Born of the popular Haunted Parkersburg Tours, these unique stories of the unknown not only delve into the history and hauntings of West Virginia but also reveal how to recognize ghosts, how to know if your house is haunted and even the 13 most likely places to find phantoms. Includes tales of haunted houses, spirit infested cemeteries, Civil War ghosts, ghostly railroads, eerie tunnels, and much more. Some of her stories feature 20th century ghosts, such as the spirits haunting a Parkersburg radio station or the city’s historic Blennerhassett Hotel. Many of these Sheppard has witnessed firsthand. She has experienced innumerable hauntings in and around Riverview Cemetery, Parkersburg’s version of the twilight zone. And of course, always a motherlode of tragedy and violence, Moundsville Prison has supplied plenty of tales of its tortured inhabitants.
Cry of the Banshee, a comprehensive guide to the hauntings and tales of the paranormal in West Virginia and along the Ohio River.
A phantom from the shores of Scotland and Ireland is the banshee, a cursed omen of bad news and death that plagued early settlers. Read on to meet a more famous West Virginia portent of doom, the Mothman. And here for the first time is the truth behind the West Virginia encounters with the infamous Men in Black and the terrifying Ingrid Cold, never before in print!
Sheppard is fascinating as she spins her yarns about tragic Civil War ghosts, grieving women in white, and haunted railroads and tunnels. Plan your next trip into this twilight zone: visit tragic Margaret Blennerhassett, haunting her island home; or the rock-n-roll bartender who haunts The Empty Glass in Charleston.
For any history or ghost buff, Cry of the Banshee is a guaranteed interesting read. Some readers will want to travel the state to experience some of these ghosts for themselves; others may want to visit Parkersburg for one of Sheppard’s ghost tours, complete with the inexplicable legion of black cats that always show up. Of course, there’s always the chance that if you read the book late at night, alone, you may never want to come within 100 miles of Parkersburg or Sheppard. But you can always sleep with the lights on…
October 5, 2008
Delivering the shivers
Top-rated ghost tour scares up some haunted history
By Julie Robinson
PARKERSBURG – The crowds gather every Friday and Saturday night in the lobby of the Blennerhassett Hotel. They come to hear ghost stories told by psychic Susan Sheppard, who dresses the part in black with a deep purple cloak, black hair streaming over her shoulders, as she walks them through Parkersburg’s most-haunted places.
Last year, her tour nabbed a top-10 national ranking by Haunted American Tours.
Her tour is part historical, part spectral, but it is the ghosts who bring the crowds. “If we called it a historical tour, nobody would come,” Sheppard said. “Throw in ghosts and people come.”
Sheppard is the author of several books. She appeared on an episode of ABC Family’s “Scariest Places on Earth” to investigate hauntings in the area of Shawnee Amusement Park in Bluefield. Sheppard and her husband, WTAP-TV anchor Roger Sheppard, have a 17-year-old daughter, Scarlet.
She was inspired to start a Ghost Tour in Parkersburg after attending one in New Orleans in 1996. “I went on a tour of the French Quarter and thought we could do that in Parkersburg,” she said. “I wrote the script with the help of Richard Southall, who had written a book on ghost hunters.”
At the tour’s beginning, she acknowledges that everyone on the tour is not a believer, but that she does see the spirits and hear their tales. She urges nonbelievers to be respectful and listen to the stories.
“I don’t care if they don’t believe; they don’t bother me,” she said. “I’m not trying to convert anyone.”
The Blennerhassett Hotel is an appropriate starting place for the tour. Built in 1889 by oil baron William Chancellor, the Queen Anne-style hotel was a showplace from the day it was built. Chancellor had a strong cigar habit, and the smell of cigars is the most commonly cited indication of his presence in the strictly enforced nonsmoking hotel rooms.
When ABC “Primetime” reporter Diane Sawyer stayed at the hotel before her interview of rescued prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, she complained that the odor of cigar smoke pervaded her nonsmoking room, Sheppard said. Hotel workers tell Sheppard they sometimes see a little newspaper boy in the back of the hotel where a newsstand formerly stood. They find children’s footprints on the bedspreads they have just smoothed out.
