‘A Chill Went Down My Spine': 3 of Alexandria's Spookiest Ghost Stories

A lit lantern appears in one building. A woman is heard weeping in another

During the day, the cobblestone streets of Old Town Alexandria are quiet and picturesque.

But those streets can get a little spookier once darkness falls over the city. 

Alexandria's history is rich with stories of the paranormal. Here are three tales that are sure to give you chills. 

The Female Stranger

On the corner of North Royal and Cameron streets stands a large brick building that was the center of social and political life in Alexandria during the colonial era. 

Gadsby's Tavern is mostly known for its prominent presidential patrons, but about this time of year, one of its other famous guests is discussed. 

A ghost known as the Female Stranger is said to haunt Gadsby's. 

"I personally have not seen her, but there are certainly stories of people who have," said Liz Williams, the director of the Gadsby's Tavern Museum. 

Wellington Watts, owner of Alexandria Colonial Tours, knows several people who said they have seen the ghost of the Female Stranger.

"One of my tour guides was at a Birthnight Ball when he saw a beautiful woman. He walks over to say hi, and she vanishes before his eyes."

Watts said the tour guide caught a glimpse of the woman as she entered Room 8 and followed her. But when he got to the small room, the only thing there was a lantern that had been lit.

Room 8
Room 8 at Gadsby's Tavern

Perplexed and wanting to find the woman, the guide went to the museum's curator, but the curator had no idea who he was talking about.

"He said, 'By the way, you have a candle lit in that room unattended,' and the curator said, 'No, I put out all the candles,'" Watts said. 

Sure of what he had seen, the guide urged the curator to follow him to the room, but when they got there, the lantern was not lit.

"But when the tour guide touched the glass of the lantern, the glass was searing hot, burning the tour guide's finger," Watts said. "We like to say she was leaving a beacon for her long-lost husband to return to her."

The real facts of the Female Stranger story are few, Williams said.

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"That's part of the allure. Because of that, you can then create some of these amazing stories," she said. 

No matter who you ask, the basic facts surrounding the woman's death and interment are the same.

In 1816, a couple arrived in Old Town on a ship from the Caribbean. The woman, cloaked in a long, black veil, was very sick, possibly from typhoid.

Seeking help from the city's best doctor, the couple rented Room 8 on the second floor of Gadsby's Tavern. Neither gave their names.

The woman grew weaker and weaker and eventually died from her illness on Oct. 14.

Before her death, she and her husband asked those who had attended to them to promise to never reveal their identities.

Grief-stricken, the woman's husband borrowed money from a local man and had the woman buried in St. Paul's Cemetery.

Female Stranger
The tombstone of the Female Stranger

Even in death, the woman's identity remains a mystery. The elaborate inscription on the table-top tombstone is weathered and hard to see today, but it once read:

"To the memory of the Female Stranger whose mortal suffering terminated on the 14th day of October, 1816 - Aged 23 years and 8 months - This stone is erected by her disconsolate husband in whose arms she breathed out her last sigh, and who, under God, did his utmost to soothe the cold, dull ear of death."

According to local legend, the husband disappeared soon after, leaving the elaborate grave -- and his debt -- behind.

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The Tale of Laura Schafer

The Female Stranger is not the only ghost who is said to frequent Alexandria's historic buildings.

An ice cream shop at 107 N. Fairfax St. is home to another of the city's famous apparitions.

Laura Schafer died in June of 1868, according to an article written in the Alexandria Gazette.

The 26-year-old was engaged to be married to a soldier.

The night before her wedding, she tried on her wedding dress. Still wearing the dress, Schafer put her grandmother to bed and went across the hall to her room, her train flowing behind her.

"She closes the door behind her, and the kerosene lamp she had fell," Watts said. "Kerosene splashes up the right side of her dress."

Schafer panicked, running for the door. But the June humidity left it swollen and unwilling to budge. When she finally got the door open, the rush of air fueled the flames, engulfing her and her white gown. 

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Hearing her screams, her brother ran to her and quickly smothered the flames. But it was too late.

Schafer died on what would have been her wedding day.

Her funeral was held at 11 a.m. in the family's parlor.

Watts says Schafer still haunts the building.

Some have reported hearing a woman weeping when the clock strikes 11, while others have seen items move without provocation.

Watts says his company's Ghost and Graveyard Tour used to feature the building, and on several occasions, a lantern in the hallway would sway as the guides told the story of Schafer's death.

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'A Chill Went Down My Spine'

Watts said he no longer gives out the address of one of the city's most haunted homes out of respect for its current owners.

But he said an interior decorator who worked next door to his King Street office once came to him after she had a spooky encounter in the home. 

"A chill went down my spine," Watts said. 

The woman told Watts she had been trying to hang a full-length mirror on one of its walls, but she could not get it to hang evenly. 

"It tilts to the left. It tilts to the right," Watts recalled. 

Frustrated, she took the mirror off the hook and put it on the floor. She turned to talked to some carpenters in the room when she heard a loud boom. 

"The thing went from the floor to the wall and hung in perfect alignment," Watts said. 

Watts said a spirit in the home has a long history of reports of haunting its tenants. 

The original owner of the home in the 1700s was an overprotective father who wouldn't let his daughter date or marry. The young woman channeled her frustration into spinning and would sit in front of the widow as she spun at a wooden wheel. 

Years later, a couple who rented the home found the spinning wheel spinning on its own in the attic. 

They brushed off the encounter, chalking the movement up to an open window or a draft. But as soon as they went to bed, they once again heard the spin of the wooden wheel. 

The couple decided to move the spinning wheel to their living room, but when they returned the next morning, it was gone. 

It was once again in its place in the attic. 

Watts said residents of the home have reported seeing a ghost walk through the hall, and have had sheets ripped off of their bodies in the middle of the night. 

"Tenants would not stay, and sadly, the current family is not talking," Watts said. 

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