Battersea After Sundown: Visitors Beware
It was a typical summer evening devoid of activity at the old Battersea villa. The tall grass rustled in the dusk breeze, and the estate stood stately against the backdrop of fading daylight. Off in the distance, one could hear a train’s horn as it clicked and clacked down the tracks by the Appomattox.
But Battersea wasn’t to be left quiet this evening. A Battersea Foundation member was stopping by to check on the house.
When she drove up to the front entrance and stepped out of her vehicle to open the gate, everything looked in order from what she could see. Pushing the gate open, she peered absentmindedly at the residence growing darker as the sun set behind it. Her glaze passed several times over the house’s exterior before she noticed some movement in one of the upstairs windows. Thinking it was probably her eyes playing tricks on her, she unwaveringly got back into her car, and made her way up the drive.
However, as she got out of her vehicle and walked toward the porch, she soon changed her mind. The large front door was ajar, and the impenetrable darkness of the house suddenly sent her into a state of caution. She warily moved forward, but not without fishing a flashlight from her bag and turning it on.
Inside there was complete silence.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
A gust of wind blew through the open door, but no reply came. The woman thought that maybe someone else was checking on the house too, but reluctantly abandoned the idea when she realized there were no other cars in the driveway. Could it be an intruder? The thought put her on high alert as she walked deeper into the Battersea home.
Moving through the dank rooms, all she encountered was dust floating in the beam of her flashlight and the creaking of floorboards. She was working though her mind what she would do if she found a criminal in the house. On one hand, she didn’t want to put herself in danger, but she also wanted to avoid a false alarm. It was quite possible someone had just forgotten to lock the door when they left. She told herself this was the case as she decided to venture up the curving staircase shrouded by spider webs and into the darkness above.
Ascending the old staircase, she soon felt a drop in temperature, and goose bumps rose on her skin. The sudden chill was too extreme to be the cool of oncoming dusk, which had now faded into nighttime. Her breath became visible, and her heart began to thud in her chest. She felt paralyzed for a moment, not wanting to move. But something beckoned her to continue on, and her feet carried her into the first room.
Immediately, there was an oppressive feel to the space. It had a musty smell and the smallness of the room was enhanced by its darkness. The woman scanned the area with her flashlight. Nothing.
But then, she heard something. Behind her, there was a quick rustle, almost like that of crinoline . . . like a woman’s skirt? She didn’t want to turn to confront the sound. But she was trapped in there. The only way out was through the doorway—and toward it. Her urge to escape the Battersea residence built with every second.
Ever so slowly, she turned back toward the door and exited without making a sound. It was when she had begun to descend the staircase, when she heard a woman’s voice invitingly come from a second room, she had left untouched. She glanced back to see a warm glow emanating from the cracks around the closed door. Had someone been paying a trick on her this whole time? She was going to find out.
Stepping tentatively to the door, the eerie coldness worsened with every inch she covered. The ornate brass doorknob had frost creeping around it and up the sides of the door’s wooden panels. If this is a trick, it surely is an elaborate one, the woman thought as she began to shiver. The cold metal fiercely stung her hand when she turned the knob and pushed the creaking door open.
Inside, it was freezing, but a fire burned widely in the fireplace. The presence of a fire was so odd that the woman stopped in her tracks, startled at the sight. On the mantle, an old wooden doll stared unblinkingly back at her. It looked as if it was from the 18th century, with its colonial-like and moth-eaten clothing, and its rustic features. How has this gotten here? She walked toward the mantle and reached to pick up the strange doll, when suddenly, she heard the rustle again and a lady’s harsh whisper—right next to her ear.
“Don’t touch it!”
She quickly retracted her hand and about-faced to the find . . . someone . . . or something there with her.
In the corner of the room was what appeared to be a lady in white, who looked as though she was from another century with her period dress and bonnet. Her face was so pale and eye sockets so darkened that she looked skeletal in appearance. She turned her head toward the woman, and spoke to her once more, her voice emanating throughout the room with her blue lips unmoving.
“Mr. Banister doesn’t like visitors after dark.”
The woman stood frozen under the gaze of the specter.
“But you have come anyway. My name is Mrs. Elizabeth Munford Banister. I was the first—and often forgotten wife of Mr. Banister,” she said with a cruel chuckle. “They don’t like to remember me because I wasn’t from such an esteemed line as the Blands and Blairs, whom my husband married into after my death. I suppose that is what determines a wife’s importance, isn’t it? It is also easily forgotten that I bore Mr. Banister’s first son. I guess a wife needs to have many children to be memorable. That’s what defines us women. I would have had more children, but there were many—difficulties. I made that doll for a little girl I hoped to have one day, but each time I was to have a child—they passed away prematurely. And then I did too, never given a chance to be important to this family of mine. But you, you have disturbed my peaceful residence here.”
The ghost floated toward the woman . . . so close that she could feel the icy grip of the specter as she placed a skeletal hand around her forearm. The hairs on the back of the woman’s neck stood straight up, and she couldn’t think or breathe. Her absolute terror was paralyzing.
“Now, LEAVE!” Mrs. Banister shrieked . . . and then evaporated from the scene. The fire blew out immediately and the room went black.
The woman tripped over herself to get to the door, flung it open and fumbled down the stairs out of the Battersea house. She panted heavily as she sprinted over the lawn to her car and drove away with such speed that gravel flew from her tires and a cloud of dust trailed behind her.
Mrs. Banister watched her taillights fade into the distance from her upstairs window. Never to encounter the woman again in her home, Mrs. Banister was confident she had been frightening enough to keep visitors away after sundown.
But to this day, some visitors claim to have seen someone looking out onto the Battersea property from the second floor. Some say it’s a woman; others aren’t sure what it is they’ve seen. But one thing is certain. The Banisters cared deeply for Battersea, so much so that they may still be here today, ensuring it remains for generations to come.
By Rachel Tischler
Editor’s note: Want to learn more about Petersburg’s rich cultural history and heritage? Plan a visit to the Battersea Foundation today.