Charlottesville: a place spooky enough to attract the king of horror himself–Edgar Allen Poe. You may know his tell-tale, but we’re in a town full of history, and there are plenty of other spooky stories haunting Grounds. Is Bodo’s Bagels actually the home of a deep-state conspiracy? How far did one woman go to stay in her home in Pavilion IX? How did six Boy Scouts become the victims of a local witch near the Dunlora Mansion? Who was the last man to face the gallows in Charlottesville? After last call, what’s really going bump in the night at the Virginian?
While unconfirmed, these legends, conspiracies, hauntings, and crimes have become a part of Charlottesville lore.
Don’t boo-lieve us? Check them out on Halloween night and see for yourself.
Click to jump to a spooky story:
A Government Secret Under Lox and Key
What’s going on underneath the Lawn?
Do you ever wish that your bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel came with a side of government cover-ups? According to a local conspiracy theory, you may be in luck! Must be on the secret menu…
De-Bunking the Truth
In 1992, the Washington Post exposed the existence of a government bunker below the historic Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. In 1958–the height of the Cold War–the government needed a bomb-proof shelter that could protect the upper-echelons of society if the Russians ever made good on their promise to destroy Democracy. Amazingly enough, the government was able to keep this 112,544-square-foot underground fortress a secret for over 30 years. Once the public became aware of its existence, the government had no choice but to end their lease with the Greenbrier Resort and officially decommissioned the bunker in 1995.
A New Home, A New Set of Secrets
163 miles away in Charlottesville, Virginia, a different kind of unearthing was happening. Also in 1995, Bodo’s Bagels owner Brian Fox purchased the lease for the University Avenue location. Construction to convert the former Kinko’s into a breakfast restaurant began, but students and residents became frustrated at the sluggish pace of renovations. The Emmet Street and Preston Avenue locations took two and three years to convert respectively, but this project dragged on.
Corner location underwent construction for ten years. For context, the Empire State Building took just over one year to build. The White House took eight years to build. The Golden Gate Bridge took four years to build. The Titanic took two years to build. There are pyramids in Giza that were built more quickly than this bagel store. This is not to insinuate that the architecture going into Bodo’s renovations weren’t technically complex, but no one’s making a snow globe out of it.
After the arduous and suspiciously long construction process, the Bodo’s Bagels we all know and love opened for business in the Summer of 2005.
Bodo’s wasn’t the only eyebrow-raising building project happening in the university. Starting in 1992, there was a flurry of renovations at buildings surrounding the Lawn, including Minor Hall, Old Cabell, Peabody, and Special Collections. Steam tunnelers have noticed that locks and gates–which are old and rusted closer to dorms–have been updated closer to the Lawn.
These projects’ timelines aligned with the expansion of the Charlottesville’s airport’s runway from 6,000 feet to 6,800 feet, an extension that now allows the runway to accommodate larger planes. Planes like Air Force One. Interestingly enough, an airport near the Greenbrier underwent similar expansion during the construction of the West Virginia bunker.
Virginia is for Bunkers
With a timeline this suspicious, whispers quickly began: did the West Virginia bunker relocate here to UVA? If so, why Charlottesville? Why the Lawn? Jefferson’s university is the optimal bunker destination for two major reasons:
One, Charlottesville’s geography is ideal. Like the West Virginia location, Charlottesville is easily accessible from Washington D.C. by plane or car. If war were to break out, government leaders need a location that is close enough that they can arrive quickly, but far enough away where they’re out of the line of fire–especially now that we have that spiffy new runway.
Secondly, Jefferson’s Academical Village became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, meaning that it receives special international recognition from the United Nations. This status also means that if it were attacked in any way, every United Nations member country would be responsible for its defense. With the weight of the full international community as a consequence, the Lawn is far less likely to come under attack.
So if the government is hiding a massive underground bunker below our very feet, the next question comes quickly: who among us will be able to go in when society falls apart?
