WEST VIRGINIA (WOWK) – From haunted prisons, hotels and hospitals, to shrieking and shadow figures in the woods, and even a woman who helped convict her murderer from beyond the grave, the Mountain State is filled with chilling tales of the paranormal.
Here are 10 of the stories of West Virginians from days past who still roam among the living:
The Frederick Hotel – Cabell County
The Frederick Hotel in Huntington, West Virginia, first opened in 1906 as a premiere place to stay in the Tri-State, with many prominent visitors. After its heyday, the hotel closed in 1973, and has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The building has since been renovated to house apartments and office buildings, however, the Edwardian era style of the Frederick remains intact on the first floor.
From the jangling of keys and footsteps, to voices and a bloodcurdling scream and even two ghostly children spotted in the restaurant area, residents of the apartments and visitors to the hotel and offices have reported their fair share of sightings. A former resident has even said ghosts arguing in his room would keep him awake through the night, according to Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State.
According to the West Virginia Ghosts website, one local shared their story of visiting their mother’s office when they heard the building’s music stop only for a bloodcurdling scream to fill the silence. The local said this was the first of many paranormal encounters they had in the building.
The Greenbrier Ghost – Greenbrier County
The legend of the Greenbrier Ghost began when a woman insisted her daughter reached out from beyond the grave telling her mother she had been murdered. It became the only known case in which a ghostly testimony has helped to convict someone of murder.
A young woman named Elva Zona Heaster Shue, “Zona,” was found dead in her Greenbrier County, West Virginia, home on Jan. 23, 1897. At the time, “childbirth” was listed as the cause of her death, and she was buried the next day. Soon after Zona’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, began claiming she had seen her daughter standing at her bedside, insisting she had been murdered by her husband, Erasmus “Trout” Shue, according to the West Virginia Haunts and Legends website. The two married in October 1896.
While it’s unknown if the prosecutor truly believed Mary Jane’s ghost story, he had enough doubts on Zona’s death to open the case. An autopsy of her exhumed body revealed she had a broken, dislocated neck and a crushed windpipe, as well as markings on her throat consistent with choking.
As the trial for Shue began, more details of his past became known. Shue had been married twice before Zona. Reports stated his first wife divorced him, and his second wife died of mysterious circumstances within a year of the wedding. While imprisoned, he reportedly spoke freely of his desire to marry seven women, believing he would be freed and go on to marry four more times. Instead, he died in the West Virginia State Penitentiary in 1900 while serving time for Zona’s murder.
A state historical marker has been erected by Soule Chapel Methodist Cemetery where Zona is buried.
Harper’s Ferry – Jefferson County
Nestled at the edge of the Eastern Panhandle where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet, Harpers Ferry has a rich and sometimes tragic history as well as its fair share of paranormal phenomena The town is even the home of the oldest walking ghost tour in the country.
From the town founder’s wife and a quick-witted priest to the infamous John Brown himself, visitors and locals alike have shared a wide range of ghostly encounters throughout the town. The town has so many reports of hauntings, that we’re taking just a small look at three of the many ghost tales of Harpers Ferry.
First, the spirit of Rachel Harper, wife of town founder Robert Harper, is said to haunt an upstairs window in the Harper House, possibly watching over a family treasure, the HauntedHouses.com website says. According to legend, Robert told his wife to bury the family gold and tell no one where it was buried. The legend states as they were building the home, Rachel died after falling from a ladder. If she buried the gold, she took the secret to her grave.
In the town of Harpers Ferry stands the neo-Gothic-style St. Peter’s Church, the only church in the town to come through the Civil War unscathed. Why? Legend says the priest, Father Michael A. Costello, raised the United Kingdom’s Union Jack flag over the church, which was also used as a hospital, in times of fighting to deter soldiers since neither the Union or Confederate armies wanted to upset Britain. Father Costello’s spirit is said to still roam the old church. Visitors have also claimed to see the ghost of a Confederate soldier and hear the cries of a baby.
One of the town’s most infamous ghosts can even be spotted in broad daylight. The ghost of John Brown has been seen walking around the town, especially near the site of John Brown’s Fort, where his raid came to a bloody end. Others who died in the skirmish are also said to haunt parts of the town such as Hog Alley and the old Iron Horse Inn.
Capitol Center Theater – Kanawha County
Now a landmark in the National Register of Historic Places, the Capitol Center Theater in downtown Charleston, West Virginia, has had a long history since it first opened in 1912 as the Plaza, according to the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail. Facing the changing world of entertainment, as well as a fire that collapsed the auditorium roof in 1923, the theater changed ownership and names throughout its long history. Now, the Capitol Center Theater is owned by Resurrection Church after being sold by West Virginia State University in 2018.
