A columnist, novelist, and author, Zach Cooley lives in Wytheville with his wife Emily.
My wife has said many times that she would happily make her living as a paranormal investigator if it were financially possible, having been a longtime fan of such TV programs as Ghost Hunters on SyFy and Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. When Wythe County was placed in the national spotlight in February 2012, as the Haunted Major Graham Mansion was featured as the eighth season opener for Ghost Hunters, Emily and I watched with pride for our local heritage, but disappointment on behalf of the TV investigators. We knew from our own research that a “quiet” night in terms of paranormal activity at this historically rich establishment would have rendered more results then these guys seemed to capture.
Even before we knew the Haunted Major Graham Mansion was to be featured on the popular national television show, Emily and I had already been invited to attend a public paranormal investigation led by Tami Quinn, mother of my best friend Stephen and founding member of the local Proof Positive Paranormal group. Two of a dozen guests, we were divided into three teams and led by an investigator. I never expected to see the interior and experience its many famous rooms and its ambiance of spookiness, grandeur and nostalgia until Stephen offered to assume the task of carrying me through each one. This required him hoisting me up and down three flights of stairs. I am so grateful to him for doing this and am relieved that he survived the evening without physical strain or injury.
At any rate, our November 17, 2012 investigation was a huge success and indescribably fun for us. Mansion director Mary Lin Brewer, whom viewers of the Ghost Hunters episode will recall, was very kind to include us in on the enjoyment of the night as were the brilliant and delightful members of the Proof Positive Paranormal group. As we travelled through each room, Mary Lin provided us with an excellent history of each room, all of them containing their own unique ghostly stories .
During the ghost hunt, we travelled to three different areas to conduct our group investigations. First was the slave’s quarters, where some faint knocks and sounds were heard. Personally, although Emily and I found the place creepy, we didn’t experience anything hair-raising. For Emily, that all changed when we got to the basement. Being seated closest to the door, Emily recalled feeling two separate presences beside her. The first one seemed to be warm and welcoming and is believed to be Sam, one of the slaves convicted of murdering Joseph Baker in 1786. The other presence was cold and frightening.
Having fallen in love with Redemption: Legends of the Major Graham Mansion Book One, the wonderful novel about the Major Graham Mansion by Rosa Lee Jude and Mary Lin Brewer, I had to ask the spirit if he intentionally killed Mr. Baker. The answer first indicated maybe, then a clear yes. This was indicated by a device conceived by our group investigator, Dallas Edwards, which consisted of three different colored flashlights. The blue light was illuminated for “yes,” the yellow for “maybe” and the red for “no.”
From there, we proceeded upstairs to Clara’s room. As I mentioned in my book, Hazel’s Little Bud, a young orphaned girl named “Clara” was allegedly kept hidden from Squire David Graham by his daughters, Bettie and Emily, who kept and secretly tutored her and other children in a second-story classroom during the Civil War. Keep in mind that, until we reached this room, I experienced nothing paranormal. The new batteries were dead in the investigator’s voice recorder, so the only equipment that could be utilized were metal rods that are supposedly manipulated by the spirit to indicate a “yes,” “no”, “maybe” or directional response to a question.
Clara, a supposed girl of 8 or 9, seemed to be active, particularly when she was prompted to interact with Stephen. She supposedly likes young guys and he was her clear favorite. She always rolled the ball to him wanting to play. Then, I went from being amused to frozen when a cold breeze seemed to encompass my lap. I couldn’t explain it, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a draft, as I had been around windows all evening, but my triple-layered clothing had blocked drafts otherwise. I also can’t explain why I felt compelled to ask if she knew where her parents were. Emily was experiencing similar feelings. “Do you know that we want a child?” she asked Clara. With both our laps feeling frigid to the point of numbness by now, all signs pointed to yes. The question if she wanted us to be her parents was also affirmative. “Careful,” warned investigator Michael Melton. “Don’t invite her home with you.” I quickly withdrew, stating that we’d be happy to help her if we could, but we couldn’t take her home. We were stirred more than I ever expected. Unfortunately, there were no recordings of this session to further validate what we felt.
When we were asked in our fourth grouping to return to our favorite spot, I let Emily choose where we would end the night. Though I went with her to the basement, I was secretly disappointed that we didn’t return to Clara’s room. However, being in the basement, I felt the coldness in my lap again, but said nothing, dismissing it as psychosomatic. With no response from anyone with the lights, Tami voiced her own feeling that there was indeed a spirit with us, specifically a young one. When they determined it to be Clara, I was floored at the idea that she may have followed me downstairs! I’m happy to report that she didn’t follow us home.
At any rate, I am forever grateful to my best pal Stephen Quinn, his mom Tami and all the Proof Positive Paranormal crew as well as Mary Lin Brewer and owner J.C. Weaver for an immensely enjoyable and thrilling night. We would definitely love to join them again and would recommend you do the same if you so desire. For more information, please visit www.majorgrahammansion.com or www.proofpositiveparanormal.com.