Haunted Housekeeping: The Blushing Portrait

Outside of Richmond, Virginia in the hamlet of Amelia, sits a plantation rich in history and harboring more than a few mysteries. Built in 1745, the estate nestled within its 15,000 acres a large an imposing mansion with plentiful gardens, multiple outbuildings, slave quarters, and two graveyards: one for family, and one for their slaves.  After the American Civil War ravaged the countryside, however, the estate never regained its full glory and fell into a dismal state as it passed from owner to owner. With no one able to keep up with the demands such a large house and grounds, Haw Branch Plantation became the token creepy place to avoid in the once-prosperous neighborhood.

 In 1964, Haw Branch once again changed hands but this time to a couple who wouldn’t be so easily put off by stories of strange disturbances and the occasional sound of a body falling into their dry moat. Cary and Gibson McConnaughey immediately began to renovate the property that had sat vacant for fifty years after the death of Mrs. McConnaughey’s grandmother, a former owner. The house was in need of serious repair, its enormous chimneys needing immediate repair and acres of fields to be tended to, it took years of hard work to bring the plantation back to life.

Moving their two children and two dogs into the large manor home, all was quiet – at first. Approximately three months after they finally made the house their own, paranormal activity began terrifying the family. Footsteps fell on quiet floors at night, and the distinct smell of oranges and roses throughout the house accompanied visions of a man walking out of the barn holding a lantern, another man pleading for help, and a third fellow walking with a limp. These apparitions are just a side-note to what happened the night of November 23, 1965. Deep in sleep, the McConnaugheys were jolted from their rest as screams ripped through the house. They found their children on the landing, staring up at the attic stairs as the sound continued. No one, not even the dog baring its teeth to protect its family, would ascend the steps to see what was trapped behind the attic door.

Sounds continued to frequent the house: heavy items being dropped, a rocking chair is heard slowly gliding away the hours, and furniture is often heard being drug across the attic floor. Six months later, on May 23rd, the family was again awakened by the horrified screams of the woman in the attic only to be repeated every six months until they were replaced by an entity seen by Mrs. McConnaughey in 1967. E. Randall Floyd, in his book, More Great Southern Mysteries, quoted the homeowner as saying, “I could plainly see the silhouette of a slim girl in a floor-length dress with a full skirt.” It continued, “I could see no features, but she was not transparent, just a white silhouette.” Mrs. McConnaughey saw the ghost several more times, as well as her daughter who woke up to find the woman in white standing over her bed as she slept.

However, the oddest phenomenon was yet to come. An elderly cousin was delighted the family had taken on the challenge of Haw Branch. Sending a portrait of a distant relative, Florence Wright, their cousin had described the painting as a beautiful pastel, drawn right before the tragic early death of their ancestress from a stroke. Eagerly opening the crate that held the portrait after it arrived, they were disappointed to find it not quite as their cousin had described. Instead of sumptuous colors, the painting was of a woman crudely drawn in a mix of black, grays, and dingy whites.

Instead of hiding it behind the sofa, they placed it over the fireplace mantel in the library. Days later, the voices began. Mrs. McConnaughey, hearing women speaking to her from the library while she was in another part of the house, rushed to greet her visitors but found only an empty room.  The disembodied voices continued to taunt the family until one day while reading in the library, Mr. McConnaughey discovered that the portrait of Florence was tinged with color. Amazed, they watched as over a period of a year and a half, the painting slowly filled with shades of green and red; Florence revealed herself to be a stunning redhead with eyes the color of the blue sky as she sat on a green chair next to a pale green vase with a pink rose. At some angles, it appeared the woman in the painting would blush as you looked at her, but in other light, it looked as if the portrait was bleeding. Experts were brought in from local colleges to examine the portrait and explain the mystery behind the sudden change in hues but no one was able to give a firm and logical answer.