However, the reported hauntings here pre-date the theater itself. Before the theater was built, the land was once the site of a mansion. The mansion, completed in 1798, belonged to the Welch family, according to the HauntedHouses.com website. A son, John Welch raised his own family there in the mid-1800s, and he and his young daughter, Molly, who died at 8-years-old in 1840, are said to haunt the theater built on the site of their old home.
While John’s spirit is known for playing the occasional harmless prank on guests, shy little Molly has reportedly been spotted sitting quietly in the front row of the balcony watching performances on stage.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – Lewis County
Would this list be complete without one of the state’s most well-known haunted locations? The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, formerly the Weston State Hospital, has been known for reports of paranormal activity that stem from the facility’s dark and tragic past.
The asylum was built in the mid-1800s in Weston in Lewis County, West Virginia. It opened in 1864, designed to house 250 patients with mental illnesses. But by the 1950s, it had nearly 2,400 patients living in overcrowded, poor conditions. The asylum’s website says the facility closed in 1994 due to both the building’s poor condition and changes in the medical field to the treatment of mental illness and patient care.
The property was purchased by a family who began work to restore the asylum’s structures and opened the facility for both historical and haunted tours, sharing the stories of the sometimes horrific treatment patients had to endure after being sent to the asylum.
When WOWK visited the asylum in 2019, Operations Manager Rebecca Jordan told WOWK “You have to know the history to get to know the paranormal.”
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was built in a time when asylums for the “insane” held the dark secret of being a place to basically dump those who were unwanted by society. Oftentimes, the “patient” had no signs of true mental illness when they were dropped off, and may have been committed for “diagnoses” such as laziness, superstition, religious enthusiasm, or even menopause, according to Legends of America.
Patients, at this and other asylums across the country, were also exposed to extreme overcrowding, abuse, neglect, cages, restraint chairs and “experimental” treatments such as lobotomies. Of the thousands of patients committed to the asylum, many died at the facility.
At the time WOWK’s crew visited the asylum, employees told us that at least seven to eight patients still reside in the old building. Even when the facility was still in operations, some who worked there believed the place was haunted.
One of these patients, employees told us is believed to be a man named Jacob, who was committed in 1982 for alcoholism and being “delusional,” allegedly thinking everyone was “hiding his beer.” Jacob first made himself known during a 2008 filming of the show “Ghosthunters” when The Atlantic Paranormal Society made a visit to the asylum to do their own investigation.
A couple of other former residents believed to be still on the grounds are a woman named Ruth, who reportedly despised men while alive, and a young child named Lily, who died around the age of 9-years-old, according to Legends of America. Some feelings of tapping and pushing have been attributed to Ruth, and while some spirits like Jacob and little Lily are quite harmless, some, such as the fourth floor “creeper” figure, have created a more sinister atmosphere when they’re about.
Those who visit may encounter sounds such as disembodied voices, whispering, screams, footsteps or slamming doors. A light may randomly turn on or off, or an object may not be in the same place you last saw it. Visitors might feel a chill or even a tap or shove. You may also spot floating orbs, shadow figures or partial or full apparitions.
This summer, WOWK’s sister station, WBOY, also sat down with TikTok ghost hunter Kalani about his recent trip to the asylum.
22 Mine Road and Mamie Thurman’s Ghost – Logan and Mingo Counties
Along a road that follows the county line between Mingo and Logan counties in southern West Virginia, the ghost of a young woman named Mamie Thurman is said to haunt the land where her brutally murdered body was discarded.
On the morning of June 22, 1931, a man named Garland Davis was picking berries near the top of Trace Mountain near 22 Mine Road when he came across a body that had been shot, stabbed and left in a ditch. Authorities identified the body as that of 31-year-old Mamie Thurman, the wife of a local police officer named Jack Thurman, according to the AppalachianHistory.net website. The couple had moved to Logan County, West Virginia from Kentucky in 1924.
Two persons of interest were investigated in Mamie’s murder – the Thurmans’ landlord Harry Robertson and his Black handyman Clarence Stephenson, according to the West Virginia Haunts and Legends website. While Robertson was never indicted, Stephenson was sentenced to life in prison. Allegedly, he told another inmate he did not kill Mamie, but had been hired to dump the body. Legend also says the court records from his trial have disappeared.
The location of Mamie’s remains is also still a mystery. It was widely believed she was buried in Logan County, but conflicting records show she may have been buried in her Bradfordsville, Kentucky, hometown.
Mamie’s restless spirit is believed to still haunt the country road where her body was found, and may even push your car if you put it in neutral at the bottom of the hill.
West Virginia State Penitentiary – Marshall County
First opened in 1876, and closed in 1995, the West Virginia State Penitentiary housed scores of prisoners including some of the state’s most dangerous and violent convicts. In the 119 years the facility was operational, nearly 1,000 inmates died at the facility, including 94 who were executed for their crimes and many more who died from torture or were murdered by other inmates. Some are still believed to lurk the grounds of the old prison.
