Phelps Mansion, Stratford

September, 2009 by Ray Bendici
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phelpsThe Damned Story: One of the most renowned cases in "damned" state history -- the original "haunting in Connecticut," so to speak -- the story of Phelps Mansion, has intrigued fans of the paranormal for decades.

The story starts in 1848 with the arrival of the Rev. Eliakim Phelps to Stratford. A former widower with grown children who had recently remarried a younger woman with three kids of her own, Rev. Phelps was looking for a home big enough to accommodate his growing brood. He found and purchased the house at 1738 Elm Street from George R. Dowell, a former sea captain who had built the large residence. The family moved in and all was well ... for a while.

On the morning of Sunday, March 10, 1850, the Phelps family returned from church services to find their house in a curious state. All the doors were open and the rooms were in complete disarray as if ransacked by thieves, except nothing valuable had been stolen. However, in a bedroom, one of Mrs. Phelps' nightgowns was laid out on a bed, sleeves over chest (like a body in a coffin would be posed), with stockings at the bottom. The house was straightened; Rev. Phelps then sent the family back to church for  afternoon services while he hid and waited in  case the perpetrators returned. What happened instead is that while he was upstairs, the action was going on downstairs -- when he went down to investigate, he found the dining room was filled with 11 lifelike effigies posed in various forms of devotion, intricately created from their clothes.

According to accounts from the time, that was the beginning of a period of very unusual happenings, manifestations that paranormal investigators now would classify as "poltergeist activity." Over the next six months, many odd things occurred, including (but not limited to): other effigies appearing; one Phelps son being carried across a room by invisible hands; other family members being pinched and slapped by unseen forces; objects randomly moving through the air; furniture overturning of its own volition; windows breaking; food materializing from nowhere and pelting the family; and perhaps most notoriously, all manner of mysterious noises sounding at all hours -- loud rappings, knockings and poundings as well as unexplained cries and shouts.

As you might expect, these activities brought a lot of attention to the Phelps house, as well as a slew of professional investigators and skeptical newspaper journalists eager to document the wild events. Despite the intense focus on the family and the house, no earthly perpetrator was ever determined.

Many theories as to the cause of the Phelps Mansion hauntings have been suggested: Some suggest Rev. Phelps had a strong interest in mysticism, and may have had a seance a few days before the activities occurred that inadvertently opened a portal to another dimension; others believe that the Phelps family was being tormented by the restless spirit of Goody Bassett, a woman who in 1651 had been hung as a witch near the property; and still there are those who think that the two of the Phelps children -- Anna, 16, and Henry, 11 -- were conduits for supernatural activity, as it seems many poltergeist cases surround prepubescent children and young teenagers.

Whatever the reason, after the beleaguered Phelps family moved to Philadelphia for the winter of 1850-51 (where they were undisturbed) and returned to Stratford the following spring, they were no longer bothered by any paranormal activities. They lived in the mansion for another eight years without incident, then sold it to Moses Y. Beach in 1859, whose family owned the house for decades without any problems. It passed through different owners before ending up in the possession of Maude Thompson in the early 1940s, who converted it into a nursing home. All was calm ....

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For a while again, it seems.

Whatever forces that had bedeviled the stately mansion on Elm Street seemed to return in the early 1970s. Staff and residents of the nursing home reported hearing strange noises and having odd experiences, while emergency alarms would go off without provocation. Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in to investigate, but like the ghost hunters from over a century before, were unable to find anything definitive.

A short time later, the house was partially destroyed by a fire. The remaining structure was then eventually demolished altogether, although mere flames were hardly enough to consume the legend of Phelps Mansion.

A well-detailed history of the Phelps family's experiences can be found at prairieghosts.com.  John Zaffis' brief account of the second haunting is at his Paranormal Research Society of New England site.

Our Damned Experience: Unfortunately, we were too young (or not even born) to visit Phelps Mansion before it was gone. We have seen Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps (no relation) trying to light up some spirits of his own, though.

If You Go: As mentioned, if you plan on visiting, you're going to need a time machine as Phelps Mansion was demolished in 1974. Its place at 1738 Elm Street in Stratford has been swallowed up by a pleasant, quiet, tree-lined neighborhood.

View 1738 Elm St in a larger map

Comments

Submitted by Adriana (not verified) on

I've lived in Stratford for ten years, and I've always loved hearing about the history of the town. I've done research myself on the Phelp's Mansion at the library and the whole story is just very interesting. I've walked down Elm Street passed the Shakespeare Theatre/Festival Theatre (Also rumored to be somewhat haunted) and it's all just housing complexes and big beautiful homes. Stratford has so much history and the legend of Phelp's Mansion is just one of them!

