The 21 Ghosts of Berkeley Plantation
I’m a tour guide at Berkeley Plantation, a plantation that is haunted by 21ghosts. But that’s only the number of ghosts in the mansion house. There are also ghosts in the fields, ghosts where the slave quarters used to be and ghosts in the dependencies. There’s a Confederate Civil War ghost named Jack. On dark nights Jack stands outside at Berkeley’s front door. His face is gaunt, his eyes blank and hollow. He’s dressed in his bloodied stained torn and tattered confederate uniform. He pleads with the living visitors who approach Berkeley, “Could you show me the way to Rossignol?” Jack is a sad lost soul. He’s asking directions to some long ago plantation that no longer exist. Jack and the other ghosts of Berkeley Plantation are not figments of my imagination. These ghosts are real. They were all discovered by paranormal professionals, professionals more commonly known as, ghost hunters. These professionals came to Berkeley seeking ghosts. They found them, 21of them.
Berkeley Plantation offers daily tours. The ghost of Grace Jamison, Berkeley’s last living resident, haunts Berkeley. Grace was never a fan of the tours. To disrupt them, she stamps thunderously on the mansion’s upstairs floors and takes eerie translucent strolls through the house. Grace’s ghostly actions are done to frighten the tourists into leaving her home. Grace loves her house and likes to have it all to herself. And it never fails; Grace’s ghostly interactions do indeed send the shrieking thrilled tourists fleeing Berkeley with frightened delight. Grace delights in watching the tourists flee. Berkeley is her house and she doesn’t want the tourists there.
The newlywed 20 year old Grace arrived at Berkeley in 1930 with her new husband Malcomb Jamison. Malcomb was the handsome young heir to a New York lumber company. Grace was a wealthy socialite from a prominent Virginia family of lawyers and judges. Berkeley was a horrific dilapidated ruin when the newlyweds moved in. They spent years, and a fortune, restoring Berkeley to its Colonial era splendor. Malcom died at Berkeley in 1997. Grace died at Berkeley in 1999. Grace’s ghost has been haunting Berkeley ever since she died. Malcomb’s ghost haunts Berkeley too, but not the house. Since the living Malcomb was always covered with dirt and grime from plowing the fields, Grace has relegated Malcomb’s dirty ghost to haunting the fields. She doesn’t want all that dirt in her house. Some guests who have toured Berkeley tell stories of seeing a ghostly grimy old man riding a silent ghostly tractor plowing the fields of Berkeley.
Despite Grace’s ghostly shenanigans to frighten the tourists, she is actually a friendly ghost. I don’t know why, but Grace likes me. My first encounter with was unforgettable enchantment. It was early in the morning around 9:00 am. I was the first person to arrive at Berkeley. I entered the mansion and suddenly the mansion was filled with an overwhelming scent of a fragrant woman’s perfume. Then, at the top of the elegant staircase, a large sparkling translucent bulb materializes. The glistening bubble floats down the staircase and when it reaches the bottom of the stairs the bulb begins to transform into a shape, the shape of a woman. This woman looked like a young Queen Elizabeth. She was svelte and glamourous. She wore a shimmering 1930’s era gown with a floor sweeping train. She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Her expressionless eyes gave me a scornful gaze that told me that I was unimportant. Her eyes then looked away from me as she said in a soft regal ghostly voice, “I detest tourists.” Frightened, I gulped and nervously replied, “Well, um, yeah a tourist’s crying baby and unruly kid can ruin a tour.” The ghost’s eyes shifted back to me. A slight smile adorned her lovely face. Then, she slowly began to fade away. I told my boss of this encounter. She told me that the woman was the ghost of Grace Jamison. The perfume that heralded her arrival was Lullage, Grace’s favorite. And that glamourous ghostly production was Grace’s way of letting me know that I am welcomed in her home. I will have many pleasant encounters with Grace during my time at Berkeley. But Grace and I are not best buddies and pals. Grace treats me like a personal assistant. Ours is definitely an employee employer relationship. My job is to listen to Grace, not to ask questions or offer any opinions, just listen. And Grace has a lot to say. She would explain to me the purpose of some of the Berkeley hauntings as if she wanted these things chronicled.
