Ghost tours are popular in Old Town Alexandria and most will swing by Gadsby’s Tavern. As one of the oldest taverns in the country, it has history and atmosphere, and according to some, ghosts. To say Gadbsy’s is a long-time local favorite is no exaggeration – it’s been open since 1785.
A Historical Haunt
Gadsby’s Tavern, formerly the City Hotel, has enjoyed the company of many prominent leaders such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. The most notable of the historical guests who frequented the tavern, however, was George Washington; whose last two Birthnight Ball celebrations were held here in his honor. Thanks to the number of historical figures who visited the tavern, and George Washington’s connection to the establishment, Gadsby’s Tavern, as it’s now known, was awarded National Historic Landmark status.
Historical records note that the famous tavern changed hands multiple times after construction began on the property sometime around 1749, before it became the landmark that it is today. In 1778, the plot was divided, and two buildings eventually occupied the space. Multiple purchases of the land led to multiple different constructs and names, with the possibility of the buildings having even been used as a hospital during the Civil War.
A Female Stranger and A Mysterious Disappearance
One of the most interesting aspects of Gadsby’s Tavern’s haunted past is the confusion that surrounds it. As legend and folklore has it, a husband and wife arrived by ship from the Caribbean, seeking a stay at the well-known City Hotel. The couple lodged in Room 8 for a short time until it was discovered that the wife had become severely ill. As the ailing woman neared her passing, the husband called upon the owner’s wife, the local doctor, hotel staff and guests to give an important request: everyone present must swear an oath never to reveal the couple’s identities. This was an unusual ask; however, everyone agreed, and rumors began to spread as to who the unknown couple could be.
After the woman’s passing, her husband had a unique and large tombstone commissioned, with the following inscribed on its surface:
To the memory of a
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months
This stone was placed here by her disconsolate
Husband in whose arms she sighed out her
latest breath and who under God
did his utmost even to soothe the cold
dead ear of death.
How loved how valued once avails thee not
To Whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
Tis all thou art and all the proud shall be
To him gave all the Prophets witness that
through his name whosoever believeth in
him shall receive remission of sins
Acts. 10th Chap. 43rd verse
After the construction of the tomb and the funeral, the husband left town in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again, and still owing the town for the costs of the labor and extended stay at the tavern. To this day, the names of the traveling man and female stranger are unknown.
A Visitor From the Past
Gadsby’s Tavern has embraced its unique history, with current staff wearing colonial garb and customers seated in the original dining room from the 1800’s. Many guests and staff members have reported seeing the ghost of a pale woman loitering around Room 8, sometimes holding a candle, seemingly unable to leave her final resting place. Ghost tour guides encourage visitors to keep an eye out for her ghostly shadow while they dine at the tavern and visit the museum.
Who was this mysterious couple? How did they find themselves in Alexandria? For what reasons would their identities need to be kept a secret? Why did the husband leave town without paying what he owed? Did this couple even exist, or is it just folklore carried through centuries? Answers to these questions may never be answered, but one thing is certain: of Gadsby’s Tavern’s history and, maybe, a ghost, make it worth a trip to Alexandria, Virginia.