Located in Abington Virginia, The Martha Inn Building has served as a home, a women’s college, a Civil War Hospital, a residence for traveling actors at the local Barter theater, and now a hotel over the last 174 years. The Martha Inn was originally built in 1832 by General Francis Preston for him and his family of nine children. In 1858, the house was sold to the founders of the Martha Washington College and became an all-women’s college for seventy years until the Great Depression. During the time of the Civil War, the building served as a training ground and wounded soldiers would be taken to what they called “The Martha” for treatment. In 1935, The Martha Washington Inn opened to the public and has served as a hotel ever since. Over time, the Martha’s architectural designs have persevered for nearly 150 years. The Preston family’s original living room is now the main lobby of the inn and many of the original items owned by the family are still in the hotel such as the grandfather clock that resides in the East Parlor of The Inn (Wikipedia, 2020).
With the long history of The Martha, there are plenty of paranormal claims that have been told over the years. When Googling The Inn, various websites are shown which discuss the paranormal experiences that many have had over the years. I knew I had to go and investigate this hotel, especially since on several online lists it was ranked one of the most haunted and active locations! Most of the more popular and common paranormal accounts of The Martha Inn revolve around a spirit named “Beth.” She was said to have been a talented violin player and student at the Martha Washington College during the Civil War and would take care of the wounded soldiers. Beth and one of her patients, Captain John Stoves, fell in love but Stoves did not survive due to his wounds. Before he passed, Beth promised to play him one last song on her violin and multiple accounts have said that she either played for him as he died or that he passed before she got to play for him (Colonial Ghosts, 2017) / (Haunted Places to Go, 2018). There have been reports of being able to hear a beautiful violin playing late at night from rooms 217 and 403 – there have been claims of multiple rooms(Colonial Ghosts, 2017).
Another popular tale of the paranormal at The Martha Inn is a reappearing bloodstain on the third-floor wing. A Confederate soldier was in love with a woman who was a student at the Martha College and went to visit her before a mission. He was said to have snuck into the school but was caught by two Union soldiers who shot him in front of his lover as his blood covered and stained the floor. It has been said that the bloodstain continues to appear and carpets over the area often develop mysterious holes over the stains. Even after the floors were refinished, the stain continued to reappear, a sad reminder of the tragedy of the Civil War (Wikipedia, 2020).While these two are the more popular paranormal tales from The Inn, other accounts include a phantom horse that has been seen on moonless nights looking for its owner, the ghost of a wounded soldier aided by a crutch hobbling through the long hallways and leaving a trail of mud in his wake (Colonial Ghosts, 2017).
After checking in, I was given a brochure discussing the historic life of The Inn, with the back of the brochure discussing the haunted happenings as well. I tried to compare all the paranormal accounts from the online websites with the brochure, and the popular stories were the same with slightly differing details. The back of the brochure is entitled “Of Memories, Ghosts and Legends” and states “many of The Martha’s most poignant legends evolved during the Civil War. Some are but memories handed down, some are based on original fact, and some perhaps, have been embellished upon through the years. Yet all steadfastly persists!” (The Martha, brochure).
The brochure told the story of Beth and her lover, Captain John Stoves with the brochure saying he died while she was playing her violin for him while she died shortly after from typhoid fever. “The two are now united in death in Abingdon’s Green Spring Cemetery. The story insists that on the night of the full moon, Beth’s haunting violin melodies may often be heard on the third floor.” (The Martha, Brochure). The brochure also discusses the phantom horse that is said to be seen on the grounds of The Inn. The rider of the horse was struck by a bullet, taken into The Martha for treatment, and died there at midnight. “For hours, the horse roamed the campus grounds waiting in vain for his master. The next day, a town wide search showed no sign of the animal. We are told to this day, on moonless nights, a ghostly riderless horse sometimes can be seen on the hotel’s south lawn.” (The Martha, brochure). The third and final paranormal story on the brochure describes the reappearing bloodstain from the dying soldier on the third floor of The Inn. This story matches the ones online by discussing how the soldier went to visit his lover but was shot dead before her with his blood staining the floor and to this day, still appearing even after being cleaned or covered. This is said to happen on the third floor or the “Third Mansion” of The Inn. After reading the back of this brochure, it was time to find out if I could witness any of these events.
