The Blue Dog Ghost

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Hey, y’all, and welcome to Southern Macabre! I’m Aeryn and I am so glad you’re joining me for Paranormal Wednesday. Today’s episode is a story my husband has told for years, much longer than we’ve been together. I am going to do my best to describe this place to you, but since I can’t do it justice there will be links to pictures and video tours.

Honestly, I don’t think pictures and videos can do a place like this justice. You have to visit a place like this in person to see just how incredible it is. I’ve never been there myself, as I already said, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

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I think most of us interested in the paranormal are also interested in the history of the place that is supposedly haunted. If you’re not into history then you’ll just have to bear with me for a few minutes while I entertain those who are. Don’t skip because I’ll also be describing the palace in as much detail as I can. You see, once a “house” has 52 rooms it is no longer a house. It is a palace, a lavish abode the average millionaire can’t even afford.

Major William Dooley, a millionaire lawyer and financial genius, was an executive with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. He and his wife, Sally, had a home built near Richmond in 1886 that combined Romanesque and Queen Anne architecture. That home, a 12,000 square foot, 33 room mansion was named Maymont and it is open for tours in 2022.

Maymont was one of the first homes in the area to have central heat, indoor plumbing, telephone service, and an elevator in the 1890s!

Around 1904, the childless Dooley’s decided to build a summer home somewhere quieter than Richmond. Major Dooley purchased land on Afton Mountain and began building the palace that would be Swannanoa.

Swannanoa is an Italian Renaissance Revival-style mansion completed in 1912. It reportedly took 300 artisans eight years to build the structure with Georgian marble imported from Italy, a 4,000-piece Tiffany window crafted in Ms. Sally’s likeness, and terraced gardens. It cost Mr. Dooley $1 million then to build the elaborate palace. Today it could cost as much as $50 million!

Ms. Sally named the estate for a Native American tribe. It means, “Land of Beauty”, which is certainly fitting of the palace as well as the area it dominates.

The palace is 21,215 square feet with twelve bedrooms, seven full baths, and two half baths. There are 52 rooms in total. The taxes run about $22,000 every year; in case you were wondering. This means their vacation home was nearly twice the size of their regular home!

Not only is the exterior marble, but so are the walls, floors, and fireplaces inside this 52-room mansion. The red marble is my favorite as I imagine it must have been Ms. Sally’s. She adored swans, so you will find them throughout the house and gardens as well.

In addition to this, the home had electricity and air conditioning in 1912! These things were unheard of in the area at that time when most people were lucky to have indoor plumbing and not require shoes and a flashlight to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. The Dooley’s had their own power plant on site! There was also an elevator and a dumbwaiter used to bring food from the kitchen in the basement up to the first floor.

The Dooley’s were extremely generous and upon their deaths, Maymont was given to the City of Richmond to be used as a museum, $3 million was donated to an orphanage, and when Ms. Sally passed she donated money to build the Richmond city library in her husband’s memory.

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Swannanoa wasn’t made into a museum like Maymont, probably because it was so secluded. Several attempts were made to turn it into a country club, but those plans were dashed when the Great Depression struck the area. There is a golf course there today, however.

It was bought by Dr. Walter Russell and his wife, Lao, in the early 1940s. Twenty years o

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