Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blennerhassett Island

In the year 1795 Harman Blennerhassett and his young wife, Margaret, left Ireland to come to the United States, landing in New York in 1796.  Although of a wealthy, prestigious family, it is believed that the couple came to America due to the stigma of their relationship--Margaret was not only Harman's wife, but she was also his niece.

By 1798, the couple had made their way down south to an area along the Ohio River, several miles north of present-day Parkersburg, WV.  They purchased the northern half of Backus Island, named for Elijah Backus, who purchased the island in 1792.  By 1800, a Palladian style mansion of the utmost grandeur was completed, and Harman and Margaret moved in.  Sometime during the next few years, Margaret would give birth to a baby girl, whom she would also name Margaret.  This little girl would die before the age of two, and was believed to be buried behind the mansion.

In 1806, Harman unfortunately met up with Aaron Burr, and was implemented in Burr's plot to create a separate empire in what is now the Louisana/Texas area.  When Thomas Jefferson learned of the plan, both men were accused of treason, and Harman was forced to flee his beloved island home.  Although he was later caught and imprisioned in Virginia, Harman was later released.  However, he'd never return to Blennerhassett Island.

In 1807, many of the family's furnishings and other belongings that had been left behind were auctioned off, and by 1811, the mansion was accidentally burned to the ground.  Harman died in 1831 and was buried off the coast of Ireland on Guernsey.  Margaret returned to the United States in 1840, and died shortly thereafter in New York City

Over the years, the island was used for a variety of purposes, and in 1973, archaeologists uncovered the remains of the original mansion.  A new, replica mansion was built between 1984 and 1991, and now the island is open as a tourist attraction, with tours being held of the reproduction mansion.  People come to explore the history of the island and buildings, fish, bicycle on the many paths...but they also come in hopes of catching a glimpse of the resident island ghost.

This resident island ghost is believed to be that of Margaret Blennerhassett.  Although Margaret did not die on the island, many who have seen the apparition of a lady in all white with flowing chestnut hair, claim that it is none other than Margaret.  And although Margaret was much older when she actually died, she always appears to be around the age of 30 years old.  Margaret has been seen on numerous ocassions, and is said to sometimes be accompanied by the smell of either a floral perfume, or the smell of horses, as she was an accomplished equestrian who loved horses, and brought many over to the island.  Horses who work on the island today are said to be easily spooked for no reason, a phenomena commonly attributed to Margaret's spirit.  Margaret has also been seen not just wandering the island, but standing along the banks, looking out over the river as if waiting for someone to return.

Some believe that Margaret is searching for the remains of her daughter.  One legend states that two farmers did find a tiny skeleton behind where the mansion once stood, and reburied it nearby.  However, knowledge of that location has not survived, and the little girl's remains are still lost.  Others believe that she is looking for Harman.  Although it is known that he was buried on the island of Guernsey, Harman's exact burial spot is a mystery.  Still, others believe Margaret is just seen wandering the island and the grounds of her beloved home...something that in life was cut short from her. 

Photo property of Aaron Doughty.  It's from a visit we took to the island last May.  Don't worry...that's not Margaret approaching me and Luke...simply a tour guide, lol.  However, you CAN buy postcards featuring Margaret's ghost in the gift shop!

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  1. Isn't the island south of Parkersburg?

    1. Never mind. It is west. LOL

    2. Geographically, the island is pretty well due West of Parkersburg, "as the crow flies." But, according to "river directions," and "book directions" it lies a few miles "north" up the Ohio River. Sorry for the confusion, and thanks for pointing that out! Maps are available for visitors when they check in at the Blennerhassett Museum. The last time we went, we had to depart from Belpre, Ohio...but I think they've returned the location where you meet the boat back to Parkersburg.

    3. Lol I... had no idea... I guess it is north because it is a northward bend. Ha don't be sorry
      I'm not familiar with that navigation. I'm just here to learn. ;)