FRONT ROYAL — Scott Bradley Hesson has spent most of his life in the dark, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like caves,” Hesson, 62, said on Sunday while strolling through Skyline Caverns near his hometown of Front Royal. “To me, there’s no place more relaxing.”
From 1971 through 2006, Hesson transformed his passion into a profession by working at three local caves that became popular tourist destinations — Skyline Caverns, Luray Caverns in Page County and Battlefield Crystal Caverns near Strasburg.
During his countless walks through the darkness, Hesson — known by many in the Northern Shenandoah Valley for his decades-long sideline career as a radio disc jockey — met some very interesting people, including a few who had already died.
Earlier this year, Hesson shared the details of those other-worldly encounters in a book, “There Might Be Ghosts Inside Those Hills.”
The first-time author said the spectral encounters occurred at the three caverns where he worked over the years, but he does not identify the locations by name because he couldn’t afford the licensing rights. If you meet him in person, though, he’ll gladly dish the dirt on which caverns are the most haunted.
Skyline Caverns is where Hesson first started working underground. He was hired there in 1971 by a man named Carlos who loved the cave and his employees in equal measure. When Carlos died in 1976, he apparently wasn’t ready to leave.
Hesson said he was walking through the cave alone shortly after Carlos’ death when he felt a hand lightly smack the top of his head — something Carlos used to do when he reminded employees to keep the caverns in good shape. Not long afterward, Hesson said he saw Carlos standing at the top of a staircase inside the cave.
“I’d like to think he let me see him one last time,” Hesson said.
It was also at Skyline Caverns where a disembodied voice said, “Goodnight, boys,” as Hesson and three coworkers were leaving for the day, and where Hesson heard the voices of two little girls.
“I heard both of them giggle, and I heard one of them say, ‘Get the ball,’” he said.
Hesson never saw the girls, but he later had “a very vivid dream” about them playing near an underground waterfall before Skyline Caverns opened to the public in 1939. That dream led him to suspect the girls either drowned or were killed inside the cave by a mountain lion or other predatory animal.
At Luray Caverns, Hesson saw a pair of well-dressed women standing on a hill.
“I said, ‘Ladies, stay right where you are and I’ll be up there in a second,’” he said. “They looked at me, they pointed at me, they watched me. When I turned the corner, they were gone.”
Battlefield Crystal Caverns, which has since closed, is where Hesson met a Civil War officer. Hesson was alone, cleaning the cave in preparation for visitors, when he saw a Confederate soldier walking with a very regimented gait.
“He came up, turned, looked at me and started walking toward me, just as solid and individual as anything,” Hesson said as he recalled intricate details about the calvary officer’s uniform, hat, hair, gloves, insignia and sword. “I unfortunately said, ‘What’s up, Sarge?’ ... and that made him mad because he was obviously a higher rank. He pouted at me, he squinted and was just angry. He turned into a big ball of smoke and went across the ceiling.”
Hesson later learned that Jeane Dixon, one of America’s best-known psychics in the 20th century, had encountered the same Confederate ghost years earlier and alerted the cave’s then-owner, Leo M. Bernstein, about its presence.
Hesson theorizes that ghosts are actually echoes from the past, important moments from individual lives that play in an infinite loop. Sometimes, though, the echoes appear to be at least partially aware of their paranormal existence because they interact with and respond to the actions of the living.
“I love to talk to these things because I want to find out what they’re thinking,” he said. “The Civil War soldier, for example. Does he know the war’s over? Does he know his side lost?”
Hesson said he will continue to seek answers from beyond as he continues his lifelong ghost hunt. Eventually, he hopes to have enough stories for a second book.