‘Are you a sensitive or insensitive’, a young ghost hunter tour guide asks me as I step outside the Weems-Botts Museum, the 4th most active haunted place in the entire state of Virginia. Looking perplexed, as this was not only my first ghost lock-in but my very first ghost tour, my eyes darted around the dark street, wondering if someone was playing a trick on me.

He spoke up again, ‘have you ever had a paranormal experience?’ Oh, no, I say, buttoning up my jacket and gripping my flashlight, losing any cool points I might have had when I calmly walked up to the museum.

While I have never personally experienced a ghost, I’m known to get fairly spooked at my own shadow and I’d rather not add the ghost encounter to my bucket list.

So, what was I doing on an overnight museum lock-in ghost tour, you might ask? Well, I was intrigued.

Apparently this historic house in Dumfries, Virginia is quite active for ghost sightings. Several ghost hunter shows have visited and filmed episodes trying to catch the ghosts as they haunt their way through the small town center.

On this night, I was joined by 6 other sensitives and insensitives on a nine hour ghost tour where the docents of the museum would tell us ghost stories from the house and nearby area. After mid-night and a tasty snack to keep our energy up, the group would be split into two and separated into different areas of the house to see if we could catch any ghostly encounters on film or even with our own eyes. Several of the people in my group dressed in traditional costumes of that period, think hoop skirts, big boots, vests and bonnets. They also brought offerings and gifts for the spirits in hopes that this would encourage the ghosts to play nice with them.

Setting the Scene, The History of the Weems-Botts House

The main house, which is now the museum, is said to be haunted by the last residents who lived there, Mary, Richard and Violet Merchant. The museum is set up so that visitors can view what traditional houses would have looked like in the time that they lived there, along with artifacts and reproductions that have been donated to the museum. The spirits living there is just an added bonus for ghost lovers in the area.

The Merchant family history is a sad one, with Mary, the youngest daughter, being held in an upstairs bedroom for her entire life, 24 years. It is unknown exactly why, but it is believed that she had epilepsy and at the time, her family thought she was provoked and possessed by the devil because of her body movements during an episode.

Goosebumps were already forming on my arms as I heard the first little bits of the haunted museum.

The father, Richard, is quite protective of Mary, who apparently fell down the stairs to her death. The two of them are known to be in one bedroom while Violet is on the opposite side of the house and reportedly opens and closes a small window if you ask her nicely.

The thought of nicely asking a ghost anything had me skeptic and nervous at the same time. I wasn’t prepared to ask Violet to open the window because I don’t know what I’d do if it actually happened.

The Tour and Lock-in

Senstives, it is later explained to me, are people who are receptive to ghostly encounters; perhaps they’ve been touched by a ghost, heard one or have even seen one. I was an insensitive, meaning I’ve never experienced any of those things, and that was fine by me.

Many of the employees at the Weems-Botts Museum have had an experience, books have been misplaced or moved, a hand has touched the shoulder of the museum director, long hair has swept across one of the guides’ faces while he was taking a short nap, to name a few. They have photos and voice recordings on Youtube of experiences they’ve caught on film. Other people, including many former students of the nearby school, have reported ghosts around the schoolyard and the adjacent cemetery.

The schoolyard and the cemetery just so happened to be our first stops on the ghost walk, a fairly short walk from the Annex building. The docent recounted several stories of the ghosts that walk the property of the school, including a school janitor that many students and faculty have seen and a young girl who plays “teacher” in the library.  When we arrived at the cemetery, we walked right up to a hanging tree and immediately several people in my group confessed to feeling cold and unsettled. A wave of sadness hit one visitor and our whole group fell silent.

It was getting later in the night and the sounds of the streets nearby had almost completely disappeared. It was pretty spooky and the stories that the docent had told previously in the night were starting to play out in my mind. I found myself looking over my shoulders on more than one occasion and I swear I heard footsteps when no one was behind me. Was I becoming a sensitive or was the mood of the night just getting to me?

Other tour visitors were snapping photos without the flash to see if anything would pop up in the photos. One other attendee brought a recorder to detect EVPs, electronic voice phenomena, in the cemetery, to record the noises we were hearing.

I was doubtful that I would snap a photo and actually see anything. But something stopped me from taking photos at first. I was terrified that something would actually show up. I couldn’t convince myself that ghost didn’t exist if I had evidence that I took myself.

After watching them and hearing their woos and ahhs when they caught something that looked like it maybe, quite possibly, could be something ghost related, I gave in. I started snapping away. Once I hit the trigger the first time, I couldn’t stop. I looked at every photo immediately after taking it. Was there a ghost in this frame? What are those lights? Does that shadow look like a face? I became obsessed.

When we were separated into different rooms of the house and given helpful tips to bring out the spirits, I was a little nervous. We settled into the room and began telling stories of ghost experiences that the other visitors had experienced. Hoping that those stories would encourage an experience from these ghosts, but nothing seemed to happened. The wait and wonder was enough to have my stomach all in knots. Even though nothing happened the anticipation was making me sick.

I did not have a ghost experience that night, but look at the pictures and tell me what you see.

As I was leaving for the night, one docent labeled me an ‘insensitive’, and I was okay with that; The idea of a ghost sighting actually terrified me. She asked what hotel I was staying at and that a ghost had been seen at a nearby Holiday Inn Express- just the hotel where I was checked-in. I started to sweat, after no sleep all night all I wanted to do was curl up in my hotel bed for a few hours but now I was nervous. Luckily, the ghost had been seen in room 305 and I was staying in room 405 (what are the chances!). She said she didn’t think it would travel from room to room, a little comfort after telling me the hotel was haunted. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that day. 

Join a Ghost Tour at Weems-Botts

Dumfries Haunted Heights Ghost Walk takes place every Friday and Saturday nights in October at 7pm and any month with a Friday the 13th. The over night Ghost Lock-In is every Saturday night in October and starts at 9pm. Call ahead for reservations. 


This post is brought to you by Travel Mindset and Prince William and Manassas.