Halloween is right around the corner, and so might be the spirits from these spine-tingling stories
Richard Stuart Kuong writer
Peter Baker photographer
For most Wellesley and Weston residents, the end of the Labor Day weekend signifies fresh beginnings. After family vacations end, lethargic summer days fade into the buzz of a new school year, football season, the last fiscal quarter, and renewed expectations. As foliage ignites into flaming shades of reds, oranges and yellows, the crisp, earthy air foreshadows darkness that transforms early evening into midnight. Naturally, we are reminded that Halloween is around the corner.
Timid souls that we can be, for what we cannot see or understand, usually forces us out of our comfort zones. This possibly can explain why being alone at night, pondering tales from another era and reflecting on death and the paranormal mystifies us, sometimes to the point of experiencing goose bumps and quivering chills that course down our spines. Perhaps such is the case with the following haunted tales that have taken place right here in Wellesley and Weston.
Defazio Building, Wellesley
Sometimes, when working late at night at his company, Windsor Press, Inc., in the DeFazio building on Washington Street, Salvatore “Tory” DeFazio hears shifting floor boards that resemble creaking footsteps. DeFazio believes that this building, which his family has owned since the 1920s, is haunted by a 19-year-old lurking spirit named Joseph D. McCarthy. According to The Wellesley Townsman, McCarthy was struck unconscious by a blunt object around midnight on July 28, 1907, while working the switchboard at Bell Telephone and Telegraph in the DeFazio building. McCarthy was taken to the hospital. And that's all we know for certain as no record can substantiate whether he ever recovered from his injury. Although nothing was stolen and a $500 reward was offered, no culprit was ever caught. Many theories surround his assault, however, and rumors were fueled by an ongoing debate about the future of Wellesley's telephone service. The most dramatic tale is that since telephone calls were manually connected at the time, McCarthy overheard the wrong conversation and paid for his eavesdropping...with his life. Two years earlier, another telephone operator working the night shift at the same switchboard “accidentally” killed himself while cleaning his gun. Coincidence? You decide.
Rock Ridge Hall, Cliff Road, Wellesley
Another story surrounds the former Rock Ridge Hall, a private school for boys that operated on Cliff Road until 1916. Although it served as a boarding house for teachers, no one wanted to stay there because of a murder committed on the premises by the school's cook. The assortment of eerie sounds that were often heard only enhanced its ominous reputation. Since no one is alive to tell the stories firsthand, the tales, like the haunted spirit, have been wandering in anonymity since the school burned down.
Henderson House, Weston
In Weston, nestled atop a hill and surrounded by tall pine and oak trees sits a majestic, English Tudor mansion called Henderson House. This proud estate, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, boasts a commanding view for miles. It was owned by the prominent Clapp, Pierce, and Babson families, and was saved from being razed by Ernest Henderson in 1961. Currently owned by Northeastern University and used as a function hall, the estate consists of the mansion and surrounding hilltop, although the original domain included over 360 acres and housed a domestic staff.
Through the years, employees have claimed that three “friendly” spirits exist: a maid called “Rosie,” a child nicknamed “the kid,” and a gentleman spirit dubbed “the judge.” All these beings have been described as wearing clothing from the early 20th century. Although formal by today’s standards, due to Rosie’s simple, full-length dress, she is believed to be either Elizabeth Wagstaff, who was married to the manor’s gardener and passed away on the estate’s property in 1939, or Phoebe McClay who died in her home on estate property in 1960. Unfortunately, poor Phoebe was found three days after she expired! Consequently, some believe that Rosie is Phoebe McClay who still roams the mansion searching for her absent husband. As the master’s chauffeur, Phoebe’s husband, Adam, spent all his time in the estate’s carriage house, which featured one of the country’s first turntable floors and housed all of Mr. Pierce’s precious automobiles.
The spirit named “the judge,” due to his black formal attire, is thought to be Anthony Laban, the house butler. Laban, suffered a heart attack in 1943 and passed away inside the mansion ten days later. Some visitors and psychics claimed to have seen images of the judge standing by the atrium’s front entrance, which would be a butler’s post when receiving guests.
