Sunday, June 19, 2011
Hildreth House Ghost - Cape May County
The Hildreth House Ghost
Something strange in your neighborhood? Who should you call if your house was haunted by a particularly pesky ghost?
When the Sawyer family became disturbed by the strange events that occurred at an old Cape May County farmhouse they bought and opened a store, they called the ASPR – the American Society for Psychical Research. It’s the closet thing you can get to real ghostbusters.
They are not quacks who try to convince others of the reality of the para-normal, the ASPR was founded in 1885 by eminent American scholars, including William James. They attempt, instead, to find rational explanations for reputed psychic phenomenon. Based in New York City, it is an off-shoot of an even older British Society for Psychical Research.
The ASPR dispatched a team to Cape May County that included Dr. Karl Osis to investigate the Sayer’s Cape May house, and they concluded that the house may actually be haunted, calling it, “a poltergeist case without an identifiable living agent.”
Built in 1772 by Joshua Hildreth, a New England whaler who relocated to this area and took up cattle raising, the house is one of the oldest structures in Cape May county. It has survived a fire, been enlarged several times, and was moved 100 yards down a hill to its present location about a century ago.
The house remained in the Hildreth family until 1976 when it was purchased by a women and her son, who sold it to the Sawyers in 1978.
Although the house was reputed to have been haunted for some time, the only witness to kenetic (the movement of objects) and poltergeist (unexplained noises) activity indicate the strange events only began to occur in the 1970s when the house was owned by the last of the Hildreth descendents.
One lady, a widow who reportedly saw apparitions, experienced flickering lights, saw objects move and heard footsteps, is said to have disliked staying in the house alone.
The next owner, a women and her son, reported to have seen apparitions, heard footsteps and had a burglar alarm continuously malfunction.
When the Sawyers bought the house in 1978 they made major renovations in converting it into a Christmas gift shop they named Winterwood. They found, through hundreds of incidents to dozens of people, that a particularly annoying spirit was in their midst. It seemed liked it came out of the woodwork and liked to play with the electrical system.
The history of the house, engraved on a plaque by the front entrance jokingly warns customers not to be disturbed by Hestor, “the resident ghost,” named after an old spinster who once lived there.
It wasn’t funny at first. So many bizarre and unexplained incidents occurred that the Sawyers contacted ASPR at their 73rd Street offices in New York. With the cooperation of the Sawyer family, Dr. Osis and his associates undertook an objective investigation. Making several visits to Cape May county, Dr. Osis and his team took statements from witnesses and neighbors, searched local historical society records and even tried to acoustically record the poltergeist phenomenon in the best ghostbuster fashion.
In August 1980 Dr. Osis gathered his findings and gave a lecture on the Hildreth House ghost to the twenty-third annual convention of the Parapsychilogical Association in Reykjavik, Iceland, and published his report in the June 1982 issue of the Journal of the ASPR.
Osis and his associate Donna McCormic called their report, “A Poltergeist Case Without Identifiable Living Agent.”
The word poltergeist is from the German – polter – which means noise – and geist, or ghost, and refers to a particularly noisy ghost or “a spirit assumed to be explanation of rapping and unexplained noises.”
In his report, Dr. Osis said that after talking with 31 people, “Twenty-four of the persons interviewed reported observations of the phenomenon.” He made sure that it was not merely a concocted practical joke or an attempt by the Sawyer family to increase their business by exaggerating the existence of the ghost.
Their trust in the Sawyer’s sincerity was boosted by the fact that one witness included a former employee who was not on good terms with the family, and Mr. Sawyer’s embarrassment at not being able to control the electrical malfunctions because he also owned an electrical company.
Osis also said that he took pains to ensure the accuracy of statements and that he, “inquired into the attitudes and possible bias of observers regarding the paranormal.”
“For the most part,” Osis said, “they told us of an initial, healthy skepticism about such matters and expressed belief in some logical explanations for the disturbances. However, subsequent personal observations usually changed their views.”
One of the first bizarre incidents occurred to one electrician who was working overtime in the house shortly after 11 pm. “I was installing recepticals,” the worker said, “and needed more recepticals, so I went out to my truck to get them. When I came back, the tools I had left on the table were scattered over the floor. They were scattered as if somebody had thrown them on the floor.”
