For sale is an 1873 handwritten SHOP RECEIPT from Christian Schafer, 3 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA. The shop sold candy and fruits, including oranges, lemons, raisins, dates, figs & almonds. The shopper, Mr E Rake, purchased $7.90 worth of merchandise including 30 assorted candy and sugar cherries. The receipt is dated December 13, 1873 and was probably purchased for the upcoming Christmas celebration. This original civil war era receipt features a great letterhead. The receipt measures 8 1/4 inches by 4 1/2 inches. A top notch ephemera for any local historian.
On June 29, 1868, the Alexandria Gazette published an account entitled a “Fatal and Melancholy Affair”. This article, along with other contemporary newspaper reports, detailed how an ordinary summer evening on North Fairfax Street destroyed a family and provided Alexandria with one of its most persistent and iconic ghost stories.
The Schafers, Christian and Susan, lived with their youngest daughter, Laura, a great beauty, was recently engaged to Mr. Charles Tennesson, a favored young man in the Alexandria community. On June 28, 1868, as Laura carried a kerosene oil lamp to guide her through the house’s cool, dark interior, the lamp cracked and burning oil splattered onto the skirt of her dress. Bound under a corset, hoop skirt, and gathered layers of fabric, Miss Schafer was trapped, suffocating in her blazing ensemble. She screamed “piteously for help” as she flew down the staircase in her home, effectively fanning the flames that were now biting into her flesh and leaping into her hair. Laura, in agony, was completely engulfed by the time the Schafer household was alerted to her cries. Her mother and brother-in-law met her at the bottom of the stairs and tried to extinguish the flames that “extended far above her head.” Laura Schafer, who had so much of her life ahead of her, succumbed to her injuries at 11 o’clock the next morning, Sunday, June 29th. She was 26 years old.
That same night, her finance, Charles did what so many of us have done in times of heartbreak: he went out for a drink. He went with a friend to the wholesale liquor store of Downham & Green on King Street. Struggling to cope with Laura Schafer’s horrifying death, he drowned his sorrows. During the evening, Charles took out a five barreled Whitney revolver, brought it up to his right temple and unceremoniously pulled the trigger. While the bullet tore through the “cavity of his skull and lodged upon the opposite side” of his head, Charles remained suspended between life and death. Surgeons were summoned immediately, but Charles’ wounds were “beyond the reach of the assistance to be afforded by earthly doctors.” He was taken to his father’s home, where he died at twenty minutes past three o’clock, one day and four hours after Laura Schafer’s death.
A string of the old Schafer home’s proprietors remain adamant that the 19th-century couple has stuck around Old Town. There have been documented claims from ghost hunters, ghost tours guides, tourists, and Old Town locals of paranormal encounters with both male and female entities in the Schafer house. Cold gusts of air have been felt on the staircase that Laura flew down as she burned, and a lantern within the house has been known to sway when Laura’s death is mentioned. Children, who supposedly encounter her spirit more often than adults, have described seeing a woman weeping in a wedding dress on the property, while adults often sense unfulfilled longing or claustrophobia. The most common report is the faint smell of something burning.