No one knows the identity of "the kid." On one occasion an employee was giving a new employee a house tour. On the third floor, the new employee asked his co-worker, “Where did the kid go?” Baffled, the other employee said that he did not see anything and that no children were in the mansion. However, the new employee swore he saw a boy walking in the hallway.
The staff states that most encounters are harmless. They have had ice cubes thrown at their backs and routinely say, “Rosie, let go,” every time the computer freezes, which they claim works every time. One day a staff member named Celia was alone in the basement and challenged, “Rosie, I will not believe in you unless you let me see you right now!” Satisfied that no spirits existed because her dare went unanswered, Celia was astonished the next day when the basement bathroom faucet suddenly turned on 15 feet from where she was standing. No one was present.
The building caretaker who lives in the mansion also explained that when she first moved into the Henderson House, she was visited by Rosie and "the kid" one night. With clear eyes, the caretaker explained that the spirit was gentle and introduced the boy to reassure her that they meant no harm and would respect her privacy.
One Friday afternoon in 1999, a new manager inspected the basement and entered the beverage cold vault, which does not have a lock on the door. While she was inside, the heavy door slammed shut. When she tried to push it, the door would not open. Initially, she calmly rationalized that a veteran employee was playing a prank on her. But after one-half hour of banging and screaming for help, the manager panicked, thinking she would not be discovered until Monday morning. Finally, for no explainable reason the door opened. The manager immediately ran after her “prankster,” but to her surprise she was alone.
Ironically, while Dining Manager Jeanne O’Shea warmly assured me that the spirits are friendly and if I looked for a ghost I would not encounter one, she refused to accompany me to tour the third floor.
I have never experienced a paranormal sighting and I am very pragmatic. However, I admit that despite a houseful of people (and bear in mind that I am a former Marine Corps Major and police SWAT instructor), I felt a chilling hair or two raise on the back of my neck when I entered a small, darkened room at the end of a corridor. Jeanne then took me to the basement to see the beverage cold vault and bathroom. I ventured into a dank utility room filled with piping and valves, my right index finger instinctively pointed by my side as if it were a pistol. Around the corner Jeanne complimented my “courage,” to which I casually brushed off that “seeing is believing.” Suddenly, a pressure relief valve loudly released steam that startled me and made Jeanne scream two octaves. In a nervous laugh she asked if I turned a valve. I had not.
Built in 1860, one of the most notable landmarks that helped lend Wellesley its patrician charm was the former Wellesley Inn on Washington Street. Adjacent to a succession of grand, white mansions, including the Waterman funeral home, this New England colonial building hosted many celebrities that passed through its columned entrance: Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Marlo Thomas, and Phil Donahue, to name a few. Many haunted claims abound from inn guests: a sense of being watched, objects disappearing in the Lafayette Lounge, a quirky elevator, and the scent of rosewater perfume. But nothing is quite like Room 18, the scene of many an odd occurrence. One winter, during the “graveyard” shift when occupancy was low, a decorative wooden chair and linen-draped table supporting silk flowers seemingly moved themselves about the hallway outside Room 18 in a mischievous manner. The staff simply chuckled and replaced the items only to find them moved again and again.
Once while walking in the same hallway, the innkeeper heard a flushing noise coming from the water closet inside Room 18. Since she and the controller possessed the only keys to the water closet, and the flush was activated by an oak handle pull-chain, she was startled to unlock the door and discover rippling water inside the commode. Around 2001, the inn was struck by lightning, which ignited the hallway carpet and the door to Room 18. When the fire department tore down the door and its immediate ceiling, a hidden skylight with rippled glass, reinforced by “chicken wire” in a diamond pattern was uncovered. This discovery was unsettling because the owner thought she knew every inch of the inn. To her recollection, nothing unusual occurred at the inn since, and nothing ever will, since the Inn was demolished earlier this year, ending the lineage of a significant icon of Wellesley history. Just like the homeless spirit, the inn rests peacefully in the memories and souls of those it touched.
