Haunted houses are as much a part of New England lore as Revolutionary battles or clipper ship races. New Englanders have been drawn to the supernatural since Cotton Mather blamed earthquakes on the devil. New England. Ghosts, witches, devils and monsters in human shape have populated the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. There’s even a name for the region’s special brand of horror: Gothic New England.
Here are six haunted houses. We use the term loosely, for they include a hospital, a library, a dormitory and a fort. But all have drama or sorrow in their past.
The sinister and bizarre Seaside Sanitorium in Waterford, Conn., may be haunted by ghosts – or by its past.
In 1936, doctors believed the way to treat children with tuberculosis was rest, sunshine, fresh air and good food. Seaside was built as a ‘heliotropic’ treatment hospital for children. It was designed by Gothic Revival architect Cass Gilbert, who also planned the Woolworth Building, the U.S. Supreme Court building and Union Station in New Haven. The building faces Long Island Sound, with large terraces and porches for sunbathing.
Drugs made heliotropic treatment obsolete, and Seaside became a geriatric hospital, a medical hospital and a hospital for the mentally disabled. People accused its staff of abusing the patients, and the death rate was unusually high.
The hospital closed in 1996. It’s now dilapidated, creepy and boarded up, its grounds littered with abandoned playground equipment. The ghosts of abused patients are said to haunt the place.
Ghostbusters – aka the New England Paranormal Video Research Group -- visited Seaside Sanitorium in 2007. They captured some electronic voice phenomena, spirit orb photographs and experienced strong sensations of paranormal activity.
The State of Connecticut plans to redevelop the old hospital as a state park. The Seaside Sanitorium is at 35 Shore Road in Waterford.
Fort Knox has been described as Maine’s version of the Great Pyramid. A hulking granite fortress on the banks of the Penobscot River, it was built in the mid-19th century to prevent the British from invading the region. They’d already done it during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
The State of Maine bought Fort Knox from the U.S. government in 1923 for $2,100.
The fort provides ideal conditions for haunting: it's next to swirling waters, it's made of vast quantities of granite and it's in a cold climate. It also has lots of dark tunnels.
Psychic sisters Sky Taylor and Amy Burgoyne say Fort Knox has intense spiritual energy, almost like a vortex.
People say they hear footsteps or laughter when no one else is inside the fort, or they feel someone is touching them. Ghost hunters heard soldiers talking about the Civil War. A retired state trooper saw a white object with no head, arms or legs that moved, then vanished.
Ghosts could be the spirits of farmers who sold their land to the government and now search for their old homes. They could be the 500 men who died during the Penobscot Expedition, the worst naval disaster in U.S. history until Pearl Harbor. They could be soldiers who deserted during the Civil War, or the young men who died quarrying the granite.
The ghost in the duster coat who wanders the fort’s dark, wet tunnels is Leopold Hegyi, the caretaker at the fort from 1887 to 1900. Of Hungarian ancestry, he was a cavalryman who helped train George Custer’s army before moving to Maine. He patrolled the fort for 13 years by himself, except when a few soldiers arrived during the Spanish-American War.
The fort hosts an annual paranormal/psychic fair. “Fright at the Fort,” a haunted house fundraiser that helps fund the preservation of the historic site.
Click here for a ghost tracker documentary of Fort Knox.
Fort Knox is at 740 Fort Knox Rd. in Prospect.
As an aspiring writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne frequented the Boston Athenaeum, a private library across from the Statehouse. In April 1842 he visited the Reading Room and encountered Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, Harvard’s librarian. Harris was sitting in his usual chair, reading a newspaper. Hawthorne didn’t think anything about it until later that evening, when a friend told him Harris had died. Hawthorne said that was impossible, as he had just seen him in the Athenaeum.
The next day, Hawthorne returned to the Athenaeum only to see Harris in the same chair. The writer speculated he was reading his own obituary. Of the encounter he wrote,
I remember—once at least, and I know not but oftener—a sad, wistful, disappointed gaze, which the ghost fixed upon me from beneath his spectacles; a melancholy look of helplessness, which, if my heart had been as hard as a paving-stone, I could hardly have withstood. But I did withstand it; and I think I saw him no more after this last, appealing look.
The minister’s ghost isn’t the only creepy thing about the Boston Athenaeum. The library holds a copy of a criminal’s memoirs bound in his own skin.