The Academical Chill-age
What would you do for a Lawn room?
On UVA’s historic lawn, the Romance Pavilion, more widely known as “Pavilion Nine,” has garnered a great deal of speculation. Skeptics claim that Pav 9 gained its sentimental nickname because, for years, the Academic Village building served as the home for the Romance language department. Logic and entertainment suggest a far more reasonable explanation, but you can be the judge.
In the mid-1800s, a professor and his darling wife lived harmoniously overlooking the lawn’s verdant slopes, which were not yet clod with out-of-breath streakers. The gentleman often sat looking over the students below from his upstairs window. Students would spy the instructor and offer a friendly wave. After a few days and weeks of unreciprocated hellos, there were whispers of his rudeness, but it took far longer for them to figure out the true cause of his silence.
After the professor died, his wife was determined to remain in her University sponsored home–no matter what. Every morning, the widow changed her husband’s clothes and propped the dead professor in front of the window. Unfortunately, she never devised a marionette system that would allow her to answer the students’ greetings, or she might have been able to prolong her husband’s good-natured reputation.
For months, the widow was able to pull off this Weekend at Bernie’s prequel. Eventually, the smell became too much for the lawnies to bear and they began to investigate the source of the foul odor. Once the jig was up, the administration had no choice but to ask her to leave grounds.
On stormy nights, if you listen closely enough, you can still hear her howling into the wind that she “totally should have gotten a lawn room.”
The Charlottesville Witch Project
Something’s happening in the woods surrounding of Charlottesville.
In the summer of 1920, six Boy Scouts and their troop leader trekked into the woods surrounding Charlottesville, Virginia.
The British crown granted the land to Major Thomas Carr, a highly regarded general and brother-in-law of Thomas Jefferson himself, in 1724 for services to The Crown. I’m sure Claire Foy was just thrilled.
Into the Night
In the middle of the night, the troop leader awoke after hearing a strange noise from outside of his tent. When he left to investigate, he found the boys’ tent empty. Assuming that the Scouts were playing an irritating but harmless prank, the man grabbed a flashlight and wandered into the woods. As he fruitlessly shouted their names into the summer night, a palpable sense of unease began to rise.
In the distance, he could make out a faint glimmer through the trees. Thinking that he had, at last, found his troop, he made his way towards the light to give his boys their merit badge in Hide-and-Go-Seek. Instead, he wandered towards the stately but decrepit Dunlora Mansion.
He crept inside. Slowly, at first, but then he heard what sounded like a boy’s cry coming from the cellar. He whipped around to follow the scream, but rather than finding his trusted mulch-sales-boys, he looked into the face of evil.
There, right in front of the leader’s face, was the snarling grimace of a witch. Since this was real life and not a cheap horror movie, the scoutmaster did what any rational person would do, and high-tailed it out of there. He could hear the witch following behind him, but he kept ahead, determined to find the help he so desperately needed.
What he found up the road was far more terrifying than the witch behind him. At the end of the small dirt path, the scoutmaster found what he had feared from the moment he saw the snarling witch: the dead bodies of the six boy scouts.
Their bodies were carved open with a precision that precluded any animal involvement. Only true, hell-sent evil could have perpetrated such a deed. With blood pouring into the country road, the leader dropped to his knees, surrounded by a wicked brutality and the heat of a Virginia summer night.
A New Day, A New Set of Horrors
When the police found the scout leader the next morning, he was curled on the side of the road spewing nonsense about some witch and her cellar. It took hours until the officers could entice the leader to bring the search party to the camp. They arrived to find a scene that shook them to their very core.
The boys all laid silently inside their tents, lanterns hung and sleeping bags secured. From the chest up, all was well. Below, their stomachs were slashed with a surgical fury. Some were missing intestines. Others, their livers. The officers didn’t have to wait long to find the missing organs: those were propped over the still-hot campfire as though someone was preparing a hearty breakfast before a long trek.
