The Conjuring: facts & the fallout, one year later.

On the anniversary of the release of The Conjuring, (which is one of my picks for the 13 most haunting films for ghost story lovers,) I’m noticing some internet buzz about the aftermath of its production and its subsequent popularity. For fans of The Amityville Horror, this is a familiar scenario. In short, the current owners of the home are asserting that their lives have been turned upside down by the fallout from the film. There has been trespassing and vandalism, not only at the allegedly haunted house, but also at the grave site of  a local woman.

For those of you who are not ardent followers of developments in the paranormal world, I’ll provide a little cheat sheet, so you know who all these real-life people are.

  • The House - built in 1836, by Dexter Richardson, in in Harrisville, RI. It was then owned by several generations of the Arnold family before passing out their possession. In 1970, the Perron family bought the home. In 1983 the home was purchased by Norma Sutcliffe and her husband, who have occupied it since that time. Originally the estate consisted of 200 acres, but is now a little over eight. The property includes a old barn that figures prominently in the movie. The house itself does not look very much like the house as shown on The Conjuring movie poster.
  • The Perrons – a family of seven (including 5 daughters) that moved into the house in 1970. They lived there until 1981. One daughter, Andrea, has already penned two volumes about her paranormal experiences in the house, and a third is on the way. The Perrons co-operated with the filming of their story, and appeared in publicity materials for The Conjuring.
  • The Warrens – a religious paranormal investigation team (Ed and Lorraine)  who have investigated many haunted houses and paranormal incidents. According to everyone involved, they investigated the experiences of the Perrons while they were in residence at the house. According to the film makers, the movie is “based on a true story” drawn from the files of the Warrens. Lorraine Warren co-operated with the filming and appears in some publicity materials. (Ed died in 2006.)
  • Bathsheba Sherman – an actual woman who lived in the Harris, RI area from 1812 – 1885. She was named in the film as a child-murdering witch. Until recently, her tombstone stood in the Harrisville cemetery. Since the release of the movie, her marker has been repeatedly vandalized.
  • Norma Sutcliffe – purchased the home in 1983 and currently lives on the premises. Prior to the release of The Conjuring, she seemed comfortable discussing the haunting of the house. (As evidenced by some of the videos in the articles I’ve linked to below.) Back in 2005, she invited the Syfy show, Ghost Hunters, to do an investigation of the house.  Since the movie opened, she and her husband are being plagued by thrill seekers and paranormal investigators. She is now denying, or at least down-playing, any paranormal phenomena in the house.

This particular trailer shows how deeply involved the Perrons were with publicity for the film.

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STUFF YOU MAY NOT KNOW

GHOST HUNTERS PROFILED THE HOUSE IN 2005

The T.A.P.S team, of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters fame, did an investigation of the Conjuring House itself in 2005, long before the movie came out. The profile is on an episode called Two Houses: Springfield, MA – Tanguay House and Harrisville, RI – Sutcliffe House; it’s in the second half of this episode, Sutcliffe House, which starts approximately 20 minutes in. (Depending on which video you find.) If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth a watch.

I searched on “Ghost Hunters S02E07″ and found a working video. (YouTube videos are notorious for being there one day and not the next, so see what comes up when you search on the terms I’ve listed.)

Ghost-Hunters-random-pics-ghost-hunters-8611287-1152-870

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THOUGHTS FROM ANDREA PERRON & NORMA SUTCLIFFE

Patrick Keller, of The Big Seance, has been doing some in-depth study of this haunting. He is reading a series of books written by a Perron daughter, Andrea, and has had some interaction with Norma Sutcliffe at his blog. Read what he knows at  his post: The Current Owner of The Conjuring House Speaks Out!

In his piece, he has posted the link to a video Sutcliffe has posted on YouTube to dispute the idea that the house is haunted and to ask that people stop trespassing and vandalizing her home. (He’s also summarized its content for those who don’t want to watch the whole video.)

andrea perron

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REPUTATION & GRAVESTONE OF BATHSHEBA SHERMAN

J’aime Rubio, of Dreaming Casually (Investigative Blog), has done some real historical research on the haunting, as it is depicted in the movie here: The Real Bathsheba Sherman – True History vs. “Conjured” Fiction.

bathsheba

Photo from FindAGrave. Click pic for listing.