The Penitentiary is now home to year-round tours, including ghost tours during the Halloween season. Many paranormal investigators have also come to the facility to have their own look into the apparitions, unexplained sounds, shadow figures and disembodied voices that have been reported by both visitors and employees alike.
Several guests taking tours, both historical and haunted, have reported being touched, tapped, pushed, strange smells and sounds, or hearing a whispered “Help, I’m trapped,” from a ghostly voice.
While ghostly sightings have been reported all throughout the facility, two of the most paranormally active areas are the North Wagon Gate where the hanging executions took place and the cell of William “Red” Snyder, a man convicted of killing his own parents who was murdered by another inmate. Activity has also been recorded in the basement recreation area dubbed the “Sugar Shack” where both inmate recreation and illegal activity took place.
In 2021, WOWK’s sister station WTRF visited the Penitentiary for West Virginia Nexstar stations’ “Destination West Virginia.” While there, the crew caught a spooky sound on camera that couldn’t be explained. Take a look at that footage here.
The Ghosts of Sliding Hill – Mason County
Mason County, West Virginia is known for being the home of the legendary Mothman. But the winged cryptid isn’t the county’s only spooky tale. For this ghost story, we’re heading north to Sliding Hill in Hartford City where ghosts are supposedly seeking a treasure hidden long ago.
According to the local legend, back in the early 1800s in what would become Hartford City, West Virginia, along the border of then-Virginia and the Northwest Territory, two men traveling west to make a new start stopped for the night to sleep on what would now be Antiquity on the Ohio side of the river.
According to the Mason County Historical Society, little did the two men know they were being followed, and would be robbed and brutally murdered in the middle of the night. The robbers buried the two men’s bodies under a shelving rock, and they were only discovered decades later when workers were blasting away stone to lay a culvert, according to the West Virginia Explorer Magazine.
Fearing for their own safety, the robbers decided to travel a short distance down the river and bury the loot on what would become Sliding Hill in Hartford City, West Virginia. The legend continues that the robbers joined a group of Native Americans, fighting in the war against settlers. One of the robbers was beheaded and killed during one of these battles and the other fatally wounded. According to the Mason County Historical Society, before the wounded man died, he confessed the murders to an officer and drew him a rough map of the treasure’s location.
It’s unknown if the soldier ever went to find the loot, but phantom lights and shadow figures with swinging lanterns have been seen at night wandering along the hillside after dark looking for the lost treasure and at least one of the ghosts seen is rumored to be headless.
There have, however, been reports over the years of locals finding old coins while walking in the woods. This and the skeletons found near Antiquity, have led locals to believe the legend and the treasure are true. However, according to the Mason County Historical Society, during the peak of intrigue surrounding the tale, the land was owned by the Hartford City Coal and Salt Company, which forbade treasure hunters from digging around on its property. There is also speculation the construction of Route 62 may have destroyed the treasure, if it ever existed.
Darkish Knob’s Screaming Ghost – Tucker County
Tucker County sits in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, and its county seat of Parsons was once a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves, but the area’s loose, rocky terrain proved to be a perilous passage on the journey to freedom.
Just beyond the town of Parsons is the steep mountain Darkish Knob. Once, there was a safe house for runaway slaves near the mountain’s base – so well hidden it was nearly impossible for those chasing the slaves to find. According to the local lore, one night a slave girl was riding her horse along the path in search of the safe house, but missed it in the dark. The legend says when she stopped to see if she was still being pursued, her horse lost its footing and the pair plummeted from a ledge to their tragic deaths.
According to legend, the girl’s spirit still haunts the mountain and is most active on the anniversary of her untimely death. Witnesses have reported hearing her cries, moans and chilling scream in the woods.
Blennerhassett Hotel – Wood County
While the Ohio River island home of the infamous Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett is known to have its restless souls – both Native American and aristocratic settlers – another building bearing the couple’s name is known to have its own haunts.
The Blennerhassett Hotel was built on Market Street in Parkersburg, West Virginia in 1889 by then-mayor of Parkersburg Colonel William Chancellor, and became a popular place to stay in its early days.
Guests and employees have reported some paranormal activity over the years, but those looking to stay at the historic hotel shouldn’t worry about the hauntings – the ghosts of the Blennerhassett Hotel are said to be friendly!
One of the most seen spirits is that of William Chancellor himself. His spirit is often seen roaming the halls, the library and other parts of the building. Visitors have also smelled the smoke from his cigars wafting through the air.
Other tales include children playing in the halls, the apparition of a maid hard at work, a woman roaming near the elevators and residual hauntings of days gone by from the sound of a big brass band to singing carolers. The hotel even offers haunted tours for visitors.