By Josette Keelor
Those who attend Strasburg's Hometown Harvest Festival next week will find a spooky addition to the fun this year.
With Halloween fast approaching, Strasburg plans to harness the feeling with ghost tours through area cemeteries and along other possibly haunted routes.
The town offered ghost tours four or five years ago, said Mayor Tim Taylor, who will join other local volunteers in leading visitors along Holliday, Queen and High streets next Saturday, but he said this will be the first tour organized as a Hometown initiative.
Stories told along the tour are ones collected mostly by the Heritage Association throughout the years, he said.
"We've always just had stories passed down through generations," said Taylor. The town had talked back in June about offering tours, but the plan fell through at the time, and Taylor said that October provided a more appropriate setting anyway.
The tours will coincide with the Hometown Harvest Festival, which will take place next Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Town Hall parking lot. Activities will include crafters, music, face painting, pumpkin decorating and costume contests, and food will be available for purchase.
The ghost tours will run from 6 to 10 p.m., beginning at the Hotel Strasburg. They cost $3 in advance or $5 on the day of the event and will leave every 15 minutes from the hotel, which will mark the first stop along the haunted route. Children under 5 will get in free.
Also included along the tour will be the Strasburg Presbyterian Cemetery, A.C. Stickley Bed & Breakfast, the Whittle Residence, the Schillinger Residence, The Old (Queen Street) Graveyard, Spengler Hall, the Ritenour Residence, the Balzer-Huber House and the Uncle Happy (Miley/Hupp) House.
Since some destinations are too far to approach on foot, Taylor said participants of the tour will instead face in the direction of those spots while hearing about their histories.
Not all of the stories report ghost sightings, Taylor said. The Portia Smith Tragedy, he explained, is instead a devastating account.
According to tour information, the 14-year-old -- the youngest daughter of the Rev. Dr. and Mrs. L.L. Smith -- burned to death at the Lutheran parsonage in Strasburg at around 6 p.m. on Oct. 18, 1907.
She was alone in the house, as reported in a story from the Winchester Evening Star, when she kindled a fire in the range with coal oil. The can exploded in her hands, and she was enveloped in fluid and flame. A neighbor who heard the explosion came to investigate, finding Portia lying unconscious and burned beyond recognition. Her father was attending a meeting of the Potomac Conference in Frederick County, and her mother had driven with Portia's sister to Strasburg Junction to take a train to Winchester. Portia regained consciousness for a while, but though her mother received a telegraph of what happened to her daughter, Portia died 15 minutes before her mother could make it home.
The ghost tour also will offer accounts of Civil War soldier sightings, who are said to walk in the mist or darkness near the Lutheran church that was used as a hospital during the war.
"We've got some interesting stories," Taylor said.
One is set at A.C. Stickley Bed & Breakfast on S. Holliday Street, which Taylor said recently conducted a paranormal investigation through D.C. Metro Area Ghost Watchers.
Despite the spooky tone of the evening entertainment, Taylor assured that the event will be appropriate for all ages.
"We're not going to make it frightening," he said. "It's a family friendly event." Candy and other refreshments will be available along the route, he said, and some volunteers also will dress in Civil War regalia.
"We put a lot of historical emphasis [on it] ... and just stories, people like hearing stories," Taylor said.
"I'm hoping more people will share some of them because I think some are out there," he said.
He also said the town plans to keep the historical information available in the near future, so visitors can take self-guided tours using their smart phones or other mobile devices.
In planning to provide the tours, Taylor said, "A lot of people have really stepped up."
"It's a great community effort. We just want to get people downtown."
For more information about the Strasburg Ghost Tours or the Hometown Harvest Festival, call 465-9197 or visit strasburgva.com
Strasburg's Hometown Harvest Festival will take place next Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m., followed by ghost tours and an outdoor movie from 6 to 10 p.m. The ghost tours cost $3 for advance tickets, ordered at the town office, or $5 on the day of the event. Ages 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Children under 5 will get in free.
Over 40 crafters will be on site, and activities will include demonstrations in basket weaving, pottery, quilting and decorating.
Food vendors will offer a variety of treats, and a portion of the proceeds of some food sales will go to The Michael J. Morehead Scholarship Fund at Strasburg High School.
A cake walk and cupcake walk for children and a cake walk for adults will delight participants of all ages.
During the day, the movies "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and "Monster House" will show at the town office. In the evening, "Hocus Pocus" will show on an outdoor screen, with hay bales for seats.
Engraved bricks sold for $30 at the Hometown Strasburg table will contribute to an upcoming streetscape project.
For more information, visit www.HomeTownStrasburgVA.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or email@example.com