Grace shares Berkeley’s mansion house with 20 other ghosts, and she doesn’t care for any of them. Oh, and all these ghosts, they don’t like each other either. So, with that in mind, think about this. Try giving a tour in a haunted mansion where 21 disagreeable ghosts parade up and down the staircase, slam doors and bang on them, cry, shriek, moan, sing, dance and appraise their looks in the mansion’s mirrors. For a tour guide it’s a nightmare. But for the tourists it’s fright heaven. They love it. They think it’s all staged and special effects. They have no idea its real ghosts running rampant in a true haunted mansion.
Though the ghosts of Berkeley can be trying they’ve never frightened or hurt me. I was only frightened once and that fear was born in my own mind. The final tour of the day had ended. I was alone in the mansion’s basement closing up the house when a thunder storm occurred. The storm caused a power outage. In the complete darkness of the basement I was overcome with fear. I thought I could feel every ghostly eye in the house fixated on me. I was afraid one of the ghosts would appear before in the darkness. This I did not want. It would freak me out. Suddenly I thought about my dealings with Berkeley’s ghosts. I then asked myself, why was I afraid. It made no sense for me to be afraid. The ghosts had never done anything malicious to me. I figured this was because Grace liked me and because of this, the other ghosts liked me too. So I put my fear aside, walked through the darken mansion and closed the house without ghostly incident.
I’ve had no horrifying ghostly incidents at Berkeley. But there was one tourist who did. It was on one of my tours. A man on the tour appeared physically and violently ill. He was doubled over in pain. I thought he was about to vomit or pass out. I asked him if he was alright and could I do something for him like fetch him a glass of water or a chair. He said, “No, no, it’s the ghosts. They’re fucking with me.” This shocked me. I feigned surprise at the man’s ghost allegations. I acted as if I didn’t know that Berkeley was haunted. We tour guides were given strict orders by plantation management to never talk about the ghosts with the customers, and we don’t. So for this tourist to bring them up, he unknowingly confirmed the ghost hunters find of 21 ghosts. But before this man left Berkeley, he pulled me aside and issued me a warning. He advised me to be careful with the ghosts. They were evil, dangerous, and would hurt me. I found this warning interesting. The ghosts had never hurt me. So I figured whatever was going on between this man and the Berkeley ghosts was something that only the two parties knew about. Other tour guides have told me that they’ve infrequently had a tourist on their tour who had a violent interaction with the Berkeley ghosts. So yes, Berkeley’s ghosts can become evil and violent with the living. It happens, but not often.
The Berkeley ghosts are a diverse lot. They are male, female, black, white, Native American, free, enslaved, rich, poor, middle class, famous and not famous at all. There are ghosts that are not exclusive to Berkeley, they simply show up every now and then for a visit. These are the ghosts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln. When these ghosts show up at Berkeley things really become interesting. Actually things become interesting, loud, scary, creepy, and tour guides quit. What do the ghosts of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln have in common aside from being historical icons and legends? Well according to Grace, they all want her home, Berkeley.
Berkeley Plantation is the birthplace of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and ancestral home of two American presidents. Berkeley played host to the most elegantly lavish parties of the Colonial era. The Founding Fathers and the first 10 presidents of the United States attended these legendary parties. Grace informed me that it’s due to all of this rich history that Berkeley is deemed by the ghosts of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, as “America’s House.” Being America’s House, Washington, Jefferson and Franklin want in on Berkeley and the millions of tourists that visit the plantation annually. The Founding Father’s ghosts feel that due to Berkeley’s history and their own iconic stature, they have a connection to the house. They should be allowed to haunt Berkeley anytime they wish. Grace continuously denies the Founding Father’s request for unrestricted access to Berkeley. She said they are a duplicitous lot who want much more. She said that Washington, Jefferson and Franklin also want Berkeley every 4th of July holiday weekend for what they call their Founding Father’s Reunion Party or FFR. This party will be attended by the ghosts of all the Founding Fathers, their ghostly families and friends. Grace would be expected to vacate the premises while the party is in progress.
