The Schafer House Ghosts
One of the saddest stories in the haunted history of Alexandria is the Schafer house ghosts.
North Fairfax Street in Old Town Alexandria has at least two notable haunted spots. In the picture, you see the former Braddock House Hotel once used as a hospital during the war. A few doors down is number 107, North Fairfax Street, the home of young Laura Schafer and her parents.
Although the stories vary according to exact details, the foundation and the bottom line are the same. A love story that ends in tragedy, much on the same line as Romeo and Juliette. However, a big difference from Romeo and Juliette is that Laura Schafer suffered a horrific death. On Saturday, June 29, 1868, Laura met an early and tragic death, followed by the tragic suicide of her fiancee Charles Tennesson. Even her fiancee Charles’s death was less painful and quicker.
The Lovely Laura Schafer
Christian and Susan Schafer’s youngest daughter Laura was said to be beautiful and charming and very popular in her circle of friends.
Emigrants from Germany, the Schafer’s, came to America to open a confectionery shop in Alexandria. Their family was large, having 6 children.
Laura Schafer was in love with a young man named Charles Tennesson. The two were to be married sometime after the accident, but sadly, the wedding never took place.
Cheerful Charles Tennesson
Charles Tennesson was the son of Samual Tennesson, who owned a local restaurant. He was described in several accounts of the story as always smiling and a cheerful young man. Some reports say he was a soldier. He was well-liked and respected in the community, much like his Laura. The young man was Laura’s one and only true love, and she made it clear that she wanted no other. Tennesson was Laura’s constant companion for several years.
Prenuptial Tragedy for the Bride to Be
On the night of Saturday, June 27, 1868, Christian and Susan Schafer closed up their confectioner’s shop for the evening to retire upstairs. With their daughter’s wedding the next day, they most likely bustled around in excitement, discussing and preparing for the blessed event.
Laura Schafer’s bedroom was on the third floor of her father’s house, and she had gone to get ready for bed. Her 86 year old grandmother Mary Ballenger had been in the room with her. After getting ready for bed, she went to retrieve a handkerchief from the drawer of her father’s large bureau. His room was across the hall from her room.
When Laura was walking to her father’s room, she was carrying an oil lamp with her. As she entered her father’s room, Laura heard the lamp crack and immediately realized that she had hot oil spilling on her clothing. In an attempt to keep a fire from igniting, Laura quickly tossed the lantern into the hearth. Before she realized it, her dress and hair went up in flames.
Panic Seals her Fate
When Laura’s gown and hair caught fire, she ran for the stairs in a moment of panic. Unable to see where she was going, her heel caught the edge of the stair, sending Laura catapulting down. It is speculated that had she remained where she was and not rushed from the room, the fire could have been extinguished quicker, sparing her of her painful death. Stop, drop and roll a century away could have possibly limited Laura of her excruciating demise.
Thomas Burrage, her sister’s husband, had been sitting on the front stoop and heard the frantic cries of Laura as she descended the stairs. She begged him to help her, and in a heroic effort, he took his own coat and tried to extinguish the fire. Her mother also helped to rid the flames. She also being seriously burned while trying to save her daughter. A neighbor across the street came running over to help as well, only by the time the fire was put out, Laura was burned beyond saving.
The Doctor is called
Laura sustained 2nd and 3rd-degree burns on her body, something hard to recover from nowadays, let alone back in the late 1800s when all that was available was wound dressings and opioids for the pain. One account describes the severity of her burns to the point of “crispy.”
The physician Dr. Lewis was summoned immediately to help Laura. Trying all means possible at the time to prevent her death, he was unsuccessful in saving her.
Laura died the following morning at 11 o’clock a.m. on Sunday, June 28, 1868. This was the day she was to wed Charles.
Her beloved Charles sat by her side the entire time, clear to the moment that Laura drew her last breath.
A Grooms Despair
Charles Tennesson was destroyed by the death of his Laura. One can only imagine the grief he felt not only losing his bride in the end, but clearly, her physical state was indescribable. Her body was burned from head to toe and most likely to the point of unrecognizable.
Charles turned to the bottle to numb his pain heading to a liquor store with Henry Green. The shop was closed, and Green went around to the front door to let Tennesson in. Together the two men sat and drank, obviously stunned by the events of the past harrowing 15 or so hours. It is said that Tennesson raised his cup and toasted, “To you and I-God save us.”
After sitting in silence, the two finished their ale’s, and Henry rose to take the cups to the water stand. With his back to Charles, Henry suddenly heard the sound of a gun firing. When he turned to look, he saw Charles fall to the floor.
Charles had shot himself in the right temple of his head, the bullet lodging in his skull. Again Dr. Lewis was called but to no avail as Charles too succumbed to his injury. Some 4 hours or so after the death of his beloved Laura.
The Female Schafer House Ghost
It’s impossible to say for sure who ghosts or spirits are and why they return to linger in familiar places in the afterlife. However, many who have experienced the paranormal activity in the Schafer house believe the two resident ghosts of Laura and Charles.
The female ghost, believed to be Laura feels friendly and has manifested herself to adults and children alike. In suit with many interpretations of the story, she is wearing her wedding gown, crying in the corner. Some versions say Laura was wearing her wedding gown when the accident happened.
Other reports of activity of the female ghost by paranormal investigators and business owners are hearing a gentle “hello.” Could this be Laura?
The Male Schafer House Ghost
The second ghost is felt to be a male. However, he doesn’t seem as cordial as the female ghost. His strong presence is found in the basement, and several business owners report a male voice saying “Enough!” and “Leave!”
When the building was occupied by a Christmas shop, employees reported displays being knocked down and items being moved. It’s believed it was the doings of the male ghost believed to be Charles.
One of the most common occurrences by many is the faint smell of smoke. A cold burst of air is felt coming from the staircase that Laura descended, and a lantern hanging in the shop sways when Laura is talked about.
Sorrow and Sadness for the Schafer House Ghosts
With the double tragedy of the deaths of Laura Schafer and Charles Tennesson, even skeptics feel the spirits could be them. A bride-to-be who died before she could actually wear her wedding gown and marry the man she loved and adored. And her groom, who not only witnessed the horrific burns his bride endured for some 15 hours, sitting by her side until she drew her last breath. It’s no wonder that Charles may not hang around in the best mood after the events that ended his life and dreams.
The Schafer House ghosts are only one story from the haunted history of Virginia. However, the tragic tale is creditworthy of being one of the 10 top haunted places in Alexandria.
Check out our other stories from Alexandria, plan one of our Ghost Tours, and walk around the area to see and feel for yourself!