Tamara Wright describes herself as "pretty much a feet-on-the-ground kind of girl," which is why she was stunned to find herself face to face with a ghost last month.
It was her son's first day of middle school, and Wright was weepy over her little boy growing up when she arrived for work at Blue Ridge Title & Escrow on Loudoun Street in Leesburg. After stepping onto the back porch to collect herself, she said she turned back into the office and saw a woman in a long, dark skirt jump off the sofa and dart up the stairs, where the woman "turned to mist and vanished," said Wright, 39.
"I was not focused on the physical world, and I think for one second I got a glimpse of something that's probably here all the time," said Wright, a settlement processor.
The woman, Wright figured, was the spirit that is said to haunt Patterson House, the 1761 building that houses her office and is one stop on a Halloween weekend ghost tour that will showcase eight creaky, eerie spots in Leesburg where, some say, the dead still roam.
The tour, organized by the Loudoun Museum, is one of two that offer participants some seasonal spookiness and, organizers say, a reason to believe in ghosts.
The museum's 13th annual "spirited walking tour" will also include stops at the Loudoun County Courthouse, the Eiffel Tower Cafe, Leesburg Presbyterian Church, private homes and other places where workers and residents have spotted specters over the years. At each location, storytellers in period garb will tell tales of the soldiers, slaves and widows -- and sometimes, their gruesome deaths -- who lived or died there and left their souls behind.
There are no special effects, just true histories and the chance to cross paths with poltergeists, said Erika Castillo, the museum's education director and a tour leader.
Castillo has not seen the ghosts. But she promised that at "at least two of the sites, something happens every year. Whether you believe it or not is something else."
One of the most reliable sites is an 18th-century home on North King Street, where Eliza Thompson lived while her husband served in the Civil War. Since Thomas and Martha Lynch moved into the home in 1973, Eliza has been a mischievous family member who steals silverware, flings hats from their hooks to the floor and has even erased radio crews' audio recordings of the home's creaks, Thomas Lynch said. Eliza is especially active around Oct. 21, the anniversary of the Battle of Ball's Bluff, and when the family returns from vacations, as though she "feels slighted," said Lynch, 66, a consultant for Science Applications International Corp.
"I just think that she's just trying to communicate in the only way that's possible," Lynch said. "She hasn't been released from this place, for whatever reason."
Joe Holbert, the founder of the museum tour and a former president of the museum's board of directors, now offers his own ghost tours of Leesburg's historic district, which, he said, is "a very haunted place."
Holbert said his tours, unlike the museum's, leave out the history and approach spirit-hunting scientifically, using electromagnetic sensors and sophisticated video and audio equipment to sense ghostly presence.
That makes the tour a bit boring for children younger than 7, who drift off when tour guides start discussing "electrical fields, consciousness and the human mind," Holbert warned.
Because spirits do not stop by just for Halloween, Holbert said, his tours are offered from May through November. About two-thirds of the 3,000 people who take his tours each year do so in October, however.
Holbert, now a full-time "paranormal researcher," won't divulge much about the tours, except to say that they last about two hours and do not follow a set path and that participants will have a chance to touch, yes, touch, a ghost. And, he said, most people who take his tours leave accepting that ghosts are real.
"We make believers out of nonbelievers," he said.
Loudoun Museum's Hauntings Weekend 2004 Ghost Tours: Oct. 29-30. Tours leave every 15 minutes from 6 to 10 p.m. from Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St. $15 a ticket. 703-777-7427. Tours are not recommended for children younger than 12. A separate ghost-friendly tour, followed by a party featuring Halloween activities from the 1930s, will be held for them from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 30.
Leesburg Ghost Tours: every Friday and Saturday through Nov. 13. Tours begin at 7 and 9 p.m. and leave from Georgetown Cafe, 19 S. King St. $10 for adults, $5 for children younger than 12. Tours are not recommended for children younger than 7. During October, tickets must be purchased by making a reservation at www.vsra.net. 703-899-4993.