Obviously, the Scoutmaster was immediately arrested on six counts of murder.
The next morning, seven mature but gnarled trees mysteriously appeared on the Dunlora property. Six of them are rumored to hold the boys’ spirits. The seventh? That holds what was left of the troop leader’s sanity.
With the rest of his mind locked away in a Spruce, the leader was ruled unfit to stand trial. He spent the rest of his days in an asylum, calling out to the witch that had stolen his boys’ souls.
From Forest to Family Homes
Current property owners categorically deny this story, which, coincidentally, is exactly what I would also do if I was trying to cover up a witch.
Today, the land is home to a lovely planned community of quiet cul-de-sacs and upscale single-family houses that I can only imagine are filled with beautiful natural light. The school district is exceptional and rumor has it that at least one-quarter of the houses hand out full-size candy bars on Halloween.
There is maybe also a witch, though that aspect was likely left off of the Zillow descriptions.
All Gallows Eve
The Death of Samuel J. McCue
Plenty of UVA students have had some rough nights in the Charlottesville City Jail–public intoxication, drunk in public, minor in possession, ABC violation, jaywalking, conspiracy to defraud the United States. However, no one’s time in the clink–no matter how wild–comes close to being as spooky as that of former Charlottesville major J. Samuel McCue. Aside from leading a banging city-wide turn-of-the-century party in 1900, McCue is best known for being the last man executed in the city of Charlottesville.
On the night of September 4, 1904, Mayor McCue returned to his home on Park Street–now the home of the Hospice of Piedmont–where he lived with his wife, Fannie Crawford McCue. Mr. McCue, it seems, was tired of his wife’s requests that he stop “associating” with other women. He constantly whined about her nagging, but since he was a literal murderer I’m going to go out on a limb and say that her complaints were probably justifiable.
Overwhelmed by Fannie and her unreasonable requests for monogamy, he snapped, striking her with a baseball bat. Fannie fled to the bathroom, where her husband followed with a gun. According to McCue’s confession, Fannie spent her final moments pleading for her life:
“Oh Sam, Sam, you are killing me. I shall die anyway. Don’t treat me so.”
McCue maintained his innocence for months, claiming that a burglar murdered his wife. He went so far as to place an ad in the next morning’s Daily Progress offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer.
McCue’s lies couldn’t save him from the inevitable, and he was arrested and sentenced to die. It was only then that McCue admitted his ghastly actions and provided an account of that horrible night.
On February 10, 1905, McCue was brought to the gallows to meet his maker. Witnesses reported that “the trap was spring [sic] at 7:34 o’clock, life was extinct at 7:53 and the body was lowered at 8.”
McCue’s actions are a dark part of Charlottesville’s long history, a history that is on display here at UVA. If studying for midterms isn’t terrifying enough, feel free to stop by the Special Collections archives to see the rope used to hang McCue.
Boo-gie Nights on the Corner
An unexpected relic of the Virginian’s past
For years, the Virginian has been a staple of the University of Virginia social scene. The Virginian has been a popular spot since its opening in 1925–making it the oldest restaurant in Charlottesville. Now, It’s the place to go if you want to dance on an elevated surface while courting a law or Darden or med-school student–which one doesn’t really matter so long as they can support you and your English-degree. While only the under-21 crowd and their surreptitiously-sourced “novelty identification cards” normally has reason to fear this corner staple, there something else lurking on University Ave that could give us all a fright.
The beats may be bumpin’ during the day, something far more spooky is going bump in the night after the doors close. Managers refer to the Virg regular as “Heather,” but she isn’t a friend of a server and she never pays her tab. When the phantom isn’t sitting in booth 14 after close, it’s known to toss stein glasses from the cases and knock produce off of the shelves in the refrigerator.
As of print, it is unclear as to whether or not the ghost has been put up for Virg Elite.