Alexandria, Virginia – Since 2014 Port City Brewery released Long Black Veil, a jet black Cascadian Dark Ale IPA-style beer, on October 14 to much fanfare and anticipation. It was on October 14, 1816 that Alexandria’s most famous ghost, the Unknown, left this world. This year, of course, COVID-19 has brought an end to the annual beer release party and the spectral unknown itself.
Over the past few years, Port City has partnered with Gadsby’s Tavern, organizing events to benefit Gadsby’s Tavern Museum. There were beer garden events in the courtyard of the museum and beer dinners at Gadsby’s Tavern. Release parties in Port City have been slammed by LBV fans eager to score cases and growlers of this very special, limited, inky black beer. The craft beer is named after the woman who haunted Gadsby’s Tavern, cloaked by a long, dark veil to this day.
It’s been 204 years since an attractive and mysterious couple arrived in Alexandria by boat late at night and sought lodging at the tavern. The woman had fallen ill during the trip, so a doctor and nurse were called to treat the irresistible stranger in room 8. The doctor, nurses and hostel staff swore not to reveal her true identity. – for the rest of their lives. Lives.
After lingering for weeks, the woman succumbed to her illness. Her grieving husband arranged an elaborate and expensive funeral at St. Paul’s Cemetery, ironically located at 601 Hamilton Avenue.
One of the many theories about the stranger’s identity is that she was Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, who disappeared at sea around this time. Burr mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Other more unlikely theories include that she was Napoleon hiding in exile disguised as a woman.
The marble pedestal-style monument, popular with the wealthy at the time, would have cost $1,500. The inscription reads: ‘In memory of a stranger whose mortal suffering ended October 14, 1816. Aged 23 years and 8 months. This stone is placed here by her inconsolable husband in whose arms she breathed her last breath, and who, under God, did all he could even to appease the cold dead ear of death. (The inconsolable husband then paid his bills with counterfeit English currency and left town, according to a later report.)
Accounts of guests, visitors, passers-by, and staff of museums and taverns over the centuries describe various ghostly hauntings and encounters. A veiled woman has often appeared looking out of the window in Room 8 of the Gadsby Tavern, or a lit candle has been seen in the window of the unoccupied room.
Once, a guest at Gadsby’s ball noticed a woman whose costume looked out of place. He followed her until she retreated to Room 8, only to vanish into thin air, but the candle in the window was lit. The man screamed in horror, and when people came to his rescue, the candle was now clean and unused, but still warm to the touch.
Zebra is a big fan of Gadsby’s Tavern and Port City Brewery. Once, while attending a museum tour during a Long Black Veil/Female Stranger event, we looked into room 8. It was empty and closed. Turning away for a moment, the door suddenly closed. Upon opening the door, there was an imprint of a person sitting in the bedspreads of the four poster bed in this desperate room. This is the bed where the unknown died 200 years ago.
Bill Butcher, founder and owner of Port City Brewing, didn’t want the 204th anniversary of the foreign woman’s death to go unnoticed. This year, a few lucky Long Black Veil aficionados were able to get a sneak preview of the intriguing black beer, a most flavorful brew that produces a bronzed, black head with haunting notes of rich coffee and chocolate. A $25 donation to Gadsby’s Tavern Museum rewarded Long Black Veil fans with a beer growler, Port City bottle opener and other PCB bling along with a guide to historic Alexandria.
The Long Black Veil black beer will be released in late winter 2021, around the time the unknown would celebrate its 228th birthday. Kudos to the Woman with the Long Black Veil and Port City Brewing for brewing great craft beers since 2011 and for their tremendous community involvement.
ICYMI: Foreign Beer Dinner with Port City Brewing Company