Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpFor Halloween, I offer three fresh Arlington ghost stories, all from reliable sources. I report, you decide.

Start with Arlington Hall. Back when that white-columned edifice on Arlington Blvd. was a girls school (1927-42), there was a student named Mary. She became pregnant and committed suicide, as I was told by Jim Bernhardt, director of foreign language curriculum development at the Foreign Service Institute.

When that State Department offshoot moved to the building in October 1993—following decades of occupancy by intelligence agencies—oddities unfolded.

Most staff came in early October, Bernhardt said, but a few arrived on Halloween. They heard “moaning and groaning,” and soon old-timers were discussing the “ghost of Mary.” One year, a senior manager sent the staff an electronic party invitation saying, “The ghost of Mary invites you to celebrate Halloween.”

One guest dressed as a schoolmarm. At the end of the party, the FSI staff locked the offices. The next morning, they entered to find the glass front of a bookshelf “shattered into small pellets,” Bernhardt said. “We believe Mary was unhappy at her memory being treated with disrespect. Now we treat her with respect.”

But that wasn’t the end. On another occasion, women using the fifth-floor restroom found the stalls locked from the inside—the space under the doors being too tight for an adult to crawl under, Bernhardt said.

In addition, a teacher of Southeast Asian languages at the institute died suddenly from disease. Soon, inanimate objects in her office began moving, and staffers heard noises. The noises continue, Bernhardt said, and employees avoid that office.

In North Arlington, the Overlee community has long spoken of sightings of the ghost of Margaret Febrey, a resident of the swim club’s 19th-century house (torn down in 2012) who died in 1913 at age 14. Overlee’s resident manager told me directly he’s seen her.

Now comes testimony from a neighbor, Cecelia Allen, who teaches French at H-B Woodlawn, that Margaret may have been in her home. About when Overlee was demolishing the historic Febrey home for a new clubhouse, Allen was packing her sons off to school. In her dining room, she spotted the blurred feet of a figure dashing into the house. Assuming it was her son, she went out and left the door open for that son. But when she got in the car, both sons were inside, asking why she had left the door open. “I sensed a clear presence, somebody ran by me.”

More recently, Allen said, her TV, without a working remote, suddenly comes on. “It doesn’t feel scary but comforting.”

The third tale unfolded at the 18th-century home of George Minor, just over the Arlington border in Mclean. Marion Hardy LaRow, who grew up in the house in the 1970s, told me her family often spoke of the ghost of Mary Minor. LaRow’s grandmother back around World War II once bought new glassware and silverware and laid them out in the old kitchen. With no one else home, she walked away and returned to find the “new stuff gently stacked at the end of the table and the old glasses put out again,” LaRow said.

Mary Minor’s ghost became the subject of her siblings’ sometimes-scary childhood games. But since the home once visited by Dolley Madison was torn town by developers last month, neighbors beware!

***

To take a small slice of Arlington and make it a jumping-off point for a rich history is no mean feat.

Retired journalist Toby McIntosh did it after many visits to the Clarendon Post Office to eye the gentle paintings of Auriel Bessemer mounted in 1940. His slender, handsome paperback “Apple Picking, Tobacco Harvesting and General Lee: Arlington’s New Deal Murals and Muralist” is available from virginianewdealart.com.

To his essays on seven murals—scenes ranging from Fort Myer Army polo, to picnics at Great Falls in the days of the trolley, to Native Americans on Analostan (Roosevelt) Island)—McIntosh adds an intriguing bio of the avant-garde artist who brought us public art that captured Arlington’s uniqueness.

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