Blennerhassett Island Haunted island in the Ohio River near Parkersburg, West Virginia. Blennerhassett Island was home to a wealthy family who met with tragedy and ruin. Numerous Ghosts have been experienced there since the 19th century.
Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1796. Unlike most Irish immigrants, the Blennerhassetts were wealthy aristocrats, thanks to Harman’s inherited family fortune. They decided to move to America in order to have privacy: Harman’s wife was also his niece, a young woman still in her teens when they wed.
The couple anticipated making a gracious new life in the New World. But even on the ship across the Atlantic, a harbinger of bad times occurred. The captain of the ship fell mysteriously ill and died. He may have been poisoned, or he may have died of food poisoning. His death cast a cloud over the rest of the journey.
Once in America, the Blennerhassetts went to Philadelphia, then Pittsburgh, and then south into the Ohio River Valley. In 1798 they purchased a small island known as Backus Island, named after Elijah Backus, who bought it in 1792. The island became known as Blennerhassett Island.
Harman and Margaret set about creating their own “Little Eden.” They erected an elegant white crescent-shaped Palladian mansion, importing building materials from Europe. Construction was completed in 1800 at a cost of $40,000. The mansion gained fame as a jewel in the Ohio River. Margaret especially loved her new home and wrote in her diary about never wanting to leave her paradise.
The couple had three children: a son, Harman, Jr.; a daughter, Margaret; and an adopted son, Dominic, a French boy. The first stain on the Blennerhassett paradise came when little Margaret sickened and died at age two.
Financial troubles set in. The Blennerhassetts squandered most of their money on their lavish lifestyle. In a few years, Harman was trying to regain his wealth in risky schemes. He fell prey to AARON BURR, vice president of the United States who was to become infamous for treason and for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Burr had a scheme to form his own country by buying huge chunks of land in what is now Louisiana, Florida, and Mexico and raising an army against Spanish troops in New Orleans. Harman agreed to be a backer.
Burr set up his headquarters at Blennerhassett Island, recruiting and training soldiers and raising funds. President Thomas Jefferson learned of the plans and authorized the Ohio state government to send in troops. Burr and Harman escaped. Margaret and the children stayed behind. Harman was charged with treason and was imprisoned for a short time. He lost the last of his money defending himself in court in Richmond, Virginia.
After Harman rejoined his family, the Blennerhassetts found themselves at the center of shame and scandal and felt forced to leave their island home. They went to Mississippi and Canada to start plantations, but these ventures were not successful. Margaret pined away for her “Little Eden” island, but she was never to live there again.
Impoverished, the family eventually went to England, where Harman died in 1831 at age 66. Margaret went to New York City and died there in 1842.
The mansion fell into disrepair. Soon farmers used the house to store their hay and hemp. In 1811, thieves in search of wine accidentally started a fire that burned the mansion to the ground in about an hour. Yearly floods of the island covered over the foundation stones.
In 1973, archaeologists uncovered the foundation stones, and in the 1980s, the mansion was reconstructed. Blennerhassett Island is now a historical state park and has a museum devoted to the Blennerhasset family.
The most prominent ghost on Blennerhassett Island is Margaret, who appears as a slim young woman in white with chestnut-colored hair. Smells of perfume and horses—she was an avid rider—often accompany her APPARITION. During her life, Margaret often stood on the island’s shore for long periods of time, waiting for Harman to come home. Visitors to the island see her ghost along the shoreline. Once seen, she quickly fades and disappears.
Margaret also has been seen searching for the grave of her little girl, who likely was buried near the mansion. The grave has long been lost to the elements, and no remains of the daughter have ever been found. Margaret’s remains were moved to the island. Harman requested burial on an island off the coast of England; the location of his grave is not known.
The ghost of a tall Indian, carrying a bloody tomahawk, has been seen on the island. During the excavations of the 1970s, several Indian skeletons were found, including that of an exceptionally tall male. It has been speculated that the Blennerhassetts disturbed an Indian burial ground by building their mansion and thus may have activated a standing curse.
Several ghosts are believed to be the slaves of the Blennerhassetts, including Ransom Reed, one of their favourites. Reed often rode out with Margaret on horseback; he has been seen circling the reconstructed mansion. The slaves’ ghosts have decreased in sightings over the years, especially since the return of Margaret’s remains in the early 1990s.
- Sheppard, Susan. Cry of the Banshee: History & Hauntings of West Virginia and the Ohio Valley. Alton, Ill.: Whitechapel Press, 2004.