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Bud Phillips/Bristol, Va. Behind this very modern facade stands an early 1880s building. It was erected by local photographer G.B. Smith. The Barker store building, which formerly occupied the lot, was demolished because of a supposed ghost.

Blowfish Emporium building was once demolished because it was haunted!

February 02, 2010

In a short time after his venture in merchandising, Col. J. M. Barker became able to erect a three-story building in what is now numbered 529 State St. (Original story featured on Tricities.com. Written by Bud Phillips.)

Strangely, he lost that building to a supposed ghost. I suppose that many a strange thing has happened in Bristol, but this must be one of the strangest.

When construction began on that building, the contractor hired a young man by the name of William T. Thomas to dig the foundation trenches.

Col. Barker observed what a faithful and effective worker he was, so determined to hire him to work in the store when the building was finished.

Meanwhile, this young man’s friends, latching on to his often telling of how many feet of trench he had dug in a day, began to call him “Dug” Thomas.

Dug did become a clerk in the store soon after it opened. Tragically, a difficulty with a customer resulted in him being murdered in that store on Dec. 16, 1879. His assailant slashed his throat, causing him to bleed to death within a very short time.

Late one cold, snowy day in January 1880, Col. Barker was in the store alone when a couple who lived more than a mile west of downtown Bristol came in to buy footwear.
Col. Barker was trying to fit the man for boots while the woman was alone in a back corner trying on a pair of ladies’ shoes.

Suddenly, from the gloom of the back corner appeared Dug Thomas standing before her, bloody shirt and all, and kindly asked if he could help her. One look, she screamed out, jumped up and out the back door and barefoot, ran through the snow to her home.
Later, when Col. Barker was told of the woman’s claim, shoved it off as pure imagination. But soon, imagination got the best of him.

It had been the duty of Dug Thomas to arrive early at the store and light the swinging oil lamps. After his tragic death, Col. Barker began to do this early morning work until he could hire someone. In those days, competition was so keen between local stores that virtually all merchants opened well before daylight and stayed until long after nightfall.

It was perhaps a week after the first ghostly appearance (had by the lady shoe shopper) that Col. Barker walked through a cool, drizzly, foggy morning to his store.

Just as he opened the front door, a light flared at the back. In the glow of that light, he could clearly see Dug Thomas stretched up from the little stool he used to stand upon to light the lamps.

The store did not open that day. The next day, Col. Barker hired several draymen to move his stock to a vacant building he owned on the Tennessee side of Main (now State) Street.
He did not tell anyone of the ghost other than his wife.

He had not yet learned the truth of Ben Franklin’s wise old proverb that two people may keep a secret if one of them be dead!

In no time, the story was all over town, and then reports followed from other people claiming that they had seen Dug Thomas standing and peering out the front store window. One person claimed to have seen him in the backyard of the building. On and on, reports came in about the murdered Dug Thomas.

Col. Barker tried to rent the building. No one wanted to try business in building reputedly haunted by a ghost. He tried hard to sell it, finally at a bargain price, but no one would buy it for the same reason. Then, in desperation, he demolished the building, salvaged the bricks to erect four or five small rent houses, then sold the lot to local photographer, G.B. Smith.
G.B. then had his brother, W.H. Smith, erect another nice three-story building on the site. For all indication, that building, with a very modernized front added, still stands today.
If it can happen, it has happened in Bristol!