The Case of the Confused Confederate

From The Ghosts of Fredericksburg …and nearby environs, by L.B. Taylor, Jr.


Most ghost stories are kind of fun. Some may be a bit scary, but generally the spirits are friendly, and in more than a few cases even mischievous - ethereal pranksters so to speak. But rarely is anyone harmed in the process, and even then it most often is accidental.

There was, for example, an incident at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard several years ago where a person - frightened by the apparition of a long-dead seaman - fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg. But that was not intentioned.

Occasionally, poltergeist activity will surface. In Poquoson, Virginia, a mother whose teenage daughters didn't mind her in life came back after death to physically taunt them with slaps, pinches and pulled hair. But such reports are few and far between.

That is why the psychic events which surrounded a home in the Lake Acres section of Spotsylvania County during a brief period in November 1986 seem to be so unusual. First of all it happened in a modern house, not an old one full of history. [In other words, this ghostly Reb was a farb. - Jonah] Secondly, it appeared that in this case the ghost involved "freaked out" and went on a tantrum throwing spree, which although it didn't cause any physical harm, did scare the bejabbers out of the resident family. And finally there was a rather nasty aftermath to the episode that left a bad taste in the mouths of community residents for a long time.

The story broke November 11, 1986, when the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star ran a long article by reporter Mike Zitz which chronicled a wide variety of psychic phenomena that allegedly occurred in the house over a hectic, three-week period. It began one day in late October when Sheliajean Colosimo, who lived in the house with her husband, Richard, and their 11-year-old daughter, was entertaining a neighbor, Sherry Chewning.

When Mrs. Chewning commented on how cold it seemed to be in one of the bedrooms, Mrs. Colosimo told her that it had always been chilly in that room, even during the hottest days of summer. She had, in fact, moved her daughter out of that bedroom because of the strange cold. Mrs. Chewning then asked for a cross and she was given a rosary. Clutching the crucifix, she walked around the room repeating the phrase "Leave this room." Both women later said the temperature in the room seemed to rise immediately.

They left the rosary hung on a wall. A short time later the women's children, playing outside, told their mothers they were frightened by something they described as being "big and red" they said they saw in the window of the room. Mrs. Colosimo and Mrs. Chewning then went back up to the room to check, but, oddly, it was locked from the inside. They jimmied the lock and, inside, found the room "icy cold."

The rosary cross, they said, was embedded in the wall opposite the one they had hung it on. Next followed a sequence of events which sounded like it had been taken from the script of the book and movie, "The Amityville Horror." The women went to St. Mary's Church in Fredericksburg and spoke to a priest, explaining the situation. He gave them some holy water to sprinkle in and around the house.

He later said, "Holy water is used very often in places where there is a spirit." But over the next few days the mysterious events continued, understandably unnerving the Colosimos who often were jarred awake late at night. Each time this happened they would find the room's door locked, and once they got inside things would be in disarray.

The couple said the manifestations included:

Books sailing off a shelf.

A door which inexplicably flew off its hinges twice and "flung" the pins from the hinges with such force that they were driven into a wall like nails.

Handprints without fingerprints which appeared on window panes in the room, and smudges, seemingly made by hands, showed up on the walls.

At the family's request, another priest, from St. Patrick Catholic Church in Spotsylvania, visited the house and blessed it. Next, a friend of the Colosimos contacted a local psychic.

According to the newspaper account, the psychic, after viewing snapshots which appeared to show a "blurry image" in a room, reportedly said the image was an "evil druid." Rumors then began circulating in the neighborhood that the Catholic Church was going to perform an exorcism in the house, but clergymen denied this. Father Dominic Irace of St. Mary's was quoted as saying, "I've never dealt with anything like this. In this Diocese we've never had anything really serious like that happen ... I tell people that it's almost like voodoo in a way. If you don't believe in it, it can't hurt you."

