Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Tales of history and ghosts often show up on the same page.

Hence the Arlington Historical Society is offering an evening “ghost tour” of its 18th-century Ball-Sellers house Oct. 27. And a recent write-up of the Birchwood Cabin for sale on N. 26th St. mentions 19th-century spectral inhabitants.

But few can match the spooky detail in the ghost story recounted to me by Cherrydale resident Scott Sterling Springston, whose wife Kathryn and son Dakota rank among Arlington’s top history enthusiasts. He even sketched a portrait of the ghost named Patrick.

“Ever since my wife Kathy was a kid she’s always felt there was something or someone watching over her,” I was told by Scott, a media technician for Fairfax County Schools. Going back to her girlhood in Minnesota, “there have been many instances where she felt the assistance or presence of someone unseen.”

Some sightings were trivial, as when she was looking for something that was gone, but suddenly it reappeared. Scott, however, was a skeptic. Until.

“How it got the name Patrick I don’t recall,” Scott said of his wife—herself a skeptic when it comes to superficial historiography. “There were strange events that seemed inexplicable, and I joked about it being Patrick but never took it seriously.”

But in 1998, the family was driving back to Arlington from a trip down south on I-95 and ran into snarling traffic. “We were in the middle lane with big trucks barreling past us at high speed, to our left and right,” Scott recalls. “The wind vortex from those trucks grabbed our camper and started tossing it back and forth out of control. It whipped us around to be facing the opposite direction.”

Abruptly, the Springston vehicle shot across the road to the other side within inches of a bridge abutment on the other side or the highway. “We sat there stunned we hadn’t got killed,” he recalled.

The only explanation that seemed plausible? Patrick! When they returned to normal northward driving, traffic had eased. Scott, however, remained skeptical.

Then one afternoon back in Cherrydale, he descended the stairs and beheld, by the front door, a “figure that looked like one of the Three Musketeers! He had long brown hair, a mustache and beard-like goatee, with large ruff around his neck and a blue outfit.”

The apparition was smiling. Scott glanced over at his wife and son sitting on the living room sofa, but they merely looked puzzled. Then “Patrick” was gone. “I said he must have got tired of me scoffing at his existence and had to show himself.”

Then came the clincher. While researching their family tree, Kathy noticed that Scott’s great-great (12 times) grandfather was a captain on the second English ship that sailed to Jamestown in the early 17th century. His name? Thomas Patrick Graves.

“While at Jamestown, we found a painting of the first group of Burgesses in 1619 (one of whom was Captain Thomas Patrick Graves), and in that painting was a man who almost exactly resembles the Patrick I saw,” Scott swears. As to why Patrick was was looking out for Kathy as a guardian angel before she met Scott, “we can only guess,” he says. “But I don’t guess anymore about one thing: I know for sure our ghost Patrick does exist. We are happy he’s around!”

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Here’s a tip with only weeks to go in the centennial marking the end of World War I.

Last week I toured the Great War exhibit at the Library of Congress, which includes rare photographs of African-American troops.

They were donated by my boyhood friend Tom Liljenquist, the jeweler known for donating thousands of Civil War portraits of average soldiers to Congress’s library. Tom got his start collecting with his sons by finding battle artifacts at Arlington’s own Upton Hill.