Thank you for posting this I really like it!

Submitted by Larry Phelps (not verified) on

I've been to Pettibone Tavern in Simsbury and know about the ghost there. This Phelps mansion story is very interesting!!

Submitted by raven (not verified) on

i live a few houses down from the mansion. i never knew the story behind it though. would anyone care to tell me the story of Shakespeare theatre

Submitted by John Benvenuto (not verified) on

my condo is just two streets down and I have heard a few things going on inside

Really enjoy your stories on Ct. having grown up in Shelton. Seems your stories of hauntings follow me around! Back in the early 70's my three sisters and a friend and myself, went to see the Warrens at the University of Bridgeport! It was a moonlit fall night and they mentioned the Phelps mansion! So being interested in this I talked all the girls into going to see it on our way home! The long way home! We got there at about 10 after having a few beers and whatever we were partaking in the 60's and 70's Ha! Anyways , the bulldozers where in the front yard! The Historic Society stopped them for the moment!We went in and frose! Seeing our shadows on a far wall! We all laughed, then I said lets go up stairs! We all proceeded like the five stooges! At the top of the stairs , we saw our shadows again! Everyone screemed! Then Laughed again! Then across our shadows another appeared ! The girls were out of the house , before I could draw a breath! Two guys that had the same Idea that we had , feell backwards down the front steps as the girls left screaming!True Story PS The Warrens told of the Family going into the kitchen and knives and forks being stuck in the walls!Dave Tottenham

PS Lived on Elm St. in Shelton also! Have land near Kezar Lake in Maine and Stephen King has a place there! He also lived for a while in Staford Ct. and mention the great theatre on Paradise Green!

Submitted by Steve(damnedct.com (not verified) on

That's very weird Jose, thanks for sharing and let us know if anything else comes from this.

Submitted by jm (not verified) on

To whom it may concern:

Two nights ago, I had a dream, just indicating me a few words "Phelp Mother´s Mansion". I just searched on the web and got here. I am once more surprised by the power of dreams. I am not yet sure if there is any special reason I connect to you guys, but it feels movielike situation.

I live in Chile and had no idea whatsoever about this story. Years ago, I had lived in NYC and once travelled to Connecticut, but I am not capable of telling where I went cause friends drove me there.

all the best,
José Miguel

Submitted by crawlingsurface (not verified) on

I am 37 yo. and spent my entire life in Stratford, CT. I grew up very close to the Phelps Mansion as did all of my friends and most of my family. When we were kids (12-15 yo.) we used to break into Old Shakespeare Theater on ELm St. and Drink Whiskey that we used to steal from our parents, or from houses that we used to break into on Elm St. We (myself and another individual at the age of 13) even broke into the old Phelps Mansion on a dare. It was all good and fun at the time. I haven't been back to Stratford in some years.
You can also go to the old Graveyard behind Sterling House on Main ST. in the center of town (Stratford Library) Goody Bassett (hanged for supposed witchcraft) is buried here. We used to frequent her grave before we ever started getting wasted and reeking havoc on Elm St. They say that her finger nail imprints scrape along the stone that lies over her resting place. I forget exactly how this was supposed to happen, as she was hanged in the center of town (why do you think that big flag poll sits in the center of town, many were hanged here).dead before she was buried. It was all good and fun and it literally scared the hell out of a lot of us kids. Elm St. was great as a kid. We could reek havoc and there's no way that we'd ever get caught. So many places to run and hide. Even the police couldn't catch us, too many open back yards to run through. Ah the good old days.

Submitted by Bill Ratchet (not verified) on

The Mansion was demolished in 1974. I was on my bicycle in front of it with friends, watching the huge wrecking ball demo the rest after the fire. If your post was in 2012, and you are 37 years old...you were born in 1975...the mansion was gone before you were born. How could you have broken into it?

Paranormal activity continued on the 3 story home directly behind the chevron station on stratford ave and main st. right behind the duchess dinner. My cousin lived in the top floor apartment. everyday she would come home to her doors unlocked. The front room was always FREEEZING cold. She tooka hinge off the door to a parasychologist and psychic and they said someone had committed suicide there, and she was instructed to return it and move out at once.

Submitted by Amanda (not verified) on

Goody Basset is not buried behind the Library/Sterling House. I've looked.

