Ghost Tours

Donnamarie Emmert, known as the "Haintmistress" of Abingdon, is offering ghost tours during the Virginia Highlands Festival.

ABINGDON, Va. — No, It’s not Halloween.

But, yes, that is Donnamarie Emmert marching down Main Street this time of year.

The “Haintmistress” of Abingdon has brought her increasingly famous ghost tour — oh, so popular at Halloween — back to the Virginia Highlands Festival.

“The summer tour is hotter, obviously, but it’s a fun thing to do for warm-weather lovers,” Emmert said.

“People take this tour because it’s something different to do with visiting friends and family. What’s more pleasant than an outdoor stroll down the streets of historic Abingdon?”

Great comment, right? Well, it may come as no surprise that Emmert has been a great ambassador for this town for two decades: That’s how long she’s been conducting her “Spirit Tour.”

Over many years, she has also worked at a variety of places around town — Barter Theatre; Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum; and the Washington County Public Library.

Which means she knows the people and places of Abingdon, both present and past.

“Why would a ghost tour be any fun in the summer?” Emmert asks. “After all, it would seem that October would really be the time for spooks and haints to come out.”


But wait a minute.

“Ghosts don’t really care what time of year it is,” Emmert said. “They’re around all of the time. In the summer months, they could be staring at you from a house’s window, and you think it’s just a person who lives there. It’s not until later that you learn the house is abandoned, and no one has lived there for years. Spirits tend to stay tucked into shadows, and the summer’s great for that.”

The tour slips past the Washington County Courthouse, churches and a few private homes.

“We stop at The Tavern,” Emmert said. “People are impressed when they learn The Tavern is our oldest building, and it’s just logical that it would be our most haunted. What’s really nice in the summer is when we’re heading down Main Street toward it, the scent of delicious dinners waft our way. … That makes me wonder: Do the ghosts of The Tavern stay there because it smells so good?”

See and smell for yourself: Emmert is leading tours nightly, starting at 7:30 at the Fairy Fountain across from the Barter Theatre on Main Street. Tours run until Aug. 3. The cost is $20 per person (cash only), and no reservations are necessary.

Since each tour is two hours long, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water.

“The Virginia Highlands Festival is — through all of its changes, through the years — a tradition,” Emmert said. "The best thing about the festival is there’s a little something for everyone. The Spirit Tour is one of those different, quirky experiences that make the festival and town a good time.”

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