Some think turning leaves and cooler weather are the right time for tales of haunted houses. However these houses are scary all year long.
Henry James' gothic masterpiece The Turn of the Screw takes place in a country house in Essex. A parson's daughter is hired as a governess to look after two young orphans, Flora and Miles. She soon finds out from the housekeeper that a valet and a previous governess were involved in a sexual relationship the children might have witnessed. Both servants die; the valet from a fall from a horse, the governess then drowns herself. The new governess realizes the strangers she has seen on the grounds are the ghosts of the malevolent pair, who seem intent on possessing the children, and corrupting them. There are hints of satanism and child sexual abuse. This is the birth of the horror story trope, never to be the baby sitter of creepy children.
Bly House was modeled on Lamb House located in East Sussex. Henry James discovered Lamb House by accident, and leased it in 1897. He then purchased it two years later. His friend and fellow writer, E. F. Benson lived at Lamb House from 1919 until he died in 1940.
It is not surprising that Lamb House had its own ghost, and not one conjured by the famous writers who used the setting for inspiration.
Shirley Jackson was supposedly inspired by Sarah Winchester and the Winchester House when she wrote the The Haunting of Hill House (1959). However Jackson who suffered from mental illness in the form of agoraphobia and depression, no doubt fed her darkness into the haunting pages of her novel. The main character, Eleanor Vance's first person narration is a woman whose distinction between reality and hallucination is blurry. During the story she attempts suicide, and ultimately is successful at the end.
Jackson who died when she was 48 years old from a heart attack, kept multiple diaries — in multiple voices. She married Stanley Hyman in 1940, who claimed Jackson was his one true love, however he was unfaithful with many women including their neighbor and Jackson's own friends. She learned of his infidelities when he showed her his diary, which he often did.
Another architectural inspiration for The Haunting of Hill House was the Crocker Mansion in San Francisco. When she saw a picture of the house, she asked help from her mother who lived in California to find out more information about the structure. In a strange twist it turned out that Jackson's, great grandfather Samuel Bugbee had built the house for the Crocker family.
Charles Crocker, a banker and railroad magnate, intended to buy up 13 properties on what was then known as California Hill with the intention of building his 25,000 square foot estate, to encompass an entire city block. He was able buy 12 of them, but the 13th one belonged to an undertaker named Nicholas Yung. His price was $12,000, and Crocker instead of paying, walled off Yung's property behind a 40-foot-tall fence.
Yung's response was to threaten to build a giant coffin on the roof of his house with a skull and crossbones to advertise his business. In the end the undertaker moved his house to Broderick Street, but he remained the owner of the vacant lot. The fence was shortened to 25 feet.
Yung passed away in 1880, but his wife Rosina refused to sell the property. Crocker died in 1888. In 1895, Rosina Yung appealed to the city to force the Crocker family to remove the fence but she was unsuccessful. In 1902, Rosina died, and the four Yung daughters agreed to sell the lot to the Crocker descendants. The fence came down in 1905, but the house followed it in 1906 when the Great San Francisco earthquake damaged it extensively.
In 1931, newspaper stories hinted at arson when fire threatened the ruins.
The Overlook Hotel
Stephen King's overnight stay at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, in 1974, inspired him to set his best-selling story, The Shining in a hotel which is haunted by the dark deeds which have been committed within its walls.
The hotel was built by Freelan Stanley (1849-1940), who catered to wealthy Easterners and those suffering from tuberculosis. The mountain air was a remedy recommended by most doctors of the day.
Opening in 1909, it had many of the modern amenities of the day. By the time Stephen King and his wife visited the place, it had fallen into disrepair after years of neglect.
Until 1983, the hotel would close for the winter, which plays into the King story where the Torrance family are hired as caretakers for the many months when the structure emptied out, and they would be snowed in until the spring.
While we were living [in Boulder] we heard about this terrific old mountain resort hotel and decided to give it a try. But when we arrived, they were just getting ready to close for the season, and we found ourselves the only guests in the place – with all those long, empty corridors.
The hotel is supposedly haunted by Freelan Stanley, his wife Flora, a hotel maid, a pastry chef and assorted children who are heard laughing in different parts of the hotel. However the true haunting comes in the form of King's story, and the characters brought to the screen by director Stanley Kubrick in the movie.
Some of the filming took place at the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, Oregon.
