Previous Page  13 / 32 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 13 / 32 Next Page
Page Background







, S




If the walls of the now defunct Virginia

General Assembly building could talk,

what kind of tales would they tell? I began

wondering about this as the structure

was being emptied out and readied for

demolition. I knew there were lots of

interesting things that happened there over

the years and plenty of secrets that would

probably never be told.You know, the “What

happens in the GAB, stays in the GAB.”

sort of thing. But I particularly wondered if

there were any ghost stories that could be

shared. It had suddenly occurred to me that I had worked there over

10 years and never actually heard of any.

There are all kinds of reports of hauntings around the Capitol area,

and that’s to be expected on such an historic site. Surely, I thought,

there must be some that involved the GAB. I must have missed them

somewhere along the way, but somebody else certainly knows.

That curiosity sent me on a mission to ask as many people as

I could who have worked around the Capitol in various capacities

what they might have heard over the years. I contacted a wide variety

of people from senators and delegates to Capitol Police and long-

time legislative staff. Even those who had worked in the building

the longest, such as Delegate Kenneth Plum—the longest serving

member of the House of Delegates, and Susan Schaar—Clerk of the

Senate who has worked in the clerk’s office for over 40 years, had not

heard of any ghost stories there.

Most people connected with Capitol Square tell me they have

heard of mysterious sightings and sounds involving other buildings.

Stories abound around the Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, the

Supreme Court Building, the Patrick Henry Building, Old City Hall,

and on the grounds itself. In fact, one former member of the Capitol

Police, Paul Hope, wrote a book about some of his experiences called

“Policing the Paranormal: The Haunting of Virginia’s State Capitol

Complex.” However, I have yet to find any of these incidents attached

to the GAB.

On the other hand, most people who worked in the General

Assembly Building knew it was a “sick building.” “Sick Building

Syndrome” is a term used to describe situations in which

building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects

that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific

illness or cause can be identified. There was plenty of asbestos, mold,

plumbing and HVAC problems creating various health hazards.

One former staff member I talked to had to quit her job because of

severe allergies and other reactions to materials inside. She got so she

couldn’t even walk into the GAB.

There were several efforts over the years to replace the building,

but budget and politics kept getting in the way. The fact that it’s

finally being demolished was prompted by a publicized 2012 review

indicating that the 11-story General Assembly Building had problems

with asbestos, faulty air flow, rotting windows, a leaking roof and a

crumbling façade among other issues. It was a health hazard not only

for everyone working there, but also the public.

The Capitol Studios, where I often worked, were in the basement

of the building. There were often strange sounds emanating throughout

the office, much of which were workers in the walls above, elevators

arriving and leaving the basement, people working out on the street,

noisy vehicles going by and that kind of thing. We never thought of

them as anything paranormal.

The atmosphere was also dim and dank, and it occasionally

flooded if it rained hard enough or a large amount of snow around the

building began to melt. Dehumidifiers and fans were a regular part of

our daily studio set ups.

When I first started working there, stalactites were prominent

throughout the main studio hanging from the maze of pipes above

our heads. Occasionally, some of them would drip on us. We didn’t

know what kind of substance or substances they were made of, and

in a way, we didn’t want to know. A sign warning of asbestos was

posted in our office area, and strange smells emanated from the back

storage room that probably included black mold.

One of my former co-workers, Billy Lamberta, reminded me of

the strange old gym with the discarded CPR mannequins that was

down in the sub-basement below us. He said he probably took a few

years off his life wandering down there with the asbestos and mold.

I always heard how creepy it was, but never got around to having

someone take me down there, and I was never adventurous enough to

go search it out for myself.

These sorts of things could be disconcerting and maybe even a

little scary, but none of us thought of them as being otherworldly.

The press room for various print, radio and television journalists

who covered the Capitol on a regular basis was also in the basement,

and at one time it was bustling with activity during sessions.

Bob Lewis, media relations manager and former political reporter

for The Associated Press, mentioned that even during busy sessions

he heard people say the affectionately titled “dungeon” around the

bill room could be particularly spooky.

As for actual hauntings, he added, “I used to stay in that building

till the wee hours during budget conference time, and sometimes

would definitely get the creeps up on the 9th and 10th floors when

conferees had left, and I was still filing stories from my laptop. I

never saw or experienced anything like a poltergeist or spirit entity. It

was just my tired brain and active imagination.”

When asked about possible ghosts, media consultant/instructor

and former reporter/anchor, Bill Oglesby, replied, “No, just some

pretty pale legislators.” Columnist and feature writer for the

Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bill Lohmann, hadn’t heard of any, but

decided to ask his friend and senior photographer for the Richmond

Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown. Brown reported, “Lots of skeletons in

lots of closets, but not aware of any ghosts.”

Senator Jennifer McClellan speculated that ghost stories most

often abound where there have been battles, places where people

have died or where they had a strong emotional connection. The

General Assembly Building apparently didn’t fit the bill for any of

those qualifications.

Even though those walls may not have talked or housed ghosts, they

did witness plenty of citizens and lobbyists arguing with lawmakers

and waging battles over bills. And there were plenty of deaths as a

result—of potential legislation. Many can claim battle scars from

fighting for or against various bills, and legislators can tell you about

the horrors of watching their bills die in committee. Dead bills don’t

tell tales, make noises or walk the halls, and they’re often forgotten.

Delegate Plum responded with his own theory about the lack of

hauntings, “The building was filled with asbestos. Probably killed

off or scared off the ghosts. As you may already know, the building

housed the Life of Virginia life insurance company. Maybe they took

their ghosts with them.”

News Director for 88.9 WCVE Public Radio, Craig Carper, had

yet another take on why there are ghosts reported in other buildings

nearby, but not in the GAB. “I didn’t want to spend any time there in

life. I’m sure no-one wants to be there in the afterlife. The Capitol and

the Mansion are much cooler.”

One way or another, and for better or for worse, everything that

happened over the years in the old General Assembly Building is part

of the Commonwealth’s history.

As the new General Assembly Building is constructed, Capitol

officials will be striving to incorporate some of the old materials and

architectural elements. They are particularly hoping to preserve the

historic façade that was part of what was originally a bank constructed

in 1912. It’s the oldest of the four structures built through 1965 and

then combined in 1976 to house the General Assembly and various

legislative agencies.

If Those Walls Could Talk….

By Sarah Alderson


If These Walls Could Talk…

, continued on page 15