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HISTORY VS. HOLLYWOOD

History vs. Hollywood has an extensive overview of fact vs. film in their post, THE CONJURING (2013). this article features photographs of the actual persons involved in the story, as well as of the house. Note that J’aime Rubio (listed above) disputes much of the Bathsheba Sherman story as it is written in this article.

history v hollywood the conjuring

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A QUICK OVERVIEW

Mental Floss has a good short article up called The Real Story Behind The Conjuring. It features a link to a video of a conversation between Andrea Perron and Norma Sutcliffe.

movie poster the conjuring

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MY (RANDOM) AFTER-THOUGHTS

BASED ON TRUE:

I think the movie is a great addition to the paranormal horror film genre. It strikes s a nice balance between maintaining a generally creepy atmosphere and subjecting the audience to the right number of effective jump-scare moments. The plot, as in unfolds in the film, is engrossing. The acting is superb. It’s flaws, in fact, all lie in the based-on-a-true-story nature of the film.

As a genuine paranormal horror fan AND a woman with a deep interest in real-world paranormal occurrences, I dislike based-on-true stories. There is a distinct difference between fiction and documentary … and based-on-true is neither.

Of course, I understand the commercial value of the genre and I understand that it’s not going to go away. In the interest of protecting historical sites and bystanders, however, I believe it’s time to start obscuring details. It would not be difficult to cite the Amityville House and the Conjuring House as examples of  the reason that “names have been changed to protect the innocent” in future projects. In this case, if the Perrons were comfortable being identified, that’s fine. The house, however, should have been located in a fictional town and the name of the “local witch woman” should have been fabricated.

The headstone belonging to Bathsheba Sherman was 129 years old. She may very well have been a fine, upstanding woman. Even if she wasn’t, her grave should not have been vandalized. Some of the blame for that goes to the idiots who did the damage, but Perron and Warren and New Line Cinema must be held accountable too – for putting a spotlight on the stone.

I may be conflicted about Norma Sutcliffe’s seeming back-tracking about whether the house is haunted or not, but in light of the vandalism to the grave I completely share her fear that her historic barn will end up being another casualty of this film’s popularity.

THE WARRENS:

Even before I learned of the negative after-effects of the movie, I was unhappy with the way the Warrens were portrayed in the film. When I added The Conjuring to my 13 most haunting films list immediately after seeing it, I wrote:

I am not a big fan of the real-life Lorraine and Ed Warren. There I said it. ‘Seems to me they have a clear agenda, and that is to assign a demonic nature to the hauntings they come across. On the way to the movie with my husband, Ogre, I shared that opinion. (He’s not well-versed in paranormal studies, and had never heard of the Warrens.) AFTER the movie, he said, “Well it’s no wonder the Warrens approved the film, considering how the studio bent over backwards to …” be so complimentary. (I’m paraphrasing that last bit – I can’t repeat what he actually said. This is a PG-13 blog.)

I’ve never been comfortable with the methods and ideologies of the Warrens. Though I believe some hauntings are demonic or evil, I also believe that the vast majority are not. It might be worth noting that Ed often referred to himself as a demonologist rather than as a paranormal investigator.

HYPOCRISY & THIS BLOG:

I’m actually a little uncomfortable posting this because I am listing real names and places myself. Please understand that I would not do that it the cat weren’t already out of the bag. All these names and addresses are readily available on the web. That is not going to change either – even if authors and studios do implement a protection policy, hard-core folks are going to be able to find the information they need. My hope is that changing the policy would weed out the casual viewer that is likely to do spur-of-the-moment, on-a-dare-while-wasted, damage. In contrast to those nitwits, I believe most true paranormal people are respectful.

