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Explaining the unexplained: Why ghost tales continue to captivate our collective imagination
Helen Marler steps into the persona of the 19th century's Jane Beale outside of the Richard Johnston Inn along Caroline Street during her phantom-
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By BEN SELLERS
In real life, shoelaces often come untied. Shutters come unhinged. And in a group of 13 young mothers and a reporter, the one wearing the overpowering, floral-scented perfume isn't always likely to 'fess up.
But for those who wish to believe that paranormal activity exists in downtown Fredericksburg, these are just a few pieces of evidence from local storyteller Helen Marler.
In the guise of Mary Washington contemporary Jane Beale, Marler leads groups year-round by appointment on her "Phantoms of Fredericksburg" walk.
"The honest truth is I don't know if I even believe in ghosts," said Marler. "But at the same time, I do know that people see things on our walks; they hear things; things happen. And I honor their experiences."
Since 1993, Marler has helped parties of thrill-seekers, cameras in hand, uncover the city's supernatural attractions. Her clients have included Scout troops, police officers and serious ghost-hunters.
At a leisurely pace, the experience (she avoids the "four-letter word" tour) runs just over two hours, passing by historic sites such as St. George's Church, where pew doors open mysteriously, and the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, where phantom curtains may appear in the windows. Depending on the willingness of the group, Marler estimates the walks can cover 30 to 40 of downtown's haunted sites.
But she cautions that those expecting to be frightened out of their wits might miss the point.
Marler describes the walk as "a sneaky way to learn history"--emphasizing the lives of the city's past residents rather than morbid campfire tales.
"When I meet people that are really interested in history, then they have more fun because then they get the bonus of ghosts, too," she said.
For many like Marler, Fredericksburg's ghosts, real or not, are just another part of its long heritage that needs to be told. In fact, much of the local ghost-lore of today was documented in the early 20th century, during the same period that efforts began to preserve historic buildings like Kenmore and the James Monroe Museum.