Many claim the movie is replete with dark symbolism. One of them is the scene when Wendy Torrance played by actress Shelley Duvall, approaches a door at the end of a hallway. Framed by the doorway into the room, two men look at her questioningly. One of them is dressed in a bear suit, and on his knees before the other one which was prostate on a bed. It's understood he was performing fellatio on the tuxedoed guest.
Considering she has realized her husband is dangerous, and they are supposed to be the only ones inside the hotel, she runs away.
Some believe this scene is tied into a prior one where Wendy tells a visiting doctor that Jack once dislocated their son's shoulder by mistake. Tony, Danny's imaginary friend makes an appearance after this incident. The man in the bear costume is thought to represent Danny, and Jack is the man in the tuxedo. In another scene at the beginning of the movie, Jack Torrance is reading a Playgirl magazine with an article featured on the cover, titled: "Incest: Why Parents Sleep with Their Children."
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." This is the opening line of Daphne Du Maurier's 1938 novel, Rebecca. It is a Gothic tale, replete with dark mysteries, a trusting young wife and the enigmatic master of Manderley, Maxim de Winter.
The home is haunted by its past mistress Rebecca, if not literally than figuratively; her memory kept alive by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers who jealously guards the dead Mrs. De Winter's home as if she were still alive.
The book was made into a movie in 1940, by director Alfred Hitchcock.
Du Maurier styled the interior of Manderley based on Milton Hall which she visited in 1917. Du Maurier was living in Cornwall when she came across an abandoned estate inside a forest. She became fascinated with the house known as Menabilly, and would trespass on its grounds, ultimately using it as the inspiration for Manderley.
Menabilly was completed in 1624, by Jonathan Rashleigh, and the family lived there for hundreds of years, however by the 1930s it had fallen into disrepair. She eventually leased the home from the Rashleigh family and restored it during her tenancy.
Being a writer, Du Maurier researched the history of Menabilly and it came to light that during a prior renovation, workers found a skeleton bricked up in a hidden cellar, along with a trencher and a pair of shoes. The remains were believed to belong to a Cavalier of the Civil War because of its clothing. This inspired her first novel while living at Menabilly, titled The King's General. She lived there for 26 years, until 1969.
The House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe, and published in 1839. It tells the story of twins, Roderick and Madeline Usher who are the last of their line and who live in isolation in their family home. Are they mad, or are they tied in a supernatural way to the house that is slowly being consumed by the grounds and the lake adjacent to it?
The real life inspiration for the House of Usher, may have been the Hezekiah Usher House in Boston. It was built in 1684, and relocated or torn down in 1830. Stories were told that during this time, construction workers found two bodies embraced in a cavity in the cellar. They were supposed to be the remains of a sailor and the young wife of the older owner who entombed them alive for their treachery.
Poe's mother Eliza, had friends, Luke Noble Usher and his wife Harriet Ann, who were actors like her, and who cared for Poe and his siblings when his mother was ill. The couple had two children, James Campbell Usher and Agnes Pye Usher.
According to the Rev. Anson Titus of Somerville, Massachusetts, both of them were "erratic neurotics and the last of their family."
Hell House (1971) by Richard Matheson establishes a trope seen weekly on paranormal reality shows. The story involves a group of psychic investigators descending on an empty mansion that belonged to Emeric "The Roaring Giant" Belasco. Belasco in life was a satanist and murderer, who said to still haunt Hell House. One of the members is a scientist who comes in with a machine that will "clear" the house. The house is in Maine, and has earned its moniker due to the acts of perversion committed within its walls. The place has a reputation for killing previous investigators.
In 1973, a movie was made titled The Legend of Hell House.
None of the incidents in the book were made up by me. They had all happened in various haunted houses around the world. I have quite a library of my own on the subject, including a signed book by [Harry] Houdini, and used it to authenticate Hell House. A lot of it was based on the Borley Rectory, which was supposedly the most haunted house in England, while the physical layout of the Belasco house…was inspired by Hearst Castle.
Borley Rectory at one point was described as "the most haunted house in England" by paranormal investigator Harry Price.
The original rectory was constructed near Borley Church, and it was razed by fire in 1841. In 1862, a new one was constructed by Rev. Henry Dawson Ellis Bull. He lived there with his family of fourteen children.
There was a legend tied into a Benedictine monastery dating back to 1362. A monk and a nun from a nearby convent were involved in an illicit affair. Once they were discovered, the monk was executed and the nun immured into a wall at the convent. In 1938, the story was found to have no historical basis.
In 1939, the house caught fire, and it was demolished in 1944.
