A-haunting we will go

Published 8:52pm Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By daylight, downtown Suffolk looks like an innocuous little Southern town with varied architecture, train tracks and even a well-lit cemetery.

Kevin Sary and Karen Washburn lead a ghost walk tour in Cedar Hill Cemetery.
Kevin Sary and Karen Washburn lead a ghost walk tour in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

But when the sun goes down, the cemetery becomes a dark, dangerous place where the spirits of the past still roam; the train tracks lead along dark twists and turns where legends say the ghosts of tragedies still seek their heads; and even the once-friendly buildings harbor specters, unexplained occurrences and otherworldly noises that have been heard by the sanest of people.

One of those sane people is Kevin Sary, a city employee in the tourism department who has been leading ghost walks downtown for the past three years. He spent about a year researching ethereal happenings and legends and talking to folks who have had eerie experiences firsthand to put together the tour. He also throws in his own experiences from working in the Visitor Center when it was located in the Prentis House, widely rumored to be the most haunted home in Suffolk.

The tour, which lasts about 90 minutes and takes folks about a mile through downtown Suffolk and Cedar Hill Cemetery, mixes stories of ghosts, hauntings and the unexplained with a smattering of history and even some bawdy tunes. It’s led by Sary and “Mary Margaret,” played by actress Karen Washburn.

“It’s fun, and we try to fit in some history, too,” Sary said. “It’s not all about ghosts. It’s the history of Suffolk. People like to hear stories.”

Daring souls who accompany the costumed Sary and Washburn on the tour will hear about UFO sightings, tragic Civil War deaths and old murder cases — argued in the old Nansemond County courthouse, now restored and serving as the Visitor Center — that never did quite get resolved.

Guests will be thrilled by the tales of a ghost with an affinity for certain foods and music, grievous deaths in the Great Dismal Swamp and a family in Lakeside that stays in their home to this day despite an apparent haunting.

Some of downtown’s ghosts are playful, too. Guests will hear about apparitions that misplace remote controls and calculators, make items fly off shelves and cause lights to flicker.

Lucky ghost walk attendees might be fortunate enough — unless they're superstitious — to spot a black cat or two crossing their path.
Lucky ghost walk attendees might be fortunate enough — unless they’re superstitious — to spot a black cat or two crossing their path.

And, as if to add to the atmosphere, lucky tourists will spot a stray black cat or two in Cedar Hill Cemetery, where some of the most compelling evidence of visitors from beyond has appeared on benches and behind gravestones (and been posted on YouTube — just search “Cedar Hill Cemetery Suffolk ghost”).

“The tours do kind of fill up, so if people want to make reservations, it’s better to call ahead,” Sary said.

“Legends of Main Street: A Suffolk Ghost Walk” will take place this fall on Sept. 21 and 28 at 7 p.m., Oct. 5 at 6 p.m., Oct. 25 and 26 at 5:30 p.m. and Nov. 2 and 9 at 5 p.m.

Brave souls hoping to meet the silhouettes of yesterday should arrive at the Visitor Center, 524 N. Main St., shortly before the starting time of the tour. They should also register ahead of time by calling 514-4130.

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