Nothing online discusses any paranormal activity in room 429 where I stayed, but there were several accounts of paranormal activity all over The Inn, so I wondered if I would be able to find any of the spirits that lingered inside. On the first night that I stayed there, I was given a map of The Inn at checkout and decided to explore by seeing the various areas of The Inn that had the most reported activity from my research. I walked through the hallways near the rooms where it is said you can hear the sounds of Beth’s violin playing, but I did not hear anything nor was I able to find any sort of bloodstain that was said to reappear in the Third Mansion.
Most of the documented places with activity were rooms, so unfortunately, I was unable to investigate those, so I went back to my hotel room to see if I could get any readings or activity from equipment that I brought. For this investigation I brought a digital recorder to ask questions and determine if I could record any Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVPs (which are sounds on electronic recordings that are interpreted as spirit voices which are harder to hear with only the human ear), an Electromagnetic Field Reader with temperature measurement or EMF Reader (which measures the levels of electronic energy that spirits are said to emit and temperature drops which can indicate a spirit ), a REM Pod (which produces its own field of electromagnetic energy and if something disrupts this field the sensor activates, and a full spectrum camera ( the filter that blocks the UV (ultraviolet) spectrum has been removed, giving the photos and videos taken on these cameras a slight pinkish/purple hue from UV light, which is present all around us. It is believed that some entities can be seen in the UV spectrum).
With this equipment, I hoped to find and detect any paranormal activity in my hotel room. After two nights of investigating and using this equipment, I was unable to record or detect anything within my room. The only notable event that may have been paranormal was my full spectrum camera suddenly malfunctioning all weekend causing flashes on the screen rendering the camera useless. Before the investigation, the camera was working properly and once arriving back home, the camera started working again. I am unsure why this happened, but it is said that spirits can cause equipment to malfunction, or my camera could have simply stopped working. I was unable to debunk this.
After being unable to experience anything paranormal in my hotel room, I thought it would be best to try and talk with someone who worked at the hotel to see if they experienced anything or had any information for me on my investigation. Luckily, I was able to speak with one of the front desk concierges about her experiences working at the hotel and other workers’ experiences that she knew about. She had worked at The Inn for the last few months and had not experienced anything personally.
She then told me about some paranormal accounts that her supervisor, who we will call Ashley, has experienced during her employment at The Inn over the last 15 years. Ashley worked at the front desk for many years and sometimes assisted with cleaning the rooms. On the fourth floor, Ashley walked into the room where she would be cleaning and had a weird, heavy feeling, so she wanted to hurry and finish the job. She was cleaning the bathroom and went to spray a foam cleaner on the mirror. Letting the foam set, she continued to clean the rest of the room. When Ashley returned to the bathroom, there was a cursive “B” written in the foam on the mirror. She checked the room and the mirror to ensure no one could have come into the room and drawn the “B”, but she did not find anything or anyone that could have drawn the letter. Could this “B” be for Beth, the spirit that is said to be on that floor?
She also mentioned that a lot of people, both staff and guests, have heard violin music playing in the 400-405 sections of the rooms. She said the paranormal occurrences that occur in that area are not malevolent but more of a helpful presence. An example that she told me about was a guest who was staying alone in one of the 400 level rooms. While in the shower, the guest realized he did not have a towel and when he opened the door to the shower, there was a towel, perfectly folded for him. A kind gesture from a spirit, yet one that could be somewhat terrifying! She also said that there have been reports of lavender perfume scents or apparitions in the rooms, causing male guests to think their wives are in another section of the room but end up being asleep next to them, or even being touched!
