Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Phantom Coach of Carter Hall

Carter Hall is located in the Shenandoah Valley in Clarke County. It is one of the many stately mansions that were built in Virginia during Colonial times. 

Colonial Nathaniel Burwell chose this site for his future home with care. The magnificent view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the fact there was a spring close by sold him. In 1790 he moved into his new three-story sixty-foot home, built of stone.

Nathaniel Burwell in the years before moving to Carter Hall married Susanna Grymes in 1772 in Williamsburg. 

Burwell was devoted to Susanna or Sucky as he called her. They were very happy in their marriage until Sucky died at the age of thirty-seven in 1788.

It is said that he was inconsolable with grief. Crushed and lonely he decided that he needed a companion who knew what it was like to lose a loved one.

He traveled in one of his large coaches across the state to the Page family mansion, Rosewell, in Gloucester County. Here he asked Lucy Page, a beautiful young widow to marry him. 

At first, she refused, but Burwell persisted, and she finally married him, and they then traveled to his new home, Carter Hall. 

It is not known if this second marriage provided him with the companionship he so desired, but it is remembered that he went to his grave in 1814 still mourning the death of his first wife.

In the years following Burwell’s death a curious phenomenon was witnessed over and over again. Future owners of Carter Hall reported hearing the distinct sounds of a large coach arriving at the front door of the mansion. But every time these witnesses went to see who had come to visit the hall, no one was there.

One witness who experienced this phenomenon more than once was Townsend Burwell, who lived at Carter Hall in the early 1900s. 

He was not convinced the mysterious coach was supernatural in nature. He attributed the occurrences to a limestone cave located beyond the bluff southeast of the mansion. He was quoted as saying, “Unlike most ghosts, this one has a scientific reason for being. 

Even today, a coach is heard rumbly up to the portico of the house. Then the old fashioned folding steps are heard bumping down as they are unfolded. 

This road sounds queerly hollow at specific points, and skeptics maintain that the sound of the coach is only that of a truck or wagon passing over the hollow place along this road. They state the sound is carried by a cave located near the home.

At first, this sounds like a plausible explanation. But it does not account for an “extraordinary vision.” that was witnessed by Lucy Burwell Joliffe and her two sons almost a hundred years ago. 

According to a Clarke County history book, Lucy and her two sons were visiting Carter Hall when they heard a coach approach the hall while sitting in front of the fire in the dining room.

Lucy Joliffe took a candle as her son followed her to the front door, all three saw a big old-fashioned coach with large wheels, two large horses, and a coachman and footman high in the box. They also saw someone in the carriage. 

They watched as a footman jumped down and opened the door, letting down the steps. The trio saw no one descend. To their astonishment, the footman then put up the steps closed the door, and jumped to his seat next to the coachman, they heard a whip crack and the large lumbering coach disappeared into the night.

Mrs. Joliffe’s description coincides with what is known about the great coaches that belonged to Nathaniel Burwell. 

The limestone cave mentioned by Townsend Burwell can explain the sounds the Joliffe’s heard but it cannot account for the fact that they also saw the coach, coachman, and footman.

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