Haunted Historic Houses
Test your courage this Halloween season by visiting one of these dozen historic homes where the past really does come back to haunt you
So maybe you can watch Poltergeist without flinching and you are able to read every book by Stephen King without a chill, but what if you were confronted with a member of the dearly departed in the flesh (so to speak)? Well, you can test your courage this Halloween season by visiting one of these dozen historic homes where the past really does come back to haunt you. All offer tours or are open to the public.
The 1864 Battle of Franklin left behind a legacy for the people of its namesake Tennessee town. Take Carrie McGavock. She's been known to sit on her porch and look out at the Civil War cemetery adjacent to Carnton, her Greek Revival mansion. While this may seem normal for a resident of a town steeped in antebellum history, there is something peculiar about McGavock: She's been dead since 1905. Carrie—the subject of Robert Hicks' best-selling novel, The Widow of the South—lived at Carnton with her husband, John, when the Civil War's bloodiest hours raged outside its doors. The mansion was used as a military hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers. After the war, when farming threatened to overturn the shallow graves of the fallen, the McGavocks designated land beside their family plot as a burial ground for nearly 1,500 soldiers. According to Margie Thessin, director of the Franklin on Foot tour operation, Carrie McGavock watches over the graves to this very day. Margie's daughter, Anna, saw Carrie's ghost wearing a long, pink gown. If you'd like to try and see Carrie yourself, the Carnton Plantation is open for tours.
In 1815, Reverend Lorenzo Dow was visiting Dr. and Mrs. Bates at Woodburn in Dover, Delaware. While heading to breakfast one morning, he saw a man he assumed was another guest. When Mrs. Bates asked the Reverend to say grace at mealtime, he suggested they wait for the man he'd seen earlier, but she replied that there were no other guests in the house. When Reverend Dow described the person he'd seen, Mrs. Bates identified him as Charles Hillyard III, Bates's late father and the builder of the 1798 Georgian-style mansion. Today, the structure serves as the official residence of Delaware's Governor, and it is believed that Hillyard—a tippler in life—still materializes to empty the contents of bottles left uncorked in the wine cellar. The mansion, Hillyard's ghost, and the apparition of an unknown young girl in a gingham dress seen by the garden reflecting pool may be visited by appointment.
Like many fans of This Old House, Mitchel Whitington works on his 1861 Greek Revival, known as The Grove on weekends. But unlike other DIYers, Whitington has company from the other side. One day, Whitington was home alone, moving boxes from the kitchen to the side porch of his Jefferson, Texas house. After repeatedly entering and exiting the house without a problem, Whitington suddenly found himself locked out. When he got into the house through another entrance, he saw that the kitchen door had been dead-bolted from the inside. Among the mansion's many ghostly inhabitants is Minerva Stilley, the original owner. "She is a lady in white who haunts the east side of the house, steps through a wall, and strolls the interior," says Whitington. "The wall she steps through to enter the house was an addition made in 1870." When Minerva was alive, there was a back porch and an entrance to the home in that very spot. Whitington shares these and other haunting tales on scheduled tours of what is now known as "The Most Haunted Place in the Lone Star State."
The owners of this Bentonsport, Iowa, inn have made the place so homey that past residents simply refuse to leave. The Federal-style house, built in 1846, is the oldest steamboat hotel on the Des Moines River. Many overnight guests are skeptical when it comes to the ghosts—until they experience one themselves. "We have had 14 different apparitions sighted in the seven years we have lived here," says current owner Joy Hanson: two soldiers and a group of children. All are said to have died at the inn when it was a hospital during the Civil War. Guests are also often deceived by Josephine, the resident feline ghost; she looks just like any old cat, but when you reach out to touch her, she vanishes. The Mason House Inn offers ghost-hunting classes and ghost tours. Overnight visits for Halloween are booked a year in advance, but you can spend a night in this haunted house all year-round, too.
Lexington, Kentucky, has seen its share of historic events, and the Gratz Park Inn has been around for most of them. Built in 1916, the Inn has been at, various times, a home and a doctor's office. According to general manager Zedta Wellman, guests find Gratz Park's old-fashioned style refreshing and enjoy their stay. "The only complaint many guests have," Wellman says, "is the little girl running through the halls—and she's a ghost!" Lizzie, as the staff fondly calls the apparition, likes to open and close doors and tug on guests' sleeves. The Inn is open to overnight guests.
Though the namesake Marquis de Lafayette managed an escape from the British here during the Revolutionary War, not all of those who've visited this 1732 Inn in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, have chosen to leave. Two waitresses were closing the General Lafayette Inn and Brewery one night when a chair they were attempting to move refused to budge. The more the waitresses pushed, the more it felt like someone was stubbornly sitting in the chair—that is, until the manager came and lifted it as if it were light as a feather. Slamming doors, rattling doorknobs, ethereal footsteps, chairs spinning on one leg, and several ghostly appearances have lured paranormal investigators to the Inn to confirm it haunted. The Inn is open seven days a week for dinner and lunch, and the staff is more than willing to share their eerie tales.
