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Dozens of callers cite Native American spirits on Pocahontas Parkway

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People have reported seeing Native American ghosts at the Pocahontas Parkway toll booth. Photo taken facing west toward the bridge over the James River Friday, August 3, 2002.

(Editor's note: This article republished from April 11, 2002)

Ramping down the road's long bridge, the truck driver's eyes widened at the sight of three flickering points of light on a high bluff to his left.

"The truck driver came through and said he seen [three] Indians in the middle of the highway lined up by the woods, each of them holding a torch, " said a report filed by the parkway toll taker to whom the driver related the incident.

The breech-clothed warriors were illuminated clearly against the thick tree line in the light cast by their own fiery torches.

Turning back to the roadway, he let loose a blast from the truck's horn to warn off two more torch-wielding Indians standing ahead of him, bathed in the yellow glow of his headlights.

Fiction? Not to the truck driver, nor to the woman who staffed the tollbooth.

As he ducked his head out the window to tell his story, the driver related what he thought was a strange protest by local Indians, perhaps angry that the new roadway had been paved directly over some long forgotten village.

But the toll taker had seen and heard too many unexplainable phenomena since the road opened. These were ghosts.

At the end of her shift, she filed her report. The Times-Dispatch obtained a copy from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

State police were called to the scene but found nothing. No Indians. No torches.

Troopers who work the graveyard shift along the Pocahontas Parkway - state Route 895 in eastern Henrico County - say they have responded to dozens of such calls. Two were documented in State Police incident reports.

The first was on July 1 at 3:11 a.m. Two days later at 1:44 a.m., plaza workers reported "see[ing] a subject running back and forth around the loading dock."

Troopers responded in both cases and found nothing.

But both times, the specters were described as having cloudy but fully formed legs, arms and torsos, with only the vaguest outline of a head.

Troopers and workers also have reported hearing Indian drums.

Equally hard to handle are the mingled whoops, shouts and cries of seemingly dozens of voices that on occasion emerge over the din of passing tractor-trailers.

The frenzied chants and yowls usually come long after midnight. Rare is the night that the voices hold their peace.

Maybe it's just an illegal dog kennel, rumored to be nearby. Or perhaps it's the geese and ducks that make their home nearby.

Tell it to the trooper who says he heard Indian spirits chanting and screaming from across the centuries.

"I know what a bunch of hunting dogs sound like, and it doesn't sound anything like that, " the trooper said.

The noises are real, confirmed Corinne Geller, a state police spokeswoman who visited the toll plaza late at night a few weeks ago.

"Three separate times during our watch, I heard high-pitched howls and screams, " Geller said.

"Not the kind of screams of a person in trouble, but whooping. There were at least a dozen to 15 [voices], " she said. "I would say every hair on my body was standing up when we heard those noises."

An engineer for Blau-Velt, a subcontractor working nights to complete the bridge's construction, also reported seeing an Indian.

"It was me and two or three other guys and we could see a horse and there was an Indian sitting on it, " the engineer said. "It was right at the bottom of the bridge."

The engineers started toward the rider, "because you're not allowed to have a horse on an interstate." But both Indian and horse disappeared.

The incident was reported as trespass. Learning later of reported ghosts in the area, the engineer said, "It sent a shiver down my spine."

What the truck driver and the engineer saw was certainly not a protest, said Deanna Beacham of the Nansemond tribe.

"We are anxiously awaiting our federal recognition, " she said, speculating that any such activity would harm chances that the U.S. government would officially recognize Virginia's Indian tribes.

Beacham wouldn't commit to the idea of Virginia Indian spirits wandering around the area. But it's not impossible, she said.

"We're still here as place names, " she said. "We became rivers and streets and roads and communities. Why shouldn't people see physical manifestations of that?"

Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy tribe agreed. "I have felt a tangible link to spirits past. All of the [Virginia] tribes without exception are of the Christian faith. But if you look back, there is a strong belief in the Great Spirit."

There is evidence of Indian inhabitation in the area of the parkway dating from the 1600s to as far back as 3500 B.C.

Dennis Blanton is the director of the College of William and Mary's Center for Archeological Research. The center did a dig at the site in advance of the bridge's construction.

Indian artifacts were plentiful.

"There were artifacts scattered all over dating back five or six thousand years, " he said. "They had a main village that was closer to Richmond."

The site closer to Richmond was larger, said Edward Haile, an area historian who used modern scientific evidence to corroborate Capt. John Smith's 1608 map of the James River.

The Pocahontas Parkway location also was home to Indians for a long time, Haile said: "There are two [villages] that are dead hits - right there."

As certain as the evidence of Indians, there's also evidence of Indian spirits, said Ron Hadad, owner of the Hadad's Lake picnic grounds, located less than a mile from the toll plaza.

"I've been here for 37 years, " Hadad said. "My mom - we all thought it was funny - she lived in this house before me. She said she used to hear a lot of hooting and hollering.

"I've never seen any Indians myself, " he said. "But I've seen my mother's face."

In 1992, Hadad's Lake played host to a state-organized re-enactment. Hadad said he struck up a conversation with the daughter of a local Indian chief.

"She said there were a lot of spirits here ... and I don't think she meant of the alcoholic kind, " he said.

"They probably built it on an Indian burial ground. I believe it."


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