Exciting news: this weekend, Black Raven Paranormal* will be conducting the first ever paranormal investigation of Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton, VA. Locals know Montgomery Hall Park as a tranquil, fun, family-oriented place of hiking and biking trails, softball fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a public swimming pool. Acquired by the city in 1946, the park was used by the African-American population in the 50s and 60s when misguided prejudices of the day wouldn’t allow them to use Gypsy Hill Park. Today, as well as being the location for the offices of the Department of Parks and Recreation, it’s a lovely jewel set among scenic hills and woodland, available for the use of all who choose to take advantage of its beauty.
Somewhat ironically, Montgomery Hall began life as a grand plantation. Built in 1820 by John Howe Peyton, a successful criminal defense lawyer, the mansion became home to his second wife, Ann Montgomery Lewis Peyton, and their 10 children. Ann Peyton was the great-granddaughter of John Lewis, the first noted settler of what later became Staunton. The plantation was quite large, eventually encompassing more than 400 acres with a huge apple orchard, at least 50 servants, a bowling alley, and a gym. John Peyton died in 1847 and Ann Peyton followed in 1850. At least one of their children died at a young age, and Ann herself died in the house. The mansion burned sometime around 1910 and was rebuilt to resemble its former glory as closely as possible. As you drive into the park now, the beautiful cream-colored building presides over the grounds in stately silence.
Now to the spooky part: employees who work in the old mansion claim that it’s haunted. They have always had creepy experiences, but it’s ramped up considerably in the last 3 to 4 months, since the visit of a historian who walked through the building and related many fascinating and little known facts about past occurrences and occupants, including names. Apparently that visit stirred upsomething in the atmosphere. Whatever (or whoever) it is seems to be most active when the building is not open to the public, either early in the morning or late in the evening. People working in the house often hear disembodied voices calling their names, especially when they’re alone in the building. One employee has been on the second floor, again all alone in the building, and has heard someone moving around on the first floor. Going down to see who it is, he has found no one in the house and no cars in the parking lot; however, as he investigates the first floor, he’ll start to hear someone moving around on the second floor that he just left. This employee has also come in early in the morning, opened the door to his office, and witnessed his desk chair suddenly move and spin on its own, as if someone just stood up from the computer.
The same employee has also seen a dark, featureless human form go past his office doorway, but when he checks to see who is in the hallway, no one is there. Perhaps more frightening, he was once descending the stairs and saw the dark form at the bottom of the stairs, heading down the hallway. When he got to the bottom of the stairs and investigated the area, it was ice cold and the hair on his arms stood up. These feelings disappeared as soon as he got out of the hallway. Of course, no one else was in the building.
A secretary has seen an apparition in the building twice. She described it as a tall man dressed in dark, 19th century clothing, standing at the end of the hallway. Both times he disappeared as she approached. She and another secretary also often hear children giggling and laughing when no children are present in or around the Hall.
The cleaning crew has become increasingly spooked as they complete their duties in the old house. Something seems to delight in perturbing them by turning lights on and off and locking and unlocking doors.
Even people looking at the building from the exterior have had inexplicable experiences. There is a particular window where a female figure has been seen gazing out at passersby. Not long ago, some inmates were brought to work in the park and the guard accompanying them refused to enter the Hall. His reason? It’s haunted. He said he’d seen a woman in white at the window and no way was he going inside.
With all of these reports from reputable and believable sources, Black Raven Paranormal is quite thrilled to spend the night in the mansion. Our objective is simply to attempt to document some of the same phenomena the staff claims to have encountered. To that end, we are taking all kinds of equipment to try to cover most contingencies. Some of the tools in our paranormal arsenal include digital and infrared cameras, night vision and full spectrum camcorders, audio recorders to help capture electronic voice phenomena (EVPs), KII and EMF detectors to pick up any fluctuations in the electromagnetic field (thought by some to indicate the presence of ghosts), thermometers to measure cold spots, and a ghost box in case the spirits feel chatty. (A ghost box is basically a hacked radio that constantly sweeps through the AM or FM band; theoretically, ghosts can either use the white noise or the bits of words coming through to form sentences.) We will also use “trigger objects” – things like toys, dolls, balls, coins, etc. – to see if any of the children or other spirits will move them.
Regardless of whether or not you believe in ghosts, Montgomery Hall Park is certainly worth a trip. The kids will definitely love it, and you never know – you might just glance up at the old mansion and see the white lady looking back at you.
* Please note that I am no longer affiliated with the Black Raven Paranormal Society; however, their website is still available for viewing.