Ghosts of St. George’s -“The Gentle Ghost”

Ella McCarty
Ella McCarty
This ghost was described by L. B. Taylor in his book The Ghosts of Fredericksburg as the “Gentle Ghost”. Based on his account and Margaret Dupont’s Virginia’s Ghosts this ghost preferred not to deal with people as opposed to other ghosts.

It is 1858 and it is the current church. Ella McCarty (great grandmother of Anne Rowe, the wife of Mayor Josiah Rowe and the mother of Jeanette Rowe Cadwallender) was coming to the church for a choir practice. (Ella was 17, born in 1841, based on grave records. She is listed as 18 years of age in the 1860 “Free Inhabitants in Fredericksburg”). Apparently it was dark except for “dim light burning in the choir loft.” Dupont says Ella was accompanied by Marshall Hall who would manage the Sunday school for a generation and has a stained glass window dedicated to him. Taylor just calls him a “young man”. The organist was there too and Dupont says that both Hall and the organist went to find the sexton to try to arrange more light. Ella was left alone while the men went to find more lights. She ascended the stairs to the choir loft and sat facing the altar rail.

Taylor says Ella saw a woman at the altar rail “dressed in wife with a veil over her face kneeling at the rail”. After several minutes Taylor says the figure rose and looked at Ella with what she said was a “sad expression.” As Ella started to call out, the figure evaporated. Dupont confirms the manner of disappearance and this is what leads this story to be termed a ghost story.

There are other accounts of this ghost and other strange phenomenon:

The EpiscopalCafe published an article in 2013 for Halloween about the Ghost and ghostly appearances in other churches. The ghost is not at the altar but in the gallery in this article.

Mark Nesbitt in Civil War Ghost Trails: Stories from America’s Most Haunted Battlefields (2012) writes about St. George’s:

“According to the local police, their K-9 dogs are especially nervous inside and outside of the church. The dogs especially react at the door to the balcony. According to one officer, “There aren’t too many police officers who haven’t had an experience in St. George’s.” Police officers will check the doors at night to make sure they are locked – and they are. An hour or so later, they’ll check again, and they will be unlocked. Officers will hear footsteps walking through the sanctuary where there is no one visible, and they will hear the benches creaking as if someone was sitting in them. The caretaker was working in the cemetery and felt someone come up behind him and touch him on the shoulder, but when he turned around to see what the person wanted, no one was there.”

One of the crew from the city who used to set St. George’s clock said he had seen a strange visage on the altar during one visit to the church.

The Rev. Charles Sydnor, who was rector from 1972-2003, was asked about ghosts at St. George’s for this article: “I never had a run in with a ghost, but occasionally one of the pew doors would pop open with no one near. I would attribute that to the vibration of an old building from traffic outside, but Elizabeth Roberson, our secretary, always said it was Hattie Tackett the ghost. She also spoke of numbers popping off the hymn boards when no one had been near. Well, who knows?”

Elizabeth Roberson, who was church secretary for 35 years, remembers a situation where she was alone with a casket in the church prior to a funeral that Rev. Thomas Faulkner (1946-1976) was conducting. She said that Faulkner often wanted her to make everything was in place in the church for funerals. In this case she knew the deceased but while she was in the church, she remembers that the deceased whom she knew began talking to her. At the time she said she knew what he said. That was it – her job finished for this funeral as she ran back to her office.

The pews coming open has been reported in other articles as well as a mysterious red room seen by police officers that does not exist. (Reference – Fredericksburg Parent & Family)

We did have one paranormal group who set up equipment in 2009 one night but did not find any paranormal activity.

Back to Ella – the Rest of the Story

Dr. Hugh Martin
Dr. Hugh Martin

So what happened to Ella ? Ella met her future husband Dr. Hugh Martin (1828-1904) in the battle of Fredericksburg. Martin was born near Scotland, emigrated to Canada and then to Louisiana. He then appointed surgeon with the 5th Louisiana Infantry in 1862. He was part of the relief effort near Prospect Hill at the end of South Lee Drive today and the home Belvoir which stood back a mile from the battle became a hospital.

Meanwhile Ella who resided at 307 Caroline or 305 Caroline (Anne Rowe) was forced to evacuate Fredericksburg like most civilians. Family lore related by Anne Rowe indicates it was love at first site when Martin saw her with her “golden curls.” They were married in July, 1863 after he returned from the Battle of Gettysburg and there are surviving letters detailing their separation during the war. Martin wrote to Ella in March, 1864 – “I remain with my love to you more ardently and devotedly than ever praying God to Shield and protect and comfort you in the hour of troubled and danger…” Together they had five children, one living to 1962.

Both are buried in the Fredericksburg Cemetery and lived to 1904.