S.K. Pierce and “Chair City”

When it comes to haunted, historical locations, there’s a line drawn in the sand by many paranormal investigators and enthusiasts. Either fix it up and live with the spirits, create a bed and breakfast and run historical tours, or turn it into something entirely else. That “else” can either be a welcome addition to the community surrounding the property or an unwelcome nuisance and, in this particular case, many in the field believe that line has been crossed. In the case of the S.K. Pierce Mansion, it’s been flipped into the “else” category. The mansion will offer stay-cations for those looking for a fright, but the basement will also serve as a haunted attraction during the month of October.

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S.K. Pierce Mansion by jasonbakerphotography81 via Flickr

Let’s rewind…

In 1875, Sylvester Knowlton Pierce, a wealthy furniture magnate and owner of S.K. Pierce & Sons Furniture Company, decided to build a structure befitting his stature. That structure became the S.K. Pierce Mansion in Gardner, Massachusetts. Pierce’s furniture empire earned Gardner the title of Chair City and his name became forever entwined with the place he called home.  The home took 1 1/2 years to complete, a project that enlisted the help of 100 men. The completed mansion (a total of 6,661 sq ft, though some claim it’s closer to 7,000) had 10 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. Little did Pierce know, but the energy he invested into the property would be forever trapped there.

The Pierce family, Pierce himself, his wife Susan, and their son Edward moved into the house in 1877. Roughly 3 months later, Pierce’s wife succumbed to a bacterial infection. Pierce mourned the loss of his beloved wife for one year before finding a new bride, Ellen, who was far younger than himself. With Ellen, Pierce fathered two more children, both boys.

Upon Pierce’s passing (1888), the home was left to Ellen but, once Ellen passed away (1902), constant bickering about property rights drove a wedge between the brothers. Edward ultimately took ownership of the property (some accounts state that Ellen’s son Frank took ownership), being Pierce’s only son, and turned it into a boarding house. It wasn’t long before Edward’s business venture turned sour. The mansion, once host to great names like P.T. Barnum, Pres. Calvin Coolidge, and Norman Rockwell (among others,) shifted to gamblers, alcoholics, and prostitutes. The boarding house quickly turned into a brothel. When Edward passed, his half brother Frank stepped in, but lost the property in a card game (there have been accounts that state Edward lost the house.) Having lost what remained of the Pierce fortune, Frank (some accounts say nothing of a brother named Frank, rather Edward is the guilty party) was allowed to stay in the basement of the home because he had nowhere else to go. The home was purchased by a wealthy and eccentric artist who abandoned the property in the 1970’s, leaving it to sit for 30 years. It was then bought by a young couple, when the property was on the brink of demolition, Edwin Gonzales and Lillian Otero, but it wasn’t long before they were forced to sell the house. The level of paranormal activity had been so great, Gonzales and Otero felt they could no longer safely reside there. They placed the property on the market for a song, a mere $329,000.00.

Present Day

Rob and Allison Conti, owners of Dark Carnival, purchased the house in 2015 when a friend relayed them the MLS listing. Rob had been looking for a location he could turn into a freestanding haunted house for some time, but had been unable to procure a location in his home state of New Jersey. Since a fire at a freestanding haunted attraction killed 8 teens in the 1980’s, the rules surrounding the running of such attractions had become more strict within the state. When the Pierce Mansion came onto the market, a friend of the Conti’s noticed the listing and brought it to their attention. After some debate as to whether or not they could afford to purchase the home, they decided to place an offer and it was accepted. The Conti’s began the reconstruction and beautification of the home’s many bedrooms in an effort to bring it back to its former glory. As of June 25th of this year, the house is still undergoing extensive renovation.

Paranormal Phenomena

Reported activity at the mansion is listed below. Please be aware, the following information has not been confirmed as many of the statements/murders are not backed up by any proof (newspaper, obituary, etc.)