Other kenectic activity almost became routine. A file cabinet drawer kept sliding open repeatedly as a book keeper kept closing it, an adding machine suddenly switched on and began punching out zeros, an unwound grandfather clock chimes frequently and customers have been startled by music boxes that suddenly start to play for no apparent reason.
A light socket fell off the ceiling a few seconds before a door slammed shut. When they opened the store one morning they found dolls placed in a circle on the floor with their shoes off as if they were having a séance.
When the Sawyers decided to have a séance of their own in an attempt to communicate with the restless spirit a tile came dislodged from a fireplace, slid across the floor and struck a participant.
Mrs. Sand Sawyer’s daughter Cindi was skeptical until she was spooked one night after work when she lost her keys and her and her boyfriend were accidently locked inside the store. The keys were later found stashed on a shelf where no one would have put them on purpose.
Now convinced it is a friendly ghost, she shows inquiring visitors around the house that has been converted into a retail store lined with display items – small Christmas knickknacks, china, linen and the like. In a backroom she points to a fireplace, the mantle of which was carved by a Hessian soldier who was harbored by Joshia Hildreth after defecting from the British army during the revolutionary war.
“Some people even say that the soldier is the ghost,” Cindi says, “because footsteps have been heard going up the steps to the bedroom. Then there’s two thuds as if he took his boots off and threw them on the floor.”
But she is quick to add that, “other people have heard women’s voices talk, not laughing, but in a serious discussion,” so they’re not sure of the gender of the spirit, or whether it is a number of different spirits.
She talks of Hester as if it’s a member of the family rather than an unwelcome guest, err ghost. “It adds personality to the house,” she says, “and likes electrical stuff, lights, alarms, video cameras, the sterio, things like that.”
Burglar and fire alarms would malfunction, be replaced, and break down again. A video camera used to monitor the backroom would move so it faced the wall, and more than one employee has experienced the music system click on without any physical manipulation. When a sewing machine began running automatically a gift shop manager said, “we had to pull the plug to stop it. It was very strange.”
Osis investigated and found that the sewing machine had a “triple switching mechanism, so before it will operate it has to be switched on, then the appropriate button pushed for switch density, and finally the foot pedal depressed. The machine will not function if any one of these switches is not activated.”
Each time he visited the house, Dr. Osis brought along a different psychic, supposedly “sensitive” to such spirits for the purpose of “identifying a deceased agent.” According to Osis, “The impressions they received in the house were tape recorded before they had any contact with gift shop personnel. We evaluated these impressions by submitting them to persons who had knowledge of the history of the house and its former occupants. Only one of the sensitives, Ingid Beckman reported impressions about a possible deceased agent which tallied with verifiable history.”
She described a women who was identified as Hestor, “the more active of two sisters who lived in the house all their lives.” Hestor was born in 1859 and died in 1949.
Beckman described a women who was, “proud of her family heritage, they were leading citizens and she feels that they sank very, very low. She was left very much to herself,…she was very degraded in the end. She had to go for subsidies…”
This women, according to the psychic, was an active member of a prestigious organization, “more than the community, it’s like a state group or a national group, and has something to do with history.” The impression the psychic had of her motives was that she was “lingering” in the house to defend her family name and the integrity of the house.
Osis said that, “We found out from those who had known Hestor that she was indeed quite proud, especially of her family name; and they had in fact been leading citizens in the community – one of the oldest families, may of whom held public office…(but) towards the end of her life she was forced to accept financial help, which was quite embarrassing for her.”
Hestor was also a member, an official “Master” of the local chapter of the Grange, the national farmer’s organization.
This psychic according to Osis, “gave a fairly detailed and accurate description of Hestor’s physical appearance, and also of her personality and lifestyle.
“In conclusion,” Osis said in his report, “we can say that our investigation of the various explanations for the individual events and our analysis of the data obtained in interviews with witnesses failed to reveal any living poltergeist agent. But the data do seem to suggest – though they do not definitely identify – a deceased agent.”