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Who You Gonna Call?: At the New Pump House

Invisible man sleeping in your bed? I scoff.

You know what makes me feel good? Ghost bustin’. And you know what else makes me feel good? The James River Park System. When a friend from the Center for Paranormal Research & Investivation (CPRI, www.virginiaghosts.com) mentioned that he was headed out to the Byrd Park Pumphouse at night I donned my camera bag (no proton pack) and headed out.

First a bit of history… The Byrd Park Pump House, or the New Pump House (as it is formally known), was built in 1882 and designed by one of the creators of modern day Richmond: Colonel Wilfred E. Cutshaw. Cutshaw matriculated (ooh BIG word!) from VMI in 1858 and taught mathematics and artillery tactics at Hampton Military Academy until the south seceded. He entered the Confederate Army as an engineer under Stonewall Jackson. Throughout the course of the war he was captured, released, captured, released, wounded, was deemed unfit for battle, went back out to battle anyway, was wounded again, promoted, and lost his right leg. (It’s just a flesh wound!) To add insult to injury (SPOILER ALERT!) the South wound up losing and he went back to teaching.

Courtesy of VMI. Crazy, huh?

He eventually returned to Richmond (he had participated in the Battle of Petersburg and was captured at Sailor’s Creek) where he served as City Engineer from 1873 until his death in 1907. He was responsible for planting trees along Richmond streets, constructing (not designing) what we now call Old City Hall (I have a whole rant about this, I’ll get into at another time), the Confederate Soldier Monument on Libby Hill, and numerous other structures in Richmond including the New Pump House. Cutshaw was both revolutionary and controversial for taking what would normally be a utilitarian and rather ugly structure and creating a Gothic Revival mini-castle complete with an upstairs ballroom. The Pump House was popular in its day. One could get dressed up in full Victorian regalia, climb aboard a flat bottomed boat, and take a leisurely trip to up the canal to the Pump House for an evening of dancing.

Back when going to a ballroom didn’t involve McDonald’s.

The building was replaced in 1924 and was replaced with a building that would do nothing except pump water. (BORING!) The machinery remained inside the old building until it was sold at the beginning of World War II for scrap. The historic building was slated for destruction in the 1950s, but those plans were quashed and ownership of the facility and the land it rests on eventually became part of the James River Park System. It is now being restored by a cadre of volunteers to (allegedly) be used as the HQ for the park.

The machinery is gone, but the water still comes in.

And… we’re back. The Pump House exterior is largely well preserved but the inside now stands in something between shambles and ruin. (James River Outdoor Coalition and Friends of the James River Park could use your help!) The building is not usually open for the public, and I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT TRY AND GET INTO THE PUMP HOUSE AT NIGHT WITHOUT AN INVITATION! Seriously, it’s locked and it’s illegal. Don’t do it.

Again, B&W makes everything scarier.

After an initial inspection, the lights were cut off and the crew went about setting up recording devices, infrared sensors, EMF detectors, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I’m not insanely familiar with. Regardless of how you feel about such matters (personally, I Want to Believe) being in a large room with the constant sound of running water and absolutely no light is a bit… creepy. While I didn’t catch any evidence of ghosts, ghouls, vampires, or Stay Puft Marshmallow Men I was able to capture some awesome images of the inside of one of Richmond’s neglected but historic buildings.

The night is dark and full of terrors. And the moon.

PS: Some of you may recall the strange affair of Robert Bess and the Pump House, a mystery never fully explained. (Cue the music.) My thoughts? Personally, I do not see how Tesla coils and a Dalek… I mean parabot have anything to do with legitimate science. (Though it does have a cool dragon on the side!) This video pretty much sums up my feelings. As I understand it, Bess is not in the best of health and has been unemployed for some time. While I wish him the best, I still can’t support his containment efforts. Everyone knows that a real trap is much smaller and is thrown underneath a ghost right before you cross the streams.

I have pretty lights too!

Are there any other RVA HAUNTS you want to know more about? Leave a comment or email me at nick@photorva.com! And remember, if someone asks you if you’re a God the answer is YES! I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts.

 
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3 Comments  comments 

3 Responses

  1. RVAGuy

    You left one thing out of the article, the fact that Pump Park is the largest gay cruizer spot in Richmond. Surprised you made it out safe on a night trip.

  2. [...] Engineer, Colonel Wilfred E. Cutshaw.  It should not strike you as odd that the designer of the New Pump House just a couple years earlier was heavily involved in the construction of Old City Hall (which was [...]

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