But the Colositnos took little comfort in that. They previously had not believed in ghosts. "Before all this happened I thought it was all hocus pocus about the supernatural," Shehajean Colosimo said. Now they were terrified, and so, too, apparently were some neighbors who began spreading salt around their houses to ward off "evil spirits."

Eventually, on the advice of a friend, the family called in another 'expert' - a woman who claimed to be a "psychic advisor, clairvoyant, tarot reader and witch." When she first arrived at the house, she immediately went to the room where an the activity had taken place and said she sensed "a lot of energy" emanating from it.

Then she explained the cause. She said she saw the apparition of a young Confederate soldier. She described him as being only 16 or 17 years old. He had blond hair, was in uniform, and had been grievously wounded. His arm and leg were bandaged and he had a homemade crutch.

The psychic said the lad had been "fatally wounded" in the war and died near there. His spirit had been hiding in the closet from Union soldiers because he believed the war was still going on.

"He was very confused. Scared. He needed some help," the psychic was quoted as saying. She added that the spirits of those who have died sudden and violent deaths often linger on near the scene, uncertain of what has happened. The psychic then had a "conversation" with the ghost during a half-hour session with an Ouija board. Mrs. Colosimo said the board seemed to move by itself, and that there was so much static electricity in the room that both her and her husband's scalps were tingling. The psychic said that during the conversational exchange she told the young man that no one was trying to harm him. Reporter Zitz quoted her as saying, "I told him that the light was beautiful, it was where his friends were, and where he should be." She added that the ghost had become "frightened and confused" by the rosary, the Holy water and the commands to leave the house.

The psychic's soothing apparently had a positive effect. The manifestations stopped. Mrs. Colosimo said she and her husband were convinced that the woman's analysis was correct and that she had been successful in sending the ghost to the great beyond. "In my opinion, yes, there was a soul here, and yes, it was a young boy."

But while the supernatural activities ceased, the Colosimos' fears did not. The family began getting ugly and obscene phone calls. Someone threatened to burn their house to the ground. A vandal smashed a 20 ounce bottle of ketchup just above the front door of the home. Insulting articles appeared in the newspaper's letters to the editor section.

Sheliajean Colosimo responded with a letter of her own. "There are many things that happen to us in our lives that we don't understand," she wrote. "Nor can we just explain them away with simple science or logic. Such an event happened in my home. I gained nothing by telling the truth. My family and I never really thought about the supernatural. But I now feet what happened to us can happen to anyone, anytime, for no apparent reason.

"Yes, there was a ghost in my home. And yes we were living in fear. And we really don't care who does or doesn't believe us. We know the truth. A good conscience is a continual Christmas. I hope this letter can mollify the skeptics, the pranksters, the obscene callers and the vandals. Please leave me and my family alone."

The newspaper, too, was criticized for running the story which subsequently was picked up and published nationally by the Associated Press. Skeptics claimed reporter Mike Zitz had been "used" and "taken in." The paper said, "Reporting on news of interest to our readers doesn't mean that we, as a newspaper, endorse the views of those we quote ... We feel we did a responsible job of reporting a variety of viewpoints."

Zitz today shakes his head at the storm on criticism and controversy the incident and its publication caused. While he is not convinced about the authenticity of everything the psychics said, he believes firmly that the Colosirnos fears were real. "I believe them," he says. "They were concerned. It was genuine. They really believed. They were very upset. They were stressed out. And strange things did happen."

As a postscript, Zitz interviewed Erlendus Haraldsson of the University of Iceland, who then was a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia's Department of Parapsychology. He is a psychologist who specializes in psychic phenomena. He told Zitz that reports of violent paranormal activity - such as was occurred in the Colosimo's home - were very unusual.

"These cases come up now and then and I think quite often you find normal explanations, but there are cases never fully explained. If it seems that when those who investigate the case no longer find a normal explanation, these cases are often termed poltergeist cases," Haraldsson said.