The Lynchburg Museum recently received one of the most infamous artifacts from local history: the “self rocking cradle” from the early 1800s that haunted a local home and generated nearly two centuries of ghost stories. The cradle was donated to the Museum by a local man and his sister who are direct descendants of the original 19th-century owners.
According to several local histories, in 1839 the cradle began to rock vigorously without anyone touching it in the home of Rev. William and Laura Smith on Jackson Street. After the young Methodist minister moved the cradle to the middle of the room, he commanded it to rock by itself in the name of the devil “Geoffrey” (later accounts give the name as “Beezlebub”). Upon demand, it began rocking again. Hundreds of visitors came to see the haunted cradle, and the story passed into local lore.
The wooden cradle is large (measuring roughly 3.5 ft. long, 2 ft. wide, and 4.5 ft. tall), made of stained mahogany, and crafted in Sheraton “high poster” style. The original rockers were removed many decades ago, and the current ones are likely 20th-century additions.
The Smiths borrowed the rocking cradle from Rev. (later Bishop) John Early. They later returned it to the Early family, who hid it away in their attic and removed the rockers. Their descendants held onto it, and the cradle reappeared again in 1937 in an inventory recorded by the Works Progress Administration. It remained in the Early family until recently, when brother and sister Tom Jackson and Joan Coleman of Lynchburg decided to donate it to the Museum.
The story of Lynchburg’s infamous rocking cradle was first published in 1858 in Margaret Anthony Cabell’s Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg. Variations of the story appeared in newspapers, books, and magazines throughout the 19th century. In more recent years it was featured in the popular book Ghosts of Charlottesville and Lynchburg by L. B. Taylor, Jr.
Visit the Museum’s blog (at LynchburgMuseum.org) to read more about the cradle and see the extensive research compiled by Museum staff to verify its provenance.
Just in time for Halloween, the general public can view a special Livestream paranormal investigation of the cradle on October 29, 2021, from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Museum staff will set up an infrared camera in the dark aimed at the cradle to capture any unexplained phenomenon. Visit the museum’s website (LynchburgMuseum.org) or check our social media channels for the Livestream details and link.
The cradle will also be on long-term display at the Lynchburg Museum beginning on Thursday, November 4, 2021. The museum’s open hours in November will be Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (12 noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays).
About the Lynchburg Museum System
The Lynchburg Museum System manages the official history museums and archives of the City of Lynchburg. Its mission is to collect, interpret, preserve, and share the history and culture of Lynchburg, Virginia, and the surrounding area. The Museum System is a division of the City’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism, working in partnership with the non-profit Lynchburg Museum Foundation.
The Museum System is responsible for operating two museums: the Lynchburg Museum at the Old Court House and Point of Honor, the historic site on Daniel’s Hill. These museums preserve over 40,000 artifacts and share the diverse stories of three centuries of local history with residents, tourists, and students of all ages.