Ghosts don’t have a ghost of a chance in Goochland nowadays. Time was when the County could boast with the best of them about things inexplicable, but here of late ghosts are hard to come by.
No doubt there have always been specters roaming the good earth of Goochland, but who were (or are) they – where did they originate? Is it possible that our visitors found the good earth of our County spiritual ground and liked the feel of it?
We do know that apparitions appeared in Goochland long before the turn of the century and hung on with grim determination until the late 1920’s. They began to taper off then and are now practically a lost generation. More is the pity for ghosts can be fascinating as well as terrifying.
Goochland can brag about two kinds of ghosts: the higher echelon ghosts who deign to haunt only very old and historic mansions, and the plain every day ghosts who refuse to discriminate and just wander aimlessly around maintaining a friendly relationship with anyone who will entertain them. It is the democratic, lackadaisical ghost that will take the spotlight here.
The most commonly know ghost area in Goochland extended along the old River Road [River Road West], more particularly between the State Farm [James River Correctional Center] on the east and a point just beyond the crest of Chestnut Hill on the west with the section around Plynlimmon claiming the most exciting ghosts of all. Chestnut Hill, so named because of the profusion of chestnut trees growing in the area, was once a very steep hill. It is located just beyond Plynlimmon, the first house on the right (going west) after passing Mount Bernard, and approximately 1 mile east of Maidens Road. At one time, a red clay road extended through the bottom with high banks on either side, known as Chestnut Hill Bottom, and stretched from a point about half-way between Mt. Bernard and Plynlimmon to the foot of Chestnut Hill. At this half-way point was a huge black rock on the north side of the road. It was here that the ghosts delighted in performing some of their most daring antics. In broad daylight wayfarers fearlessly stopped at Black Rock to rest, but after sundown they passed it as quickly as possible breathing a sigh of relief when they were well out of its range.
Plynlimmon house was a large, rambling frame structure on a hill some distance removed from road. It had once been the home of Judge Isaac Pleasants, a cousin of Governor James Pleasants, and he and his wife, Anne Eliza are buried there.
Plynlimmon had a pet ghost – probably the most renowned ghost in the County. No one was ever able to identify her, primarily because of the fact that she was headless. Dressed in a white wispy sort of gown that billowed out as she walked, she always appeared with a lighted lamp in her hands. Her favorite haunt was the stairway at Plynlimmon. After the household had settled down for the night she would start at the top step of the stairway and walk slowly down. About half-way down she would toss the lamp into space and hurl her body the remainder of the way. A blood-curdling scream always accompanied this act notwithstanding the fact that the lady had no head. There was never a fire from the burning lamp so one must conclude that ghostly oil is not flammable. Also the ghost must have had access to an inexhaustible supply of lamps for she carried a new one each time and she journeyed down the stairs for many years. One citizen of the county doubted the story and made it a point to watch for one of the lady’s nocturnal visits. The house was vacant at the time and it required a great deal of courage on the part of the man to wait around in the darkness for a headless date. However, his patience was rewarded and the lady put in her usual appearance. Afterwards the man solemnly swore that he saw fresh blood on the stairs, but considering his mental and physical state immediately after seeing the apparition everyone took his oath with a grain of salt.
If one paused at Black Rock when the moon was “right”, he would invariably hear the clatter of horse’s hooves pounding on the clay road. If he waited but a few moments the mighty brigade would come surging by, leaving a whispering breeze in its wake.
And, of course, there was the big black dog – the size of a young calf, folks said. Unlike the headless woman, the dog roamed other areas of the County. Being more sociable he visited east of the State Farm, paused at the Thorncliff entrance and then went on to Chestnut Hill bottom. He frequently showed up to trot quietly beside someone riding horseback or driving a buggy. Several of the local citizens became annoyed with his attentions and shot him, but the result shook them up even more for the pistol bullets merely passed through the body of the big black animal and he just kept right on trotting.
Folks finally became so accustomed to the big black dog that they rather enjoyed his company on a lonely night. Mr. P.A.L. Smith, Sr., a prominent attorney who lived some distance from the old River Road and practiced law in Richmond often walked to the State Farm to get a train to Richmond. Upon his return in the evening he walked home. It was dark each time he made the trip and more often than not the big black monster joined him along the road and walked beside him. Mr. Smith never evidenced any anxiety over this strange practice – somehow he seemed to accept the association an inevitable and resigned himself to go along with it.
In years past it was great fun to sit by an open fire on a winter’s night, to tell and listen to what we then called ghost stories, even to feel little drops of fear trickle down our spines. But those days are no more. Is it possible that electric lights, hard-surfaced roads and fast automobiles could have “scared” our friends away? At any rate, specters are hard to come by and ghosts just don’t seem to have a ghost of a chance in Goochland nowadays!
Excerpted from “Anyone For Ghosts” by Elie Weeks, Vol. 2-2 of the Goochland County Historical Society Magazine, 1970.