BBE Gets Spooky with The Ghosts of Williamsburg
Quick Links from the Episode:
- The Bruton Parish Church story was perhaps the most compelling mystery in Ghosts. Today, the Church website reveals nothing about the cemetery incident, only mentioning that you must be a member of the church to be buried there. This only increases BBE’s interest and suspicions. Articles contemporary to the 1992 dig (here and here) explain that Church officials were hoping to lay to rest any conspiracy theories over the vault existing in their cemetery. Archaeologists dug down twenty feet and a geologist from William and Mary took soil samples to come up with…nada. However, the belief still persists, probably much to the dismay of the Church.
- Colonial or Georgian architectural styles dominated early America, and thus are mentioned numerous times in Ghosts due to hauntings that occur in older or restored homes of these styles. These two names are roughly interchangeable, as colonial architecture was known as Georgian in America, referring of course to the King of England. The Historic New England organization and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission have excellent summaries and descriptions of these styles along with photographs of historic houses that embody them. You can also scroll down to see photos of the houses Jennifer was making fun of in the episode.
- Paige and Jennifer both mentioned possible scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena, but here are some articles that drain all the spooky right out of it from the Smithsonian and How Stuff Works.
- If you are interested in learning more about the colonial period, Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years are a great place to start. Don’t let the size fool you, Bailyn prized readability and it shows. Or reads? Either way, it is a great book.
Finally, at last, one of Jennifer’s favorite subjects has become the topic of our podcast. Another Thrift Store Find is The Ghosts of Williamsburg Vol. II by L.B. Taylor Jr., a historical romp through various supernatural phenomena in the Williamsburg, VA area. Jennifer is actually quite horror-averse in general. She can count on one hand the number of times she has seen a scary movie, and she has certainly never picked up a Stephen King novel. However, when it comes to reading about true accounts of the supernatural, she has always been fascinated. More recently that has translated into a love for supernatural podcasts, such as And That’s Why We Drink. It also explains why this was a no-brainer buy at Goodwill.
L.B. Taylor Jr. appears to have been an old school dude. Ghosts was published in 1999, but it some ways it still harks back to an older age of dime novels. For example, at the back of the book, readers are encouraged to write the author at his home address for autographed copies, only fulfilled if you included $3 for postage. If you’d wanted to schedule Taylor for a speaking engagement, you’d also have to write or call. Given statements in the introduction about the corrupting influence of technology, we highly doubt that he ever had a website.
Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor passed away in 2014, but not before he had two very different and successful writing careers. Taylor graduated with a degree in journalism from Florida State University and launched into covering America’s space programs. For sixteen years, Taylor wrote about rockets, ingenuity, and the imagination of man. It wasn’t until after he retired from a career in public affairs that he indulged in another passion: ghosts and local history. You’ll notice the full title of Ghosts includes “Vol. 2.” There are, in fact, twenty-five books in Taylor’s ghosts of Virginia series. Let this kind of dedication be an inspiration to us all!
Main Topics from this Week’s Episode:
- Jennifer found that, perhaps unexpectedly, she really enjoyed the historical content behind each story, building, or area mentioned. Taylor was clearly very passionate about local history and for someone not usually interested in early American history, Ghosts was a nice change.
- On the flip side, belying the name of the book, the ghost content was less compelling. While there were a couple stories here and there that raised some goosebumps, but Jennifer is a total horror noob and most of the ghost stories were run-of-the-mill at best. If you were looking for some serious spooks, this book will not satisfy.
- Jennifer also takes some time to recount her one and only supernatural experience which took place in a restaurant she used to work at in Alabama.
- Does BBE believe in ghosts? In the episode we come up with a nice, lukewarm maybe. Both Jennifer and Paige, to their equal surprise are open to the possibility of the supernatural. Neither would invalidate the experiences of so many people across the globe who are convinced they have gone through something otherworldly. After all, Jennifer has her own experience she cannot explain, but she does believe that these could someday be understood through scientific means. Throughout history various phenomena once thought to be mysterious have been revealed, who knows if ghosts will be the same one day? Paige and Jennifer talk a few other explanations for supernatural events such as alternate dimensions, and rifts in the time-space continuum.
- What was distasteful in Taylor’s otherwise charming little book on Williamsburg was the casual racism and glorious South narrative that are sprinkled throughout. Given that Taylor was of a different generation, he could perhaps be forgiven for using politically incorrect terms for Native Americans, though his editor should have lent a helping hand there. However, most disturbing are his characterizations of Southern ‘heroes’ of the Civil War and their ‘murderous’ Union counterparts. Jennifer didn’t appreciate this South-will-rise-again fervor in her ghost stories.
This photo of the Raleigh Tavern is an example of that colonial style that is as dry as burnt toast. The tavern at least has the advantage of gables, a common feature in these homes.
Photo by Maggie McCain from Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.
Another example of the colonial or Georgian style: a brick box. A box shape is a dominant and super interesting feature of this style.
Photo by Rob Shenk from Great Falls, VA, USA
Jennifer vacillated back and forth on rating this book. Two stars? Four? On the one hand, stories from the Revolutionary War and humorous anecdotes were charming. On the other, the ghost stories were sparser than she expected from a book about ghosts and were tame for the most part. However, more sinister than she first realized, The Ghosts of Williamsburg was in fact haunted by something more insidious than any one supernatural story Taylor mentioned: the ghost of narratives past.
Typical of a different era, Taylor’s prose was filled with old assumptions and black-and-white portrayals. In his account Native Americans were savages that brutalized colonists and Confederate generals were dashing and honorable men who contended with simultaneously villainous and incompetent Union soldiers. Never mind that Europeans were invaders into Native American lands that they intended from the beginning to conquer, and that Lee and Stuart at their core stood for oppression. The reality of these stories is that they are far more complex than American exceptionalism will ever allow. This view of the past, truly, is the spirit that needs to be laid to rest.