On the tour, Sheppard tells of the tormented souls of Civil War soldiers who haunt the gracious homes on Quincy Hill. Injured and dying soldiers suffered nightmarish conditions in a makeshift tent city while they awaited a place in the overcrowded hospital. Some of homes are imprinted with former inhabitants’ suffering, Sheppard said. Even residents who don’t know about the tent city report seeing ghostly images in Civil War costumes.
The members of her tour follow her to the TransAllegheny Books, formerly the Carnegie Library, where Sheppard has identified five separate ghosts. Employees report unexplained footsteps and images, but say the ghosts seem friendly.
Is Parkersburg especially haunted?
Sheppard doesn’t think Parkersburg is any more haunted than average, although paranormal researchers maintain that places surrounded by water are more prone to hauntings. The Ohio and the Little Kanawha rivers merge at Parkersburg.
“Someone has to be willing to get the histories and stories,” she said. “Local historians have helped a lot.”
Her two-hour, two-mile tour is not for the faint of heart or out of shape. She pauses at haunted sites, recalls the stories, and then moves briskly to the next stop. After a visit to the railroad tracks near the floodwall to hear tales of a woman clad in flowing white gowns who haunted the B&O train engineers as they maneuvered through tunnels, Sheppard leads her group to the outskirts of the Julia-Ann Historic District.
A three-block area of brick-paved streets and Victorian homes, the Julia-Ann District features charming old homes in eclectic architectural styles. Many have been painstakingly restored, while some slide slowly into decay.
Sheppard walks through the streets lighted by reproductions of Victorian lampposts as she matter-of-factly weaves her tales of the families who once inhabited the historic homes and the spirits who linger.
One home, a former bed and breakfast, was featured on the HGTV series “If Walls Could Talk.” Workers in the 1862 home of a former sea captain whose young son died of typhoid fever speak of the small footsteps they regularly found in the dust stirred up by their construction the previous day. No child inhabited the home at the time.
Another child ghost haunts an Ann Street home. Sheppard believes she is the ghost of Bessie Bartlett, beloved daughter of dentist Charles Bartlett. Bessie contracted typhoid in the 1870s. Because her father’s dental office was in their home, her family moved her sickbed to the basement to reduce the risk of contagion to his patients. She died alone in the basement.
A family who purchased the Bartletts’ former home in the 1980s photographed the interior before they moved in. A photo taken in the basement shows the image of a young girl who appears to be sitting on a bed.
Workers at the sprawling 1837 red-brick mansion of Sen. Peter Godwin Van Winkle also reported unexplained activity. They told Sheppard that in 1990, they saw a blond, curly-haired man in a ruffled white shirt in the house. They chased him, but he disappeared. Outside workers saw his image in a window, and one of them captured it on film. Sheppard included both photographs in her recent book, “Cry of the Banshee.”
The image resembles photographs of Joseph Diss Debar, the Frenchman who designed the West Virginia state seal. He and Van Winkle were friends and Diss Debar lived in carriage house that is now part of a bed and breakfast just around the corner from Van Winkle’s mansion.
Since Sheppard started the increasingly popular ghost tours in 1996, two ghost-hunting groups have formed in the area to investigate paranormal activity. They’re always looking for new sites. The Haunted Parkersburg Ghost Hunters and the Mid-Ohio Valley Ghost Hunters investigate reported hauntings. “It’s not as dramatic as it is on television,” she said. They often wait fruitlessly through a dark, quiet night.
Despite the popularity of her tours, Sheppard is not without her detractors. Protesters loudly calling “Witch” occasionally unnerve tourists on her tours. She shudders to think what her fate might have been several centuries ago. A local bank that owns Riverview Cemetery, site of the picturesque grieving angel gravesite and final resting place of Van Winkle and many prominent Parkersburg families, banned Sheppard and her tours.
She doesn’t recommend that children under 6 years old come on the tour. “It’s a long walk and they’ll probably get bored.” Tours are $10 for adults. No reservations are accepted.
Want to go?
Haunted Parkersburg Tours
WHERE: Tours leave from the lobby of the Blennerhassett Hotel, Fourth and Market Streets. For directions to the hotel, call (304) 422-3131.
NOTES: The tour is not recommended for children under 6 years old. Reservations not required.