A look at some area ‘haunted houses’

A look at some area ‘haunted houses’

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael T. Snyder For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

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

St.

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

the steps.

“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.”

PHOTO SUB­MIT­TED BY MICHAEL T. SNYDER

Wil­liam I. Grubb had this man­sion built at 1304 High Street in the 1890s. Shown here in a 1905 post card.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

This house on High Street, was the home of Car­lene Hadesty.

PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY MICHAEL T. SNYDER

Ge­orge and Mar­garet Waus­nock lived in this sin­gle brick home on Evans Street.

PHOTO SUB­MIT­TED BY MICHAEL T. SNYDER

A 2016 view of the Grubb Man­sion.

PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY MICHAEL T. SNYDER

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.

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