The Reincarnation of a Haunted Mansion

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It takes a special type of person to own a haunted mansion, especially one as paranormally active and famous as the S.K. Pierce Haunted Victorian Mansion in Gardner, Massachusetts.

The Pierce mansion was built in 1875 by furniture magnate, S.K. Pierce in the town that came to be known as “Chair City” due to its abundant production of furniture. During its 140 year history, the 6,661 square foot mansion was witness to a variety of lifestyles. Starting out as a luxurious family mansion during the Guided Era, it took a slow decline as a boarding house through the Depression years, before landing in the hands of a wealthy, if not eccentric, artist. When he abandoned the mansion in the 1970s, the house sat vacant for thirty years until a private buyer decided to transform it into a private home once again. While the Veau family was aware of the haunting and frequently saw the ghost of a little boy race up the grand staircase, they didn’t experience the same level of terror that the next owners did. Edwin Gonzalez and Lillian Otero only lived in the house for two and a half years before the extreme haunting drove them out.

By May of 2015, the house was back on the market. People speculated about who the new owners would be. Some hoped the house would remain a private residence, while others wished it would be opened for tours and paranormal investigations. The reality landed somewhere in the middle.

In June of 2015, after only being on the real estate market for two weeks, the house was purchased sight-unseen by a couple from New Jersey.

Victorian owners - old and new

On the surface, you wouldn’t peg Rob and Allison Conti as your typical haunted house buyers. The parents of three young children, Rob is a dentist, while Allison is a former investigator for a commercial investigative company. They live in a nice house in the suburbs of central New Jersey with a family dog named Capone and a pool in the backyard. If you dig a bit deeper though, you’ll see the reason.

Rob always wanted to run a haunted attraction. The dream started in childhood and followed him through his adulthood. Once he finally had the opportunity to realize his dream, fate stepped in and handed him a major obstacle.

Due to a tragic fire at the Six Flags Haunted Castle In 1984, where eight teenagers died, the laws for freestanding haunted attractions were dauntingly strict, essentially preventing anyone from opening another haunted house of its kind in the state of New Jersey. Even though he had the mental image of his ideal haunted attraction set firmly in his mind, he pushed it aside and came up with a completely different concept.

In 2010, the Conti’s opened The Dark Carnival in Freehold, New Jersey, a carnival-themed attraction held in an 8,000 square foot open-air circus arena, along with several other structures. Visitors to the amusement enjoy a winding maze filled with terrifying clowns, as well as attractions like The Meat Grinder, The Sanatorium, and a dark hallway filled with frights known as Night Terrors.

The Dark Carnival is heavy on creepy clowns, something that impacted Rob at an early age. When he was six years-old, his parents brought him to Madison Square Garden for the circus. The clowns came into the audience, looking for a volunteer to bring onto the stage. Despite the fact that he was hysterically crying, they were persistent about dragging him onto the stage. It was a traumatic experience for him, making him now appreciate why so many people are fearful of clowns.

When the S.K. Pierce Mansion went on the market, a friend of his wife sent them the MLS listing, thinking they might be interested, knowing about Rob’s childhood dream. Rob was astounded. “It was the house out of my head and the price was relatively affordable,” he said.

When he showed the listing to his wife, her reaction was a bit different. “Absolutely not!” she laughingly told him. After some further discussion, they decided to at least look into it and see if it was even feasible. Rob called the real estate agency the next day and immediately met with resistance. Known for its haunted history after being featured on numerous paranormal television shows, as well as the subject for my 2014 book Bones in the Basement – Surviving the S.K. Pierce Haunted Victorian Mansion, many people were calling the agency hoping for a peek inside the haunted mansion. The agency was careful about only showing the house to serious buyers.

After doing extensive research into the property, the Contis finally set the wheels in motion and put in an offer on the house.The real estate agency was astounded. In 25 years of business they had never sold a house sight-unseen. Rob knew what he was getting himself into though. It was the house of his dreams.

The Contis plan to fully restore the house, starting with the outside. Restoration on the crumbling soffits will begin within the next few weeks, with power washing and repainting soon following. Interior work will include the installation of a sprinkler system and some upgrades to the electrical and plumbing, as well as restoration to some of the plaster work. After a year of renovations, they will open the house to the public.

