Unsurprisingly, many of the oldest towns in the United States are also the most haunted. Alexandria, Virginia is no exception. Founded in 1749, this small city has over 260 years of history and a number of historical places to prove it.
One of these places is what is now the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, which provides tours and events to educate the public and keep the history of the town alive. The museum consists of two historic buildings—Gadsby’s Tavern, founded around 1785, and the City Hotel, which was founded in 1793. The tavern was named after the John Gadsby who was in charge of it for a number of years.
The tavern and hotel were very popular for social events, such as dances, performances, and meetings for local organizations, and it was a place to see and be seen. Several famous guests stayed here, often returning for the wonderful service. John Adams, George Washington, James Monroe, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette are among these guests.
While many stories exist surrounding the hotel, the most popular is that of the “Female Stranger”.
In 1816, a couple arrived to the City Hotel from the West Indies. They appeared to be affluent people and therefore fit the description of the hotel’s typical guests. Within the first few days of their stay, the woman became very sick. Her condition was worsening at a rapid pace. Desperate for help, the couple hired a doctor, but they first made him swear that he wouldn’t reveal the couple’s true identity.
Despite the doctor’s efforts, the woman took her last breath in room 8, where the couple was staying. She was buried nearby in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery with a grave that simply read “Female Stranger”. This would come to be the legend that outlived her.
After the burial, the man quickly skipped town without paying the hotel or medical bills. The townspeople began to gossip almost immediately. The people who met the couple and were sworn to secrecy never revealed their true identity, even going so far as to erase their names from the hotel registry. While there are many theories as to who these people could have been and why they didn’t want their identity revealed, the most commonly accepted is that they were con artists traveling through the area. They could have just been posing as wealthy guests but in reality had the intention of conning the townspeople and running away with their money.
Another theory is that the woman was from a wealthy family and she fell in love and eloped with a commoner. This theory could explain why the man left town without paying the couple’s debts. Similarly, many people think they were involved in an affair together and ran away from their spouses.
Regardless of the reason, the “Female Stranger” is still said to haunt the grounds where she lived her last moments. She doesn’t seem to have any malicious intentions, although she has frightened a few visitors and employees. In fact, she seems to want to take part in hotel events. In addition to the hotel, she’s also been sighted near her grave at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery.
She’s made an appearance at a number of events in the hotel ballroom throughout the years. One account tells of a young man who saw her from across the room at a ball. As he was crossing the room to ask her to dance, she quickly fled down the hallway and disappeared near room 8. She’s appeared in room 8 numerous times, often holding a lit candle.
She has also been spotted in the downstairs dining room. A young woman began working as a waitress while she was home from college for the summer. Reportedly, she took a woman’s order and went to enter it into the kitchen computer. When she turned around, she saw the woman there, but this time as a semi-transparent apparition.
Nobody is quite sure why the “Female Stranger” has haunted the property for so long. Perhaps her life ended before she was able to enjoy the hotel. Or maybe she’s drawn to the many events that pass here. It seems that she will continue for a long time as one of Alexandria’s most popular ghosts.
For a list of upcoming tours and events, please refer to the museum’s calendar http://apps.alexandriava.gov/Calendar/?show=OHA