The reports were that the building had always been haunted but after 1929, the incidents increased, and Harry Price wrote two books confirming the hauntings. Eventually many of his findings were discredited.
The first occurrence dated back to 1863 when footsteps were heard in the rectory. Then in 1900, four of the Rev. Bull's daughters described seeing the ghost of a nun as dusk was settling. Other witnesses told of a phantom coach driven by two headless horsemen.
Rev. Bull died in 1892, and his son, Rev. Harry Bull stayed on at the rectory. In 1927, he died and the house became vacant. The next year Rev. Smith moved in. Soon after, his wife found a brown paper bag in the cupboard with a skull inside. The family said they would hear servant bells ringing that were disconnected, lights at windows, and footsteps from parts of the house that were empty. Mrs. Smith said she saw a horse-drawn carriage one night.
By their request the Daily Mirror sent a reporter to the home who wrote a series of articles about the haunting at Borley. The newspaper arranged for Harry Price to come and investigate the events, but suspiciously once he left the strange phenomena stopped.
The family left in 1929, and it stood vacant until the next year when Rev. Foyster, who was related to the Bulls moved in.
They went on to describe their own encounters with what described as poltergeist phenomena. One time the daughter Adelaide was attacked by "something horrible". The reverend tried twice to exorcise whatever was there, but it didn't work. Later on Mrs. Foyster admitted she was having a sexual relationship with Frank Pearless, and used the strange events to cover her encounters. The family left in 9135.
In 1937, Price rented the property and brought in about four dozen observers, mostly students to report on anything they witnessed. In 1938, via planchette seance contact was supposedly made with a spirit of a young nun named Marie Lairre. She was French, and left her religious order and came to England to marry into the Waldegrave family. They owned Borley Manor House. She described where she was murdered in a building where the rectory would eventually be built. Her body was thrown into a disused well or a cellar. She asked for help. The second ghost was Sunex Amures, and he claimed to would set fire to the rectory on March 27, 1938 at 9 p.m., and the remains of a murdered person would be found.
The date came and went and nothing happened. On February, 27, 1939 the new owner Captain Gregson, accidentally knocked over an oil lamp, and the fire spread quickly. The insurance company found that it appeared the fire was started deliberately.
A woman living in nearby Borley Lodge claimed she saw a ghostly nun in the upstairs window.
In 1943, Price dug into the cellar, and found two bones which he claimed belonged to a young woman. Borley Parish refused to give the remains a Christian burial claiming they belonged to a pig. They were interred in Liston churchyard.
Eventually the land was built over.
Hearst Castle, which Matheson used to style Hell House was owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It was built between 1919 and 1947. During the decade of Prohibition and into the 1930s Hearst lived there with his mistress, Marion Davies, who many describe as his one true love. Movie stars and notables of the day all sought an invitation to La Cuesta Encantada, as it was known then. At the Castle he also incorporated a vast array of valuable objects he had collected throughout the years. After Hearst's death, the family gave the castle and its contents to the State of California in the mid-1950s.
Caretakers report sounds of far off music as if the festivities of so many years ago are still taking place; also splashing in the pool.
Henry Treat Rogers House
The 1980 film The Changeling starring George C. Scott is based on experiences that writer Russell Hunter claimed he had while living in the Henry Treat Rogers House. READ THE ENTIRE STORY HERE
Eel Marsh House
The Woman in Black (1983) by Susan Hill is set at Eel Marsh House, which lies on the other side of Nine Lives Causeway. When the tide rises the house is cut off, sitting alone, enveloped by fog. It's the perfect setting for a ghost story.
More than one version of the book has been filmed. In 2010, Cotterstock Hall served as the film set for a version starring Daniel Radcliffe.
The house sits on the bank of the River Nene, and once a Romano-British villa existed there. In 1736, a mosaic pavement was dug up during ploughing. In 1976, aerial photography found signs of buried walls that spread across three fields.
The Church of St. Andrew, east of the village dates from the 12th century. Cotterstock Hall was built in 1658 by John Norton of ashlar limestone with stone mullioned windows.
In 1843, Jane, Dowager Countess of Westmorland bought the house. Upon her death in 1856, it went to her younger son, Col. H. S. Fane, however he died the next year and it passed to a cousin Henry Dundas, third Viscount Melville.
In 2019, the contents of the house went up for auction.
If there are any ghosts in Cotterstock, unlike the Woman in Black who made her unwelcome presence known throughout the village, they keep a very low profile.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer