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Paxton Manor in Leesburg turned into haunted house for Halloween

"If I was going to spend the night, I wouldn't hang out here," Sherry said.

A few days later, a haunted house volunteer actor stationed in the room said that she felt she was pushed; distraught, she fled the mansion and refused to go back inside, Lassiter said.

The tour continued, circulating through cobweb-lined hallways and room after room in the massive house, including the one with the creepy clowns ("good room, good energy," Sherry said), a room with a giant animated spider and dangling bodies encased in silk ("I get a sense of someone dying in this room . . . nothing scary, just an end," Sherry said) and the claustrophobia room ("positive energy," Sherry said).

Sherry said she was picking up on energy left by visiting spirits. "They are traces that are left behind that are perpetuated through visitation," she said. "When spirits like a place, they'll come back regularly." Similar to the way we might visit the same grocery store, she said.

She concluded that the mansion was definitely being visited by Rachel Paxton and the spirits of some of the children who had been cared for in the house.

Paxton's will stated that the mansion and surrounding property should be used to provide free care for needy children in Loudoun County. The request was honored for many years: The property served in turn as a care facility for ailing children, an orphanage, a day-care center and a preschool. It was closed in 2004 because of high maintenance costs and stayed closed for several years, until the trustees of the estate found a tenant to fulfill Paxton's wish. A lease agreement with the Arc of Loudoun was signed in 2008, and the organization moved onto the Margaret Paxton Memorial Learning and Resource Campus last year, Lassiter said.

The organization serves about 2,000 families each year through training, programs and other services, and operates a preschool and a school for children with disabilities. The mansion will ultimately be restored and serve as a family resource center, housing administrative offices for the Arc and related organizations, Lassiter said.

More than 1,100 tickets were sold at the door during the first weekend the haunted mansion was open, bringing in close to $15,000 in profits, said Lassiter, who sold tickets at the door and used the opportunity to talk to people waiting in line about the Arc's services. Lassiter anticipated that the second weekend -- Halloween weekend -- will draw an even larger crowd. The money raised will be used to support programming and scholarships for the Arc's preschool students.

Lassiter said she prefers to focus on the organization's work rather than spooky stories, but that's not to say that she hasn't noticed the occasional odd occurrence. There is an old faded photograph of Rachel Paxton, she said, that appeared to move from room to room in the mansion. The small number of people who had access to the building swore they hadn't touched it.

If Rachel Paxton's spirit does visit, Lassiter said, she thinks that Paxton must be happy, because the property is being used as she had hoped it would be, by an organization that regards her final act of compassion with great respect.

"I have a good feeling in the house," Lassiter said. "I think we do our level best to do just what she wanted."

Paxton Haunted Manor, at 601 Catcotin Cir. NE in Leesburg, will be open from 6 to 11 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20 per person. For information, go to http://www.virginiascaregrounds.com.


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