During late October thoughts drift toward the spooky, creepy and unexplained. Touring haunted house attractions has been a pastime for centuries, but what many people do not know is that Richmond has a vast history of very real unexplained places and events. Events that will leave even the most skeptical mind believing that something not entirely human could have been responsible.
Many people attribute the reported prominence of spirits in Richmond to the Civil War battles that have been fought here or to the belief that Richmond is built on an old Indian town. Regardless, the stories presented are odd, unexplained, and sometimes right down frightening to the people who witnessed them.
905 West Main/ Westover Terrace
Owners Jami and Graham Nichols have been residents of Richmond since 1979. For years, they established themselves as part of the community, Graham owned Nichols Auto Service and Jami worked at Eastern Kentucky University.
After retirement, the couple decided to give into their love for old things. They would buy and renovate the house that Jami had been eyeing ever since their move to Richmond. The house was then owned by what is now Combs, Parsons and Collins Funeral home.
The funeral home had acquired the property in 1995 with the intention of moving their business to this historic location. The business relocation never happened and the Nichols bought the property in 2005. After seven years of remodeling, the Nichols moved into their dream home.
The Westover Terrace property has been reported as the site of a Civil War battle — bullets from the era have been found in the yard — and possibly graveyard from the war. Originally, the property was owned by Cassius Clay and was given to his granddaughter, who then sold to Dr. A. Wilkes Smith.
Smith was a professor of physiology at EKU, as well as a local Richmond dentist. He and his wife built the house in 1881. Remnants of the Wilkes Smith years still remain in the house, such as recipes that the servants had written on the walls for quick access. During the renovation, the Nichols covered the recipes in clear acrylic to preserve them. Oddly enough, one recipe was for poison.
Once a grand structure, with a garden, the Nichols have been told, was landscaped by the legendary designer of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. Sadly, over the years it had fallen into disrepair with its roof having caved in several sections. It had also become a regular spot for kids to go, get a spook, hangout and otherwise be up to “no good.”
A pentagram had been painted upstairs, several of the plastered walls had been smashed, and many of the stained glass windows had been broken. Every fireplace mantle and radiator in the house had also been stolen.
“We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, but we had a dream,” said Jami after recounting how they had to clean several inches worth of chicken feathers out of the room that is now their kitchen. After purchasing the house, Jami went online researching the property’s history, only to discover that her new home was listed as a haunted Kentucky location.
Graham was the first of the two to be made a believer. He was at the house alone boarding up the windows and doors to keep intruders out during the renovation. While working on one of the room's doors, he heard what sounded like a sledge hammer strike an old stove that was behind the wall where he was standing. Soon after it sounded as if someone or something was moving the stove across the room. “I just dropped all my tools and took off running,” Graham said.
Every time the contractors or they themselves were in the house working on the roof there was banging and crashing sounds. Many contractors quit after experiencing the sounds. One of the many sounds was much like a spring being wound up followed by a large gust of wind inside the house that Graham could only compare to standing on the interstate and being passed by a large truck. Other accounts include footsteps on the porch and the sound of a stick being scraped along the porch spindles when no one is there and a door that unexplainably has slammed on Jami and a visitor’s hand. Friends have reported not being able to catch their breath at a certain location in the house that is occupied by a dark stain on the floor.
“We would always try to say oh it must be this or it must be that, but there are just some things you can’t explain,” said Jami.
Another story was of a young man helping Graham do some basic work around the house. One day, he was working on the rather shambled staircase when he heard a small little girl voice say “Watch your step.” At first, he brushed it off thinking that it was the Nichols' daughter Victoria, since they were often coming and going from the house. Half an hour later while in the dining room with a broom he heard the same little voice ask, “Why are you sweeping?” He looked up to see a small shadow about two feet take off down the hallway. That’s when he realized that the voice was not Victoria.
After doing some research, the Nichols found out that the Smiths had a young female family member named Elsie who had died at the age of five. They began calling the small figure Elsie. The tiny “ghost” made another appearance when Graham and some friends were working on one of the upper rooms cutting through some plaster into an area that had not been opened since the 1880s. One of the young men present went flying six or seven feet across the area yelling “Somebody kicked my butt and pushed me!” According to the Nichols nothing like that has ever happened again. But it spurred them to begin joking that Elsie must like the young ones since most of the time young men were whom she made an appearance to.
Maybe that was because she simply wanted someone to play with. About a year ago, Elsie was seen again. Victoria had brought three children home with her whom she was babysitting, and had taken them upstairs to see the house. While there the four-year-old little boy had taken a small fall and had claimed that a little girl named Elsie had been the one that pushed him. Stunned and a little frightened after hearing Elsie’s name, Jami asked Victoria to take the children, leave and go get ice cream. While Victoria was putting the children in their car seats, the little boy had asked her “Why can’t Elsie come out for ice cream? She said she had to stay in the house.” Victoria called her mom and told her what the boy had said and Jami requested that she ask the child what Elsie had been wearing. Upon which, he replied that she was in a white shirt that went all the way to the floor.
The Nichols believe now the ghosts realize that the house is not going to be torn down and that most of the banging, crashing, and things flying across rooms has more or less stopped since the construction has been completed, the ghost are no longer as disturbed.
Elsie is not the only ghost believed to be in the house. Men’s footsteps and voices can also often be heard murmuring through the walls. And older girl was also heard screaming by the contractors when they were sawing.
At least one of the ghosts in the house must be a prankster, because once the Nichols were attempting to reattach the top board of the bottom staircase step. After replacing the step, they came down a few days later to find the step removed and lying beside the staircase. This happened a couple of times, and finally Graham decided to use a hydraulic nail gun to attach the step. This time the step went missing and has never been found since.