“Everything needs to be original looking,” he said. He will restore the Victorian to its former glory, down to the smallest details, such as having reproduction iron roof finials made for the top of the infamous widows walk. He was pleasantly pleased to learn that, besides the exterior decay, the house is structurally sound and in excellent condition.

The current plan is to open the house up for daily, weekly, or monthly rentals for eleven months of the year. People who have always wanted to spend the night in a haunted mansion will have an opportunity to do so. During the month of October, the house will be transformed into a weekend haunted attraction, complete with hired actors and high-end props. They are currently working on obtaining off-site parking options, as well.

Rob has been astounded by the attention his purchase has generated. “People are already trying to make reservations, even though the opening is still a year out,” he said. He was recently interviewed by Channel 7 News in Boston, in addition to being a guest on several paranormal radio shows. “Everyone has been amazingly supportive,” he said, of the town and the mansion’s multitude of fans.

(above) New owners, Rob and Allison Conti, with former owners, Lillian Otero and Edwin Gonzales

Rob understands the way people feel about the mansion. “It almost seems like it’s a community house. We own it, but it’s our responsibility to fix the house, so that needs to be done,” he said. Will they open it for paranormal investigations? Rob is still pondering the idea, knowing that it will require different handling from a normal rental. His primary focus, for now, is to fix the house. “Once we get that done, we can consider all the other options,” he said. One thing’s for certain: there won’t be any clowns, something that was hashed and rehashed by fans on social media.

During our hour long interview, one question kept rising to my mind. I waited until nearly the end of our conversation to ask it. Does he believe in ghosts?

“I’m starting to now. I’ve never been in this situation before. It’s hard to not to because there are tons of people all telling me the same story. I find it hard to believe that hundreds of people are in on the same hoax,” he said with a laugh. I’m fairly certain his opinion will be solidified in the coming years, if the Victorian ghosts are true to form.

The Conti’s set up a website, as well as a Facebook page where fans of the house can keep track of the progress. If you’d like to read more about the mansion’s dark history, check out my book by clicking the photo below.

Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator and the author of 11 books. For more information about her, check out her website Jonimayhan.com or her terrifying true paranormal books on Amazon.com, including Dark and Scary Things, Devil’s Toy Box, The Soul Collector or Bones in the Basement.

Bones in the Basement front cover 3

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Defending a Mansion

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I am normally a very laid-back person. If something bothers me and I can’t fix it, I take a tip from my dog. I kick a little dirt on it, after marking it for later reference, and then move on.

Some things are harder than others to move on from, though. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who go out of their way to bring a little gloominess to everything they touch. When I encounter them, I try to remember that negative people are simply that: negative. They’ll find fault with anything and everything. I can usually just do the dog-thing and kick a little dirt on the situation and move on, but not when it comes to friends or family.

If you know me, you’ll probably remember that I am very passionate about the Haunted Victorian Mansion in Gardner, Massachusetts. I visit any chance I get. I am peculiarly drawn there. I just can’t seem to stay away.

A lot of my fixation involves the house itself. Built in 1875, the Second Empire Victorian style mansion is beautiful in detail and rich in history. The nine-foot tall mahogany doors lead to a luxurious interior that was state-of-the-art for the late 1800’s. The house boasts two cisterns that once collected rainwater from the slate roof, providing the occupants with running water. The hand-carved moldings and cornices speak volumes of a time when houses were built slowly and lovingly. A sophisticated call-system was wired through the house, allowing people on one floor to communicate with those on other floors. Famous people frequented the mansion back in its heyday. Minnesota Fats played pool there. The likes of Bette Davis, PT Barnum, and Norman Rockwell were frequent visitors. President Calvin Coolidge even spent time there. Walking through the doors is like traveling back in time.

The house is owned by two of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Edwin Gonzalez and Lillian Otero are very warm and welcoming. From the first time I met them, and they greeted me at the door with hugs, I knew they were special people. Over the years, they’ve collected a group of friends, who fondly refer to themselves as the Victorian Mansion Groupies. We help out with investigations and fund-raisers, and anything else that needs time and attention. Heading up this group is Marion Luomo, the Victorian Mansion Caretaker. She tirelessly tends to the house while the owners are away, checking to insure the house is in good order, and often opening up the house for investigations and tours. She is often joined by Tina Aube, who is just as addicted to the Victorian Mansion as I am. Our friend, Sandy MacLeod joins us on occasion, as does NE POST founder, Christopher Cox, and co-founder, Christina Treger Achilles, who are pooling resources for repairs to the house.  Together, we all have a mission: to save the Victorian.

