Ghosts of Smithfield’s past

Published 5:56 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Town residents and visitors from as far away as Virginia Beach encountered specters of Smithfield’s past during the 1750 Isle of Wight Courthouse’s annual Halloween ghost walk on Oct. 23-24.

From 7:30 through 9:30 p.m. Friday, groups of 10 ticketholders left the old courthouse every 15 minutes. Due to higher than anticipated demand, two additional time slots, at 7 p.m. and 7:15, were added on Saturday.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, all ticketholders were required to wear masks, though the “ghosts” themselves — each portrayed by a courthouse volunteer — were unmasked.

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The tour spanned roughly one block of Smithfield’s historic district, the first stop being the old jail on North Mason Street, where the ghost of a habitually intoxicated man told them of the various punishments one could receive for drunk and disorderly conduct, a common offense in Smithfield’s colonial days.

From there, it was a left onto Grace Street, where specters of Thomas Pierce II and Julia White told the history of two historic homes: a brick house at the corner of Grace and Mason streets known as “The Grove” and “Oak Grove Academy,” where a school for girls had operated through the 1850s at the corner of Grace and Institute Streets.

The group then backtracked to Smithfield Volunteer Fire Station No. 51, where the “ghost” of a Smithfield volunteer fireman, portrayed by Joe Giltner, and Connor Smith, an active member of the modern-day Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department, showed off an early fire engine. From there, it was down Hayden’s Lane, where the specter of Elizabeth Bennett Young told the group how she saved the Isle of Wight courthouse records from the British during the Revolutionary War.

The tour concluded with Albert Burckard, portraying an early 20th-century Suffolk fireman, telling the group of the 1921 Great Fire of Smithfield, which devastated the town’s peanut industry, and the ghost of William Rand, architect of the 1750 courthouse, explaining how he built the place.

Tickets were $10 apiece. According to David Hundley, a member of the 1750 courthouse’s board of directors, the proceeds will go toward programs and maintenance at the historic courthouse.