The stars shine brighter in Halifax County, VA

The Ghost of Berry Hill

Berry Hill Resort has long been rumored to be haunted, as suggested by visitors and locals alike. After all, the property, which dates back to the 1770s, has had multiple uses – farm, family home, resort, with all the stories that come along with 250 years of history. Over the years, stories of ghosts and spirits have been reported by property owners, employees, ghost hunters, hotel guests, so much so that the phenomenon has even been reported in a New York Times article.

Perhaps the most famous account of ghosts comes from Richard Cecil Rogers, a poet, and caretaker of the property. Fred Watkins, who at the time owned Berry Hill, slept in the mansion a single night, and was rumored to have been chased out by a “lady ghost.” Convinced the property was haunted, Watkins refused to stay at Berry Hill, hiring Rogers to care for the mansion. Residing in one of the second-floor bedrooms, Rogers would spend nearly two decades writing poetry, watching over the property, and sharing stories with curious locals who stopped by.

“Did you ever see a Spook or a Ghost?

Did you ever have a Haunt, or something almost

Whisper, with warm breath close to your ear,

Till it froze up your blood with horror and fear?

Now, the story I tell, oh! It frightens me still!

While I worked on a plantation, called “Old Berry Hill.”

-Excerpt from Richard Cecil Rogers’ The Ghost of Berry Hill

The poem goes on to describe the events that lead Rogers to believe the mansion was haunted, such as creaks in the floor at night and windows rattling though closed. He even details his encounter with a ghost who appeared before him, crying, and questioning “where can he be?” The spirit ends up warning him to fear the living and not the dead.

Since his poem “The Ghost of Berry Hill,” several have reported strange occurrences within the mansion. Housekeepers have reported imprints of bodies on freshly changed sheets. Other employees have reported hearing footsteps, old service bells ringing, faucets turning on by themselves, tools being rearranged, and guests’ shoes moving around on their own. During a ghost hunt in 2010, participants said they experienced cold air pockets on the grounds and in the mansion, as well as finding orbs in pictures taken around the property.

Who are the ghosts that are believed to haunt the grounds? Speculation on the identity of the specters abound. James Cole Bruce, who built the mansion in the Greek revival style as we know it today, is said to haunt the upstairs. His wife, Elizabeth Bruce, is also said to haunt the mansion, allegedly searching for her children. It’s been suggested she may be the culprit behind the running faucets, as the addition of plumbing altered symmetry within the mansion, displeasing Mrs. Bruce from beyond the grave. A young boy, who fell to his death while sliding down the banister in the foyer, is said to appear in windows and photos, goose unsuspecting victims, and tug at the shirts of guests. In addition to these three, there are said to be the ghosts of three ladies in the nursery, four enslaved women and three free women in the slaves’ quarters, and the ghosts of around 20 babies and children in the foyer.

Are these ghosts real, or just the product of visitors’ imaginations? It depends on who you ask. Leland Luck, the resident historian, has said that while he hasn’t seen anything, he has heard footsteps while alone, adding that he doesn’t like to be in the mansion after dark. On the other hand, a former employee regarded it all as “poppycock.” Though activity was reported in the ghost hunt of 2010, no conclusive evidence was produced. Beth Wilson, of the investigation team GHOSTS, said “I personally can’t say that Berry Hill is haunted. It’s very possible that there is something there,” Perhaps, like beauty, the ghost of Berry Hill is in the eye of the beholder.

Selections by Richard Cecil Rogers, compiled by Barbara Bass of the Halifax County Historical Society, is available for purchase from the Historical Society, at the South Boston Halifax County Museum of Fine Arts and History, and the Halifax County Visitor Center. Berry Hill Resort is open daily, and regularly offers history tours hosted by Mr. Luck. While the resort is open to the public, investigators should be mindful of guests resting in rooms for the evening.

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