For years, Woodlawn estate has been considered one of Alexandria’s most supernatural attractions. This month, the focus of its annual Halloween tours shifts from the haunted house to its haunted inhabitants from 1805 through the 1940s.
"The title of this year’s tour is ‘Superstitions and Premonitions, and it’s based on things that have been reported to have happened inside the house," said Dottie Palmer, who helps operate the gift shop at Woodlawn, 9000 Richmond Hwy.
Some of these reports are culled from correspondence written by former residents of the house.
"In a lot of these letters, they talk about the premonitions that they had, and a lot of them came true," said Stacey Hawkins, special events and programs manager for Woodlawn
Hawkins talked about Agnes, a 15-year-old girl who used to live in the house and had a premonition about her own death that eventually came to pass. There are also tales about séances held inside the estate, and voodoo rituals practiced by the African-Americans who lived on the grounds.
"There’s an energy here," said Hawkins.
THE WOODLAWN Haunted History tour is scheduled for Oct. 26-28 at the estate. Tours run from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m., and leave every 20 minutes. Cost is $15 per person; according to Palmer, there are no discounts. Reservations are required; call 703-780-4000 for reservations, and visit www.woodlawn1805.org for more information.
The staff at Woodlawn operates the tours, often providing their own research into the presentation. "We don’t have a theatrical troupe or anything," she said.
The tour, a fundraiser for the house, ends with cider and cookies for those who attend.
Hawkins said this year’s Halloween tour has been revamped. "We’re doing a whole new thing this year. If there are people who have come before, it’s all different," she said.
For one, there is an effort to have more audience participation this year. Hawkins said the goal is to make visitors feel as though they aren’t watching history, but taking part in it.
But that realism comes with a warning: that this tour may not be for all ages.
Hawkins said the attraction is not recommended for children under eight, although in the end it’s up to parental discretion.
"It’s kind of dark, and sometimes they don’t understand [what’s happening]," she said. "When we have the coffin stuff, or we have some of the people walk towards them, they just kind of start crying or run from the room."