Local ghost tours look into Charlottesville’s past
If you decided to go to Marco and Luca on the Downtown Mall on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday night at 8 p.m. from May to October, you may have found yourself walking past a tall man wearing a seemingly anachronistic black suit and top-hat and carrying a bright yellow flag labeled “Ghost & Mysteries Walking Tour.” It is even worth postponing dumplings to experience this haunted tour offered by Rob Craighurst, who created the tour and gives every single one, rain or shine.
Craighurst’s tour is primarily framed as a ‘whodunit’ mystery about the infamous 1904 murder of Fannie McCue and the subsequent conviction and execution of her husband, Charlottesville’s three-term mayor Samuel McCue.
Craighurst researched his tour, which explores the complexity of the murder investigation, through the Albemarle/Charlottesville Historical Society. The tour presents the evidence that suggested that Sam did kill Fanny, including their son’s account of the couple’s troubled relationship, the disrespectful attitude Fannie demonstrated toward Sam on the day of her murder, and the use of Sam’s own gun as the murder weapon. But Craighurst also presents the evidence that suggests the implausibility of Sam murdering his wife — the time at which Fannie was murdered, their purported intimacy and the two unidentified suspects seen running near the McCue’s house the night of the murder and who police never investigated.
The tour explains that these complexities were likely overlooked during the investigation because of biased journalists and Charlottesville citizens.
“I find the McCue story fascinating because it shows the power of the media that still exists today,” Craighurst said. “I want people to start questioning the ‘truth’ behind what the media says.”
The tour ultimately doesn’t answer the mystery’s ‘whodunit’ but leaves those on the tour with the complex and compelling details that cause them to ponder the “truth” long after the tour is finished.
Craighurst, who holds a B.S. in Commerce and a Masters degree in Computer Science from the University, started his tour six years ago.
During the two-hour tour that travels from downtown to court square and then down Park Street, Craighurst weaves in countless other ghost stories and historical notes that people have shared with him during his six years as a tour provider.
Such stories include the tale of University Prof. John Davis, whose murder sparked the formation of the Honor System and whose ghost is said to haunt Pavilion X. Other stories discuss Charlottesville landmarks such as Caspari, the Inn at Court Square and the Hospice of the Piedmont.
Craighurst said he doesn’t consider himself someone who believes in ghosts, but became interested in giving tours when he visited Savannah and went on some of the many ghost tours there.
Despite his paranormal cynicism, Craighurst’s experience during the last six years has demonstrated to him that “something is going on,” he said. There was one night, he said, where he was convinced supernatural forces, perhaps even the McCues, were at play. It was a rainy night, but still one man showed up for Craighurst’s tour. Craighurst and his tourist were sitting on the porch of the McCue house — then abandoned — when Criaghurst said a thought came to him “that this would be a great moment for a ghost to show up.” And, at that moment, Craighurst said that lightning hit the capacitor across the street. “I’d like to think it was some message from somewhere,” he said.
Craighurst said he loves giving this tour because “the story never gets old,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that everything that happens boils down to people and their stories. This is an amazing story that’s true, and it needs to be told.”
The University holds plenty of its own spooky histories, some of which include stories about the anatomical theater used for cadaver dissections that used to exist near where Alderman Library is located but burned down in 1886; the era of the Civil War when the Lawn was converted into a hospital for Confederate soldiers; Edgar Allen Poe and his Range room, number 13; and the origins of the University’s many secret societies.
“The stories are made from embellished legends mixed with historical facts,” said Chris Condon, University Guides historian and fourth-year College student. “I believe in the kernel of truth behind them … Most of the stories are from legends passed down by students or by what cannot be otherwise explained.”
Those interested in the University’s mysterious past need only take a peek in the Rotunda to find a pane of glass taken from Poe’s room 13 with the following inscription:
_O Thou timid one, do not let thy
Form slumber within these
For herein lies
The ghost of an awful crime._