WAYSIDE INN 1797-2 (copy) (copy)

The Wayside Inn in Middletown, which started out as a stagecoach stop in 1742, is rumored to be very haunted.

The Winchester area has a lot to offer tourists: Scenic beauty, Civil War history, sporting events, shopping in Old Town and ghosts.

Yes, ghosts.

The potential benefits of paranormal tourism were discussed earlier this month during the quarterly Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance (MATPRA) meeting at the Wayside Inn in Middletown. Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Justin Kerns said Wayside was an ideal location to talk about ghosts because the historic building, which started out as a stagecoach stop in 1742, is rumored to be very haunted.

“The point was to tell those in attendance how attractions handle the PR (public relations) and what their experiences are with ghost hunters,” Kerns said on Thursday.

In Winchester and Frederick County, many local businesses and public attractions are reportedly haunted. Earlier this year, fans of the Discovery+ television show “Ghost Hunters” saw paranormal investigators searching for things that go bump in the night at Valerie Hill Vineyard and Winery near Stephens City and Piccadilly Place in Winchester. Other supposedly haunted sites include the Hexagon House, Abrams Delight and the George Washington Hotel in Winchester, Historic Jordan Springs Event and Cultural Centre in Stephenson and several restaurants in downtown Winchester, including Cork Street Tavern and Village Square Restaurant.

“Sometimes they don’t want to talk about the paranormal because it’s not an audience they want,” Kerns said about owners of haunted businesses and attractions. “Sometimes they absolutely do, and it can be very lucrative.”

A good example of how ghosts can help a business’ bottom line is Valerie Hill Vineyard and Winery, which frequently hosts dinners that feature tours of the property’s manor house where several spirits reportedly reside.

“They show you pictures, they have video, they have sound recordings,” Renee Bayliss, visitor and community relations specialist for the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said on Thursday. “It scared the bejesus out of me!”

Other businesses regard hauntings more as an inconvenience than an opportunity. Piccadilly Place is one of them because, Kerns said, ghost tours don’t sync well with the property’s primary purpose of hosting weddings and special events.

“Sometimes that image doesn’t fit with what they’re selling,” he said.

For businesses and attractions that are willing to embrace and promote their ghosts, Kerns said, the financial rewards can be significant.

“With the right site and the right business model built around it, paranormal can absolutely be something that’s profitable,” he said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1400 S. Pleasant Valley Road in Winchester promotes paranormal attractions and events advertised by local businesses and attractions, and it even offers its own ghost tours of downtown Winchester in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

“We had so much interest in the ghost tours this year,” Bayliss said. “They sold out and we had multiple people contact us for private ghost tours.”

However, Kerns said it’s unlikely the Convention and Visitors Bureau will start promoting the entire Northern Shenandoah Valley as a year-round destination for lovers of the paranormal.

“I don’t think we have enough sites right now that are really embracing it and saying, ‘This is what we do,’” he said. “But I’m not saying it couldn’t happen in the future.”

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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