Ghost stories hit close to home

Posted

Tuesday, October 31
Readers beware: The Berkshires has its fair share of things that go bump in the night.

The cozy surface of our quaint little towns is contrasted by numerous tales of demons, damnation and other dark deeds.

Joe Durwin, who documents and writes about local paranormal activity in "These Mysterious Hills," a feature in The Advocate, said the area has a fascinating cross-section of American history.

"Add to that the natural beauty and mystery of the landscape and the fact that during the Gilded Age, a host of some of the wealthiest people in the country descended upon the area, building mansions and castles and, in many cases, getting up to no good in them, and that makes for haunted environs," he said.

Take Whistler Inn in Lenox, for example. The 1820 English Tudor-style mansion on Greenwood Terrace is directly across from the cemetery at The Church on the Hill.

Prior to becoming the inn, it was the home of Mr. and Mrs. (Theo) Ross Wynans Whistler. Whistler was a railroad tycoon and the nephew of the notable American painter James A.M. Whistler.

As the story goes, after the sudden death of Ross Whistler in 1927, his widow hired Nancy Hedwall, a young Swedish woman to be a live-in companion and servant. Hedwall said she needed more help, so Whistler sent for the maid's sister, Helma, and Helma's husband, Paul Anthony, to come and work at the house as well.

So formed a lovers' triangle. Helma was betrayed by the secretive trysts that would occur between Hedwall and Anthony. A sudden death — this time Paul Anthony's — once again left a household distraught.

Lisa Mears, daughter of current owners Richard Chase Mears and Joan Mears, said the inn has been a haven of supernatural happenings, from water oozing from unusual places to strange electrical surges.

And then there are the ghosts. Members of the Mears family and guests of the inn have reported seeing apparitions, mostly women. Room 12 — the attic — seems to be particularly frequented.

"A woman came down one morning for coffee and gave me a strange look. I asked her, 'What's the matter? Did you see a ghost or something?' She nodded and said she saw a woman staring down at her on the bed," said Lisa Mears.

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But for the most part, Whistler's ghosts seemed to be all look and no touch.

The Passetto family of Lee was not so lucky. As Durwin wrote in a recent column, 25 years ago, a malevolent supernatural force wrought havoc on the household at 80 Lois Street. The high-profile case drew national attention and was investigated by demonologists Edward D. and Lorraine R. Warren, who also investigated the infamous 1976 haunting in Amityville, N.Y.

Family members gave accounts of being physically abused by the entity, being scratched and punched. Other incidents included sightings of levitating religious objects, levitating people, and apparitions. It is said that the Warrens performed a sort of exorcism.

In 1982, the Passettos sold the rights to their story to a freelance movie producer named Rose Adham, who is also said to had convinced the family not to sell their home. Today the house still stands, apparently uninhabited and in disrepair.

Durwin said that he is not aware of any further disturbances in the house.

Dozens of other tales of local lore continue to haunt our homes and woods and cemeteries, from the Hoosac Tunnel to the Houghton Mansion in North Adams.

Ron Kolek, executive director of the New England Ghost Project and leader of the Berkshire Paranormal Group, said such stories are always given a special glance this time of year.

"It's like at Christmas time," he said. "It's the spirit. It's the spooky time of year and people want to know about ghosts and ghost stories."

He also agreed that in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the paranormal, from dozens of mainstream investigations on reality television shows like "Ghost Whisperer" to the prime-time fiction series "Medium."

He said historically, with real disasters such as the recent Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq, comes an interest in the paranormal.

"There's more interest in life after death," said Kolek. "Most people just want validation and want to know why ghosts exist."


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