Houghton Mansion's Haunted History

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Nestled in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains is one of New England's most mysterious and haunted buildings -- the Houghton Mansion.

Built by the first mayor of North Adams in 1890, the structure at 172 Church Street is now home to a Masonic Temple, though the secret society isn't the only resident. The building allegedly holds the ghosts of a suicide victim; A.C. Houghton himself; and the spirit of his daughter Mary, who died in a tragic car accident August 1, 1914.

Albert Charles Houghton was born in 1844 in nearby Vermont, but made his fortune as president of Arnold Print Works, the largest employer in North Adams. The building, still intact, now holds the Museum of Contemporary Art.

In 1905, when his health began to fail, Houghton resolved to cut back, but at 61 years of age, he still made his business affairs his top priority. It was during this difficult time that his daughter, Mary, announced she would never marry. She would instead devote her life to caring for her father.

The Accident That Caused it All
In the spring of 1914, Houghton purchased his first car, a Pierce-Arrow seven-passenger touring vehicle. He figured the rides in the country would be relaxing. On August 1, Houghton asked his newly trained driver, loyal servant John Widders, to bring the Pierce-Arrow around for a trip to Vermont. In the car that day was A.C., his daughter Mary and family friends Dr. and Mrs. Robert Hutton of New York with their daughter, Sybil.

About 30 minutes later, the Pierce-Arrow was in Pownal, Vermont, climbing a street now called Oak Hill Road. A team of men and horses were parked on the right-hand side of the road working on repairing the surface. Widders pulled Houghton's car over to the left in an attempt to drive around the construction crew. The car's tires hit a soft dirt shoulder, which sent the vehicle tumbling down a steep embankment. All but Mary Houghton were thrown from the car. Mrs. Hutton was killed instantly when the Pierce-Arrow rolled on top of her. Mary, though, suffered serious injuries and died a few hours later at North Adams Hospital.

The Houghton's trusted servant couldn't forgive himself for the deaths. Early in the morning of August 2, Widders went down to the basement and shot himself, taking his own life.

A.C. Houghton suffered no serious physical injuries during the accident, but the tragic events broke his heart. He died 10 days after the crash that took his daughter's life.

The Masons Move In
The mansion remained with the Houghton family until 1926 when A.C.'s daughter Florence and her husband sold the building to the Freemasons.

The Masons, shrouded in mystery, hold their meetings and rituals within a temple they built attached to the mansion. In some of the old hallways are enigmatic, yet frightening symbols of their past: a bed of nails, and an electric chair covered in dust.

Many of the Masons at the Houghton Mansion have witnessed supernatural occurrences. Some have speculated that A.C. Houghton never left his favorite home, and the spirit of his daughter Mary is still staying true to her word of caring for her father forever.

There are theories that suggest altering a building can stir up paranormal activity. Because of the home's size and age, the building is in a perpetual state of remodeling and upkeep as volunteers work to preserve the historic home. Since the Masons built their temple, the building has never been at rest. And neither have the spirits who still roam the rooms, halls and basement.

Paranormal Activity Reported
A Mason at the lodge for 28 years has never seen anything, but he's definitely heard a few unexplained things. His most profound experience occurred on the second floor in the records room. He and his wife were the only two people in the building at the time. As he was looking through some old records, he and his wife heard what sounded like the rustling of papers somewhere else in the room. Then the rustling noise grew louder, and both he and his wife ran out of the building. On another occasion, the Mason heard the side door slam on its own when no one was there.

Another paranormal witness is a Mason that has been going to the Houghton Mansion lodge for the last 20 years. He heard a lot of the stories but remained a skeptic until recently. He and another man were in the lodge on a night when two feet of snow had fallen. They heard the distinct sound of the side door open and then shut, then heard someone stomping their feet like they were getting the snow of their boots. Then they heard heavy footfalls come down the hall, but no one came around the corner. They called out, went to look and no one was there. They checked the side door and noticed that there were no tire marks in the driveway and the wind had driven the snow up on the steps -- there were no footprints in the snow. The Mason looked all around the building and knew there was no living person who made those noises. He became a believer that night.

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