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America's Most Notorious Haunted Houses

Sometimes Weatherproofing Can't Help

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. She awoke to find Wharton, Wharton's husband, and her male secretary, all of whom turned to look at her.

Maybe Your Contractors Aren't Just Lazy

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.

Are You Sure You Want to Renovate?

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.
 
When Considering a New Home, Scrutinize the Neighborhood

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.

Some Contractors Don't Know When to Quit

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.

Go Ahead, Call the Electrician--But Don't Expect a Quick Fix

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.

Redecorate with Caution

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."

Even Architects Can't Explain Everything

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.
 
Photo Credit: This Old House

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