A look at some area ‘haunted houses’
A look at some area ‘haunted houses’
Like many old towns, Pottstown has its fair share of ghost stories and presumably haunted homes.
Halloween has become such an important date in America that instead of just a one-day event there is now a “Halloween season.” No longer content with a “mischief night,” “trick or treating,” and a costume parade on High Street, Pottstown, for example, the observance now demands that for weeks before the witching eve, homes are bedecked in orange and black and with scary creatures that go bump in the night, haunting countless porches and front yards. And a cottage industry of haunted hayrides, haunted house tours, and corn mazes flourishes throughout the United States.
Given the popularity of the season, a brief investigation of haunted houses in Pottstown is in order.
George Wausnock, well-known Pottstown insurance broker, has a passion for antiques and old buildings. It was this that in 1989 led him and his wife, Joan, to buy the Grubb Mansion, 1304 High St. Since 1954, the building had been the headquarters of the AFL-CIO labor union and needed a ton of work to restore it.
The Wasunocks hired the husband of one of George’s secretaries, a skilled finish carpenter, to help with the restoration. On a hot night in July the man was alone, hard at work on the second floor when the hairs on the back of his neck rose up and he was enveloped in a pocket of air so cold that he could see his breath. He did what almost anyone would have done under those circumstances: he got out of that building as fast as possible, not even stopping to turn off the lights. Shaken by his experience, he refused to work there at night again.
The carpenter was not the only person to have strange experiences on that second floor. Over the years, other firms rented it as office space and people who worked there reported strange things: machines and lights would spontaneously turn on and off, papers would move from one side of a desk to the other, chairs would be moved.
Who or what was responsible for that hair-raising “Frigidaire” moment and other curious events in Wausnock’s building can’t be known for certain, but there is a possibility that it was the ghost of Ida Grubb, the wife of William I. Grubb. Born in Chester County in 1858, Grubb became successful as a bicycle manufacturer and then became famous as a pioneer in the casting of aluminum parts for automobiles.
About 1882, William Grubb married Ida King, the daughter of the late Philip King and his wife, Annie. Ida was born in Chester County in 1861, but by 1880 she and her mother were living in Pottstown where she was a teacher in the borough’s school system.
By the 1890s, Grubb’s business had become so successful that he built a showcase home on what is now 1304 High St. in Pottstown. One of the few houses in Pottstown constructed of stone, this Queen Anne Victorian was a fitting tribute to Grubb’s success.
Ida Grubb died in that house on Jan. 11, 1899, leaving behind four young children. In her obituary in The Pottstown Ledger that afternoon it was noted that even though she had been “suffering from nervous prostration for nine month past,” recently “her health had greatly improved.”
Unfortunately, just when things were looking rosy, she suffered “a relapse and an attack of grip proved too much for a body already prostrated by an enfeebling illness, and the devoted wife and loving mother passed away into the sleep of death.”
Of course there is no way to prove it, but the circumstances that led to Ida Grubb’s death, a long period of “nervous prostration” followed by the grip, and the stress of the leaving behind four children, may have been enough to leave the young mother tied to the house.
Although Grubb had left the house sometime prior to 1920, it wasn’t until 1925 that he sold it to Morris Weitzenkorn. The Weitzenkorn family lived there until 1964 when it was sold to AFL-CIO labor union for commercial use.
In the 30-some years that the Weitzenkorns lived there, nobody experienced anything that would indicate the house was haunted. And there is no way of finding out at this late date if anyone from the AFL-CIO had a hair-raising
experience in the building.
Why did strange things begin happening after the Wausnocks became owners? Who knows? Perhaps it was all the remodeling that disturbed somebody or something.
While the happenings at the Grubb mansion were disturbing, no one reported seeing a ghost or an apparition. For an example of that type of haunting we turn again to the Wausnock family. George Wausnock’s parents, George and Margaret Wausnock, owned a single brick home at 509 N. Evans
After George’s father died, his mother began sleeping downstairs on the sofa. Occasionally, if she woke up in the middle of the night, she saw people standing on the stairs.
Margaret Wausnock was not the only person to see the stairway loiterers. George’s daughter, Christine Smith, also got a peek at them. She recently recalled her experience. It was on a Monday evening when she was about 8 or 9 years old. She was in a chair in the living room watching television while her sister and grandmother were in the kitchen. At some point, Christine saw “three female figures” standing on
“They were white,” she remembered, and “appeared to be dressed in fancy clothes from a different era, probably the early 1900s.” To her, it seemed as if the ladies were “primping themselves.”
