Henrico County, Virginia has its share of ghosts, most, but not all of them usually considered benign and often friendly. One not so friendly spirit is the ghostly apparition residing at Whichello Tavern. Also known as the "Tall House," Whichello Tavern sits today on River Road, quite near the intersection of Gaskins Road.
The house stands on land originally owned by the Randolph's of Tuckahoe Plantation, who owned vast tracts of land back in the 19th century. The house was built by Catherine Woodward around 1827, at a cost of $2,000. It served as a rest stop for travelers going between Richmond and Charlottesville and Lynchburg. People didn't necessarily stay the night, though they were welcome to, but if one wanted to get out of the wagon or buggy and stretch their legs, then the Tavern was a welcome respite.
In 1838, Catherine's daughter, Eliza Anne Woodward Winston, who had inherited the property, sold the place to one Richard Whichello. It is not known how much he paid for it, but already having a reputation of being a miserly sort, it probably was far less than the place was worth. Whichello continued to operate the place as a tavern, with one added activity. He added gaming tables, cock-fights and other games of chance. The fact that he was "crooked" was quickly learned by his patrons.
Whichello's unsavory business practices were not confined to bilking his patrons. He also mistreated his servants, and was downright mean to his slaves. The atmosphere at the tavern was one of hatred for the "Master" and outright dislike by neighbors and what few friends Whichello claimed to have.
There came an evening that a cattle-drover stopped for the night. He had a small herd he was taking to Richmond to be sold. After making arrangements to corral his beasts, he stayed the night. The next morning, he continued on his journey, selling his herd in Richmond, and coming away with a nice profit for his efforts.
The drover, a richer man than when he had stopped the first time, again stopped at the tavern, and decided to spend the night. The cattleman was soon bragging about his profits from the sale of his cattle, and Whichello was "all ears" to the news. It was inevitable that the drover was soon talked into a friendly game of cards.
By later that night, the drover was drunk, as well as flat broke, having lost all his money in a "rigged" game of cards. He went upstairs to bed, a broken man. The next morning, when the servants awoke to start their day, they found that the drover had already departed. When one of the servants went upstairs to wake Whichello, he found the Master dead in his bed, his head smashed in by an ax.
The secret burial of Richard Whichello
No one would ever be charged with the death of Whichello. The cattle-drover was never seen again, and that was just as well. Because Whichello was hated by most people, especially his servants and employees, the few people who claimed to be friendly to the man were undecided on where to bury him.
Being a mean and hated slave-master, it was feared that if his slaves, as well as others, knew where he was buried, they might dig the body up and desecrate it in some way. Then someone came up with the plan to bury him in secret. This they did, in the dead of night, digging a tunnel under the chimney on the east-end of the tavern. The coffin was covered back up with dirt and the area was again sealed.
The tea shop and Lady Wonder
As the years went on, there were many treasure hunters who showed up, hoping to find the money that Whichello’s killer had left because he couldn't find it, or that he had buried under the tavern in a panic, thinking he would come back some day and retrieve it. Soon however, there were reports circulating of strange goings-on and apparitions being seen by residents, servants and visitors.
From all appearances, it stood to reason that Whichello had decided to come back and try to protect his wealth. This just added to the "ghost story." Sightings were to continue through the years, until in the 1930's, another interesting and well-known local legend came into the picture. By this time, a Mrs. Joseph Crenshaw was operating the tavern as a tea shop.
Crenshaw had been bothered by strange noises, as well as having seen a ghostly figure of a man dressed in hunting clothes from an earlier time standing in the doorways of rooms. Even her patrons would occasionally tell stories of seeing the man dressed in hunting attire. Finally, thoroughly frustrated, Mrs. Crenshaw consulted the famous Lady Wonder, a mind-reading, fortune-telling horse that lived with its owners on Petersburg Pike in Richmond.
To everyone's amazement, when Lady Wonder was asked about the treasure, and where it could possibly be, the horse typed out on a mechanical typewriter (see picture in slideshow) the word, c-h-i-m-n-e-y. The horse then typed out, e-a-s-t. Was this really where the treasure could be found, and how did the horse know this? According to those who know the story, Mrs. Crenshaw never followed-up on this information, or at least, she never told anyone she did.
Be that as it may, today the house is apparently at rest, or at least Mr. Whichello's ghost is, anyway. The owners of the house, a Mr. Ben Moomaw, and his wife, Carolyn live there now. Mr. Moomaw says that apparently, 'the ghost seems to be happy that we're taking care of the house."