Abraham Lincoln visited Berkeley Plantation twice during the Civil War. His Union forces were encamped there as Berkeley was abandoned during the war. Lincoln came to Berkeley to inspect the troops. He ended up inspecting Berkeley’s mansion house and fell in love with it. Lincoln thought after the Civil War was over and the North had won, Berkeley would make a wonderful summer house for him. Well as you know after the war Lincoln was killed at Ford’s theatre by John Wilkes Booth. He never got to claim Berkeley as his summer home. But now his ghost, says Grace, wants the house for a ghostly summer retreat. Lincoln also wants Berkeley on Thanksgiving Day and the Thanksgiving weekend. He says the first Thanksgiving took place at Berkeley on December 4th 1619. He made Thanksgiving a national holiday to unify a nation torn about by war. Because of this he says he’s a connection to Berkeley. He feels that it’s only fair for him to have Berkeley for the summer and Thanksgiving. Of course Grace would be expected to make herself scarce while he was there.
Grace’s ghost is always embroiled in a battle for Berkeley with the Founding Fathers and President Lincoln. She enjoys haunting her house herself. She doesn’t want these historic distinguished legendary interlopers usurping her home. Grace said that Washington, Jefferson and Franklin constantly offer arguments as to why they feel they have every right to hold their FFR party at Berkeley. Grace offers arguments as to why they cannot and informs them that she will never allow this party to take place in her home. But the Founding Fathers never give up. They keep pressing Grace for possession of Berkeley. They have even intimated that if they have to, they will take Berkeley from her. Lincoln doesn’t threaten Grace, he goes the sympathy route. He tells Grace he’s depressed because “Though I abolished slavery, preserved the Union, strengthened the federal government and modernized the economy I never got to enjoy the fruits of my labors. No, I get murdered by John Wilkes Booth.” Lincoln pauses, sighs for effect, “Life was so unfair.” Tears form in Lincoln’s big damp sad eyes. He says solemnly, “Oh if only I could have Berkeley just one week out of a year. It would bring immense joy to my sad, sad afterlife.” Unimpressed and unmoved, Grace’s response to Lincoln’s performance was, “Mr. Lincoln, please take your violin and get out of my house.”
I would learn from Grace that though Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Lincoln are annoying, they were not her biggest ghost problem. Her biggest headache is a ghost who was one of Berkeley’s 21, the notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold. Benedict Arnold haunts Berkeley because as far as he was concerned the house is his. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Major General Benedict Arnold fought with the American colonists for their independence from the British. But later, Arnold would switch to the side of the British. For becoming a traitor, King George of England promised Arnold he would reward him with the gift of Berkeley Plantation, after the British defeated the colonists and won the war. Well, the British lost the war and Arnold did not get Berkeley. But after all these hundreds of years, Arnold’s ghost feels that the house is his because the King “gave” it to him. He forgets the conditions under which the house was given to him and the end result of the Revolutionary War.
Once on a Berkeley tour, the tourists heard ghostly voices arguing. The tourists had no idea that these voices were the ghosts of Grace and Benedict Arnold screaming at each other. Grace yells, “It’s my house! Get out of my house!” Arnold yells, “No! It’s my house! You get out!” As I said, the tourists love it. They believed the ghosts were screaming at them to get out of the house. The tourists were both frightened and excited at the same time. They think it is all staged special effects, never realizing its actual angry ghosts fighting over a house. Oh, the frightened tour guide who led this tour quit immediately afterwards.
