Photos by Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
Ty Breeden stands in the basement of the home her husband's family purchased in 1933. The Breedens believe that their house, near Arcadia, has paranormal activity and are setting up tours for October and November.
Breeden Manor is located near Arcadia and was originally built in 1847 by the Robinsons. The Breeden family purchased it in 1933.
Paranormal investigator Allen Gross looks around the basement of Breeden Manor on Wednesday.
ARCADIA — They warned the spirits to expect flesh-and-blood visitors wandering through the house in the weeks ahead.
Paid tours begin Friday.
Allen Gross, 61, worked as a coal miner and salesman before becoming a Roanoke-based paranormal investigator. A native West Virginian, Gross speaks with a twang so strong it sounds like somebody bowing a saw. He said spirits must be treated respectfully.
"Don't ever ask one to touch you," Gross said. "You might be sorry."
On the other hand, he said, spirits sometimes initiate touch, an experience he admitted can unnerve even a veteran ghost hunter and spirit photographer like himself.
Since 1933, the family of Troy Breeden, 42, has owned Breeden Manor, a circa-1847, 13-room house in the Arcadia area, along with hundreds of acres near the James River. For nearly nine years, ending in September 2010, he and his wife, Ty, and their three children lived in the house.
Ed Sink serves as research manager for the Central Roanoke Association of Paranormal Studies. He and other association members have visited the property twice to conduct investigations — including one that started about 10p.m. and ended about 3 a.m.
"The house, especially at night, has a very eerie feeling, a heavy, cold feeling," Sink said.
He said digital recorders captured voices. One image shot by a digital camera appeared to reveal an apparition resembling a curled hand.
"It's my personal opinion, and the opinion of our group as a whole, that there is paranormal activity in the house and on the property," Sink said.
But it wasn't supernatural doings that drove the family from the manor, Ty Breeden said. Instead, heating the drafty, old, uninsulated structure yielded spooky bills, she said. The family lives now in a modular home a stone's throw away.
As Halloween approaches, Gross and the Breedens are poised to offer tours of the manor - which they say frequently hosts paranormal goings on. According to one dictionary, "paranormal" can be broadly defined as anything "beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation."
Even in daylight, the basement, bounded by a stone foundation that might have supported an earlier house in the 1700s, feels a tad creepy.
Nine things to expect during a paranormal investigation
Shadows at the corner of the eye
Hearing voices or music
A sense of being watched
Sudden heavy breathing
Touching of the hair or body
Hearing your name called
Source: Allen Gross, paranormal investigator
"I don't ever come down here alone," Ty Breeden said.
She said the couple and Gross believe paranormal tourism could benefit Southwest Virginia because there are enough allegedly haunted houses in the region to lure the curious.
And, closer to home, Breeden said drawing paid visitors to Breeden Manor could help the family keep the house from falling in on itself and perhaps yield additional history about the site from visitors.
"This is an edge to make income for the house and for us," she said.
Troy Breeden is a brick mason. Ty cares for the couple's children and works when she can as a freelance chef.
The Breedens said they have a 30-day temporary use permit from Botetourt County to operate the tours, which will be limited to eight people each. Daylight tours will cost $33 per person and evening tours $40. A 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. visit will cost $50.
Ty Breeden, born in California but raised in Virginia, said the number three holds significance for her.
"I started sensing stuff when I was 3 years old," Breeden said. "A little girl came to me and we were playing outside. Later, my mother asked me who I had been talking to. She told me no one was there."
She said the Breeden family purchased the property in 1933 for $33,000. She and Gross said they and others have experienced the inexplicable in the manor house. That group apparently includes one of three family dogs. Bella recently froze on the stairs leading to the second floor and wouldn't go up or come down, Breeden said.
Gross said that during one of his visits, he recorded the sound of a piano playing. A battered Steinway and Sons upright occupies a corner in one room downstairs. And he said that he and fellow paranormal investigator Sean Russell both sensed a presence at the top of the stairs.
"When the hair on my arm was standing up, the hair on his arm was, too," Gross said. He said he also detected the scent of Prince Albert tobacco.
Breeden said that during the time the family lived in the house, she repeatedly had the sensation at night of something lightweight jumping on the bed she shared with Troy. It wasn't cats; it wasn't kids, she said.
"Finally, I yelled, 'OK, I've had enough. Stop it!'"
She said Troy then confessed he'd experienced the same sensations for months but had been reluctant to acknowledge them.
She added, "I've had things touch my hair. I've had things whisper in my ear, 'Tysha.' I've had the blankets pulled up on me on nights when it was cold."
Breeden said the paranormal activity in the manor tends to have a loving core.
"When a spirit is in a house and is comfortable in that house, it's not going to hurt you," he said.
Rules at Breeden Manor
No provocation or challenging of spirits
No attempts to conjure a demonic spirit
No Ouija boards
No smoking inside the house
But that doesn't mean an encounter with a spirit won't scare you spitless.
Gross said physical responses mimic plunging into frigid water.
"Your breathing will change. You will feel ice-cold. That's what scares people," he said.
Both he and Breeden avoided using the word "ghost" during a Wednesday interview at the house. They said the word holds negative connotations for some religious groups. And Breeden said she is aware some people automatically associate anything paranormal with the demonic.
"I'm a straight-up Baptist," she said. "I'm not going to say I'm a holy-rolling Baptist. That's how I was brought up."
Gross said his investigations sometimes turn up nothing off kilter.
"I'm alookin', I'm afeelin', I'm not afeelin' anything."
During one such outing, he determined that the source of a demonic growl scaring a woman witless was a water heater in the attic.
And he and Breeden emphasize that people who pay for a manor tour might leave the house with nary an eerie tale to tell.
"If you get it, you get it," Gross said. "If you don't, you don't. There'll be no trickery. And we're not going to allow provoking [of the spirits]."
It's a bit like fishing, Breeden said. The creel might come home empty.
In March, the Los Angeles Times referenced a "paranormal/supernatural subgenre that has cropped up on cable television over the past few years."
Breeden acknowledged this reality TV trend and speculated about its source.
"People are looking for more in their lives, and I think it's a spiritual connection," she said.