Every state has its share of urban legends and haunted tales. Most are handed down from generations of locals. However, with the advent of the internet these stories now reach a wider audience allowing us all to share in a once “locals only” tradition of storytelling. The following are five bizarre, supposedly true urban legends from the state of Virginia told just as I had heard them when I was once a Virginia local being indoctrinated into the secret legends of the region.
The Beale Treasure
Sometime around the 1820’s a man by the name of Thomas Jefferson Beale uncovered the mother lode while mining for gold in Colorado. This bounty of gold and silver was said to be worth several millions. Beale, with treasure in tow, made the harrowing journey back east to cash in. On his way he stopped in Bedford, Virginia, where he believed that he may be in danger from some unsavory characters who he said were following him. Beale buried the treasure then created a series of cyphers as a way of being able to recover his treasure once he felt the danger had passed. Beale locked the cyphers in a lock box and left them with a friend. However, he never returned to retrieve those cyphers. It is believed that his treasure is still buried somewhere in Bedford County, Virginia. For more on the Beale Ciphers, click here.
The Vampire of Hollywood Cemetery
Hollywood cemetery sits atop a large hill overlooking the Virginia capital of Richmond. Although there are a lot of stories surrounding this cemetery (one of the oldest cemeteries in the country), this legend is the most famous. Around 1925 workers were tunneling under Church Hill near the cemetery when the entire tunnel collapsed. Several of the workers were buried alive in the collapse. It is believed that the collapse awoke an evil presence that had been living under Church Hill for centuries. As rescuers dug their way in to try to rescue the trapped workers, they encountered a man dressed in older clothing crouched over one of the bodies eating it. The rescuers chased the man into the cemetery. Once in the cemetery, the man fled into a mausoleum bearing the name W.W. Pool. But when the rescuers entered the mausoleum, they discovered that it was empty. From that day forward locals have told the story of a man who, on occasion, emerges from the Pool mausoleum and hunts unsuspecting patrons who happen to be walking the cemetery grounds alone at night.
Beast of Gum Hill
Every state needs a Sasquatch, and the Beast of Gum Hill, a relatively new legend, is Virginia’s. Around the mid-1960s, a Bristol man was out hunting when he came across some rather large tracks in the mud. Curious, the man followed the tracks to a clearing where they mysteriously vanished. Then the man felt something strange, as if he was being watched. He looked around the clearing and spotted something moving in the thick growth. Through the green undergrowth, he spotted two red eyes looking at him. The eyes hovered seven feet in the air. Through the leaves, he could see the faint outline of the beast- a huge, hairy, muscular animal, standing upright and staring at him. The beast grunted angrily as though ready to charge. The hunter raised his rifle and fired. The shot missed. The now frightened creature ran in fear. The man returned several days later but could not find the animal or its tracks. Over the next several decades others have reported strange tracks and encounters with the beast, but so far no definitive proof has arisen.
Before Europeans settled in Virginia, in what is now called Scott County there was the story of a Shawnee brave and Cherokee girl who met while walking through the woods that bordered their peoples’ land. Although there was no war between these two tribes, they weren’t necessarily on the friendliest of terms. Their first meeting was brief, but when the two locked eyes they were almost immediately in love. For the next several months, they met at the same spot in secret, a top a tall cliff hidden away from both tribes. During one of their encounters, they were spotted by a Cherokee brave who ran back and told the young girl’s parents. The young girl was forbidden from seeing the boy. The days and weeks past as the Shawnee brave continued to go back to their special spot in hopes of still seeing her there. One day, he returned to the cliff where he found the girl standing on the edge. She had snuck away from her home in hopes that she would see her lover there. When they saw each other she immediately told him that they could never see each other again. Not wanting to end their love affair, the two held hands at the edge of the cliff, kissed one last time, then stepped into the abyss below. It is said that, on occasion, the two lovers still meet atop that cliff. Some say they have seen them standing on the edge of the cliff, exchanging a kiss before stepping off together.
St. Albans Sanatorium
In Southwest Virginia in the town of Radford, there was an old building built around the late-1800’s that was once known as the Saint Albans School for Boys. In 1911, the school closed leaving a mammoth building on top of a hill overlooking the town of Radford. In 1916, Dr. J.C. King purchased the building and turned it into a sanatorium for the criminally insane. Dr. King was a a researcher who employed experimental techniques on his patients. Some of his experiments included insulin coma therapy and hydro electric shock therapy. The hospital functioned up until the 1990’s when it was finally closed. However, during its heyday, several of the patients who checked into the facility never checked out. It is said that this old abandoned building on the hilltop still holds the ghosts of these patients, enraged by years of torture.