Are you ready for an eerie-sistible Halloween in Alexandria? To kick off this spook-tacular week, today’s post is brought to you by Wellington Watts, owner and veteran tour guide of Alexandria Colonial Tours, perhaps best known for his Ghost and Graveyard Tour through haunted Old Town. Discover the story of Alexandria’s most famous ghost below…
Image credit: Wikipedia
In September 1816, a young couple arrived by boat from the Caribbean to the port in Old Town Alexandria. They docked off of Prince Street, where the man hired a carriage to transport them to Gadsby’s Tavern, or what was then known as the City Hotel, the center of social life in early Alexandria since the 1780s, when Royal Street was part of the country’s first national highway.
According to legend, the young couple was, in appearance at least, well-heeled, and the woman was very beautiful. But she was also very ill. Her husband took room number 8 at Gadsby’s and carried her in. He jarred the door behind them, and as he did so, the number 8 slid sideways—the symbol for infinity.
Image credit: MetMuseum.org
Frantic with worry, the man called for a doctor and two nurses. When they arrived to see the patient, however, the man refused to give his name or his companion’s to the attendants or to Mr. Gadsby, the owner of the hotel.
Soon rumors were flying around Old Town about the woman’s identity, and they continue to this day. Some say she was the daughter of Aaron Burr, a famous but none-too-popular politician of his day whose daughter Theodosia was presumed dead, having been lost at sea years earlier, but there were whispers that Theodosia had run away with a lover and her earlier disappearance was a cover-up. Others speculated that she was the daughter of an English lord eloping with her lover, a commoner. Some people even believe that she was Napoleon Bonaparte in disguise!
Image credit: Flickr user Alan Studt
Whatever her identity, the woman languished in pain for three weeks, succumbing to her illness on October 14, 1816. Just before she died, her husband asked Mr. Gadsby and those attending her to come to her bedside. Her fate was inevitable, so the couple asked those gathered to swear an oath. In that oath, they swore they would never reveal the identity of either the man or the woman.
The woman was buried at St. Paul’s Cemetery, just south of Duke Street. Her husband paid for the elaborate tabletop tombstone and the inscription of the long, melancholy love letter inscribed upon the stone. The epitaph begins, “To the Memory of a Female Stranger…”
Image credit: Flickr user James Carter
This is where the story gets even more peculiar. Immediately after the woman’s death, the man traveling with her left town without paying for any of the expenses they had incurred, including the room at Gadsby’s, the medical care his wife received, and the burial and funeral.
Alexandrians were furious. But the man had been quite clever: the only people who knew his identity, or that of the Female Stranger, had sworn an oath that they would keep their identities secret. Thus his debts would go unpaid, and the mystery lives on today.
Image credit: Flickr user Tony
Some people even say that the female stranger also “lives on” at Gadsby’s as a ghost, haunting its halls and rooms. Just a few years ago a young student came home from college and took a summer job as a server at Gadsby’s. On her first night working at the restaurant, she went to the kitchen to pick up her customers’ meals. She positioned the plates on her arms, turned around, and the Female Stranger was staring her in the face. She spoke to the girl and vanished. Terrified, the server screamed, dropped the plates and fled the restaurant.
Other people say they’ve seen the Female Stranger at Gadsby’s in room number 8 and at parties in the ballroom. But does she really haunt the building? You’ll have to take the Ghost and Graveyard Tour to decide for yourself.
Thanks, Wellington! If you’d like to learn more about the legend of the Female Stranger—and chance a ghostly run-in—check out the Ghost and Graveyard Tour. You can also celebrate Alexandria’s haunted history with Port City Brewing Company’s newest beer, the Long Black Veil, a limited-release black India Pale Ale inspired by the tale of the Female Stranger. For now, you can stop by the brewery to get a growler filled with the dark, (s)creamy brew!
Find more ways to celebrate Halloween in Alexandria here.
Header image via Flickr user James Carter