James Allen was a career criminal who tried to rob two men on the Salem Turnpike. One of the men, John Fenno, Jr., fought back. Allen shot him, but Fenno survived.
Allen began to tell his life story to the prison warden, who wrote it all down. Before Allen was executed in 1837, he asked that his skin be used to bind two copies of his memoirs, one for Fenno, and one for his doctor. Skin from his back was tanned and sent to a bookbinder. One copy ended up at the Athenaeum after it was passed down through Allen’s family – after it had been used to spank children who misbehaved.
The Boston Athenaeum is at 10½ Beacon St.
Huntress Hall, Keene State College
Huntress Hall at Keene State College was named after Harriet Huntress, a New Hampshire department of Education administrator. The building was built in 1926, and Huntress’s abandoned wheelchair is still stored in the attic. The creaking chair can be heard wheeling around the attic at night, according to students who live there.
Huntress does not like to be mocked and wreaks revenge on anyone who dresses up like her at Halloween. Students who have done so – usually with a gray wig and a wheelchair -- failed tests, broke their legs or been involved in bad car accidents.
The genesis of the Huntress haunting is said to be World War II. Keene State was then a teaching school and Huntress Hall was an all-female dormitory. During the war, the U.S. Navy began training pilots at Keene and housed the trainees in Huntress Hall. Huntress was said to hate men and promiscuous women, and it was then that she began to haunt the hall. Some say she is most active when students are having sex inside its walls.
The Newport mansion Belcourt Castle features a screaming suit of armor, a haunted gold coronation carriage, chairs that toss people off their seats and apparitions dancing in the ballroom.
Belcourt Castle was built by Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, the wastrel son of financier August Belmont and grandson of Commodore Matthew Perry. (His brother August financed the Cape Cod Canal.) Richard Morris Hunt designed the mansion according to Perry’s wish to devote the first floor to carriages and stables for his beloved horses. He modeled the 60-room house on Louis XIII’s hunting lodge at Versailles.
Belmont married Alva Belmont, the ex-wife of his best friend William K. Vanderbilt, in 1896, and she began redesigning the mansion. After the Belmonts died, Harold and Ruth Tinney bought Belcourt in 1956 and filled it with their own collection of art and antiques. The Tinneys opened the house to the public for ghost tours and as a museum.
When the Tinneys owned Belcourt, suits of armor stand in a row at one end of the ballroom. People say they’ve heard screams from one suit of armor as the owner relives his death. A spear tip pierced his eye through a slit in the helmet.
Two antique chairs in the ballroom are called salt chairs because their removable seats disguise salt cellars. They are said to repel people who sit in them. The Tinneys’ son Donald claims to have seen ghostly women dancing in the ballroom.
A carved wooden statue of a monk brings a ghost of a brown-robed monk along with him. The ghost always appeared in the same room as the statue.
In 2012, Belcourt was sold and is currently undergoing renovation.
Edward Hamlin Everett Mansion
Edward Hamlin Everett got rich as the Glass Bottle King and inventor of the fluted bottle cap. He grew up in Bennington, Vt., and in 1886 married Amy King. Her father owned a Newark glassworks that Hamlin bought before their wedding.
Amy King died suddenly. Some said she committed suicide, others said she was murdered, still others say she drowned while swimming. Her obituary said she died after a severe operation following an unnamed illness.
Everett remarried, but his three grown daughters disapproved of his new wife. When he died, he left most of his wealth to his second wife, leaving only a tenth of it to his daughters. The daughters challenged the will in court, claiming their father wasn’t in his right mind. During the trial, known as The Second Battle of Bennington, the eldest daughter was staying at the house when she said she heard weeping coming from her father’s study.
She went to the room and found her mother lying on the floor, clearly a murder victim. Today, the mansion is part of Southern Vermont College. Security guards say doorknobs turn in empty rooms and doors close by themselves. Students say they see a woman in white, roaming the house and grounds. Perhaps it's the ghost of Amy King Everett.
In 1957, writer Shirley Jackson decided she wanted to write a novel about a haunted house. She began collecting postcards and newspaper clippings of ornate old houses. It’s likely she chose the Edward Hamlin Everett home as the setting for her novel, The Haunting of Hill House. He book, a National Book Award finalist, inspired two feature films and a play.
The court, by the way, sided with the Everett daughters and gave them a third of the estate.
Do you have a favorite haunted house? Please share with us in the comments section.
Photos: Boston Athenaeum, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=722802; Belcourt photo by Charles V. Hamm