Alexandria, VA – Since 2014 Port City Brewery has released Long Black Veil, a jet-black IPA Cascadian Dark Ale-style beer, on October 14 with great fanfare and much anticipation. It was on October 14, 1816, that Alexandria’s most famous ghost, the Female Stranger, left this world. This year, of course, COVID-19 put a stop to the annual fete of the beer’s release and the spectral stranger herself.
In past years, Port City partnered with Gadsby’s Tavern, hosting events to benefit the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum. There were backyard beer garden events at the museum and beer dinner events at Gadsby’s Tavern restaurant. Release soirées at Port City have been slammed with LBV fans eager to score cases and growlers of this very special, limited release, inky dark ale. The craft brew is named for the woman said to haunt Gadsby’s Tavern, masked by a long dark veil to this day.
It’s been 204 years since an attractive, mysterious couple arrived in Alexandria by ship late one night and sought accommodations at the tavern. The woman had taken ill on the voyage, so a doctor and nurse were called to treat the compelling female stranger in Room 8. The doctor, nurses, and inn staff were sworn to secrecy not to reveal her true identity—for the rest of their lives.
After lingering for weeks, the woman succumbed to her illness. Her grieving husband arranged an elaborate and expensive burial at St. Paul’s Cemetery, ironically located at 601 Hamilton Avenue.
One of many theories about the female stranger’s identity is that she was Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, who disappeared at sea about that time. Burr mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Other more improbable theories include that she was Napoleon hiding in exile disguised as a woman.
The marble pedestal-table-style monument, popular with the affluent at the time, reportedly cost $1,500. The inscription reads: “To the memory of a female stranger whose mortal sufferings terminated the 14th day of October 1816. Aged 23 years and 8 months. This stone is placed here by her disconsolate Husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath, and who under God did his utmost even to soothe the cold dead ear of death.” (The disconsolate husband then paid his bills with counterfeit English currency and skipped town, according to a later report.)
Accounts by guests, visitors, passersby, and museum and tavern staff over the centuries describe various hauntings and ghostly encounters. A veiled woman has frequently appeared looking out the window of Room 8 of Gadsby’s Tavern, or a lit candle has been seen in the window of the unoccupied room.
One time a Gadsby’s Ball guest noticed a woman whose costume seemed out of place. He followed her until she retreated into Room 8, only to disappear into thin air, yet 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 both Gadsby’s Tavern and Port City Brewery. Once while attending a museum tour at a Long Black Veil/Female Stranger event, we looked into Room 8. It was empty and roped off. Turning away for a moment, the door suddenly closed. Upon opening the door, there was an imprint of a seated person in the bedcovers of the canopy bed in that forlorn room. It is the bed where the female stranger died 200 years ago.
Bill Butcher, founder and owner of Port City Brewing, didn’t want the 204th anniversary of the Female Stranger’s passing to go unheralded. This year a fortunate few Long Black Veil aficionados were able to score a preview release of the intriguing black ale, a most quaffable brew that yields a tan and black head with haunting notes of rich coffee and chocolate. A $25 donation to the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum rewarded Long Black Veil fans with a growler of the ale, a Port City bottle opener, and other PCB bling along with a guide to historic Alexandria.
The Long Black Veil black ale will be released sometime in late winter 2021, about the time the Female Stranger would be celebrating her 228th birthday. Cheers to the woman in the long black veil, and to Port City Brewing for brewing great craft beers since 2011 and for their über awesome community engagement.