LENOX — Edith Wharton was an avid collector of ghost stories. Now, 100 years after her death, the late novelist is embroiled in a ghost story of her own. Is The Mount, Wharton's Plunkett Street estate, truly haunted?
On March 25, the Sci Fi Channel show "Ghost Hunters" will broadcast its investigation with The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS, into the phenomenon at The Mount.
Now a museum and center of all things Edith Wharton, it was also once a hub for Shakespeare & Company, the theater troupe. Shakespeare & Company folks often perceived ghostly happenings.
"I've heard from a few people that they've seen Edith Wharton there reading," said Kevin Coleman, Shakespeare & Company's director of education. "They've also seen (her husband) Teddy Wharton, and what we think was a servant girl who lived in one of the rooms on the top floor who is pretty active in the house."
According to an e-mail sent out by Shakespeare & Company, Wharton and her husband initially moved to the mansion in 1902 as a writing retreat. The marriage soon shattered, as Edith pursued a love affair in France, and Teddy languished in despair and mental instability.
The spooky happenings have certainly opened some doors for the venerable institution, with the attention from Ghost Hunters leading the estate to hold special "Ghost Tours" later this year. "This is, I confess, new territory for us," said the Mount's executive director, Susan Wissler. "But we see it as an opportunity to diversify for a younger audience."
Facilities and grounds director Ross Jolly, who feels confident investigators will find something in the mansion and its surrounding buildings, agreed, even though he added the Ghost Hunters crew were as secretive as they were friendly. "We didn't ask a lot of questions out of them and they didn't offer a lot of answers," he said. "They pretty much had free reign of the estate."
Yet some at Shakespeare & Company feel that the hostile energies from the Wharton's lives have kept a permanent place in the estate.
After Shakespeare & Company moved into the mansion in the early 1980s, "one of the actresses had a friend who came from England who was a psychic," recalled Coleman. "She was on the top floor — that's where all our offices were — she stopped and backed out of the room and said, 'Don't anybody go in this room.' "
According to Coleman, that was the troupe's first encounter with a servant girl who had lived in that very room.
Jeremy Goodwin of Shakespeare & Company, meanwhile, related an eerier encounter during the 2001 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" involving the group's director of publicity, Elizabeth Aspenlieder. While Aspenlieder was backstage, Goodwin said, she was surprised to see "an old-fashioned gentleman standing there in a tuxedo with a pocket watch staring at her."
"She said she was sort of transfixed by this and she heard a voice in her head that said, 'What the hell is going on here?' " Goodwin said. He said that Aspenleider eventually identified the man as Edith Wharton's lover, who briefly lived on the premises.
While the Ghost Hunters crew — despite using cameras, vibration sensors, and electromagnetic scanning equipment — have kept their results tightly hidden until the show airs, Coleman said he had had enough close encounters while the group was in residence to be wary.
"I was staying up reading one night, and I heard someone walking down the hall and stopping in front of my door," he said. "It was so blatant and obvious I said, 'Come in,' before they could knock. When I opened the door, no one was there it was unmistakable."