Although the trio took no notice of the small girl sitting below them, Christine recalled, “I was so scared out of my mind that I froze for five seconds.” Then she “bolted” out of her chair and made for the safety of her grandmother’s kitchen.
The unique part of this story was that Margaret Wausnock, not wanting to frighten her grandchildren, never told them about her nocturnal visitors, while
Christine, “so frightened” she “wanted to pretend it didn’t happen,” never spoke of what she saw until she told her mother about 10 years later. The fact that two people independently saw the same thing makes this story very compelling.
The late Carleen Hadesty lived at 549 High St. Her house, which appears to have been built sometime in 1870s or ‘80s, is a dark red brick with a wooden front porch and a slate mansard roof. Situated on the north side of High Street on a slight rise and set back from the sidewalk, its front yard is still guarded by its original wrought iron fence, and the steps leading up to the porch are solid blocks of red sandstone.
Not long after Carleen moved in she discovered that the house came with an unadvertised bonus — it was haunted. Two girls were left behind from some earlier time. They would materialize from time to time, which was a bit disconcerting, but it also interfered with her television’s reception.
But there was more. One night, Carleen drowsed off in her easy chair and woke to find a “gentleman” on the other side of the living room. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Brad Pitt or even a local bachelor. It was an affectionate specter who came to Carleen, bent over and kissed her on the cheek. Showing more presence of mind then probably 99 percent of the population, she commanded the unwelcome presence to “Get out!” and with that it was gone, never to return.
Carleen had a problem, but her dog provided the solution. The animal was
very interested in a tiny storage space with a door in the attic. At first very reluctant to enter it, Hadesty finally worked up the courage to open the door. Inside, she found a photograph of two girls. Because it seemed to fit the decor in her living room, she hung it on one of the walls. From that moment the girls were never seen again.
There are no clues as to the identity of the gentleman ghost, but it is possible that the two girls were Mary and Margaret Smith, daughters of Howard and Bessie Smith, who lived at 549 High from 1920 into the early 1930s. Howard Smith (1869-1943) taught mathematics at The Hill School from 1907 to 1936. Both daughters lived to be adults; one died in 1953, the other about 1984.
The Dugan family, Eugene, Shelia and their five children, moved into their splendid brick house at 71 King St. eight years ago. Like Coleen Hadesty, they quickly learned they were sharing the home with others who had lived there before them.
Shyloh, their youngest daughter, was the first to make the discovery. “She kept talking about her friend Ollie,” Shelia recently recalled. “At first we didn’t think anything of it because some children have imaginary friends.” The Dugans’ first intimation that “Ollie” might be more than a figment of their daughter’s imagination came when Shyloh commented that her brother, who was dressed in a black suit for his First Holy Communion, was “wearing the same clothes that Ollie was wearing.”
No one else in the Dugan
family has ever seen Ollie, but perhaps he left a footprint as the family found the imprint of a single child’s shoe print in the middle of dust on a bedroom floor. Now that Shyloh is 9 years old, the little boy’s appearances, according to Shelia, are “very rare, but every now and then she comes into our bedroom wanting to sleep with me,” because, she says, ‘Ollie keeps waking me up.’”
The Dugans are convinced that Ollie isn’t alone. Shortly after they moved in, they heard what “sounded like children running up and down the steps.” Because their house is a duplex, “we thought it was the neighbors.” But when she discussed it with them a few days later, Sheilah learned that they were far away in Arizona at that time.
Then there is the occasional voice. Shelia noted, “Every now and then I wake up and hear a voice crying, ‘Mom! Mom!’” and “during Hurricane Sandy I woke up to hear a man’s voice calling ‘Mom’ accompanied by the sound of “heavy footsteps.”
Although no one in the family has seen anyone except Ollie, Shelia believes there is also a woman present. She describes it as a “softer presence,” and someone who wants to be sure that “someone was caring for her home.”
Phantom footsteps disembodied voices, and a boy in dark suit would be enough to send most families running for the nearest exit. However, the Dugan family is not concerned by any of it. They all agree that it is interesting, but “it isn’t scary.”
William I. Grubb had this mansion built at 1304 High Street in the 1890s. Shown here in a 1905 post card.
This house on High Street, was the home of Carlene Hadesty.
George and Margaret Wausnock lived in this single brick home on Evans Street.
A 2016 view of the Grubb Mansion.
This house on King Street was built by Felix McCarthy in the early 1900s. Today it is the home of the Dugan family and a boy named Ollie.