A Beautiful and Haunted Museum

A beautiful and haunted museum sits next to the Connecticut River in rural Hadley, MA.  Situated on acres, amongst farmland, this c. 1752 Colonial-style house has been home to many of the same-family members over the course of a couple hundred years.  In 1949, Dr. James Huntington opened the home to the public and the Porter, Phelps, Huntington House Museum was born.

After such a long history, it isn’t too surprising that the house seems to be home to more than one family member who just didn’t want to leave.  Phenomena associated with the house are doors that open and shut on their own, footfalls walking the halls and rooms,  disembodied voices, and encounters with someone that quickly moves past visitors.  It seems that most of the activity is from a woman or two, and possibly a child who seems to like the staircases best.

Moses Porter constructed the house outside the Hadley village stockade on about 600 acres of fertile land and created a home for his wife Elizabeth and their young daughter Betty.  Things went well until the French and Indian War broke out and Moses was called to duty.  He was deployed to the Lake George area in 1755.  Capt. Porter was killed in battle and buried in New York.  One night, one of the Porter’s servants handed Elizabeth her husband’s sword from battle.  She knew then, he’d never be home again.  Elizabeth never got over the death of her husband.  The house experienced a long period of sadness and emotional distress that continued in a downward spin.

Eventually, the house was passed along to Elizabeth Porter’s daughter Elizabeth. Betty lived in the mansion with her husband Charles Phelps, Jr. and their several children.  After Charles died, Elizabeth hoped her son, Charles, would bring his family and come to the house to live with her.  He never did.  After Betty’s death, the house went to her daughter, Elizabeth Whiting Phelps,  who had married Dan Huntington, the parents of Dr. James Huntington.  The House is now managed by the Porter Phelps Huntington Foundation.

It has been purported that an impression in the bed can be seen in the front bedroom that belonged to Elizabeth and Moses….the place where Mrs. Porter got the devastating news her husband was dead.   We’ve toured the property on several occasions and on one of them a definite shape could be seen in the bed.  We’ve heard knockings, and there are definite shadows that can been seen out of the corner of one’s eyes.   I understand that the family themselves, and only among themselves, knew some of their relatives never left the property.

Who is the woman there?  It’s up for grabs.  It could be either Elizabeth Porter or Elizabeth Phelps.  They both seemed to have reason enough to stay on.  Maybe if you go and visit you can determine the source of activity…..and experience it for yourself.  There’s a prominent feeling of being both watched and followed.   I don’t think you could ever feel like you were alone in the place.  And the child?  Maybe one of the children who never reached adulthood and left this world at a very young age.

It’s worth a visit to this museum for it’s historical, architectural, and aesthetic value alone.  But, if you’re fortunate enough to have a family member visit you while you’re there – it’s an extra treat.

–  ashanta


An Historical Haunting

Cemeteries are interesting places. They all have an history to relate, but do it in different ways.  Some are beautiful, garden-like areas, some are plain and barren.  Some feel serene and others are a bit spooky.  Age doesn’t seem to matter as much as the pasts of those that now reside inside the spot.  Not all the residents are a peace and some do not rest.  The Old Burying Ground in historic Deerfield Village dates back to colonial times.  It isn’t scary,  but it isn’t at rest, either.  Sometimes things happen to people that takes more than one span of life to get over.

Back in the late 1600’s, Deerfield Village stood as a British settlement on their most northern frontier in Massachusetts.  It was home to about 200 +/- people who settled in the fertile land between the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers. Deerfield Village was incorporated in 1677. The area was prone to Indian attacks…..or Native American attacks for those more politically correct…  but during the winter of 1703/1704 an offshoot of the French & Indian War – Queen Anne’s War – the colonial settlement was ravaged by invaders.  About a quarter of the villagers were brutally massacred including women and children.  112 people were captured, taken prisoner, and marched to Canada.  Many died along the way.  On their way out of town, the raiders burned the village.  Almost half the houses were left in ashes

This gruesome incident left the remaining 112 settlers to pick up the carnage and carry on with life as it now was.  The 56 dead were taken to the burying ground where they were interred into a common mass grave.  The mound sits to the left rear of the cemetery and is marked by a single stele on top of the rise.  Many years ago when we visited that spot a friend took a picture.  When it was developed it showed a grey mist resembling a woman standing at the bottom.  Nothing showed on the negative, but it was clear on the print.  Wish I knew what happened to that shot so I could share it.The small cemetery is located on Albany Road just off of Old Main Street in the town’s center. It’s a pretty spot and its age shows.

On a more recent visit we spent some time reading all the headstones and marveling at the many intricately designed markers which depict the funerary artwork of the day. If you stay awhile, walk around, and read the stones in stone, a lot can be learned about some of the inhabitants and their families that lie close.  You also get the feeling you aren’t alone.  Twigs crack as if someone was stepping on them.  Shadows move through the markers.  And, the place has an energy of its own.  It’s a palpable energy.  It tells its own story.  If you go, how did it make you feel?


–   ashanta





Is Smith College Haunted?

Some years ago I knew a woman who worked in the kitchen and dining hall of Sessions House, a dormitory for women attending Smith College in Northampton, MA. It wasn’t long after she started working there that she noticed odd things happening. Glasses would be tipped over, things disappeared or moved, and noises could be heard when no one else was there to make them. Eventually, it seemed she had company in the kitchen. One late afternoon as she was preparing dinner she felt as though someone was standing close by watching her. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. As she slowly turned around to look, she saw someone standing there staring at her. As soon as their glances met, the woman faded away. Not knowing what to do next, I guess, she finished preparing the meal. She never felt freightened, but she never felt alone again, either.

Turns out this wasn’t the first time this woman has been seen and it probably wasn’t the last. But, who is she?

Northampton Massachusetts was first inhabited around 1654. Dwellings went up and strong stockades were erected for protection from possible Native American uprisings. Around 1710 Capt. Jonathan Hunt decided to leave the confines of the encampment and built a large, three-story colonial home just outside the stockade. Realizing that attacks from local tribes were probable, Hunt had a secret passageway built that led down to the Connecticut River as an escape route for the household.

As the house changed hands from family to family over time,the house has had additions and renovations, but the secret staircase still exists. The last family to occupy the house was that of Mrs. Ruth Huntington Sessions. She used to rent rooms there to students attending Smith College. In 1921 she sold what has become known as Sessions House to Smith College and it remains a dormatory for women living on campus.

There are a number of theories about who the ghost could be, but no one has any kind of conclusive evidence as of yet. British General John Burgoyne is said to have been detained at Sessions House during the Revolutionary War. It is rumored that during that time he and Jonathan Hunt’s oldest daughter, Lucy, fell in love and met in the secret tunnel to escape her parents disdaining glance. It was during one of those secret trysts that Lucy fell to her death sneaking from her room to meet her love. Is she still there waiting to see her beloved, “Johnny”, once again?

Although this is a wonderfully romantic story, I have not been able to find any solid information supporting the hypothesis that Burgoyne had ever been near Sessions House after his defeat at Saratoga.

Another theory is that a woman once living in the house with her family awoke one night to noises. She went to explore with ax in hand. Thinking she had stumbled across home invaders she struck out only to find she had killed her children. Could she still be there stuck in the emotion of the terrible act she committed?

And one other story relates to Halloween eve festivities at the dorm. Girls have an hour to try and find the secret passageway. It is rumored that one of these celebrations led to the death of two young women who were found beneath a hidden staircase. Could it be one of them?

Whatever the true story turns out to be, someone is still walking the halls of Sessions House keeping an eye on things and the people who reside and work there.

         –  ashanta