Supernatural advice on home renovation, from homeowners with centuries of experience
Beer couldn't save the Lemps from depression. St. Louis' German-American brewing dynasty controlled the largest suds operation in town in the mid-19th century. But the death of favorite son Frederick triggered a chain of family suicides that felled William, William Jr., Elsa, and Charles Lemp. They killed themselves; Prohibition killed their business. The Lemps' 1860s Italianate house had been a local marvel: newly patented radiant heat, an open-air elevator, 33 rooms. After the death (by natural causes) of the last Lemp son, the place became a boarding house. In 1977, renovations transformed it into a restaurant and inn—but not without difficulty. Ghostly barking and piano music, slamming doors, burning sensations, faces in the windows—the place was so spooky that several construction workers fled the jobsite.
When Donna and Phil Stone bought this Colonial Revival in 1994 to convert it to an inn, little did they know they'd have a permanent guest; renovations on the 1898 Falmouth house kicked up a young female ghost. The Stones moved antiques from the attic to a guestroom, and the ghost—whom they dubbed "Ada"—went with them. Must have been her stuff. She has fancied moving workers' tools, flushing toilets, pulling mirrors off the walls, and turning on the faucets. Guests have seen her, her taffeta gown wooshing down the halls.
Before he was tried four times for the same murder, antiques dealer, Savannah swell, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil protagonist Jim Williams moved a house. It was the 1796 Hampton Lillibridge House, built by a Yankee in the Georgian style. During its relocation, a worker was crushed when a neighboring house collapsed. Eerie incidents ensued and continue to this day: a Dixieland band strikes it up, footsteps are heard where no one is walking, the spectre of a dark-suited man in a top hat haunts the second floor, and a couple of wraiths in formal attire occupy the widow's walk. The dead sprung to life, so to speak, when the house was hauled a few blocks to its current location in 1963.
Sarah Winchester suffered a guilty conscience. The diminutive heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune was informed by a medium that it was her duty to go West and build a home. This home was to house herself and all the victims killed by Winchester rifles. There were an awful lot of victims. From 1884 for 38 years around the clock, the Queen Anne was built. One hundred-and-sixty rooms, 467 doorways (many leading nowhere), 40 stairways (ditto on the nowhere), 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 52 skylights, 20,000 gallons of paint, two basements, and $5.5 million dollars later, Sarah died. She left behind a host of apparitions, from balls of light to floating spectres to whispering, door-slamming poltergeists. And why wouldn't they want to stay in what now is called the Winchester Mystery House? Sarah stipulated in her will that the ghosts continue to enjoy the good "life", treated as they had been to five-course banquets served with solid gold table settings when Sarah was alive.
General store, ballroom, billiard hall, school, polling place, granary, theater, and courthouse, the Whaley family home was a multi-use space. Busy as he was hosting all these ventures, Thomas Whaley seems not to have given much thought to the poor souls who met their maker on the gallows grounds that preceded his house on its lot in Old Town San Diego. But the condemned weren't keen on being forgotten. Soon after its completion in 1857, the Greek Revival building became home to its first ghost, Yankee Jim Robinson, who was hanged for grand larceny in 1852—an execution Whaley attended. Over the years, a slew of spectres have moved in: a dark woman in full skirts, a long-haired girl, a fox terrier, and—perhaps as penance for his disregard for the dead—Thomas Whaley himself.
In California's Kern River Valley is a patchwork quilt of a town made up of swatches of historic mining camps. Silver City Ghost Town, a museum and film location, is kept by its owners in "arrested decay", as if it were only yesterday that the Gold Rush ran dry. If you've got a ghost town, you'd better have some ghosts, and among the historic structures hauled onto the site, none is more accommodating to that crowd than the Apalatea/Burlando House. The oldest building in the Valley was once the home of the prolific Francisco Apalatea, husband to three and father of 13. The house is haunted by his last wife, Mattie, who lifts shot glasses into the air and rocks in the "unoccupied" rocker. But she's not the only undead here. Apparently those '49ers threw a heck of a party: a caretaker once overheard a haunted hoe-down, complete with ghost fiddle, phantom card shuffling, and incorporeal laughter.
East Hartford has a hardworking ghost. Huguenot saddlemaker Makens Bemont and his family lived in this gambrel-roofed house from the 1760s to the 1820s. When the town undertook restorations on it 150 years later, stone masons restoring the chimneys heard phantom hammering and were once startled by the unmistakable sound of a hod of bricks falling. No fallen bricks were found. The story goes that the masons got so accustomed to the industrious ghost, they took to calling him Benny, and the foreman issued him work orders. Other presences have materialized. A woman with a candle was seen on the stairs, and a floating blue dress once scared the bejesus out of a little girl playing outside the house.
