I don’t know the odds, but it was really a great way to end my trip.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Diary | Comments Off on Surprises around every corner

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