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Letting Go: Ensuring a successful ghost tour experience

The following blog post was contributed by Ghost Tour Guide Robert Oakes.

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Robert Oakes.

If Edith Wharton lamented the damage done to the imagination by “the wireless (radio) and the cinema” back in the early part of the last century, if she was sad to think that our “ghost instinct” was in danger of disappearing among the distractions of modern life long before smart phones and special effects, I can only imagine how depressed she’d be today. With so many gadgets and so much information forever tugging at our attention, it’s nearly impossible to find the “silence and continuity” she believed was needed to go deep into “the warm darkness…far below our conscious reason (where) the faculty dwells with which we apprehend…ghosts.”

When I take a group of ghost seekers through the darkened hallways and rooms of The Mount during a ghost tour, I invite them to meet me “halfway,” as Wharton wrote, “among the primeval shadows…filling in the gaps in my narrative with sensations and divinations akin to my own.” I ask them to listen to the many tales we have to tell of ghostly encounters and to reach out into the dark with their senses, staying open to the possibility that they, too, might have an encounter of their own.

Even if nothing happens, I believe the experience is worthwhile. Whenever we reach out with our senses open and our imagination engaged, we do make contact with some mysterious presence that lies deeper than intellectual understanding. And making that connection reawakens a sense of wonder.

A possible dog face caught in thunderous clouds, by Robert Oakes.

Robert Oakes caught a possible dog face in these thunderous clouds.

That’s what I love most about leading the ghost tours at The Mount. Time and time again, I’ve seen visitors happily turn off their phones, forget the many distractions of daily life, suspend their disbelief, and walk with eager anticipation into the possibility of encountering something truly mystifying. I’ve seen people react with delight, even when genuinely spooked, as we pass the window through which a skeletal face has been seen or stand at the bottom of the attic stairs listening for faint footsteps.

I believe the ghost tours at The Mount help to keep these stories alive and the imagination engaged. And they help to keep us open to a sense of mysterious possibility. All of this, I think, might very well have renewed Wharton’s faith in us moderns.

I also have it on good authority that the ghosts, too, are happy that we are telling their stories. “For,” as Wharton wrote, “the ghost should never be allowed to forget that his only chance of survival is in the tales of those who have encountered him.”

Click here to hear Robert interviewed about ghost tours on the Apple Seed radio show!

Finding Teddy Wharton’s Grave

Teddy Wharton with three dogs

Teddy with three Wharton dogs.

Teddy Wharton with dogsI was surprised to learn that Edith Wharton’s final resting place is miles away from the place she called home. She is buried at Cimetière des Gonards in Versailles, France. I was even more surprised to learn that her ex-husband, Edward Robbins Wharton (Teddy), is buried just three minutes away from The Mount, in Lenox, MA.

This was how I found myself joyfully piling into my old jeep on a perfect fall day, along with fellow Mounties Johanna Batman, Grace Leathrum, Patricia Pin, and Patricia’s little Pomeranian, Pipi. We were going to see Teddy!

We set off with only a tiny scrap of paper that said A Lot/96, which I believed was enough to tell us the location of Teddy’s grave. I suppose I expected that we would arrive at Church on the Hill cemetery and be magnetically drawn to his headstone, perhaps by an unseen guiding hand or by uncanny instinct.

I did not expect the cemetery to be as large as it was.

Equipped with our tiny scrap of paper, we searched for Teddy (along with his mother, whom he is buried near) grave by grave, eventually dividing the cemetery into sections and splitting up.  Besides Teddy’s mother’s memorial, we only found a stone cross in the back of the cemetery with a red ribbon tied to it. I pointed it out to my companions, wondering what the significance was.  Eventually we left, disappointed that Teddy would have no visitors that day. Back at the office, fellow colleagues confirmed that many people have difficulty finding Teddy’s grave.

Exactly one week later, we embarked on another journey to the cemetery, this time with Mount Librarian Nynke Dorhout and directions from Mount House Manager Laurie Foote and local historian Cornelia Gilder.

And that’s how we found Teddy’s headstone, flanked by the graves of his mother and sister. We placed three hydrangeas from The Mount on his grave and sat on crunchy fall leaves to take a group photo with Teddy. We shared favorite Teddy stories, remarked on what a magnificent view he had of the colorful Berkshire foliage, and mused about how hard it must have been for Teddy to suffer from bipolar disorder, at a time when there was no treatment and in an age where there was very little understanding of the disease.