Submitted by Maggie (not verified) on

Me and a friend went by the place about 1971. Just to see it. There was police tape around the entranceway, and we were not supposed to go in, but nobody was around, it was broad daylight, and we just wanted to take a quick look. We went in the front, and there were old bed frames and stuff lying around. After a few minutes, we heard beds or furniture moving around upstairs. We figured there must be kids up there trying to scare us, but when we called up to them, no-one answered. No giggling or whispering or anything - just the furniture moving sounds. I had gone over to the staircase earlier and looked up, and there was light coming down the stairs. After the noises started, I looked up the stairs again (looking for pranksters), and this time it was pitch dark at the top of the stairs - in the middle of the day. That's when we ran like hell.

Submitted by LJB (not verified) on

My grandparents live a few blocks down from the phelps mansion, I have always been eerily drawn to that place. I remember having to stop my car once in front of it to take a quick phone call on my cell. I decided to step up on the front porch of it, but as soon as I did, the utter sense of death came over me and I left. Weirdest and yet coolest find yet here in ct.

Submitted by gbuchanan (not verified) on

You say you stopped in front of the Phelps mansion to use your cell phone. It was torn down in 1974, there were no cell phones. ?????

Some of you are, shall I say...."Bending the truth"? The Phelps Mansion was demolished in 1974, so I highly doubt that A. One could break into the "Old Shakespeare Theater" and then the mansion since the Theater was still thriving in 1974, It WAS abandoned in the early 90's but the mansion was long gone by then. Therefore also impossible to take a cell phone call on the front porch of the mansion since it was, again, long gone by the age of cell phones. I grew up in Stratford and remember the second round of "spooky stories" and the fire that destroyed most of the mansion very well. All I know is, we stayed the HELL away from that place!

Submitted by Jeff Phelps (not verified) on

This is an amazing story. As I have researched my family tree, I have found that previous Phelps have led amazing lives including my direct relationship to President Warren G. Harding whom my Grandfather and his sister gave red roses to his wife when they arrived in Portland, Or. For those that don't know, there were 2 or 3 brothers whom came over after the mayflower and went different directions as they increased the Phelpa population across the country.

Submitted by SSP (not verified) on

I first heard of the Phelps mansion upon reading the book Mysterious New England published by Yankee Magazine back in the early 1970s. The old black and white photo they had of the front with one of the Doric columns missing was spell binding to say the least. The stories of poltergeist activities etc gave the home its notorious place in hauntings Of the spirit that would play with light switches and one time by doing so alerted the family by waking the children upstairs to a small electrical fire.
One might play many of the tales off as coincidence or just plan BS But there are too many over the course of decades to just poo poo away.
Sadly the mansion was torn down and should have been preserved for at the least its architecturally unique interior.
I do concur with ECM -May 6th post about some people stretching the truth and just plain BS' ing their post here. I mean cell phones in the 70s ? yeah right.!

Submitted by Bill B (not verified) on

My own first hand experience with the Phelps Mansion. I was 17 or 18 and I read something about the house in the newspaper and went to investigate with a couple friends since I grew up in Stratford and it was only 10 minutes away.
We went at night, about 9pm and it was very quiet and spooky. I think the cellar way was broken because we were able to go right in somehow. I was most interested in finding the tunnel to the river that many of the old homes in the area had as part of the underground railroad.
There was a circular brick thing in the cellar floor that was very well cemented. That, I guessed was the entrance to the tunnel. I didn't see any other posibilities in the walls or floors.
On the first floor was a foyer that had two grand staircases coming down, one from each side of the entrance.
The second floor had a bunch of old hospital stuff like crank up beds, bedpans, etc. Which was thrown all over by wild kids who had busted up a few things.
We went back to the basement and an older couple showed up and were looking around. They were friendly and said that they investigated hauntings. They wanted to have a kind of seance and told us to be very still and quiet. We may have all held hands, not sure.
Suddenly my friend started talking very rudely and arguementave with the couple. I had never seen him like this. He was raises as a good Catholic boy who respected adults and was never disrespective. Now he just wouldn't shut up, saying that ghosts are a bunch of bullshit. It's all stupid. He went on and on and wouldn't let the man get in a word. He was really obnoxious. We soon left and he returned to being his shy, quiet kid again.

Afterword I realized that the couple was probably the Warrens. Some time later I saw their picture in the paper and realized I was right.

I'll try to find a photo I took of the front of the house.

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