Local paranormal legends

Witness reports suggest that the region has some dark secrets.

haunted GMU
Photo courtesy of George Mason University, edited by Hannah Mitchell

Northern Virginia is full of staged haunts and festive frights, but less theatrical scares can be experienced through simple word of mouth. Home to some of the most violent Civil War battles plus an alleged insane asylum, the area has found itself at the center of some chilling stories.

Here are some of the spine-tingling tales that have been passed down through the generations.

Old Man Johnson, George Mason University
George Mason University’s rowing team reports being followed by a ghost they call “Old Man Johnson.” As the story goes, Old Man Johnson was a frequent rower in Fairfax during the 1970s who, after returning from an evening on the water, found his wife in bed with another man. Heartbroken, Johnson returned to his boat, rowed into the night and never returned. Many believe that Johnson jumped off of the Occoquan River dam and that his spirit still haunts GMU’s campus.

“Sometimes boat straps are taken from boats and things are moved around the park,” Daniel Luongo, one of Mason’s rowers, said. “We’ve heard a faint scream in the distance, the sound of him going over the dam.”

Miss Lucy, Old Towne Inn
Today, Manassas is a suburban hub for local families. However, the area’s history is far less friendly having hosted the Civil War’s First Battle of Bull Run. Confederate spirits are rumored to still haunt certain historic landmarks, the Old Towne Inn being one of them due to its 19th century architectural influences and close proximity to Manassas National Battlefield Park.

A spirit by the name of Miss Lucy has been known to taunt, trick and even levitate guests in rooms 50, 52 and 54. Old Towne Inn employees say that Miss Lucy is a “playful spirit” from the Civil War era who’s only trying to have some fun.

Mary Custis Lee, Old Post Chapel
Within the Old Post Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery, witnesses have described hearing inexplicable footsteps, peculiar organ music at odd hours of the night and seeing apparitions that disappear just as quickly as they are seen. The most notable apparition spotted is supposedly that of Mary Custis Lee, wife of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee. She is believed to guard Arlington National Cemetery’s Robert E. Lee Memorial (formerly the Custis-Lee Mansion) and torment any Old Post Chapel visitor that disrespects her husband’s memory.

Anonymous Artist, The Loft Gallery
The Loft Gallery features intricate wood creations and impressionist paintings from George Jones III and Susan Norman, respectively, though paranormal activity also appears to be on display. Since opening in 1986, featured artists have described seeing a “glowing mist” floating through the gallery. There is also a report of a painting flying clear off of a wall with no conceivable explanation. Loft Gallery staff believe the spirit is that of an artist rejected from the gallery during its early years, tormenting other artists and their work out of jealousy and revenge.

Bunny Man, Colchester Overpass
As the legend goes, Fairfax residents successfully petitioned to shut down a Clifton asylum prison in 1904. But while transferring the inmates to a new facility in Lorton, one of the vehicles crashed, killing most of its passengers. Ten inmates were able to temporarily escape from the crash, and all but one (Douglas J. Grifon) were found. Shortly after the roadside incident, local residents started finding hundreds of half-eaten, skinned rabbits hanging from trees in Fairfax County.  During a search for the missing inmate, police found the remains of a man named Marcus Wallster hanging from the bridge in the same condition as the rabbit carcasses. Dubbed the “Bunny Man” in connection with the creepy findings that followed his disappearance, Grifon is said to haunt the Colchester Overpass.

The last time Clifton resident Pat Parr visited the area, she says her car was “surrounded by a snake and five large dogs,” which nearly prevented her from leaving the bridge.