The Blue Dog Ghost

Southern Macabre

You can listen to this episode by clicking here.

Hey, y’all, and welcome to Southern Macabre! I’m Aeryn and I am so glad you’re joining me for Paranormal Wednesday. Today’s episode is a story my husband has told for years, much longer than we’ve been together. I am going to do my best to describe this place to you, but since I can’t do it justice there will be links to pictures and video tours.

Honestly, I don’t think pictures and videos can do a place like this justice. You have to visit a place like this in person to see just how incredible it is. I’ve never been there myself, as I already said, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

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I think most of us interested in the paranormal are also interested in the history of the place that is supposedly haunted. If you’re not into history then you’ll just have to bear with me for a few minutes while I entertain those who are. Don’t skip because I’ll also be describing the palace in as much detail as I can. You see, once a “house” has 52 rooms it is no longer a house. It is a palace, a lavish abode the average millionaire can’t even afford.

Major William Dooley, a millionaire lawyer and financial genius, was an executive with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. He and his wife, Sally, had a home built near Richmond in 1886 that combined Romanesque and Queen Anne architecture. That home, a 12,000 square foot, 33 room mansion was named Maymont and it is open for tours in 2022.

Maymont was one of the first homes in the area to have central heat, indoor plumbing, telephone service, and an elevator in the 1890s!

Around 1904, the childless Dooley’s decided to build a summer home somewhere quieter than Richmond. Major Dooley purchased land on Afton Mountain and began building the palace that would be Swannanoa.

Swannanoa is an Italian Renaissance Revival-style mansion completed in 1912. It reportedly took 300 artisans eight years to build the structure with Georgian marble imported from Italy, a 4,000-piece Tiffany window crafted in Ms. Sally’s likeness, and terraced gardens. It cost Mr. Dooley $1 million then to build the elaborate palace. Today it could cost as much as $50 million!

Swannanoa in a state of disrepair.

Ms. Sally named the estate for a Native American tribe. It means, “Land of Beauty”, which is certainly fitting of the palace as well as the area it dominates.

The palace is 21,215 square feet with twelve bedrooms, seven full baths, and two half baths. There are 52 rooms in total. The taxes run about $22,000 every year; in case you were wondering. This means their vacation home was nearly twice the size of their regular home!

Not only is the exterior marble, but so are the walls, floors, and fireplaces inside this 52-room mansion. The red marble is my favorite as I imagine it must have been Ms. Sally’s. She adored swans, so you will find them throughout the house and gardens as well.

In addition to this, the home had electricity and air conditioning in 1912! These things were unheard of in the area at that time when most people were lucky to have indoor plumbing and not require shoes and a flashlight to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. The Dooley’s had their own power plant on site! There was also an elevator and a dumbwaiter used to bring food from the kitchen in the basement up to the first floor.

The Dooley’s were extremely generous and upon their deaths, Maymont was given to the City of Richmond to be used as a museum, $3 million was donated to an orphanage, and when Ms. Sally passed she donated money to build the Richmond city library in her husband’s memory.

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Swannanoa wasn’t made into a museum like Maymont, probably because it was so secluded. Several attempts were made to turn it into a country club, but those plans were dashed when the Great Depression struck the area. There is a golf course there today, however.

It was bought by Dr. Walter Russell and his wife, Lao, in the early 1940s. Twenty years of weather and vandals had all but ruined Swannanoa, the couple had visions that would not be deterred, however. Dr. Russell was a sculptor, painter, architect, composer, author, philosopher, and doctor of science. Lao was an author, philosopher, sculptor, and scientist.

Together they formed The University of Science and Philosophy where Dr. Russell lectured that all knowledge should be self-discovered and not taught. The direct opposite of what was being done in the nation’s schools and universities at that time. Dr. Russell’s theories were very similar to the mysterious Illuminati’s at that time.

Dr. Russell’s theories and Lao referring to herself as an Illuminist, propelled rumors that Swannanoa was the new home of the Illuminati, a highly secretive group who has been orchestrating world events since 1776.

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Swannanoa had fallen into serious disrepair by the 1990s and lots of local teenagers would sneak up there for various reasons. I lived too far away, so I’m not talking about myself. My husband and his friends thought it would be fun to sneak up there between midnight and one in the morning with their girlfriends. Don’t worry, the statute of limitations for trespassing are certainly up, but my husband swears there weren’t any signs around the property anyway.

He told me that there was a tree beside the house full of hanging cats and covered in symbols, which freaked him and his friends out. He decided to steer clear of the house and just headed through the gardens with the girl he had taken up there hoping to scare. Apparently, he and his dumb friends thought terror would lead to cuddling. Anyway, near the woods he found what looked like a grain silo made of marble.

 That’s when he saw a faint blue light coming out of the woods. He said that he was just looking around, kind of on edge because they were in the middle of nowhere with an enormous creepy castle looming over them. He tried to act tough for the girl’s sake, but I know how that went. I go in haunted houses with him in October and he always follows me in. It’s hilarious to see this huge guy behind his smaller wife trying to hide.

Back to our story, this is when he noticed a blue light. As his eyes focused, he realized it was a huge blue dog! So, of course, he ran.

He ran past his friends and their girlfriends (I think he abandoned his date back by the woods with the dog) and hopped in the bed of the pickup truck. His friends, not knowing why he was running, piled in with him and waited for someone to start the truck.

It’s a good thing the truck didn’t start, or these five rednecks would have needed new britches. Needless to say, the girls were not happy and their plans for the evening were ruined thanks to that blue dog.

When they went back, with new dates cause women are smarter, they saw a man in one of the windows. They asked around, but no one was living there at the time. Besides, he was wearing an old-fashioned suit and was somewhat transparent, so definitely not a new caretaker.

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A local paranormal group went to Swannanoa to conduct an investigation, but were scheduled to leave around midnight to avoid disturbing the current owners. They reportedly got pictures of apparitions and recordings of voices. You will find their article in the credits.

Supposedly, the current owner has seen Ms. Sally roaming the halls, but she prefers to stay on the third floor. That’s where her rooms were when she stayed at the palace and is where some say she passed. According to the current owner, she hated cats in life and none of his will go near the third floor.

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If you are interested in haunted houses in Virginia, L.B. Taylor, Jr. has written outstanding books, including The Ghosts of Charlottesville and Lynchburg, where you can read more about Swannanoa. I have apparently read this story so many times that my copy opens straight to that page.

Swannanoa (mansion) – Wikipedia

Swannanoa (virginia.org)

Swannanoa Palace, Afton, Virginia – Colonial Ghosts

https://youtu.be/r4GJjg-kJ7I – Tour of Swannanoa

Maymont Mansion | Maymont Foundation

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