Alumnae Hall, Wellesley College
There is much controversy on haunted sightings surrounding the beauty of Wellesley College’s idyllic campus. When you enter Alumnae Hall you get a sense that this building is special. Lining the front hallway are framed pictures of prominent alumnae including Madeleine Albright, Diane Sawyer, and opera singer Phyllis Curtin. As you enter the darkened theatre just inside the second set of doors, you are instantly transformed back to the 1920s. Ornate tapestries line the stage, original wooden paneling adorns the walls, and the seats are made of wood and upholstered with faded red velvet. Underneath the seats are metal ducts where mechanically forced air creates a draft. While standing still, you can almost hear whispers from past ghosts murmuring their lines. It is the perfect setting for a haunted theatre .
The Theatre Director, Nora Hussey, an engaging woman of creative conviction, explained the sightings witnessed by students, faculty, and visitors. With one exception, the spirits have been friendly, albeit mischievous. During a rehearsal in 1996, Hussey noticed a student on stage leaning to one side peering into the audience. She claimed to see a seated man darkly dressed in a hat, circa early 20th century. Additional sightings by others claimed to observe a woman dressed from the same period.
The basement of the building hosts a mini-theatre nicknamed "the black box." The inaugural showing of Lady Bird, Lady Bird in 1992, marked the beginning of unexplained sound and lighting glitches at the theatre . In that play, the author, William Rough, wrote about his mother, a Wellesley graduate, who was an original female “barnstormer” along with Amelia Earhart. Although the opening night’s program credited a character named Rob, the character was excluded from the final script. That evening the sound and lighting system appeared to have its own will despite the technician’s efforts. The same held true upstairs in the main theatre during subsequent shows. The theatre staff concluded that “Rob” felt slighted and exacted his revenge by haunting the theatre in a sophomoric manner. Consequently, a miniature bi-plane has since hung inside the sound and lighting booth to ward off Rob’s shenanigans.
However, one stark evening around nine o’clock, a Wellesley student was backstage in a secluded area setting up for the next day’s play. This student, a woman who is normally unflappable and is currently a helicopter pilot in the military, shivered when she was enveloped by a column of bone-chilling air emanating from the ceiling. Unlike the other mischievous incidents, the student detected hostile danger. Responding to what she sensed, she promptly packed up and left. To date no other hostile experience has been reported, nor has the staff concluded that ghost’s identity.
Sometimes strange events are heartwarming. Nora Hussey finished the interview by describing her predecessor, Paul Barstow, who was director of theatre and chairman of the Department of Theatre at the college where he worked for nearly 40 years. Barstow, who retired in 1996 and recently passed away at age 79, was a true gentleman of the theatre , and Wellesley’s program was his life’s passion. During rough periods Nora sometimes sat alone in the audience seeking “reassurance” from his presence, which many claim still looms. In November 2004, the theatre performed a celebration of Barstow’s life. Since directing his rendition of the musical Hair defined his career, naturally, the finale was “Let the Sun Shine.” It was accompanied by a dazzling light display in perfect synchronization with the music. So spectacular was the lighting that many adults and children expressed their gratitude as they left. Afterwards, Nora and her staff approached lighting technician Ken Loewit to tell him how Barstow would have been truly moved by the performance. Ashen-faced with his arms leaning against the control keyboard, Loewit, appearing stunned, said: “I swear, I didn’t touch a single control.”
Hussey smiled because she knew that the light display was a sign from her mentor stating that Alumnae Hall was his hall and that he would be there to guide, nurture and protect the theatre’s personnel. Since that evening, Hussey claims that no further incidents have occurred.
Eerie sounds, strange encounters, moving objects, and cold feelings of uncertainty can sometimes be reasoned by rational thought, especially in a skeptical world. Believing in something that is not readily explainable is as much a leap of faith as it is when factually based. Perhaps the brilliant lighting show was a combination of technological blips laced with wishful thinking. Maybe it was Paul Barstow’s spirit telling us that dreams, no matter how lofty, are possible if you believe in them with your entire heart. Unarguably, we could all use a little trick or treat in our lives. Happy Halloween!