By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — From hair-raising shivers to cold goose bumps on the skin, ghost lovers are finding more places than ever to get the scare of their lives. During the month of October, folks can get their fair share of chills and thrills at local haunted buildings, mysterious forgotten amusement parks and even a psycho circus, complete with a skeleton trapeze performer. Weekends now belong to the spirits of the two Virginias.
Tony Riffe, of Princeton, is spending Saturday nights at Lake Shawnee, near Spanishburg in Mercer County. Riffe, a founding member of Appalachee Paranormal, is giving people a chance to experience the paranormal with something other than a flash light and a bad case of nerves.
The Spirit of Lake Shawnee tour begins at 7 p.m., right around dusk.
“They get a history tour about the park from the landlord’s son Gaylord White II. He does a walk through and talks about the hot spots,” Riffe said. “He then tells the story about the seven untimely deaths in the park.”
One “hot spot” is the story of a young girl who was supposedly killed on the swings. According to both White and Riffe, a delivery truck slid or backed up in the path of the swings. The young child was killed on impact. Her ghost has been seen several times.
It isn’t all ghost stories. With Appalachee Paranormal, participants can be a part of an investigation. Riffe and other paranormal members will allow people to use their equipment.
“We end at midnight, at least. They get about four to five hours of investigating. They need to bring flash lights and if they have equipment, they can bring it as well,” he said.
The brave ones have the option to camp during the night.
The tours are a part of a collaboration with the land owners, Riffe added. He hopes people will come out because of Lake Shawnee’s popularity with locals and out-of-state ghost hunters.
“This place has been featured on the Sci-Fi Channel, the Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel,” Riffe said. “It is a local place, but it is known nationally.”
The history of the land goes back to the pioneer days. The Clay family settled in the Lake Shawnee area, but Tabitha and Bartley Clay, children of Mitchell Clay and Phoebe Belcher, were killed during an Indian attack. Their younger brother Ezekiel was taken to an Indian village in Ohio, where he was burned at the stake. The family left the area and returned to Giles County, Va.
In 1926, C.T. Snidow opened an amusement park. It closed in 1968. The current owners — the White family — purchased the land in 1985. While working on the property, they started to notice strange events.
“From day one, we knew it was haunted ... in the ’80s, we were afraid to tell people about it. Our friends and neighbors knew though,” White said.
In the early 2000s, he caught a local woman sneaking into the park to take pictures. Her eagerness about the area caught him off guard. Between 2004-2005, the state contacted White about allowing a film company to explore the area. Other film companies, paranormal investigators and TV shows have followed. ABC Family produced “The Ten Most Curious Places in the World.” The Travel Channel filmed the area for their show “The Most Terrifying Places in America.” More continue to come. White even hinted at a possible movie in the future.
Local residents can experience the same eerie feelings every Saturday night. So far, Riffe said families as far away as the Charleston area have traveled for the tour. Tickets are $50 for adults and $25 for children. There is no age limit, but parents should use caution with younger children, Riffe said. For more information, call 304-425-5716.
Lake Shawnee isn’t the only place in Mercer County with ghosts. Steve Coleman, a local photographer, has always been interested in ghosts, especially in Bluefield. He said there are all kinds of stories in downtown Bluefield. Coleman gives tours every Friday and Saturday night in October.
“We will walk around town and talk about the history of the buildings,” he said.
Coleman started the tours three years ago, took a break and has restarted this fall. Coleman also uses paranormal equipment on the tours. He combines the findings with history.
“One of the stories is kind of interesting. A lot of us have been investigating for a long time. We kept meeting this female ghost who was seductive, flirty. Later, we found out there was a brothel there during the turn of the century. It is history meets ghost hunting,” Coleman said.
Coleman said other ghosts have been seen at the Landmark Antiques and the former Commercial Bank Building — now the Historic Bank Lobby — and more.
Tickets are $12. The two-hours tours begin at the Historic Bank Lobby, starting at 7 p.m. Tours will leave at 8 p.m. Entertainment will be provided before and after the tours. For more information, call 304-887-7606.
If ghosts don’t give you goose bumps, try psycho clowns at Gary Bowling’s House of Art in Bluefield. This is the second year for the haunted house, but the first circus theme, Gary Bowling said. Last year, more than 1,500 people went through the haunted house on the third floor of the Bluefield Area Arts Center.
“We wanted to change it up this year,” Bowling said. “A lot of the stuff is made out of recycled materials.”
There is a bearded-bat lady, killer clowns, a gorilla and more to entertain the crowds. Brian Aliff, one of the artists at Gary Bowling’s House of Art, created the robotics, Bowling said.
“Along with live actors, we have things that are electronically controlled. I think we have about 20 people involved. There are street performers with music and a circus wagon. We are really proud of the visuals,” he said. “We are an art gallery so we are trying to present it as a visual.”
Tickets are $6, but with a canned food donation, people can purchase tickets for $5. The tour is open to the public on Oct. 19, 20, 26, 27 and 31. Tours run from 7 p.m. to midnight. For more information, call 304-324-4242.
The town of Bramwell will also host a walking ghost tour on Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. There will be plenty of activities for children and adults. For more information, call 304-425-8738 for tickets.
The spookiest places in the two Virginias
By JAMIE PARSELL
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