Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry tells the story of the gentle ghosts that seem to haunt the Porter-Phelps-Huntington house in Hadley, Massachusetts. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.
John Cuthbert Parker (1904-1977), a famous paranormal investigator, bewitched a whole generation of New Englanders. His tales of ghost hunting covered more than 30 spook dens. His lectures were booked solid and included an illustrated slide show, his watercolor sketches of the haunted homes, and pamphlets on ghost hunting with a full survey road map.
Parker’s favorite haunt was the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Mansion, aka “Forty Acres,” in Hadley, Massachusetts.
Shortly before Dr. James Lincoln Huntington (1880-1968) made his ancestral home into a museum, he invited Parker to investigate two female ghosts on the property. The spirits were the grieving wife and daughter (both named Elizabeth) of Captain Moses Porter, killed in the French and Indian War.
Parker chose Halloween night (31 October 1957) to make his stakeout. His findings appeared in Yankee Magazine in 1968 and you can read about him in the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers, 1698-1968.
In a Springfield Union article published in 1968 looking back at his career of ghost-hunting, Parker recalled the cold, windy night 11 years earlier when the Huntingtons helped him carry in his camera and other paranormal devises to prepare for the vigil at the mansion.
The article contains these eerie details.
Parker sealed the attic door with tape and sprinkled a powder trail from the bedroom reported to have the most activity to the second-floor hall.
At 10:30 p.m. Parker heard footsteps coming from that bedroom and saw “a disc of amber light which grew large and dissolved into amber stripes.” He concluded it was the specter of Elizabeth Pitkin Porter (1719-1798), wife of Captain Moses Porter (1722-1755).
When the grandfather clock struck three, Parker heard the latch to the sealed attic door lift open three times. Then, a door in the wall under the eaves began to bang violently for almost a duration of twenty minutes. Parker claimed, “it would have broken your fingers if you put your hand near it.” The next morning, he reported the tape on the attic door was broken. Parker wondered if the banging noise could be Elizabeth acting on her grief from losing Moses. Her husband’s body had never been recovered, and only his sword was returned to Forty Acres.
Dr. Huntington was so impressed with Parker, he appointed him a director of the museum.
Dr. Huntington was convinced that one of the specters was his great-great-grandmother Elizabeth. “She was never known to harm a soul or utter a word,” and many generations spoke of the “ectoplasmic” Elizabeth hovering over their beds in “full rustling silk skirts and a white frilly cap” to tuck them in.
Before Dr. Huntington hired Parker, he served as curator of the family house he had turned into a museum. By the time he was leading tours, the house did not have any children for Elizabeth to tend to – but she would swish through rooms, take a turn at the spinning wheel or hang out in the attic.
During guided tours Dr. Huntington would tell visitors: “Elizabeth has never seen fit to perform for the public.” However, she always left her imprint on the bed for all to see.
Dr. Huntington’s brother, Rev. Paul Phelps, a retired Episcopal minister, came to visit from Richmond, Virginia, in 1957. He saw a shadow figure in the north room – where no sun shines through the north window. The minister felt a chilled wind encircle him. Dr. Huntington summed up that: “you have to take the word of a minister.”
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Are there any tales of haunted houses in your family history? Please share your stories with us in the comments section below.
- Berry, Melissa Davenport. Bewitched in Newburyport The Daily News, Newburyport, MA. October 2014
- Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum
- Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers, on deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst MA
- Smith, Susy. “Prominent American Ghosts.” Cleveland World Pub. Co. 1967
- Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers, 1698-1968, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections