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Ghosts of Haw Branch Plantation
Built in 1745 on 15,000 acres by Colonel Thomas Tabb and his wife, Rebecca Booker, the Virginian mansion had fallen into ruin when it was purchased in 1964 by Cary and Gibson McConnaughey. Gibson remembered visiting and playing at the huge house when she was a girl, and her grandmother, Harriet Mason Jefferson, lived there. The home hadn’t been in the family for the last fifty years.
The McConnaugheys spent a great deal of time, money, and effort in the renovation of the huge estate which included a moat, massive chimneys, gardens, slave quarters, and outbuildings. There are two graveyards on the land, one for the family and one for the slaves.
Cary, Gibson, their children, and two dogs, moved into the antebellum home in 1965. Four years after that, an elderly cousin sent the McConnaugheys a gift. The cousin told the family that it was a pastel painting of a young woman, who was supposed to have been a distant relative. Her name was Florence Wright. The portrait had been done in a summer house in Massachusetts. Before the painting could be completed, the 24 year old girl died suddenly from a massive stroke while playing the piano. Florence had never visited Haw Branch.
When the McConnaugheys opened the crate containing the painting, they were surprised to find that charcoal, rather than pastels had been used to create the piece.
Hanging it over the fireplace in the library, they quickly forgot about it and went on with their lives. A few days later, Gibson was in the basement when she heard ladies’ voices upstairs in the library. Shouting that she would be right up, Gibson thought she had visitors.
Arriving at the library a few moments later, the room was empty. So were the entire house and the parking lot.
A few months later, Cary was sitting in the library reading when he glanced up at the portrait and noticed that a charcoal rose was turning pink! When he walked to the picture, he saw that the girl’s dark hair was lightening, and her gray skin was starting to take on a peach tone!
The picture continued to change until it was a vibrant, colorful piece. The girl became a vibrant redhead with dazzling blue eyes. She was sitting in a green chair next to a jade colored vase holding a soft pink rose.
The voices of women talking and laughing were heard intermittently during the months that the portrait was changing. After the picture was completely transformed, the voices were no longer heard.
Other odd occurrences have taken place though. The painting once mysteriously fell to the floor where her daughter and a friend had been sitting only moments after the girls had moved.
When the painting fell and the frame broke, they were able to discover the name of the artists at last: J. Wells Champney. He had died falling down an elevator shaft in New York City.
Not long after that, in the early morning hours of November 23, 1965, the McConnaugheys were awakened to the sound of a woman screaming. The entire family gathered at the foot of the steps to the attic. No one, not even the dogs, who were shaking with terror, were brave enough to check out what might be causing the screams.
A few months after that incident, the family was in the library watching television when they heard the sound of a heavy object being dropped on the lawn. They have continued to hear that sound at various intervals, even in the daylight.
Every six months on May 23rd and November 23rd, the family hears a woman screaming in the attic.
Apparitions have also been spotted in the home including that of a slim young girl in a floor length dress, a lady in white standing by the fireplace in the drawing room, a giant bird with a wing-span of more than six feet, a floating housekeeper, and a lantern suspended in mid-air coming from the barn. The smell of fresh oranges and roses sometimes wafts through the air, a rocking chair in the attic is sometimes heard creaking, furniture can be heard being dragged across the attic floor, heavy footsteps can often be heard going up and down the stairs, and lights go on and off for no reason.
One night when the McConnaughey boys slept in the old slave quarters with some friends, they heard cowbells in the pasture, although there was not a cow around.
In the basement, there is a mysterious sealed room that measures four by six feet and is completely blocked off with brick. The family animals are quite intrigued with the chamber. No one seems to know why it is there.
One last mystery: the previous owner of the house died a mere few hours after signing over the deed to the house!
As far as I can ascertain, Haw Branch is still owned by the McConnaugheys. They have both written historical books on Amelia County, Virginia, and do give tours of their home.
Haw Branch is located in central Virginia, twenty-six miles west of Richmond on Highway 360.
Floyd, E. Randall. In the Realm of Ghosts and Hauntings. Augusta: Harbor House, 2002.
Violini, Juanita Rose. The Infamous Almanac of the Incredible and the Ignored. SF: WeiserBooks, 2009.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NY: Penguin, 2002.
Winer, Richard and Osborn, Nancy. Haunted Houses. NY: Bantam Books, 1979.
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