Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Wine Cellars in Dunbar, WV

Last summer, I spent a weekend with my brother Matthew and sister-in-law Shirley in Charleston, WV. While there, we went on the search for many of the local places I had heard contained ghosts or unexplained phenomena.
One of the places we sought out was the Wine Cellars Park in Dunbar, WV. I had heard a faint whisper of a ghost story from that area, so we went to check it out. First of all, this is not an easy park to find. Maybe with a GPS it would have been easier, but we were following Yahoo! Maps directions. After a while, we found the park, situated up a holler across from the city of Dunbar- you literally had to drive under the interstate to get there. We found the sign:
But it took us a while to realize that the actual Wine Cellars are on the opposite side of the road from the sign. We walked way up into the park looking for them, but it wasn't until we turned around that we noticed the giant stone wine cellars.

It didn't look too spooky at first. Mind you, I'm always skeptical about places being haunted - but the closer you get to the Wine Cellars, the more you realize how much the atmosphere changes.
The wine cellars were built, as far as I could gather from the few resources I could find, prior to the US Civil War. I'm not sure about the history of them - so please if you know anything at all fill me in. From what I understand they were used as jails or camps during the war, then abandoned years later after the wine production stopped.

Whatever the history, the mood of the cellars is nearly like that of a cemetery at midnight - and we were there at about 2pm in the middle of a hot summer day. My brother was the first to pick up on the "vibe" from the far left cellar, which is where it got interesting.
A running thing we do is to stand in doorways or entrances of places we've heard are haunted, then ask the ghost to stand between us. I'm on the left, Matthew is on the right. If you look closely at this picture, the white fog between us had to come from somewhere. It was clear as a bell in the cellar.
More and more misty photos showed up on the digital camera the longer we were there. In the far left cellar, especially, was a lot of activity. At one point I was in the doorway, and I noticed a tiny orb of light floating in the air, rotating in place just beyond my right index finger. As I reached out for it, my brother and Shirley let out a gasp - apparently they had thought I was reaching for a black shadowy figure in the mist. But what they saw as a black figure, I saw as a floating orb of light. We've still yet to figure that one out.

Whatever the case may be, we left the Wine Cellar Park and its environs with the feeling that there is definitely something dwelling within. I have my own ideas of what it might be- and I'm happy to say that I have experienced another bit of West Virginia's Spectral Heritage. For more information on the program, visit

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Ghosts of Seneca Caverns

As I said in the previous post, my very first job was as a tour guide at Seneca Caverns in Riverton, WV. This was back in the 1990s, when the economy wasn't shot.

Anyway, during my time at the caverns, which lasted several years (I worked there all through college as well) I learned many things. I memorized the tour (which I can still recite to this day). I learned how to recognize different types of minerals simply from their color, how to deal with the public, and more importantly - how to deal with spirits.

Now you may think I am making this all up - and you have a right to be skeptical. But I am telling you that this is all based on real experiences my fellow guides and I had while working at the caverns. Now Seneca Caverns was discovered by Europeans in the late 1600s, but before that it was home to the Seneca tribe. The most famous story is that of Princess Snowbird and her love story (see previous blog entry). The Seneca, it was stated, lived in the giant cavern during the winter months, and in the warmer months they would move out into the surrounding Germany Valley to hunt.

This is Candy Mountain, a flowstone formation at the front entrance to the Council Room.

During those long winters, the shaman of the tribe would use a deeper part of the cave, now called the Council Room, as a place to hold rituals and spiritual ceremonies. To this day, the walls of the Council Room are smoked black by the fires that lit those thousands of council meetings. After the Seneca left the region, the cave was abandoned. Over the years local citizens used its 54 degree temperatured rooms as a natural refrigerator, and during the Civil War it held supplies used by both sides. It gained public prominence when it was opened to the public in the late 1920s as a tourist attraction.

Knowing the history of the cave, it is not surprising that it would have some type of spiritual activity. And during my time as a guide, I and others witnessed some pretty strange things.The most strange thing that happened was when I was giving a tour of the caverns. At one point in the tour, the tourists descend into the area known as the Devil's Kitchen and then come back out into the Council Room. I was leading the group out of the kitchen when I saw two small spheres of light zip from one side of the Council Room to the other. A young woman, who was right behind me, gasped and I knew she had seen it too. As the rest of the group came up out of the kitchen, the light spheres zipped back across the Council Room to the other side. We waited for a bit after that, but nothing else happened. It was then that the tourists became VERY interested in the ghost stories I had about the cave.

This is "Niagara Falls Frozen Over" at the far end of the Council Room The green spots are actually algae that grows as a result of the lights.

Another story involves a rather strange phenomenon - it's what we tour guides referred to as "the ghost tour". What happened on many occassions was that one or two of us would be in the cavern, and we would hear a tour approaching. This sometimes happened when maintenance was required on the lighting or stairs, so it was pretty common to just stand aside and let the tour go by. I remember one time another man and I were working on the drainage system by Mirror Lake, and we heard a tour coming up on us. So we prepared to stand under the stairs and wait for the tour to pass by. Well the voices got louder and louder, as if a tour was coming down the long tunnel known as "The State Penitentiary" because of all the columns that look like bars. Just when it sounded like the tour was going to appear, it stopped.

The other man looked at me and said, "Well I think we've done enough today." and we left by the back of the caverns. Other times the ghost tour would come, and it always happened when there were only one or two people in the cavern. Often we would go through at the end of the day to pick up trash and sweep the gravel off the stairs, and on many occasions strange things happened.

At one point, I was sweeping the stairs by the Council Room and the Devil's Kitchen when I heard footsteps behind me in the gravel. I turned around, but no one was there. Knowing what it was, I just started to hum to myself. The longer I was there, the more I felt like I was being watched. And the footsteps started again. So I gave the steps a swipe and a promise and took off through the Council Room to the end of the caverns.

Another tour guide who also had this same experience came up with a brilliant plan to counteract this ghost. She told me that it happened to her every time she swept the stairs at the end of the day. So she got an idea to follow the final tour through the caverns. She would stay one room behind each tour, but followed closely behind it. In this way, she was able to avoid the "man at the top of the stairs" in the Council Room.

The Iceberg - the last large formation in the caverns.

Now some people have thought that it was just our minds playing tricks on us, and that the ghost tour was simply an echo of another tour in the cave, but it happened when there were no other people or tours in the caverns. And there were multiple witnesses, so it was obviously not someone's imagination gone awry. I've said it before and I'll say it now: Seneca Caverns has ghosts!