Cheré Dastugue Coen
The 'Haints' of Abingdon, Virginia
The Revolution-era town has more than its fair share of ghost stories.
We heard the tales of Abingdon, Va’s, “Haint Mistress,” a woman with a master’s degree in storytelling whose been sharing ghost tales of the historic city for more than 20 years! The night we visited our esteemed mistress was not available, but the equally able storyteller Carrie Hietela, “Assistant Haint Mistress,” showed us the town. Haint women in either position must know their stuff for the ghost tour was exceptional.
Abingdon dates to the Revolution, with its historic district of 20 blocks in the heart of town on the National Register of Historic Places. We began the walking tour at The Martha Washington Inn & Spa, built in 1832 as a residence and later enlarged for a girls’ finishing school and used as a Civil War hospital. Stories abound of Martha girls attending to soldiers and losing their hearts. One such tale involves Beth, who fell in love with a Union soldier, playing her violin to help him sleep. He proposed to Beth, but died soon afterward. An invisible violin can be heard playing on the second floor to this day.
“I think that’s Beth serenading her soldier to sleep,” Hietala told us.
Other hauntings at the Martha Washington include other soldiers and an elderly couple from the 1920s.
“The hotel has everything that goes bump in the night — and then some,” Hietala said.
The Valentine Baugh House at 129 Main St. encompasses the original log cabin built on the site. In the 19th century, a family of daughters lived here, with an apothecary shop for ladies built on the side (today the Forget-Me-Not shop). One of the Baugh daughters, Ethel, fell in love with a young intern at the city’s new hospital, but her father refused the marriage. He reportedly locked her in her room on the second floor to keep her from eloping. Poor Ethel never married.
“She spent her whole life living in this home,” Hietala explained. “And she’s still there! And probably her sisters.”
The current owner once asked Hietala to house-sit her dog for a week. The Assistant Haint Mistress would not pass up a chance at a haunted house, she told us, so she eagerly agreed. However, Hietala is more easily scared than she thought. She woke at 3 a.m. with the sound of a door creaking downstairs, right where the house opens to the store.
“I didn’t sleep that night,” she admitted.
The second night she again woke at 3 a.m. with the same noise. About 30 minutes later, she felt as if someone was in the room with her, watching her.
“I felt every single hair on the back of my neck go straight up,” she said. “And it (the haint) did not want me there.”
The next night Hietala moved to the living room where she left on all the lights as well as the TV.
“I binged watched ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ and felt that if that can’t protect me, nothing will,” she related with a laugh.
Guy Fieri let her down, however. The dog began barking in the dining room and wouldn’t stop. Hietala scooped up the pooch but the dog kept returning to the spot, looking at the door leading to the shop and barking. That was enough for our Assistant Haint Mistress. She grabbed the leash, the dog and her stuff and spent the rest of the week dog-sitting in her apartment.
Another interesting Abingdon ghost tale is the Greenway-Trigg house, built by architects married to sisters who couldn’t stand each other. The architects couldn’t afford two houses, so they built one that contained two wings identical to each other. That way each sister had the same square footage but didn’t have to deal with the other. Former maids and other translucent people have been spotted in the building, now containing retail on the ground floor and apartments above.
Other buildings claiming to be haunted include the Courthouse (former office worker Lucille), the White Birch Food and Juice store (well-dressed man thought to be the owner of a newspaper on the site), and a “professional woman” who still wants to turn tricks at The Tavern, which dates back to 1779.
“People call the woman in the Tavern ‘The Tavern Tart,” Hietala told us, standing on the sidewalk in front of the establishment. “However, don’t say ‘Tavern Tart’ inside or she’ll mess with you.”
One of our Assistant Haint Mistress's weirdest stories concerns a haunt that’s not human. Abingdon’s James Wyatt and Noble McGuinness had a falling out, so when Wyatt joined the Union Army during the Civil War and arrived south to set fire to parts of Abingdon, he never hesitated to light a match on the block of buildings owned by McGuinness. Confederate spies dressed as Union soldiers discovered Wyatt’s actions and shot him dead upon his horse. The most often reported ghost in Abingdon is what most believe is Wyatt’s steed, known as the “ghost horse of Abingdon.” Most people catch sight of the horse on the city’s “Barter’s Green.”
We all gave Hietala a skeptical look when she related that equine story, but she insisted that visitors and residents alike have seen the horse.
“It’s one of those things that you can’t think about too much,” Hietala said with a shrug. “It is what is it.”
For more information and tours, visit The Haint Mistress of Abingdon.