Norfolk traces its tales back to the early 17th century, soon after the first English settlers arrived in the new world. Since then, the city has seen its fair share of history: battles, fires, hurricanes, and strife. It continues to strive for that balance between Southern charm and metropolitan pace but no matter the direction it evolves into, Norfolk cannot forget the haunting tales that do not allow the past to be forgotten.
Here are just a few…
The Ghost of Willoughby Spit
There are countless stories of ghosts along the beach of the Spit which are usually intertwined with lost loves and those waiting for their return. One local legend is of a man who yearns to keep us safe. It is said that this ghost only appears as an omen that a hurricane is near. Stories of a mysterious dark figure on the beach were reported just before Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Built in 1739, the church is the only colonial-era building in Norfolk to survive the many wars the city has seen. It still carries a centuries-old cannonball embedded in its bricks, a memento from Lord Dunmore. And there are said to be more spiritual reminders of the past within and around its walls. The most prevalent sighting is a figure that appears in the graveyard, thought to be the ghost of Dr. Nicholas Albertson Okeson who tragically died of Malaria in 1882. He was a humble servant for 26 years and was buried at St. Paul’s. Perhaps he still feels there is work to be done.
The Moses Myers House Prominent
Businessman Moses Myers built this house in the late 18th Century and until it was donated to the city in the 1930s, five generations inhabited the home. The man is said to haunt the garden of the house is believed to be Thomas Bowden, someone who was quarreling with Moses Myers before he was shot on the property. It is said that the two were in the middle of a heated discussion before Bowden was shot by Moses Myers’ son, Samuel. The figure is described to be wearing a top hat and cloak, pacing back and forth through the garden relentlessly eager to give his last word.
Norfolk City Jail
It is said to be the most haunted place in the city. A prisoner many years ago hanged himself in his cell and since then, anyone who has been assigned to that particular 9’x9’ space has been terrifyingly provoked by the uneasy spirit of that man. One prisoner has reported never being able to see his own reflection in the mirror but rather a distorted figure of a man’s face. Night guards have reported seeing a silhouette, only to approach and find nothing.
The Wells Theatre
Opened in 1913 as the crown jewel of the Wells Brothers' Beaux Arts theaters, the historic Wells has gone from stage to cinema to stage again, with some scary members of the cast tagging along. The death of a small girl from a balcony fall during the theater’s movie days is still being relived. Employees say they hear her laughter from time to time and audience members have been seen in strange attire waiting for shows. And the spirit of a sailor - a crew member who fell while working on the fly system and died tangled in the stage rigging - is said to roam backstage and is often blamed for missing props or doors being locked. During rehearsals, crew and cast will often be heard shouting “Stop it, Ned!”
The famous battleship, largest ever operated by the U.S. Navy, is now a museum in downtown Norfolk, a symbol of the city’s proud naval history. But one crew member has apparently stayed behind when all others left. The poor soul was working on the air conditioning system during an overhaul during the Korean War when someone turned on the unit, ending his life. Among the reports of his presence on the ship is testimony from a quartermaster 2nd class serving on board during Operation Desert Storm. Included in his report is this:
“ I’m walking past the Harpoon launchers [port side] and you get that feeling that you’re being watched? That there’s somebody behind you? So, I turn around thinking it’s the aft lookout, coming to me for something, so I stop and turn around and look and there’s this bright white wispy shadow there behind me. Now, it’s the midwatch and there was no moon that night. It was pitch black. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face it was so black. And there is now this billowy white shadowy sort of thing floating behind me. It sort of freaked me out. The story about the electrician – at the time I didn’t know, but I went “ok, that’s enough of that’ – I turn around and start making my way forward and boom – there it is again right in front of me. And this billowy white shadowy thing is right in front of me, so I turn around and walked aft again towards the aft lookout and there it is again, behind me. So this time, I turn around and facing forward, I just took off running as fast as I can, back forward.”
Today it has been converted into a restaurant. But in 1873 the Abby was built in the city’s Freemason section. There have been numerous paranormal accounts particularly in the kitchen and bar area where things are being moved around, cupboards opening on their own, and items falling off shelves and doors that will either not stay closed or won’t stay open. There are also those who claim to have seen a dark wandering figure and the sound of a woman weeping. And to this day, employees still end the evenings by saying “Goodnight Mr. B,” a nod to a former owner of the restaurant who apparently still takes smoke breaks in the dry goods storeroom long after he has passed.
The Norfolk Pagoda
The Blessing Gate arch is a landmark that promises good fortune to all who pass under it. However, when the downtown section was part of the bustling port, the arch’s concrete slab foundation held the weight of a 5,000-gallon molasses storage drum, a sticky grave for many industrial accident victims from many years ago. To this day, many visitors comment on the smell of molasses around the gate. Could it be a message from beyond?
USS George Washington
This Navy ship is said to have a few ghosts that haunt this vessel. One is of a little girl who strolls through the lower levels, perhaps the daughter of a sailor that never returned home. The other ghost is of a guard dog that disappears instantly. And there have also been accounts of a man who walks the halls along with the eerie feeling of always being watched.
Please note: The stories depicted here have been gleaned from shared accounts, postings, and collected news features and are not meant to be taken as endorsements of the stories by VisitNorfolk. These are the merely the tales being told and visitors are encouraged to decide for themselves what is factual. Have fun.