The Ghosts of Woodlawn Plantation
Today, Woodlawn Plantation sits on 126-acres of land and is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Before it became a National Historic landmark, the massive plantation, a gift from George Washington to his nephew Major Lawrence Lewis. It’s said to have been a wedding present to Lewis and his wife Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter. The ghosts of Woodlawn Plantation add to the history and mystery.
Today, ghosts reside at the plantation. There are tales of many different sightings, even of Washington himself. But even more frightening than the strange orbs and glowing figures is the “Well of Souls” in the basement of the plantation, which many have tied directly to some of the disturbing occurrences inside one of Alexandria’s most haunted places.
Woodlawn Plantation’s History
Woodlawn Plantation was originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon was estimated to be about 8,000 total acres. Washington had the main house designed by the same architect who designed the U.S Capitol, Dr. William Thornton. The Federal-style house was constructed between 1800 and 1805 and sat on 2,000 acres. The abundant land required a large number of workers, which included black slaves.
The plantation stayed in the Lewis family until Lawrence and Nelly’s son sold it in 1846. It was then the Woodlawn became a “free labor colony.” The freed slaves and other farmers were allowed to own portions of the land.
In the 20th century, after some renovations to spruce the place up, Woodlawn became the property of the National Trust. Now, people can enjoy private tours of the estate and attend events there. But, there are more than living people attending the festivities at this plantation with a rich history.
George Washington’s Ghost
One ghost that some believe is roaming the halls of the plantation is none other than that of the president himself, George Washington. Washington died before the plantation was built, so he never actually set foot inside, while he was living, anyway.
Julie McElhaney’s book, “Ghost Stories of Woodlawn Plantation,” covers some of the tales of Washington’s possible presence in the old plantation, as well as other haunting tales of the home and property. Witnesses have claimed to see Washington on the property, riding on his white horse, always on moonlit nights. He circles the house and rides up and down the drive on a horse that is see-through. It’s believed that when construction started, he would visit the plantation in this way, so now he may still be checking up on things after death.
The book also tells the story of a time when a photo taken of a chair in the plantation came complete with the image of Washington’s foot dressed in a buckled shoe. Was he relaxing after a long night of riding around the house?
George Washington’s Mount Vernon is also home to many ghosts, including Washington himself. It makes another wonderful tourist attraction for those looking to experience the paranormal. Washington died in his Mount Vernon home, and people have experienced his ghosts in the bedroom in which he breathed his final breath.
The Other Ghosts of Woodlawn Plantation
While Washington’s ghost may be a prominent figure in the haunting of this vast plantation, he’s not the only one hanging around. A previous owner, John Mason, is believed to haunt the home. Mason had a wooden leg, and thumping often heard going up and down the stairs in the house is thought to be caused by him.
Some rooms in the house appear to be more haunted than others or are at least hubs of increased paranormal activity. The Lorenzo room is one of the rooms pinpointed when looking at hauntings at Woodlawn. In this room, an upstairs bedroom in the home, the antique armoire has a door that opens on its own. People have also experienced being tapped on the shoulder in this room, as well as hearing strange noises.
The Lafayette Room, another upstairs bedroom, has even more activity. Before the home had electricity, the candles used for lighting would mysteriously relight after being put out. Not only have furniture items been mysteriously moved around in this room, but a child was also moved from their crib to the top of a dresser after the mom put them to bed in the crib. People have also reported having trouble breathing when spending time in this room. It’s evident to former homeowners and visitors that there’s definitely a ghost in the Lafayette room, as a figure has been seen standing in the window even when no one is home.
The master bedroom on the main floor isn’t lacking in spectral mysteries either. Cold spots and rushes of cold air are common. Throughout the home, other strange phenomena have been experienced. Pets don’t like to go into the center hall of the residence, and people have caught glimpses of mysterious shadows and figures moving along the staircase in this hall. Animal spirits have been reported in this area as well. From an owner with a multitude of cats to dog lovers, all sorts of pets have lived within the walls of Woodlawn, and some may have stuck around after passing on.
Ghostly figures in old-fashioned clothing have been seen throughout the home in the night, floating about and waking people up. There have been reports of footsteps, banging noises, whispering voices, music coming from nowhere, doors slamming, items crashing off of shelves, doors locking themselves, and even pictures falling from the walls.
Along with all of those signs of ghosts, many people have found orbs in photos taken within the plantation. While orbs are often disputed as dust and bugs, some people see them as definitive proof of ghosts. Another proof of ghosts roaming the rooms and halls of Woodlawn that is commonly experienced at the plantation are cold spots or cold columns. Visitors have experienced cold drops in the home, temps going from normal to freezing, and then back to normal again. Ghost hunters say this happens when ghosts are drawing energy from the atmosphere, much the same as camera batteries draining immediately when ghosts use that energy to make their presence known.
The Well of Souls
Of all of the strange happenings in Woodlawn, the most frightening story may be that of the “Well of Souls.” In the basement of the south side of the home there is a well. According to Michael Lee Pope’s “Ghost of Alexandria,” this well may be the gateway for the spirits in the home. It’s common for homes built atop of wells to end up haunted, as the open holes into the ground are thought of as portals to the paranormal.
The book describes the reason for the phenomenon as being connected to the water. Wells dug deep into the earth connect to natural underwater streams, which are believed to have a metaphysical connection to the spirit world. Perhaps this flow of water connects the well to natural ley lines in the earth as well. Most often, prior to the invention of plumbing, wells were built in well houses or outdoors, possibly because people knew that weird stuff happened in homes with wells inside them.
In “Ghosts of Alexandria,” Pope explains that while the lid is open on the well, it leaves an opening for spirits to enter the home. When the lid is closed on the well, paranormal events seem to get even harrier. It’s believed that the closed well frustrates the spirits because it keeps them from passing back and forth to the spiritual realm. When the lid is closed and someone places items on it, those things end up crashing to the floor or being tossed across the room by invisible forces. The book goes on to mention that the well was left open in later years, and then a piece of Plexiglas was placed over the open top to leave it visible to tourists. Whether or not the Plexiglas cover makes it easier for the ghosts to continue coming in and out, it hasn’t done anything to cut down on sightings and strange events.
If you’re on the lookout for a spooky place to visit, where there’s a good chance you’ll experience something paranormal, Woodlawn Plantation should be on your itinerary. You may not get to see George Washington riding his ghost steed around the grounds, but you can check out the spooky well, and you’ll surely feel something off as you enjoy a tour of this extremely haunted house.