Speaking of fighting, remember I told you that the ghosts didn’t get along with each other? Well, that brings me to SOB Battle. Every Halloween Berkeley has an annual Ghost Story Tour. This tour is comprised of ghost stories told to the tourists by the tour guide. There are never any ghosts, just stories. Well, last Halloween the tourists got actual ghosts. That night while the tour was in progress, the ghosts of Grace Jamison, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Benedict Arnold and his wife Peggy Shippen Arnold show up to have it out. They had what the Berkeley ghosts call the “Sole Ownership of Berkeley Battle.” Actually, Grace calls this the “Souls Of Berkeley Battle,” or the SOB Battle for short. Normally the other ghosts of Berkeley don’t take sides and don’t get involved in the disagreements between Grace, the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln. But Grace and her opponents, so desperate win, enlist the aid of the other reluctant ghosts to be on their sides. These ghosts included Benjamin Harrison IV, the man who built Berkeley, his wife Anne and their little daughter Lottie. Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Also caught up in the ghost drama were the ghosts of the house slaves, Civil War Confederate and Union soldier ghosts, the ghosts of Revolutionary War soldiers and a parrot ghost.
The Ghost Story Tour was filled to capacity. So large, it required me and another tour guide. We bring the tourists in through Berkeley’s front door to witness a mansion in chaos. The house is filled with eerie ectoplasmic apparitions so engulfed in their argument they don’t see me, my co-tour guide or the tourists enter the mansion. The argument is heated. Some ghosts are screaming “It’s Grace’s house.” Others yell, “It’s the Founding Father’s house.” A few others exclaim “It’s President Lincoln’s house.” It’s get worse when thing between the ghosts become personal. One ghost called another a liar. A ghost said another ghost stole his horse. Another ghost was accused of cheating at cards and one ghost accuses another ghost of having an affair with his wife. That’s when things got ugly. Angry ghostly screams fill the house as antique colonial era furnishing hurled by ghosts fly through the air. Vases books china flowers plants and furniture thrown by ghosts at other ghosts crash into the walls, smashing into pieces. The ghosts aren’t just throwing furnishings, they are throwing punches. A ghost pulls the portrait of Thomas Jefferson’s niece Elizabeth from the wall and smashes it over the head of another ghost. A glittering golden bird cage with a parrot ghost inside is accidentally knocked over by fighting ghosts. When the bird cage strikes the floor its door opens and the loosed parrot flies to the safety of the fireplace mantle. Safely atop its mantle perch, the excited parrot reacts to the ghostly melee when it mimics the ghosts shouting, “Hit ‘em again! A right to the jaw! Kick his arse!” Then the parrot unleashed a high pitch “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” It’s a sonic scream so loud and shrill it causes the house to shake and vibrate. The scream’s power blows out the glass in every window of the house. It almost burst the eardrums of the tourists. It was a nightmare. The stunned thrilled frightened tourists run screaming from the mansion with orgasmic like glee plastered on their faces. When the smiling tourists are outside on the mansion’s lawn, they all clap with thunderous applause. My co-tour guide faints and falls to the ground. The tourists all believed that their Ghost Story Tour was a special effects laden extravaganza. They never realized it was actual ghosts in a fight for Berkeley Plantation.
The SOB Battle accomplished nothing save ramshackle mansion rooms, broken furniture, smashed portraits and thrilled tourists. Grace surveys the damage to her home. A fiendish prosecuting attorney-like smile creeps across her face. She asks Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin what makes them want Berkeley. They explain that Berkeley is America’s House. It belongs to every American living or dead, not just her. They convey to her that she is obligated to share Berkeley with all of America’s historic iconic ghosts. Grace muses that this is what they want, but it’s not what George Washington wants. She asserts that Washington is being deceitful. She says that Washington really wants Berkeley so that he can be near Benedict Arnold. George Washington is aghast at Grace’s assertion and vehemently denies it. Grace persists and explains that Washington and Arnold have always had a deep everlasting bond between them. Grace has read the history of both men. She informs that the worse part about the Revolutionary War for both men was betrayal. Benedict Arnold was heartbroken for betraying Washington. Washington was heartbroken by being betrayed by Arnold. Grace explains that the history books say that Washington and Arnold had a deep abiding friendship respect admiration and love for each other. An astounded Peggy Arnold insists to know what Grace is trying to imply about her husband. Grace tells Peggy that she just wonders what type of love is it between the two men. Is it romantic? Grace encourages Peggy to think about it. Grace reminds Peggy that she isn’t one of Berkeley’s 21 ghosts. She’s a visitor brought to Berkeley from time to time by her husband. Grace reminds Peggy that every time Arnold brings her to Berkeley it’s when George Washington is here. Why is this? Could it be because Arnold is using her as a shield? Could it be that if she were not here on these visits, Arnold and Washington would forget themselves, fall into each other’s arms and make mad passionate love? Grace theorizes that Arnold brings Peggy here to ensure this would not happen. With Peggy here, they will not give in to their passions. Grace adds that should it happen, she would have no problem with it. She loves people in love. A livid Benedict Arnold denies this. An insulted Peggy Arnold demands to her husband they leave Grace’s sordid home. George Washing says he too is leaving. He refuses to remain at Berkeley and be insulted by Grace and her indecent lies. He warns Grace he’s not done though. He will return to Berkeley and claim it for his FFR party. As the ghosts of George Washington and the Arnolds begin to fade away, Washington and Arnold both pass each other forlorn glances. As the ghosts fade, Grace shouts to Washington as she points to Franklin and Jefferson, “Take your FFR party favors with you!” Jefferson and Franklin fade away.