  1. While the Pierce Mansion was a brothel, it is said that a prostitute was murdered in an upstairs bedroom referred to as the “Red Room.” Although I searched extensively, I could find no report of this murder in any newspaper of the time. It is entirely possible that the murder was covered up or that the police had little time to hear of the murder of a woman of ill repute. It is also said that her murderer, known only as David, still haunts the home.
  2. A Finnish immigrant named Eino Saari burned to death in the master bedroom. It is said that, to this very day, the bedroom smells of smoke. Saari is believed to have died from smoke inhalation and often smoked in bed, but there are those who believe that Saari’s death was a case of spontaneous combustion. There were no burn marks on the surrounding walls or floor. Only the bed had been burned.
  3. A young boy drowned in the basement.
  4. The spirits of S.K. Pierce, his first wife Susan, and the Pierce’s nanny (Mattie Cornwell) are said to haunt the home.
  5. The ghosts of a young boy and a young girl have been seen on the staircase.
  6. Unnamed dark entities inhabit the basement of the home, though some say the spirit of Edward (potentially Frank depending on which account you’re reading) resides down there. EVP’s have been caught by various paranormal investigators and there seems to be a voice saying the name “Edward.”
  7. Many visitors to the property have captured EVP’s and photographs of spirits.

Guests have experienced:

  • Disembodied voices.
  • Chanting.
  • Full bodied apparitions.
  • moving furniture.
  • Screens flying off windows.
  • Slamming doors.
  • Temperature changes.
  • Footsteps.
  • Foul odors.
  • Shadow people.
  • A lion’s roar (said to be S.K. Pierce reaching out from beyond the grave and voicing his displeasure of the residents and visitors to his house.)
  • Guests have been pushed on the staircase (one guest has almost been pushed out a 3rd floor window.)

The property has been featured on many ghost hunting shows including Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures and has been the subject of several books, but how much of the mansion’s history can be corroborated? Are the current owners of the home simply ramping up reports of paranormal activity in order to gain more business?

On their website, the Dark Carnival (Rob and Allison Conti) states that visitors to the property will need to sign a waiver prior to entry, absolving them of any physical or mental assaults from the spirits that dwell within. According to them, the spirits are “extremely advanced” and might “impose their will” on guests. The website also states that guests are not to antagonize the spirits as this may make the spirits angry and lash out.

Have you ever visited the S.K Pierce Mansion? Do you have a story to share? Tell us your feelings about the use of a historic property used as a haunted house in the comments section.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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House of the Seven Gables, Salem, MA: Haunting & Hawthorne

A visit to Salem is pretty high up on my bucket list. It falls just above taking the Jack the Ripper tour in England and just below visiting the Mutter Museum in Pennsylvania. The history of old Salem is definitely a draw for me, but I’m also fascinated by the touristy side of new Salem. Some compare it to a witchy sort of theme park, filled with out-of-towners and people swathed in robes and pointy hats. Some might find the commercialization of Salem quite sad, but truthfully it makes me want to visit even more. It seems to me as if this side of Salem has become a way of life for those who reside there, embracing the past and creating a new future. But there are some structures that retain their history and their ghosts.

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Built in 1667, the House of the Seven Gables is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England. The house is now a museum, but has undergone renovations by the Turner and Ingersoll families that resided within it. For this reason, it is often referred to as the Turner-Ingersoll mansion. Susan Ingersoll, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, resided in the house until she died at the age of 72 and he visited her quite often. The house was the inspiration for his novel of the same name.

Visitors to the mansion report the house to be quite active, particularly on the attic staircase. Some claim to feel dizzy or lightheaded as they ascend the stairs while others feel an oppressive force pushing down on them. It has also been reported that there is a sensation of being pushed backwards, as if something is forcing them out of the attic. Susan Ingersoll’s ghost has also been spotted in the windows of the house and people have seen her specter wandering the halls. An apparition of a little boy has been seen playing in the attic. Other experiences include:

  • Cold spots.
  • Being touched by unseen hands.
  • Hearing screams.
  • Hearing deep growling sounds.
  • Malfunctioning water taps and electricity (turning off and on by themselves.)
  • While outside, some have said they heard someone tapping on the windows as if trying to get their attention.

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Tours of the location last roughly 30-40 minutes and, it seems to me, that given the activity at the location there’s practically a guarantee you’ll experience something during your visit.

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Have you visited the House of the Seven Gables? Did you have an experience there that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

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