American children are getting excited; from Halloween activities in New York City to Halloween at Los Angeles theme parks, the country is awash in celebrations of the spooky holiday. Nowhere is it more appropriate, perhaps, than Colonial Williamsburg. North American history comes alive (no undead zombie pun from me!) famously here. Fellow travel writer Mara Gorman went on a Colonial Williamsburg ghost walk, and found that the tour’s spooky family fun makes Colonial Williamsburg a great fall travel destination.
“Every building in Colonial Williamsburg has some kind of spirit in it – you’re not safe anywhere!” The storyteller lifted her lantern high for dramatic effect while she spoke these words. Tommy, my nine-year-old, rolled his eyes at me and his younger brother Teddy, who was transfixed from the minute we started our evening Tavern Ghost Walk.
Colonial Williamsburg is a museum of living history, with numerous buildings that are several hundred years old. It’s a great place for families to visit and learn about life in colonial America and during the day the benign main street bustles with visitors and interpreters. But as the city empties in the evening, it is definitely possible to believe that the town is full of spooky ghosts with stories to tell – especially when you are being led around by a professional storyteller on one of the museum’s autumn tours.
For example, there’s the Lady in the Green Dress, a probable victim of an 18th-century plague, who haunts the Shields Tavern where our walk began. She’s been known to show up in the mirrors and play with the lights – to say nothing of messing up the table settings in this busy restaurant. And then there’s old Mr. Prentice, a fat colonial gentleman in dirty breeches, who likes to lean over the beds of overnight guests who stay in the colonial houses available to rent and try to kiss them.
And colonial ghosts aren’t the only ones to haunt these streets – we learned about an older employee who lived and died in an onsite apartment and now makes herself loudly and messily known in one of the taverns when her fellow (living) employees don’t say a proper good night. There’s also a confederate soldier who took a shine to one of the waitresses in Chowning’s Tavern and delivered her a large magnolia flower from up the block. In fact, most of the spirits here have been encountered late at night by employees of Colonial Williamsburg, and more than one story ended with a sad shake of the head and an acknowledgement that the victim “no longer works here.”
Our guide was definitely a compelling storyteller, without being too scary, as was obvious from the crowd of children that surrounded her. And although Tommy was too cool to admit that he believed in ghosts, I did notice that he listened very carefully to every story. Since we did the tour at the beginning of Labor Day weekend, it was still light for most of it; I can only imagine how much spooky fun it is to do as Halloween approaches and the lantern is actually illuminating the storyteller’s face and the small circle of her audience, huddled in the chilly air, wondering if that was a face that just appeared in the window…
When it was Teddy’s turn to carry the lantern, he had to hold it up and check if he could “see anything strange.” I’m not sure if it’s fortunate or not, but none of the ghosts chose to show their faces or make any mischief the night we were there, although Teddy claimed he could hear the “hissing of the Ghost Cobra” he recently read about in his favorite Scooby Doo book.
Tickets for our Tavern Ghost Walk were included as part of the Autumn Stories package at the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel, but anyone can purchase a ticket ($12 for adults, $7 for children under 12) by calling 1-800-HISTORY. Tours take place every evening at 7 and 8 p.m. and last an hour. You’re outside walking the entire time, so be prepared and bundle up during the colder months.
Mara Gorman lives in Delaware and loves to travel up and down the East Coast and beyond. She shares her adventures at her blog The Mother of All Trips. Her trip to Colonial Williamsburg was generously sponsored by Acura, who also loaned her family an MDX to get there. For more information on visiting Williamsburg with kids, read about Mara’s five favorite family-friendly activities there.