As we left, I pointed out a particular detail on Teddy’s grave to everyone else. Why did it have a red ribbon?* Looking around, we saw it was the same cross with the same red ribbon from our first visit.

So we had found Teddy that day, we just didn’t know it!

*I later discovered that red ribbons on gravestones signify upcoming repairs. Click here to take a self-guided tour of Church on the Hill cemetery!

Visiting Teddy

All Souls: A special Halloween reading at The Mount

One of the best places to listen to a ghost story is at an allegedly haunted house. And that’s precisely what you can do at The Mount this Halloween! Join us in Picture1the drawing room on Friday, October 31, at 7:30 p.m. to hear Edith Wharton’s “All Souls” read by local actress Ariel Bock.

“All Souls” was Wharton’s very last story, written the year she died, and published posthumously. It’s about a woman who experiences a sinister sense in her home after her servants mysteriously disappear, all in a period of thirty-six hours.

Ariel came across the story while planning her 2014 Wharton on Wednesday series.

“I’ve never seen a ghost at The Mount – and I’ve lived there*!” Ariel says. “I do know people who’ve seen them, and you can feel the presence, not just of Edith Wharton and her contemporaries, but of other people who’ve lived at The Mount. It’s very eerie sometimes. I walk the grounds quite a bit – there are a lot of spirits here!”

This will be the first time “All Souls” has been read at The Mount. After attending the reading, visitors are welcome to join our ghost guides on a special witching hour tour of the estate – but hurry, these events will sell out!

*Ariel Bock lived at The Mount during Shakespeare & Company’s residency at The Mount.

Mrs. Wharton’s bathroom window

Various spots at The Mount are more haunted than others, but perhaps one of the most popular paranormal hotspots is Edith Wharton’s third story bathroom window.

Visitors’ photographs routinely catch strange shapes and faces in this window (check out these photos below!). “Perhaps somebody from outside is peering in?” visitors will sometimes suggest. We are quick to assure them that there is no balcony outside the window – only a three story drop.

There is no reasonable explanation as to why there is so much paranormal activity centered on this particular window. In fact, little is known about the bathroom. During Wharton’s occupancy (1902-1911), it appeared to be a simple room, functional rather than decorative, that was part of Wharton’s suite, along with her bedroom and boudoir. During The Foxhollow School era (1942-1976), the bathroom was used as a second exit from the attic, with a stairway dropping down from the fourth floor through the bathroom ceiling.

So, what is it about Mrs. Wharton’s bathroom window that attracts spirits? That is anyone’s guess.

Photo by Shelly Negrotti.

Photo by Shelly Negrotti.

Photo by Ellina N.

Photo by Ellina N.

Stephanie Wilga 8.12.13 II

Photo by Stephanie Wilga.

Photo by Laurie Sutherland

Photo by Laurie Sutherland

 

 

 

Party like it’s 1899: The Mount’s first masquerade ball!

Victorian BoudoirHave you ever partied like its 1899? Whether you have or haven’t, you won’t want to miss The Mount’s first ever masquerade ball on November 1st!

Berkshire Shenanigans and The Mount will give guests an immersive experience by turning The Mount into a haunted Victorian mansion for a night of dancing and partying with DJ BFG. Eat, drink, and be spooky!

Grace Leathrum, The Mount’s Special Events Coordinator, says the goal is for guests to experience a glamorous Gilded Age party from the past.

“I think The Mount represents Gilded Age hospitality so well, when you read about all the effort that Edith Wharton went through to make sure her guests were comfortable and having a good time through their whole stay,” Grace explains. “It’s a great place to entertain a party of this magnitude just because it really fits in with the idea of the luxury of the Gilded Age party. Plus The Mount has such a great history with its ghost stories and [Wharton’s] interest in the macabre.”

Wharton specialized in small dinner parties and although a Halloween ball with 250 guests may have been out of her comfort zone, Grace believes Mrs. Wharton would have enjoyed a party like this: “Dare I say, she might have gotten dressed up, too!”

Speaking of which, there will also be a costume contest! To present a fair and unbiased outcome, Berkshire Shenanigans will randomly pick a guest to be a judge and the winner, who will be announced at the end of the night, will receive a prize.

The Mount will be dressed up with jack o’ lanterns and red lighting, but what costume will Grace be donning for this party? We won’t spoil the surprise, but it may be a Wharton character.

This event will sell out. Be sure to get your tickets early!

Visitor Spotlight: The Woman in White

The following blog post was contributed by Laura Eden.

