Occoquan's Haunted History
BY ROBERT CURRER
Mill Street is a favorite stroll. In the autumn twilight, the historic buildings take on an almost dreamy quality. Warm light from the windows bleeds out into the pinks and purples of the gathering sunset. The warmth of an open gallery or the aroma of an eatery tempts visitors to linger a bit longer in the evening magic.
But if you stop by Local Colour Gallery, you might find something unexpected: the spirit of a little boy. His name is Tad, and he made the gallery his home after his passing in 1951. The building that once stood in Local Colour’s place was a favorite spot for him and his friends to play when they were alive. And Tad decided to stay.
Tad’s presence adds a special kind of life to Local Colour Gallery and Boutique. But it’s far from the only haunted business in town. Occoquan’s haunted history spans hundreds of years. It’s enough to fill the whole town with spectral citizens. And they are yours to meet if you know where to look.
THE MANY LIVES OF OCCOQUAN
Occoquan’s long history is one of the reasons so many spirits populate the town. The town’s origins date back to 1734 when it was a small port on the shipping lanes that fed into the Potomac. However, it wasn’t until the foundation of the Occoquan grist mill in 1757 that the town really began to grow. The mill marked Occoquan as a hub for the agrarian county’s grain processing. It even produced flour to support the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
By the beginning of the 1800s, Occoquan was a thriving industrial town. The services it supplied were the lifeblood of the region. However, by the middle of the century that was rapidly changing. The Occoquan River was filling with silt. Eventually, the waterway grew too shallow for big vessels to reach the town docks. Moreover, railways became the preferred method of shipping. This diverted even more trade away from a now suffering Occoquan.
The town limped along as little more than a convenience stop for almost a century. Then, in 1972, Hurricane Agnes ripped through Occoquan. The destruction was colossal. Scores of homes were destroyed by the storm that ravaged the eastern seaboard. Many weren’t willing to rebuild. Instead, they sold their properties to small businesses looking for space in the area. The result was a surprising bloom of cottage businesses that has continued to this day.
With almost 300 years of history, Occoquan has accumulated its fair share of spirits. Yet, all the town ghosts seem pretty pleased to be there. You won’t find mournful hauntings or aggressive specters. Instead, you’ll meet the likes of Harry, Hortense, and Sam. These three gregarious spirits make regular appearances in town.
Harry is the 18-year-old descendant of the first tribes to settle the Occoquan region. Since his passing in 1832, he has made his home in the building that is now D’Rocco’s Italian Restaurant. He’s a friendly sort and more than willing to talk about Occoquan’s past. But watch out. He’s a bit of a flirt and might try to play with your hair if he likes you.
Hortense is a resident of The Spot on Mill Street. She’s a proper lady who loves to chat with guests. During dowsing rod sessions, she is often willing to answer questions. She tends to ignore questions she feels are unsuited to a lady. But that doesn’t stop her from getting a bit saucy in her own replies.
Sam Cedoh joined the town’s spirits in 1975. He was heading into Occoquan to meet his closest friend, David Greene, when a car accident took his life. Undeterred by a minor inconvenience like death, Sam walked the rest of the way into town. However, when he arrived at the CNC Company restaurant, David had already left.
Madigan’s Waterfront now stands where the CNC Company restaurant once did, and Sam still spends his days there. Yet, Sam has never allowed himself to become a sad sort of spirit. He has an easy, comfortable energy about him and can be found helping out around the place. Sam loves the live music, especially the sounds of the 70’s. On those nights, you can usually find him hanging the bar, enjoying the vibe.
Ghost stories are great. But there is nothing quite like experiencing the paranormal for yourself. Rachael Bright, founder of Local Colour and a spirit medium, leads a haunted pub crawl and ghost tour year-round. But it’s a special treat during spooky season.
The tour begins at Local Colour where guests meet Tad. It then continues to The Spot On Mill Street, The Tap Room, D’Rocco’s Italian Restaurant, and Madigan’s Waterfront. Each stop lasts about 30 minutes. During this time, Rachael uses her dowsing rods to communicate with the resident spirits of each location. Then, you ask your questions of the spirits and see their responses. It’s about as close as you can get to chatting with a ghost over a pint.
Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, you are welcome to bring your own dowsing rods, EMF readers, cameras, and audio recording equipment. Rachael only asks that any personal equipment does not make noise to avoid bothering the other patrons.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
If you are interested in joining Rachael for a ghost tour, check out her website occoquanspirits.com to book a tour.
If you prefer a more casual drink that may or may not involve one of Occoquan’s famous spirits, check out one of these local haunts:
The Spot On Mill Street (thespotonmillstreet.com)
The Tap Room (facebook.com/TheTapRoomOccoquan)
D’Rocco’s Italian Restaurant (droccos.com)
Madigan’s Waterfront (madiganswaterfront.com)
And wherever you go in town, keep an eye out for one of the ghosts. You never know who you might run into!