Throughout the hotel, she said that strange, unexplained things will happen and most of the employees have experienced something if they worked there long enough. The most common experiences being the feeling of being watched and the cabinets in rooms being open with no explanation. The most active parts are said to be the lower levels and third mansion wing. She mostly has felt uneasy on the first floor and by the main staircase, where I read that people online have taken photos with various figures behind them (Virginia Haunted Houses, 2015). But another common area that she told me which has a lot of reported unexplained happenings is the library next to the front desk. There is an old, heavy globe that sits in the corner of the room and sometimes moves on its own, making a loud squeaking noise. Before I spoke with her, I was in the library spinning the globe myself. I had to put a lot of force behind it for it to move and it was an extremely loud squeak. She also told me that the workers at the front desk will hear the globe spinning by itself and guests have reported sitting in the library and watching the globe move by itself.
After the interview, she mentioned that the hotel kept a notebook over the last several years called the “Ghost Diary”. She allowed me to read over its many weathered pages. Within the 30 pages or so, both guests and employees have documented their unexplained accounts over the past few years, with the earliest account in 2013! There were also a few newspaper clippings regarding the unexplained events that occurred in The Inn as well. After flipping through the pages, I noticed the most common events were hearing violin music, the TVs in the rooms turning themselves on by themselves, objects in the rooms moving to different locations within the room, the feeling of being touched or kissed, the globe moving on its own and hearing the loud squeaking sound, seeing figures in the rooms, the smells of perfume, the feeling of being watched, and electric fireplaces turning themselves off and on. Most of the activities listed have room numbers and building wings associated with them and the activity seems to be scattered around the hotel, with the most active in the 400 level rooms of the Mansion Wing for seeing figures, hearing violins, and smelling perfumes. While other activities documented in the journal occurred in the library and rooms 100 – 400 of the Garden Wing; it appears that most activity occurred in the 400 level rooms of the Mansion Sing.
After reading through the “Ghost Diary”, there were a few things that could be debunked such as a report of a refrigerator being brought into a hotel room that was not working and another report of an outlet not working when plugging a phone in to charge. Since these things were only written in the journal once, they seem to be more of an outlet/electrical issue in those rooms rather than paranormal, in my opinion. The other accounts listed above and in the “Ghost Diary” could be paranormal, but since these unexplained events were only documented without being investigated, they are within the unknown and unexplainable.
Finishing the “Ghost Diary”, I returned it to the front desk when the concierge was talking to one of the bell hops who also agreed to speak with me about his unexplained experiences at The Inn. One story was when The Inn was completely empty one night, he heard loud footsteps walking across the hall upstairs in the 300/400 Mansion Wing. Most often, he felt like he was being watched when going through The Inn, especially in the garden wing in the 100 level room levels. He said that was a common feeling for the bell hops as went to different rooms daily to drop off luggage. He also commented that there was always a feeling of something or someone watching hotel employees when no one else is there. Both the front desk receptionist and bell hop gave me their permission to use their stories and the examples in the “Ghost Diary” for this essay.
In conclusion, while nothing paranormal happened to me during my short stay, I do believe there are spirits that still walk the halls of The Martha among the living. This building has been standing for many years and bears a historic and tragic past which could explain why there is so much activity there. The building is beautiful, and I have learned a lot of Virginia history by staying here and performing historical research. I was able to learn about the paranormal events there as well and I will be returning to stay at The Inn one day. Maybe then, I will be able to hear Beth’s beautiful violin music with my own ears.
- Colonial Ghosts. 2017. “Apparitions at Abingdon” 15 August 2027
- Haunted Places To Go. 2018. “The Martha Washington Inn” 2018.
- The Martha. (2020) The Martha Washington Inn & Spa [Brochure]
- Virginia Haunted Houses. 2015. “Martha Washington Inn – Abington VA Real Haunts” 21 December 2015
- Wikipedia. 2020. “Martha Washington Inn”27 March 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Washington_Inn