Throughout the mid to late 80’s my family periodically vacationed during their spring break at our timeshare at The Ponds at Fox Hollow.  My children were in elementary school so we spent a lot of time outside – often in the mud and muck along the horse trails.

One afternoon I was walking with my three daughters along the bridle path at the base of the lawn at The Mount.  Shakespeare and Company had just begun to use the house for performances in the summer but the house looked closed up.  No one was around so, to escape the mud, which was becoming too onerous for my youngest child, we walked along the edge of the lawn. It was getting rather dark so I decided it might be best to skirt around the house and nip down the drive to the road.

The Terrace.  Photo by David Dashiell.

The Terrace. Photo by David Dashiell.

As we began to do just that, a woman abruptly opened the French doors onto the Terrace overlooking the rear lawn and charged over to the railing. She had very dark hair pulled up on her head and was wearing a white dress which I took to be a maid’s or housekeeper’s uniform. She was furiously shaking a tea towel or dust cloth over the railing and, from her manner, I gathered she was very annoyed by our presence.

Embarrassed at being caught trespassing, I hustled the girls along mentally rehearsing an apology as we rounded the corner of the house and headed down the drive.  A battered old station wagon was approaching and stopped alongside us. As I suspected, it was the caretaker checking on the house and I explained why we were on the property.  Having had a good look at the bedraggled state my girls were in, he was very gracious about the whole situation.  I asked him to please give my apologies to the housekeeper who had seen us from the Terrace and had seemed so annoyed by our presence.

He seemed puzzled by that and told me that no one was in the house and he was the only one with the key.  I insisted we had seen a woman and he said that he didn’t doubt that. From our description of her, he said it was probably the ghost of Mrs. Wharton!  He kindly added that she had been seen by others so, not to worry, we weren’t necessarily crazy….true story with four witnesses with no prior knowledge of ghostly goings on at The Mount.

The Mount’s pet cemetery

Edith Wharton with Miza and Mimi.

Edith Wharton with Miza and Mimi.

Visitors who pull back the curtain of Edith Wharton’s third story bedroom window, or step out onto the Terrace from Teddy Wharton’s den, might spot a little mound at the edge of the woods with six tiny gravestones. This is the pet cemetery at The Mount.

The Whartons loved their dogs dearly; they were, in many ways, children in Teddy and Edith’s otherwise childless marriage. The Mount’s pet cemetery is the final resting place of Mimi (d. January 1902), Toto (d. November 18, 1904), Miza (d. January 12, 1906), and Jules (d. 1907), a Skye terrier who lived to be 16. Two dogs from the Shattuck era (1912-1938) are buried alongside the Wharton dogs.

Ghost tours always include a stop at the pet cemetery, where guides briefly retell “Kerfol,” Wharton’s story about a pack of ghost dogs who haunt a house where they were murdered, and in turn avenged their murder and the cruel treatment of their beloved mistress.

Although there are few reports of ghostly animal activity reported at The Mount, visitors have caught two interesting photos, which can be seen on the right.

Edith Wharton was surrounded by her dogs as she wrote in bed every morning, and from that same room, she could look out the window at the cemetery and continue to watch over them. And when the trees are bare in the fall, there is a perfect view of Mrs. Wharton’s bedroom window from the pet cemetery, where perhaps they could see her, too.

The Mount's pet cemetery.

 

A possible dog tail?  Photo by Beth Grossfeld.

A possible dog tail, floating across the lawn. Photo by Beth Grossfeld.

Is that an animal on the sofa, next to the ghostly figure?  By Nancy L. Pastor

Is that a ghost dog on the sofa, next to the ghostly figure? Photo by Nancy L. Pastor.

 

The ghostly tales of Mrs. Wharton

Ghost StoriesEdith Newbold Jones, a girl who was terrified of ghost stories, grew up to be Edith Wharton, a woman who wrote them.

As a child, Wharton was haunted by dreams of ghosts and wolves, as well as a sense of a menacing presence at her mother’s front door. A near death experience from typhoid fever resulted in intense nightmares with “formless horrors” and she was unable to sleep in the same room as a book of ghost stories until she was 28 years old.

So what, according to Wharton, makes a good ghost story? “If it sends a cold shiver down one’s spine, it has done its job and done it well,” she said in the preface of The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. Mount staff have a few special Wharton favorites of their own.

“My favorite Edith Wharton ghost story is ‘The Eyes,’” Grace Leathrum, Special Events Coordinator, says. “I love it because instead of using a classic idea of what a ghost should look like, she zeroes in on one terrifying image and uses it to its best effect.”

