The Biltmore Estate is touted as the largest privately owned home in America. Which is ironic since no one lives there–except the ghosts. The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina exists as a museum to a way of life as lived by the Vanderbilt family near the turn of the twentieth century. While the house is immaculate and furnished with priceless antiques, it lacks all the modern conveniences that the Vanderbilts and the rest of us rely on today. But the ghosts don’t seem to mind.
We took a trip to Asheville several years ago, and were astonished by the immensity of the estate. It’s comparable to England’s Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey, thanks to the popular PBS drama. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt between 1889-1895, the Biltmore maintains such an aura of the past that you literally expect to see a coterie of servants attending to the needs of wealthy heirs who dine every evening in formal attire. Apparently, some people have seen just that.
We didn’t see any ghosts on our visit, but we might’ve smelled one! Like any museum, there is no smoking allowed in the house. Yet, as we worked our way from room to room and entered a library, we distinctly smelled cigar smoke. We looked around, but there was no one else in the room. We moved on to another room where Trish asked a guard about the smoke. He raised his head and sniffed.
“It’s one of the ghosts. We smell the cigar smoke from time to time,” he said in a matter-of-fact manner. It was clear he wasn’t joking.
L.A. Stewart, who works at the Biltmore, says that several times a day guests approaches her and ask about ghosts. She doesn’t hesitate to say that there are plenty of them. She should know. Not only does she works at the house, but she’s also an empath, which means she can sense ghosts or spirits, and she says she can also hear and see them. She also has written about her experiences on the Yahoo! Contributors Network.
“One of my first encounters with spirits on the Biltmore Estate occurred in a stairwell at the Welcome Center during the Christmas season of 2006. As I was coming up the second floor, I clearly heard a woman say, “Abigail!” in a strong voice. Turning quickly around, I realized there was no one in the stairwell with me, and there was nowhere anyone could have hidden without my seeing them.”
She asked her supervisor if there was anyone named Abigail working in the welcome center, and the answer was no. However, a year later, someone familiar with the history of the estate mentioned that there had been a house in the area of the welcome center, and a woman named Abigail had lived there.
Stewart has also seen her share of ghosts inside the house. She recalls one day looking into the staff dining room and seeing a woman in her forties or fifties sitting in a small straight-back chair. She was rocking back and forth, crying into the long kitchen apron she wore. The story about this ghost is that she is weeping over the death of a young man who had worked in the house before joining the army to fight in WWI. Her love and grief for the man is said to continue to this day, residual energy replaying like a video loop.
“I once had a chance encounter with a woman who turned out to have been Mr. Vanderbilt’s head housekeeper. As I was passing through the basement hallway one busy afternoon, she was going by the floral rooms. She was middle-aged, rather short in statue, but carried herself very stiff and erect. She walked quickly by, her hands folded in front of her black taffeta dress. Every pleat of her skirt was perfectly ironed. I could hear the material rustle as she passed. I had the feeling of a woman with great responsibilities, always giving the appearance of being very self-assured, yet a woman who was feeling the effects of age and pressures of her job.”
Another hot spot for ghostly activity is the banquet hall, where a mischievous spirit likes to trip employees on the same spot in front of the organ loft, even though the floor is level and free of any objects. “I have lost count how often I’ve been tripped there, and many other employees have said the same. Just the other day, I encountered a different spirit in the Hall. He was one of the butlers who served in the house when Mr. Vanderbilt was alive. He was rather tall, in his mid 30′s, and dressed in a black tux, white gloves and white ‘boiled’ shirt. (Boiling white shirts was a method cleaning them.) I was almost run over by him as he quickly came into the Banquet Hall. He was carrying a rather large silver tray and heading towards the Butler’s Pantry. I literally did a fast sidestep before realizing he was a spirit!”
Stewart notes that many lives have been tied to Biltmore Estate over its 115 plus years of ownership by George Vanderbilt and his descendants. “These employees laughed, cried, and shared the joys as well as sorrows with each other. They took great pride in their positions within one of America’s more prominent families, and the current employees feel that same way.”
L.A. should know. She met many of them, past and present.