by Eric Bonetti
Every evening, as night falls and darkness spreads its long, icy fingers across the land, silence descends like a pall upon the cathedrals, churches and graveyards of The Episcopal Church. Buildings that, only a few hours earlier, were bustling and full and life, stand empty in the dark.
Or do they?
Some say that our majestic houses of worship welcome not just the living, but the souls of the dead as well.
Why would the dead return? No one knows. Some say they seek to visit those they love. Others believe it is to attend to unfinished business, to right a wrong, or to seek solace among the living. Others say it is to check on the welfare of the church they loved deeply in life, and continue to love, even in death. Some even think that wraiths visit the church to express their dislike of changes in the church–an explanation that many will find all too plausible!
Whatever the reason, tales of hauntings abound in The Episcopal Church. Predictably enough, many of these tales come from the east coast, where the church dates back hundreds of years. At the same time, tales of ghostly activity exist all across the church, at churches both great and small, old and new, rural and urban.
Read on, and enjoy a brief, pre-Halloween visit with just a few of the ghosts of The Episcopal Church.
St. Mary’s-in-Tuxedo, Tuxedo, NY
A gloriously beautiful church, one of the hallways in the building has been the source of reported ghostly sightings since at least the 1940’s. Witnesses report that the phantom is that of a clergy person associated with the parish.
Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, NY
Home to breathtaking beautiful stained glass windows, the church is said to be the scene of numerous visits from the beyond, including shadows near the altar; the benign specter of an elderly and loving parishioner, now long gone; and even an irritated wraith, reportedly angry about changes to the building.
St. Paul’s Chapel, New York, NY
Given its proximity to Broadway and the theater’s long association with the supernatural, it is no surprise that the cemetery is said to be haunted by the headless ghost of an actor, who donated his head to science. Today, he is thought to wander the earth, seeking to have his skull reunited with his other earthly remains.
St. Andrew’s, Staten Island, NY
The scene of a recent paranormal investigation, visitors are reported to have experienced loud, unexplained noises in the middle of the night, as well as heavy chimes that rang with no visible cause.
St. Stephens, Mullica Hill, NJ
Located in one of the most historic areas of New Jersey, the second floor is a favorite stop for those hoping to photograph unexplained activity, including eerie lights that are said to represent the souls of the departed.
Christ Church, Alexandria, VA
This beautiful church, where notables have worshipped including George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and Winston Churchill, is home to a cemetery bearing some of the oldest legible headstones in the area. Legends tell of ghostly activity in cemetery, including a recent instance of a ghostly face unexpectedly appearing in a photograph taken at the gate to the cemetery.
St. John’s, Lafayette Square, Washington, DC
The so-called “church of the presidents,” is home to a bell cast by the legendary Paul Revere, as well as a pew that, by tradition, is reserved for the president of the United States.
Over the years, many have reported that, when the bell tolls for the death of someone famous, six ghostly male apparitions appear briefly in the president’s pew at midnight, only to quickly vanish.
Grace Episcopal Church, Alexandria, VA
This lovely stone church, built in an English country style (and home parish of this author) is said to be haunted by the apparition of a man in robes, seen in the hallway near the church library. Additionally, there are reports of loud footsteps in the third floor hallway late at night, after the building is secured. Upon investigation, no reasonable explanation for the heavy footfalls is ever found.
Aquia Episcopal Church, Stafford, VA
This church, which predates the civil war, is said to be haunted by the specter of a soldier killed during the war, with activity focused on the church tower. Others report that ghostly activity relates to a young woman who was murdered on the property. In any case, tales of unearthly lights and sounds in the church date back many years.
St. George’s Church, Fredericksburg, VA
Another church with roots deep in history, St. George’s is said to be visited by the ghost of a woman in white, who appears in the second-floor gallery. Indeed, some claim to have photographed this shadowy figure!
Old Trinity Episcopal, Mason, TN
This small, clapboard church, scene of vandalism in recent years, is said to be haunted by the souls of those whose final resting places have been disturbed. Numerous reports exist of eerie sights and sounds in the cemetery, as well as unexplained phenomena relating to a statue of the Virgin Mary located near the church.
St. Luke’s, Cleveland, TN
Famous among local residents, the Craigmiles family mausoleum, located in the church cemetery, built of white marble, is reportedly streaked with red, reflecting various tragedies the family has suffered over the years. No explanation for these red streaks, or their return following various attempts to remove the ghastly markings, has ever be given.
St. Paul’s, Key West, FL
Tales abound of ghostly presences in the church’s graveyard, including an apparition dressed in clothes of many, many years ago. Visitors also report seeing the ghost of a long-dead sea captain, as well as those of several children. Recent visits also have resulted in unexplained phenomena in photographs taken at the site, including ghostly balls of light that manifest at night.
Chapel of the Cross, Mannsdale, MS
This beautiful gothic church, built around 1850, is said to be haunted by not one, but two, ghosts. One is believed to be the wraith of a governess who died years ago in a house fire; the other is said to be the inconsolable phantom of a young lady whose fiancee was killed in a duel and buried at the church.
St. Paul’s, Leavenworth, KS
The first Episcopal church in the area,some report hearing other-worldly music coming from the church late at night, long after the church is empty.
Nashotah House, Nashotah, WI
Established in 1842, this seminary is said to be haunted by various phantoms, including a “black monk,” thought to be the ghost of a priest who committed suicide on the grounds, and who now walks the grounds late at night.
St. Andrews, Nogales, AZ
Rumored to be built on the site of a Native American burial ground, this contemporary church building is said to be haunted, indeed. Tales abound of candles that light themselves, unexplained footprints in the building, and even a full apparition of a Native American, said to walk among the pews.
St. Mark’s, Cheyenne, WY
Hauntings here are said to center on the bell tower, which allegedly has been the scene of mysterious noises including banging sounds and muffled voices. Legend has it that the phenomena are caused by the death of a stone mason, who fell to his death during construction.
Trinity Russian Hill, San Francisco, CA
Said to be visited by an ethereal figure in grey, the church also is said to be the site of inexplicable cold spots and mysterious noises.
Christ Church, Portola Valley, CA
The road near the church is said to be haunted by a ghost that appears in front of startled drivers, only to vanish without a trace. Tales of this haunting are of relatively recent origin.
Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC
Of course, no collection of ghostly tales would be complete without reference to the glorious Washington National Cathedral. Towering over the nation’s capitol, the cathedral is one of the largest in the world, and home to not just scores of creepy gargoyles and a gloomy crypt, but supposedly the ghosts of both a president and an church employee as well.
Visitors report that Woodrow Wilson, the only US president interred at the Cathedral, rises at night to walk the cold marble floors, the cane he used in life making a gentle tapping sound as walks the deserted building.
Even more chilling is the library building, the site of a 1946 murder. While no reports of an apparition exist, it is said that some sense a restless soul lingering near the basement site of the homicide. Feelings of unease, as well as a sense of being watched by an unseen force, are thought to emanate from the shadowy corners of the basement.
(editor’s note – add your stories in the comments)
Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.