The Victorian has fallen on tough times. 138 years of freezing and thawing, pigeons, hurricanes, and blizzards, has taken its toll on the house. The gables are pulling away from the building, and the slate roof has been leaking for many years, threatening the entire structure. Chris Cox brought in a contractor for an evaluation, and the news wasn’t good. If the house isn’t repaired, it might not last another year or two.

Anyone who owns an old Victorian knows they can be money pits. When Edwin and Lillian first moved in, they spent money hand-over-fist, fixing the plumbing, trying to get the fireplaces to work safely, updating the electrical, and a host of other repairs. Any money they received from tours and investigations went almost directly to the repairmen. When the house became too paranormally active to live in, they were forced to move closer to Boston, where they share a small space at Lillian’s sister’s house.

At this point, they could have sold the house. They could have put it on the market and taken a financial hit for all the money they’d already invested into it. But, like many of us, the house had a hold on them. They loved it and wanted, if nothing else, to save it from total ruin. They just couldn’t walk away and leave it up to fate.

Nearly every penny they receive from investigations and tours goes right back into the house. Besides the expensive repairs, they have to pay the mortgage, the electric bill, town taxes, and insurance. They do this for a house they can’t even live in, while maintaining a separate residence nearly fifty miles away. When the house appears on a paranormal show, it brings more interest. More people want to tour it or investigate it, bringing more money for the repairs that are desperately needed.

And some people have criticized them for it.

They say they’re exploiting the spirits, while raking in tons of money and enjoying their fame and fortune. Those people have never seen Edwin and Lillian drive up to the event in their old Honda, or understand that they now live in a room that is smaller than any one room in the mansion they own, but can’t live in. They’ve never seen them break down in tears when talking about the events that led them to flee from their own house. They’ve never seen the love in their eyes as they talk about their beloved Victorian.

As Edwin recently said, “Who would do that? Who would buy a house they couldn’t live in?”

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course. Some say the house is filled with ghosts, while others proclaim it to be ghost-free. If you lived it from the inside-out, you would probably have a different take on the matter. Imagine being pinned to your bed with invisible hands, waking up to find a woman standing by your bedside crying. What would you do if your doors slammed on their own accord, while you listened to footsteps walk around your bed while you tried to sleep? What if you were overtaken by something you couldn’t explain, waking up days later with little knowledge of what transpired? Would you really want to stay there?  I’ve spent the night there twice, and I can tell you that it wasn’t a pleasant experience. While I love the house dearly, I’d never want to live there. If I had the opportunity to seek help, or at least have some of my questions answered, I too would turn to people who could possibly offer assistance. The problem is: who do you believe?

Not all the people invited to the mansion are there to investigate. Some have been called in to help. Multiple people have blessed and cleansed the house. Others have offered answers to some of the questions plaguing the owners. In the paranormal field though, answers are never cut and dried. Since there aren’t any rule books on the subject, all of the information being provided to the owners has been varied, and not always helpful. Some have caused more harm than good. Others have tried to fix this, only to make it worse. For the moment, the house is much calmer than it’s been in years, but that isn’t guaranteed to last. As we all know, change often happens quickly and without warning.

So, please…be more considerate. Remember that this is a house that needs help. Sponsoring paranormal events brings money which is needed to fix the house. If the house isn’t repaired, it has only a few years left before it will fall into a swift decline. It is a piece of Gardner history, a treasure that is precariously hanging by its last hope. If having it featured on paranormal television shows helps this house stick around another hundred years, what harm is it doing to you?

If you have ideas that could help Edwin and Lillian, by all means, please share them. We all love that house and want nothing more than to see it transformed back to its former beauty.

Now, I’m going to kick some dirt over this and move on. I have another book to write.

Joni Mayhan

Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator, as well as a free-lance writer. Please check out her paranormal thrillers on Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com. For more information about the author, please see her website: Jonimayhan.com

The Soul Collector – The true story of one paranormal investigator’s worst nightmare

Angels of Ember trilogy

 Lightning Strikes

Ember Rain

Angel Storm

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For more information about the SK Pierce Haunted Victorian Mansion, please see their website: hauntedvictorianmansion.com or find them on Facebook.

http://hauntedvictorianmansion.com/index.html