Paxton Manor in Leesburg turned into haunted house for Halloween

By Caitlin Gibson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010

On a brisk October afternoon, a small gathering occupied the grand entryway to historic Paxton Manor in Leesburg: several members of a paranormal investigation squad; a crew that had worked for months to transform the mansion into a high-end Halloween haunted house; the executive director of the Arc of Loudoun, a nonprofit organization located on the property; and a local professional psychic named Sherry Sherry (her real name, she said with a smile.)

They were there to observe Sherry's psychic reading of the 20,000-square-foot mansion, which will be open to haunted house visitors from 6 to 11 p.m. Sunday. It has long been rumored that the mansion is haunted by the spirit of the lady of the house.

The manor -- also known as Carlheim Mansion -- was built in 1877 by Charles and Rachel Paxton, wealthy industrialists from Pennsylvania who had one daughter, Margaret. Rachel Paxton, having outlived her husband, daughter and grandson, lived alone in the mansion until her death at age 95 in 1921.

Sherry was summoned because strange things had occurred during the staging of the Halloween attraction, said John Lombardi, president of haunted house producer Virginia Scaregrounds and master architect of the mansion's elaborately spooky interior.

Lombardi said the unexplained occurrences included a pair of red-handled scissors that disappeared while Lombardi was setting up one of the ghastly clowns that hang from an upstairs room's ceiling. He had turned his back for just a minute and never left the room, he said, and no one came in. Still, the scissors disappeared.

Then there was the wallboard that crashed onto Lombardi's head as he worked with a saw to reopen an old entryway between rooms.

"There's no way it could have done that without being pushed," he said, but no one else was around.

Lombardi has been working on the haunted house since February on a volunteer basis, he said. After he was hired to build a playground on the property, he took one look at the looming mansion and knew he wanted to haunt it, he said. All profits from the Halloween haunted house will benefit the Arc of Loudoun, which serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Shortly after the tour began, Sherry said she detected a strong energy in one of the rooms, energy indicated by a purple crystal dangling from a silver chain, swinging in rapid circles as she held it between two fingers. But the vibe was a pleasant one, she said.

"I keep feeling like this was a room where the lady of the house would sit here at the window and look out," she said.

Jennifer Lassiter, executive director of the Arc of Loudoun, told Sherry the house had once been used as a care facility for ailing children, who often staged performances on the front lawn. The children who weren't well enough to go outside would watch from the windows.

The next room, where the mansion's locked safe is stored, didn't give Sherry the same good feeling.

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