All 12 children of Deacon Richard Hale lived at the Hale Homestead in South Coventry, Connecticut, including the Revolutionary War hero, Nathan Hale. Some of the Colonial-era Hale family make an appearance to this day. George Dudley Seymour, who purchased the house in the early 20th century, recorded ghostly sightings, including one encounter with Deacon Hale himself. He haunts the place along with a family servant named Lydia Carpenter, who is seen listening for tidbits of gossip at the doorways. Nathan's brother Joseph is also said to be heard stomping on the stairs and making a ruckus in the basement, rattling the chains he was bound in during his internment on a British prison ship. The Homestead is now owned by the heritage museum organization CT Landmarks, and though the staff won't confirm rumors of incorporeal residents, you can attempt to experience the paranormal here yourself when it's open from May through October for tours.
Mary Telfair was a generous woman, to a degree. When she died in 1875, she bequeathed her family's English Regency residence to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences in Savannah, Georgia, which she established in her will. The house is now part of the Telfair Arts Museum. But, despite her bequest, Mary Telfair remains a possessive spirit who makes her displeasure apparent when alterations are made to the house. According to museum staff, she is particularly aggravated when her portrait is tinkered with. Part of the rotunda ceiling crashed through the newer ceiling below it the last time the painting was moved. Mary's last wishes forbade eating or drinking in the house. One evening, when a sudden thunderstorm forced an event to be moved inside, a sudden gust of wind blew through the mansion, breaking windows. The staff now holds all events in the museum's newer buildings. The entire museum is open every day except Tuesday, and if you visit, you had better believe that Mary Telfair is watching to make sure you behave yourself in her house.
On Staten Island, New York, the Conference House was the site of a failed Peace Conference was held between American patriots and British loyalists at the advent of the Revolutionary War. The 15-year-old girl who can be seen looking out at the Raritan Bay from a second-story window of the stone edifice died nearly 250 years ago. She is nameless, but that doesn't stop her from being mischievous. She is known for leaving rooms in disarray. Some say she is the spirit was a servant of loyalist Colonel Christopher Billop whose grandfather, Captain Christopher Billop, built the house in the late 1600's. Suspecting the servant of collaborating with revolutionaries, Colonel Billop allegedly threw her down the stairs, killing her. Others believe she is Captain Billop's servant Elizabeth who, forbidden to marry her love, hung herself in despair on the property. Still others think she is the ghost of a servant who the Captain stabbed with a fire poker after she disobeyed him. Whoever she is, you can visit her at the Conference House from April to mid-December 15 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Even a place dedicated to natural science can't scare away supernatural visitors in Binghamton, New York. This Italian Renaissance Revival mansion, now part of the Roberson Museum and Science Center, was built in 1907 for Alonzo Roberson, Jr., who lived here with his wife until his death in 1934. According to the museum's curator, Eve Daniels, there have been several unexplained incidents here, including one in the summer of 2008 in which security cameras showed disembodied legs walking across the floor. Daniels has also heard children's voices coming from one of the fireplaces. Incidents like these are the focus of tours that take place throughout the month of October.
Thomas Henderson didn't get to enjoy his Natchez, Mississippi, house for very long. The newly built Greek Revival mansion was his home a mere five years until his death in 1863. Perhaps Henderson rued the brevity of his residence, because today he appears to haunt the house. In October 1985, a tour guide, Judy Grimsely, noticed an indentation on the pillow in the bedroom where Henderson had died. She assumed someone had forgotten to smooth it the night before, but then one of the lamps began blinking. On a tour that same day, a woman who identified herself as a psychic sensed that something tragic had happened in the room. She said that Henderson was trying to pronounce the word "medicine" in his final moments. Doctors and nurses who visit the house often smell laudanum, an opiate commonly prescribed in the nineteenth century. The Natchez Garden Club owns Magnolia Hall and opens it for tours.
Melissa Jacobs came to work one morning in Bedford, Pennsylvania at the Jean Bonnet Tavern and checked the rooms of the bed and breakfast as usual. The first time she walked past the attic bedroom, she noted that the door was closed and locked. Later, she went through the attic again, only to discover that the bedroom door was unlocked and open. A while later, she found the door locked and closed again. "I couldn't believe it, and I knew it had to be a ghost,” Jacobs says. Clients who frequent the bed and breakfast have also reported other eerie occurrences. "A client told me about this one particular night during his stay. He was sleeping when all of a sudden he heard the rocking chair creaking and asked his wife why she was up. She rolled over and alerted him to the fact that she was actually sleeping beside him," says Jacobs. It is partly because of its reputation for paranormal activity that the guestrooms in the 1762 French Colonial building are booked a year in advance for Halloween, when the inn throws its annual ghostly bash. The tavern is open for dining seven days a week.