Johanna Batman, Development Associate, cites “Duchess at Prayer” as not only her favorite Wharton ghost story, but one of her favorite Wharton stories in general. “It’s so wicked!” she says of the gothic tale published in 1900.

House Manager Anne Schuyler’s favorite is “Kerfol,” a chilling tale that is retold on ghost tours in the pet cemetery (stay tuned for more information about The Mount’s pet cemetery in our next post!).

Wharton didn’t think that just readers should be frightened by her ghost stories; she once said, “The teller of supernatural tales should be well frightened in the telling.”   Perhaps it was her own childhood experiences which made Wharton into such an effective teller of ghost stories.

 

It’s Halloween season at The Mount!

It’s almost Halloween here at The Mount and that means it’s time to decorate The Mount’s blog, so to speak, with ghostly information and haunted tidbits, now until All Hallows’ Eve.

The Mount has seen seven different occupants come and go in its 112-year history. With countless numbers of personalities, triumphs, disappointments, and perhaps a few secrets, it’s no surprise that owners, staff members, and visitors have reported strange sights, freaky feelings, and everything from footsteps to full bodied apparitions.

Body in Stable window, by Tarryn Gaherty.

Body in Stable window, by Tarryn Gaherty.

Often, it’s assumed that death results in hauntings. There is only one death that is known to certainly have occurred at The Mount, that of Albert R. Shattuck, who purchased The Mount with his wife in 1912. He died of a heart attack on November 4, 1925, in what is now known as The Henry James Suite.

There are two other deaths that are rumored to have occurred at The Mount, but which cannot be confirmed. Supposedly, a little boy drowned in the well and a female servant hung herself on the property.

Life can also result in hauntings. Perhaps spirits linger at The Mount because they have unfinished business or because they adored their time there. As Edith Wharton said in her 1934 memoir, “The Mount was my first real home…its blessed influence still lives in me.”

Take a look at the ghostly photos above and to the right, taken by visitors on ghost tours in 2013, and be sure to join us on a ghost tour this fall – you never know what you may find!

Orbs in the Stable, by Jennifer Curtis.

Orbs in the Stable, by Jennifer Curtis.

Mysterious lights, by Janae Cook.

Mysterious lights, by Janae Cook.

Face in Stable window, by Paul and Sandy Hamilakis.

Face in Stable window, by Paul and Sandy Hamilakis.

Spinning yarn and weaving magic: Storytelling comes to the Berkshires!

Who doesn’t love a good story? There’s something about a taut, tempting yarn. It twists your perspective, and, when done well, can magically transport you to a different time and place.

Sure, a captivating story can burst from the pages of a book or be broadcast from a recording. But perhaps the best story-sharing experience is one between live humans, where words are accompanied by expressions and gestures and nuances of voice that imbue the narrative with broader, deeper dimensions.

We’re not the only ones who think so. In recent years, storytelling as entertainment has exploded in popularity. There’s a science behind it, after all. And who doesn’t agree with Ira Glass’s way of thinking?

Catapulted to the public sphere by The Moth, storytelling events now headline weekend arts and cultural listings in major cities across the US.

Massmouth executive director, and host and performer Norah Dooley

Massmouth executive director, and host/performer Norah Dooley

And in certain rural parts, too: We’re delighted this fall to introduce several storytelling events to western Massachusetts! The first one—this Friday evening, September 5—features polished performers from Boston-based massmouth, inc., who will come to The Mount to share their sparkling, true-life tales of traveling, temptation, and tribes. The show will be hosted by massmouth executive director Norah Dooley, who will also perform one of the eight-minute monologues. It promises to be a great evening. We’ll have drinks and nosh for sale; the doors will open at 7:30 for the 8 pm show. Tickets are $15, but here’s the thing: We’re rewarding our blog readers with a special discount price! Click here and use the promotional code “storytelling” for $10 tickets instead. Sound good?

While you’re at it, get tickets too for the next storytelling event on October 18, this one in partnership with Speak Up, a storytelling group based in Hartford, CT. That Saturday night, five skilled storytellers will regale the audience with love-and-marriage-themed tales. Bring a romantic partner, a friend, or simply yourself to hear stories of love lost, love found, and love finally understood. Tickets are $15.

If you can imagine yourself onstage, sign up now for the storytelling workshop at The Mount that will be hosted by 12-time Moth StorySLAM champion Matthew Dicks on Sunday, October 19 from 9 am to 1 pm. It’ll be inspiring, educational, and exceptionally fun, and—believe us—you won’t want to miss the chance to take part!