John Francis Rague, architect of Iowa's Old Capitol, poured his monumentalist talents into this 1856 Italianate mansion for Dubuque lead mining mogul Mathias Ham. From his riverside mansion, Ham monitored merchant and pirate ships along the Mississippi. The house eventually passed to his children. His last unmarried daughter, Sarah, was living alone there when she shot an intruding buccaneer and killed him. In 1964 when the house was converted to a museum, the pirate ghost took to shivering timbers: lights turned off and on by themselves; organ music streamed from sockets. Electricians couldn't figure it out. But current curator Tacie Campbell seems as if she has—she says the haunting was a hoax concocted by well-meaning volunteers trying to drum up interest in the nascent landmark.
Chill in the air? It could be Edith Wharton. The celebrated author of over 40 books, including The Age of Innocence, House of Mirth, and her final collection, Ghosts, designed and built her massive house and gardens in Lenox, Massachusetts starting in 1902. Wharton's house was inspired by the Palladian-style Belton House in England, and incorporated classical Italian and French influences. She named the place The Mount. Though Wharton sold it in 1912, she had so adored The Mount that she haunted it after her 1937 death. In the late '70s, a voice teacher for the theater group that then occupied the house was startled from her nap in Wharton's old writing quarters by an extreme plunge in the room's temperature. Svhe awoke to find Wharton, Wharton's husband, and her male secretary, all of whom turned to look at her.
Doric columns announce this 1861 Greek Revival in Demopolis, Alabama. But it's not the imposing facade that lures ghosthunters to Gaineswood; it's what lurks underground. The National Historic Landmark is haunted by Evelyn Carter, by some accounts a household assistant and by others the sister-in-law of Nathan Bryan Whitfield, the mid-19th-century cotton magnate who built the place. Evelyn fell ill and died in the cold months. Whitfield laid Evelyn to provisional rest until the spring thaw, stowing her body beneath the cellar stairs. But Evelyn's spirit wouldn't lie still; it took to pitter-pattering, rustling skirts, and chirping ditties beneath the floorboards. They say visitors who tour the house's domed rooms can sense her presence today.
George Ferris and his wife Julia mail-ordered their Queen Anne mansion; it came in a kit from Tennessee architectural firm Barber and Klutz. Ferris, a copper mine millionaire and Wyoming political figure, was thrown from a carriage and killed before his house's completion in 1903. The place seemed cursed; a roofer fell to his death during construction, and the Ferris' young son died in 1904 there when a loaded gun he was playing with went off. All in all, four of the Ferris' seven children died in strange accidents. The folks who live in the house now have retired from the innkeeping business, but back when they ran the place as a B&B, ghosts often awakened their guests at night. And the spectre of a woman could be seen tending to nonexistent plants out front. Story has it that this was Julia Ferris, possibly assuaging her grief with some ghostly gardening.
In 1970 when Governor Bob Scott moved a hundred-year-old behemoth of a bed out of his room and into a spare room on the third floor of the North Carolina Executive Mansion, he didn't expect to so upset one of his predecessors. But Governor Daniel Fowle wasn't having it. The widower politician had been in office when state penitentiary workers completed the brick-and-sandstone Queen Anne in Raleigh in 1891. But he died of a heart attack in the massive bed a few short months after moving in. The bed's departure from Fowle's former bedroom precipitated the deceased governor's protestations in the form of a nightly spectral rapping that ensued promptly at 10 PM. Though the eventual return of the bed to what Fowle's spirit apparently believes to be its rightly place in the house put an end to the racket, the Executive Mansion's current resident manager, Jean Carroll, says affectionately, "We blame everything that goes on here on Governor Fowle."
John McGee Parkman had reason for hubris. He had worked his way up from dry goods clerk to become President of the First National Bank of Selma at the tender age 28. His house—a 13-year-old Greek Revival beauty which he purchased from its original owner for $65,000 in 1864—was a reflection of his success. Then Parkman got himself in trouble for speculating in cotton. The feds threw him in jail by the Mississippi, and he drowned in 1867 in a failed attempt to escape. That didn't stop him from inhabiting his mansion. He's been seen loitering by the side portico and surveying his property from the cupola windows. The house, named Sturdivant Hall now, is open to the public. But enter at your own risk: doors swing open of their own accord, and Parkman's possessive presence is sensed in the bedroom and parlor.
The 1801 Octagon Museum appears to have more spirits than sides. Designed with six sides to fit a triangular lot by the first architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, the Octagon helped anchor early Washington, D.C.'s map. But, according to Washington Walks, events inside the house have been unmooring. At least two women in original owner Colonel John Tayloe's household fell to their deaths from the oval staircase. This helps account for the disembodied shrieks and the carpet at its landing that flips by itself. The skeleton of a young woman, so it is said, was found behind a wall, putting an end to the years of supernatural rapping residents had endured. When the White House was burned during the War of 1812, James and Dolley Madison stayed here. Today the smell of lilacs in the building signals Dolley's post-mortal presence. Other hauntings include the ghost of a murdered gambler, the moans of the former slaves who escaped to freedom through tunnels beneath the building during the Civil War, and a full apparitional attendance of footmen and carriages at the front door. Though the building is considered one of the most haunted in a town full of horrors, the director of the Octagon, which currently serves as the museum for the American Architectural Foundation, would like you to know that the stories are hearsay.