The stories continue for the Nichols family. They have experienced everything from finding a real human bone underneath the closet floorboards along with some jewelry and shoes, to old Bible verse clippings mysteriously floating down from the rafters. The family will still hear a loud jarring that randomly happens making them feel like something is slamming into the house.
Despite all the paranormal seeming occurrences at Westover Terrace to the Nichols it just seems like home. They have made peace with their ghosts and have no intention of ever leaving their dream house. Through them, this unique historic property has been saved and has found new life. Possibly in more ways than one.
The Wilkes Smith House is located on 905 West Main Street in Richmond. However, since this is a private residence and should be respected, those interested should only view the house from the road, and look up the history in local records. Dr. A Wilkes Smith’s grave can also be visited in the Richmond Cemetery.
The historic home White Hall was built in two sections. The first in 1798 and the second in the 1860s. The property was originally owned by Green Clay and then passed down to his son, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Cassius Clay. Cassius made the home what it is today, a sprawling 44-room mansion. Cassius lived in the home until he died in his library at age 92.
White Hall is now enjoyed by many as a state historic home and park that includes a walking track, a home tour, and a yearly event called the Ghost Walk at White Hall. As with many historic homes and sites, White Hall has had its fair share of “hauntings”.
One story dates back to the Great Depression when the home was being rented by tenant farmers who used the house not only to live in but also as a barn. The tale goes that they even drove a tractor up the front steps and parked it in the hallway.
Due to the lack of heat, the farmers used only the library and the pantry as sleeping quarters. This night, the wife saw the spirit of Cassius Clay appear to her while she was trying to sleep. The apparition looked down and asked her “Why are you sleeping on the floor when there are so many fine beds upstairs?” Then the ghost disappeared, maybe because he realized that he no longer had the ability to offer hospitality as he once had.
Other much more resent sightings have included a hand materializing on the rear staircase banister, a woman in full period dress walking through the fields, smoky figures that pass through people, and the scent of rose perfume that many attribute to Clay’s wife.
There are also many accounts of the cries and laughter of a baby in the house. Many believe this because Clay had an infant child and namesake who was believed to have been poisoned by a slave named Emily.
Once a tour guide was upstairs getting dressed into period hoopskirt costume, when she felt someone over her shoulder whisper “pretty.” At first, she thought her mind was playing tricks and continued to get dressed. At this point, she heard the voice again say “very pretty.” The freighted tour guide ran out half dressed. Many believe this ghost to have been Clay.
Those wanting to check out White Hall for themselves are invited to do so this weekend for the annual Ghost Walk. It is located at 500 White Hall Shrine Rd. Tickets are $10 per person. For reservations call 859-623-9178. Tours of the mansion are also given throughout the year.
Irvinton House/ Richmond KY Tourism Office and Museum
The beautiful house of Irvinton sits very near the EKU campus and overlooks the playground of the Irvine-McDowell Park. One would never know by looking at it of the tragedy that befell the family that once called it home. Originally built in 1820, the home was bought by David Irvine and given to his daughter Elizabeth as a wedding present. Elizabeth and her husband William Irvine would attempt to raise a family in their new home, but happiness was not to be. Every single one of their five children fell sick and died. Susan and Addie contracted Scarlet Fever, dying a day apart and were placed in the same casket. A son named Willie died at the age of four from what many believe was Cholera. Another daughter Kate died at eight from Yellow Fever. And Bessie, their longest living child, died at 19 from Typhoid Fever while visiting New York. The home also saw the deaths of Mrs. Irvine’s brother and husband. With no one to leave her belongings to, Mrs. Irvine left her home to the State Medical Society. The house became a trachoma hospital until 1951. Later, it became the home of the Richmond Tourism office and a museum, which it is today.
Though spirits of Irvinton are not particularly active, many have believed that they have smelled the scent of roses waft through the halls. And some have claimed to have felt an uncontrollable sadness while in the house that could possibly be left over emotions from the family that once lived there.
Irvinton can be visited Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located at 345 Lancaster Avenue in Richmond.
The Urban Legends
Though not entirely credible, Madison County has a number of urban legends that have been passed down for years.
The Blue Lady
The Keen Johnson Building on EKU’s campus has been said to be haunted by what is called the Blue Lady. Some say she was a theatre student who would go to the bell tower to practice her lines, and some say she was a nursing student. But the part of the story that is the same is that one night she hung herself from the tower, ending her life. Many students now claim to see her in the building, particularly in the Pearl Buchanan theatre when the lights are out.
Four Mile Road
Many Madison county residents know of the Four Mile Road legend, though the truth behind the story is not known. As with the Blue Lady, there are two variations of this story. One is that Little Egypt was a hitchhiker that was hit and killed by a car, the other is that she was picked up by some local boys who raped and killed her. But it is said that those wishing to see her ghost can go to the green bridge, crack their window, call her name three times, she will come into the car as a puff of air and will ride along to see if the driver is her killer. Some say that if the window is not left open so that she can leave the vehicle when she realizes that her murderer is not in the car, she will wreck the car to get out.
Located in Berea, the Pigg House was a log cabin. According to former librarian Cindy Savey, the family that once lived in the house was killed by travelers who had been invited in for food and shelter. When the travelers saw the beautiful wife they “had their way with her” and killed the whole family. Now, those who visit the house have claimed that they hear a woman screaming at times and can feel “pure evil’. The house burned down in 2006 leaving nothing but a shell.