A smiling Abraham Lincoln compliments Grace on the way she got rid of the Arnolds and the Founding Fathers. But he relays to her that getting rid of him will not be as easy as that. Grace let’s Lincoln know she’s aware of that. It will not be her that gets rid of him, others will. A curious look blankets the legendary president’s face. Grace gestures towards the window where a ghostly commotion is heard going on outside. Grace and Lincoln walk through the wall and are now outside. I follow them, but not being a ghost I have to use the door. Outside is a mob of angry Negro ghosts attired in worn ragged clothing. At Lincoln they yell and chant, “Lincoln go home!” One ghost holds a sign that reads “Spirit Yourself Back to Illinois.” Another ghost hoists a sign that reads, “Burn Lincoln’s Logs!” A perplexed Lincoln asks Grace what’s this all about. She explains that the ghosts of Berkeley’s slaves are protesting against him living here. A befuddled Lincoln asks Grace why would they do that, he freed the slaves. Grace informs him he did not free these slaves. These men women and children died enslaved many years before his Emancipation Proclamation. They are angry with him because when the Union Army occupied Berkeley during the Civil War, his troops dismantled their slave quarters in order to use the wood for firewood. Prior to the Civil War, the spirits of the deceased slaves used to haunt the slave quarters. Now they have to haunt the empty fields where the slave quarters used to stand as his troops destroyed their home. The only home they’d ever known. Grace makes Lincoln understand that should he somehow get Berkeley, he would never have a moment’s piece there. The slave ghosts will protest every day, every hour, every minute, he is there. Lincoln exclaims that he couldn’t put up with protesting slaves every day of a four day holiday weekend. He concedes to Grace. He tells her that taking the slaves’ grievance and using it against him by organizing a slave protest was well played, she’s won. He is leaving. But just as Washington said, Lincoln says, “I’ll be back.” As Lincoln’s ghost fades away, Grace looks at me, smiles jubilantly “Finally, they’ve all gone.” Her form begins to shimmer. She slowly transforms in the translucent bulb that floats up the staircase and begins to disappear. As the bubble dissipates, I hear Grace’s ghostly whisper “This house is mine.” I turn to exit the mansion and I’m stunned to see that the once broken windows, ceramics, paintings and furnishings are now fixed. The haunted mansion has restored itself to its elegant splendor.
It’s another year and Berkeley Plantation’s 21 ghosts go about their usual business of slamming doors, clomping up and down the stairs, crying, laughing and moaning. All of this ghostly activity accidentally frightens the tourists who love it. Another Halloween approaches. I wonder will this Halloween at Berkeley will be the same as the last. I hope not. I don’t want to go through anything like the SOB Battle again. I often pray before I sleep, “Lord, I love Berkeley. But when I die, please don’t send my spirit to Berkeley. There are 21 ghosts there already. They don’t need another.”
The 21 Ghosts of Berkeley Plantation