Lexington ghost stories

To inspire a Halloween mindset


Every small town in America has its ghost stories that pass on from one generation to the next and, in a sense, become real. Lexington, first settled in 1778, is no different. The shops, houses, and narrow alleyways all seem to speak to us late at night as the wind whispers through the Shenandoah Valley like a faint voice calling from the distant hills.

Aside from its geographical location in the outskirts, the place’s spiritual essence consists of a mingling between its historical past, the Victorian architecture, and the rich lore. But the sense of unease one feels when making their way through Lexington’s darkened streets must derive from our understanding that most of the people who have lived here are now dead. Surely, some figment of their being must remain.

One of those dead people was a man named William Wilcher, whose neck snapped in the gallows on an August morning in 1906. He shot his neighbor and hunting buddy, Henry Smith, while in a drunken stupor. After killing the man in front of Mrs. Smith, his wife, Wilcher proceeded to go around town bragging about the act. The dispute was allegedly over Smith’s objection to the idea of Wilcher sparking relations with certain female members of the former’s family. Not long after, a judge condemned Wilcher to be the last white man hung in Lexington.

The site of the hanging, which took place behind the former jailhouse, is now an empty lot next to the Natkin & Crickenberger law office at 11 S Randolph St. Even today, early risers who walk in the vicinity of the spot at around 6:20 a.m. – the approximate time that Wilcher had his neck stretched – often report hearing the crackling echo of what one man described to me as “the sound of a stick of firewood breaking over someone’s knee.”

Another notable Lexington resident, a man named Davy Buck, now resides in the northwest corner of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. Perhaps you have seen his humble gravestone that lies several feet from Main Street. Davy, unlike the murderous William Wilcher, lived a long and virtuous life. But not a kind life.

The headstone planted over Davy Buck’s final resting place is unlike any other stele or marker in the cemetery. Standing in the shade of its own sugar maple, that little chunk of rock seems lonesome. It doesn’t belong to a row and it is intentionally offset so that it doesn’t line up parallel with any of the other headstones. Most casual observers overlook these details until they read the epitaph:



FEB 27, 1855 AGE 85 YRS.






His job as sexton was to look after the church, to ring the bells on Sunday, and to dig the graves of its congregation members. If you go to the graveyard and find the headstone of someone who died during the 40 year period prior to Davy Buck’s death, it is likely that he buried them. While his diligent service secured him his own plot in the cemetery, four decades worth of toil was not enough to garner him the regular burial privileges afforded to the other dead. Local legend has it that the grave is in the northwest corner of the cemetery because the members of the Presbyterian congregation preferred Buck’s final resting place to be as far away from the church as possible.

This arrangement held for roughly a decade until June of 1864, when the war touched Lexington. Union General David Hunter stormed and occupied the town with 18,000 federal forces on June 11th. They shelled the town and set fire to VMI. They reduced the Presbyterian church to smoldering ruins. After the war, the congregation erected a new tabernacle two blocks down the street from Davy’s plot. His grave is now the closest to the town’s Presbyterian church. The story proves that even history is not without wit.

Of the many slaves who built Lexington, Davy Buck is the only one buried in the town’s most historic cemetery. And of all the bones beneath the soil and concrete that make up this town, his are the best a reminder of those forsaken souls. Born in 1770, he came of age during this nation’s infancy and lived long enough to witness the dawn of its most transitional period. And like the lowering of a curtain, a distinct era in the American mythos ended upon his passing. As the epitaph indicates, he outlived his master, Mathew Hanna, but not the institution of slavery. That’s all we know about Davy Buck. His story isn’t enshrined in the annals of any history textbook that I am familiar with. I can’t even tell you what he looked like other than the color of his skin, if he had any children, if he enjoyed music, or if he was ever in love. But infinite questions come to mind — most destined to go unanswered.

Union soldiers would have walked past his grave — just as most of us have — as they seized Lexington over 150 years ago. While they pillaged the town, did any of them take a pause from the practice of war to stop and read the epitaph? For some reason I feel that it matters, if only in a poetic sense.

Ghosts take many forms in our imaginations. Some, like Wilcher, send sharp reports through the empty streets just before sunrise as they reenact their daily execution. Others, like Davy Buck, are less ephemeral. His type of spirit stands as a reminder that some of the precious residue of a person’s life can stick around long after their death. This residue might even become part of the living.


Special thanks to Mark Cline for his contributions to this article. His beautifully illustrated book called “The Lexington Ghost Tour” provided me with valuable information while I was chronicling these stories. Take his ghost tour through Lexington if you are interested in learning more. My article only scratches the surface. http://enchantedcastlestudios.com/

I took minor narrative liberties in my interpretation of these stories. Although the stories are in essence true and all the people named were once real, do not regard this as a historically credible document. If you walk down Randolph Street early in the morning, you will only hear the rustle of autumn leaves blowing in the wind. If you do happen to hear something unexpected, like the dropping of a trap door followed by a piercing snap, let me know.