All Saint’s Day is still an appropriate holiday to share a haunted house tale, right?
I had meant to post this yesterday in recognition of Halloween, but unfortunately didn’t get the chance and so here it is, a day late. Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting our first Haunted Ride. That’s me on the left acting as narrator on one of our several stops. With the help of the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation and recommendations from Facebook, we were able to pull together ghostly tales concerning the Patrick Henry Hotel, Beth Israel Synagogue, the City Cemetery, the Grandin Theatre, and 12th St in the West End Neighborhood.
It was a great ride through some interesting parts of Roanoke. Check out the photos on our Flickr page.
I also got to relate a spooky story concerning the home of Corbin Prydwen, whom you might recognize as the guy leading the house rehabilitation work in Roanoke’s West End. I thought I’d share it here. Enjoy!
Some of you may know that this house belongs to Corbin Prydwen, who has been working in this neighborhood several years renovating houses and revitalizing the community. You may also know that where we are now, the West End neighborhood, was once the home of Roanoke’s elite, the railroad executives who helped turned the city from Big Lick into the Roanoke we now know.
The story goes that in the early part of the century, as this area was turned from farmland into wealthy suburbs, a manager named Henry Frank had his eye on this particular spot to build a home. The land, however, was the home of a small family farm run by Beth and Richard Finster. They were poor, but had intentions of passing their farm on to their three children. Further, as the number of residents in the neighborhood grew, the family had found success in selling them the fruit of their farm.
So when Henry Frank first approached them with an offer to buy the land – a ridiculously low offer – they politely declined. Annoyed but unperturbed, Henry returned a few days later with a higher offer, but still the family politely but firmly declined. By this point, Frank saw his peers buying up other prime property in the neighborhood and was not about to give up his own, so he approached the Finsters with a third and, as he described it, final offer to purchase the farm. The Finsters, now no longer polite, refused, and asked Frank to leave their land.
Fuming now at their audacity, Henry Frank returned once more to their house. This time, though, it was on a cold October night, and accompanying him were several well-paid workers of the railroad. Under cover of darkness, Frank had the workers board up the windows and doors of the Finsters’ small home, and then Frank himself put the flame to the walls. Unable to escape, the family – Beth and Richard and their three children – all perished in the fire that consumed the house.
As you might imagine, the authorities were persuaded not to probe too deeply into the fire. It was declared an accident, and within a few weeks Henry Frank was able to buy the land and begin construction on his home. By the next spring, he, his wife, and three children were moved into their new home.
All was well until October of that year. On the first cold night of the year, upon lighting the fireplace, Henry found that it wouldn’t hold a flame. In fact, nothing in the house would. The lanterns went out quickly, as did the cooking fire and the wood stove. The family huddled under blankets that first night, and the next day Frank had workers check out the house, assuming it was a faulty chimney or draft that was causing the problem. The house was checked and no fault was found, and that night the fires lit as normal.
However, a few days later the problem returned. The nights were already getting colder, and Frank was furious that the builders had constructed such a shoddy house. He again had workmen check the chimney and windows, they again found nothing. After a third occurrence late in the month, on a particularly frigid night, Henry finally moved his family into a hotel in downtown Roanoke. He paid to have the chimney and other features of the house completely redone, thinking there was just a deeper flaw that needed to be fixed. A few weeks later, he and his family returned to the house.
What happened next is shrouded in mystery. It’s said that some neighbors who happened to be about and in view of the house heard a train whistle from the nearby rail yard, and at the exact moment the whistle rang out, every light in every window of Henry Frank’s home went dark.
The next day, Frank did not show up for work, and as the morning wore on his colleagues, worried, finally called the authorities and visited his home. The front door was unlocked. When they entered, they found Henry Frank, his wife, and their three children, huddled under a pile of blankets at the fire place, their lips blue, their skin pale, all of them frozen to death.
This time, an investigation was made. Why didn’t the family just leave? The police wondered. They tried the doors and windows, which opened easily enough, but further searching brought strange clues. There were broken tools scattered near the windows. A doorknob had been sheared off of a rear door. Most disturbingly, they found scratch marks on the door and window frames, and embedded in the wood of the front door were several human fingernails.
Despite the strange evidence, the police had no choice but to declare the deaths an accident.
Ever since then, this house has been a shadowy place. No one could live in it very long. Eventually, the house, and the neighborhood, fell into disrepair, and it became the home of the only the desperate and the criminal.
As you can see, much has changed. The house has found new life – returned from the dead, you might even say. However, to this day – and I think Corbin will attest to this – any time a train whistle blows, every open flame in the house is extinguished. Even the electric lights will flicker, reminding whoever lives here of what was taken from Beth and Richard Finster.