In the event that any of my readers visits the area of the alleged haunting, I would hope that an understanding of the consequences of thoughtless actions would moderate their behavior if necessary. I’m pretty sure anyone who see this would be far more likely to leave flowers and a note (perhaps, “Innocent until proven guilty.”) on the grave of Bathsheba, than do damage or make trouble.

~*~

13 ghost link button

Click for ghost story movie recommendations.


MN Stories: About Stillwater’s Edward Hersey and his 2 wives and 3 houses.

Last weekend, Ogre and I ran away for the day to have a summery date. We drove to the quaint town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Our goal was to score some fudge, taffy and turtle bars from two of the three hand-made candy shops there. (Hey, if a shop makes the best of a certain kind of thing, you’re a fool to not take advantage of it.)

When we arrived, it was such a gorgeous day that we decided to look for something else to do first. It turns out there is a historical trolley tour available during the summer. We hopped on and settled in.

Stillwater – which is on the St. Croix River which separates Minnesota from Wisconsin – was founded as a lumber town even before Minnesota became a state. Its proximity to the river- which was an excellent avenue for transporting the raw lumber to the mills, and the milled lumber to its destination – quickly turned it into a wealthy city. As we cruised up and down the steep hills of the city, we saw dozens of beautiful 19th century mansions. Each was proof of the prosperity Stillwater enjoyed in the years just before the last of the towering white pines of Minnesota were logged out.

[To get an idea of the kind of logging that was done here, you might want to check out a video I made last summer: 1895 Hinkley Minnesota Firestorm.]

*****

Perhaps the most interesting bit of information we gleaned from our cheerful tour guide was a story about The Worst Husband in the World. Allow me to explain.

First, take a look at this lovely house: stillwater house

320 side view

A side view of the house.

This is 320 Pine St W (Click for listing on Zillow)

Bedrooms:  Bathrooms: 3.5  sq ft4,588 Year Built: 1882

Last Sold: Feb 2002 for $375,000

Isn’t it charming? It was built by a lumber baron, Edward Hersey, as a gift to his wife. But there’s a catch. Do you see that porch and the bay window? stillwater home 2 From either of those vantage points, you see the following view of the opposing house: 319 cloesup

 This is 319 Pine St. W (Click for listing on Zillow)

Bedrooms:  Bathrooms:  sq ft7,000 Year Built:1879

Last Sold: Mar 2004 for $810,660

319 side view

A side view of the house.

This house – 319 Pine St. W – was the first house that Edward Hersey had built for his wife.

According to Stillwater Heirloom & Landmark Sites Program

 In 1879, the Stillwater Lumberman [local newspaper] noted “Edward Hersey about to build on lots at Pine and Sixth.” Behind those few words are numerous associations: the construction of another opulent home for another of Stillwater’s well-to-do lumber families, the possible involvement of architect George Orff in his second home for a Hersey brother, and the abundant use of large, eye-catching architectural elements. The Victorian home offers a virtual laundry list of stylistic elements: a tower, a veranda, a gable, a large chimney, and a two-story bay.

According to our guide, the wife (whose name was Mary, but we’ll take a look at that in more depth in a moment) had a great deal to do with the planning of this house. It seems that Hersey himself was not as thrilled with it as she was. He had dragged his feet about commissioning it in the first place, and didn’t care for it even after he had agreed to have it  built.

As the house was nearing completion, Mary went abroad to purchase proper furnishings for her dream home.

Edward Hersey promptly lost the mansion to his business partner, Jacob Bean, to settle a debt. Some say this debt was actually a high-stakes poker game. (The home is now known at the Ann Bean Mansion, after Jacob Bean’s wife.)

When Mary returned to Stillwater, Edward had already commissioned the building of  the much more modest 320 Pine W house … directly across the street.

The tour guide said that Mary refused to live there.

Well, NSS.

*****

I could have shared that much of the story with you the night I returned from the daytrip, but I wanted to do a bit of research to confirm the facts. I was able to do that – for the most part anyway – but my digging also left me with some lingering questions.

