The 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 ….
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.
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