Billed as the oldest existing ghost tour in the United States, the Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry began more than 40 years ago by local restauranteur Shirley Dougherty. After opening “the Old Iron Horse” restaurant in an old home along Potomac Street, she and her employees all experienced a variety of apparently paranormal events, from the sound of something tumbling down the house’s stairs to a ghostly lantern on the fireplace mantle in one of the two dining rooms. Fittingly, the first stop of the tour is the site of her restaurant, now a private residence.
Spurred by the events she was experiencing in her own restaurant, Dougherty eventually collected a variety of ghost stories throughout Harpers Ferry, published in her 1977 book, A Ghostly Tour of Harpers Ferry. That soon led to leading ghost walks around the town.
Rick Garland took over the business 5 years ago, and is a historian at heart — as well as a musicologist, vocalist, pianist and historical story teller, all attributes he brings to the ghost tour — and so he has researched to fill in some of the gaps in Dougherty’s stories, helping explain — as much as possible when the subjects of the stories can’t speak back — the WHY behind the stories. If the story talks about the sound of a body tumbling down the stairs? Well, in that building during the Civil War, Union officers shot a Confederate spy who was trying to flee his pursuers and hide on the second floor. As he ran up the steps he encountered the Union officer, who shot him at point blank range and he tumbled, mortally wounded, down to the bottom of the steps. Although we can’t know for sure that’s the explanation for the sounds of something tumbling down the stairs, it’s definitely plausible.
Up until then, I’d been disappointedly NOT catching any orbs or anything much of interest, until I snapped a photo of this building from the street below. (Although to be fair, I’ve figured out, you need to take flash photos to catch the orbs and most of my photos until that point had been without flash so I could get the spooky effects.)
Garland, when he’s not telling ghost stories, conducts historical tours of both Harpers Ferry, WV, as well as a number of historical songs and stories concert shows.
Getting there: The tour meets at St Peters Catholic Church at 100 Church Street. The website offers suggestions for parking.
Hours: Ghost tours are offered year round; check the website for details.
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