Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Ghostly Grey Lady of Washington

It is, of course, the Americans who have put Washington on the tourist trail. The first President of the United States of America was George Washington, whose family originally came from Washington. The American Washingtons had moved to the New World in 1656 after getting into some political difficulties during England’s Civil War. The flag of the United States is said to be based on the coat of arms of Washington, which features stars and stripes.

Be that as it may, it was not phantom presidents that brought me to Washington but a White Lady. The ghost is said to haunt Washington Old Hall, once the home of the Washington family and now in the care of the National Trust. The building is well signposted and stands beside the church in the centre of Washington village, around which the new town and its industrial estates is built.

Joe, who described himself as the general maintenance man, welcomed me to the Old Hall. “Definitely haunted”, was his verdict. “I’ll show you around but you’ll have to hurry. We’ve got a party of school children turning up around 12 and they tend to take over the whole building.” Joe led the way past the reception desk, where an impressive array of souvenirs was on sale, and turned right to enter a room occupying much of the eastern end of the ground floor.

“This is where most people see her,” said Joe. “This is the Panelled Room, see. Back in the old days when this was the grand old hall it was the private chamber of the lord and his family. Out there in the main hall,” Joe pointed back to the large chamber occupying most of the ground floor, “was where all the farm workers, servants and what have you ate their meals and did their work. This was a quiet room for the Washington family.”

Was the ghost seen often?

“Well, depends what you call often,” said Joe thoughtfully. “About four or five times a year, I think.” This was not unusual for a ghost, I thought. “She usually sits in the centre of the room on a chair. Just sitting there minding her own business like. Though she does seem to make the temperature drop. People who see her say the room gets suddenly very cold and they look round to see if there is a draft or something, and see this lady sat in a chair. But sometimes she walks about. And here’s the thing. She walks straight through that wall there.” Joe pointed at the north wall of the room. “And that tells us how old she is, you see.”

I did not see this at all and asked for details.

“Well,” continued Joe. “After the Washington family sold up and moved out the Old Hall passed through the control of various families and by around 1840 it was all divided up into tenements and rented out to poor families. Right state the house was in then. They just pulled down interior walls and put up partitions as they liked.” Joe looked round disapprovingly. “This end of the ground floor was made into one big room, from front to back. That wall was not there. Then in 1951 the house was bought up by a trust that wanted to preserve it and restore it. They put this partition wall back in where it should be and bought up a load of oak panneling from an old house that was being pulled down. So the ghost must date from the time when that wall wasn’t there. That’s why she could walk right through it.”

This made sense to me. In my investigations I have often noted that ghosts tend to behave as if they are repeating time and again things that happened to them when alive. This is why ghosts sometimes walk with their feet several inches above, or below, modern ground level. They are walking where the ground was in their day. And why other ghosts, such as the Washington White Lady, walk through walls.

“Mind you, that’s not all,” confided Joe. “She loves lavender, does our White Lady. More times than I can remember, I’ve come in here to open up in the morning and smelled lavender. Other people can smell it too. It can be very powerful. And one chap we had in here a few years ago for a wedding got home to find a sprig of lavender in his suitcase. Funny that. At another wedding, the photos taken in this room all came out spoiled. There were flashes of light and balls of glowing light floating about, though nobody had seen anything at the time.”

Joe made to leave the room, then stopped.

“And this door here. You can never keep it open, and you can never keep it closed. Doesn’t matter how you leave it, its the other when you come back.” Then he led the way out of the Panelled Room and up the staircase to a large room on the first floor. A group of ladies were scurrying around a number or trestle tables, loaded down with costumes and various knick knacks, getting ready for the school visit.

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