Above, I mentioned that I wanted to come back to the identity of Edward Hersey’s wife, Mary. Edward actually married TWO women named Mary in his lifetime: Mary Merrill in 1877 and Mary Haskell in 1894. A quick look at the dates of construction of the houses will reveal that the woman in the Stillwater story must have been Mary Merrill.

Just to make this easy for everyone, here the math:

  • Edward was 23 in 1877 when he married Mary Merrill.
  • He was 25 in 1879 when construction began on the big house, 319 Pine W.
  • He was 29 in 1882 when the small house, 320 Pine W, was completed.
  • There is then an 11-year gap in the story until 1894.
  • He was 40 in 1894 when he married 25 year old Mary Haskell.
  • (In 1894, he did something else as well, but I’ll get to that in a sec.)
  • He was only 54 when he died in 1908.
  • Mary Haskell Hersey died in 1950, at the age of 81.

Armed with the knowledge of the second wife, I was left wondering what had happened to the first. My assumption was that she died, so I turned to FindAGrave to discover her fate. Sure enough, I found the Hersey family plot, where Edward was buried, in a nearby St. Paul cemetery. Several members of his family also rest there, including Mary HASKELL Hersey. As for Mary Merrill, though, there is no sign of her in the plot.

Of course it is possible that  Mary Merrill did die, and that her body was sent back to Maine from where both families hailed. I did do a search for her at FindAGrave and came up with two possible results. One has very little info aside from the name Mary E. Hersey. The other grave bears the name Mary M. Hersey, but it is adjacent to a man named Melville Hersey. Neither of these women died before Edward married Mary Haskell.

I have been unable to find any further reference to Mary Merrill Hersey. Mary Haskell Hersey, however, was the darling of the society pages:

According to Stillwater Heirloom & Landmark Sites Program:

In 1896, the St. Paul Globe expressed admiration for the new bride: “Mrs. Edward L. Hersey, who, by her charming personality and culture has identified herself with society in St. Paul and Stillwater, is a brunette of a very lovely type. Her eyes are large and beautiful, of a dark brown, her lashes, brows and soft, luxuriant hair corresponding in color. She is possessed of an almost perfect figure, and her carriage is graceful and stately. In her address one notices a fascinating little accent, peculiar to the East.

I mentioned that Edward Hersey did something else besides marrying the charming Mary Haskell in 1894. He moved into this:

475 Summit Ave

 This is 475 Summit Ave. (Click for listing on Zillow.)

Bedrooms: 11 Bathrooms: 6  sq ft: 7,586 Year Built: 1894

Last Sold: Apr 1993 for $170,000
Estimated current value: $891,813

I guess he really like Mary Haskell.

PS: Just FYI, Summit Ave. was THE ritziest neighborhood in Minnesota at the turn of the century. (It’s still pretty swanky, though this house has been converted to a multi-family rental property.)

ALSO: Edward’s daughter, Marie Hersey was a chum of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Apparently he spent a lot of time in this house, back in the day.

*****

POST postscript: I just ran into a thing called Storify and I’m playing with it. I tossed together a test and am attempting to embed it below, so I can see what it is and how it looks. Ignore at will.


Live tweeting from the paranormal hotel.

I know I owe you guys a proper follow-up for my recent post, The #paranormalhotel: what it looks like, who stays there, and how we make it work. (Part 1.) Tonight, though, I’m looking forward to sleeping in the dark after four graveyard shifts, so I thought I’d share the address for the #paranormalhotel hashtag on twitter to tide you over.

The cranky vending machine.

 

The first two nights were pretty uneventful but Tuesday took a strange turn, and last night was kind of interesting too.

[Note: Technically, because I start at midnight, what I refer to as Tuesday night is actually Wednesday morning. I get confused by that when interesting astronomical events happen too. But I digress.]

You can read the live tweets here:

https://twitter.com/hashtag/paranormalhotel

I’ve actually started writing a sort of character profile or mini-story that elaborates on one of the folks you meet briefly in the live tweeting string, but I hear a bird singing. Even if he is crazy early, he’s reminding me that I want to be awake during the day tomorrow, so I’ll bid you a good night.


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