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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.