Monday, February 2, 2015

HGB Podcast 25 - Rockwood Mansion

Moment in Oddity - The Legend of Gray Man

Stories of a haunting male figure that has been dubbed the "Gray Man" are told all along the eastern sea board.  The apparition has been named for its nondescript appearance.  The man is reported to wear almost colorless clothes that are drab.  Sightings of the Gray Man seem to coincide with hurricanes.  The legend of the Gray Man claims that if a person sees the Gray Man before a hurricane hits, they and their property will be protected from any harm or damage.  The Gray Man sometimes actually appears to people and warns them verbally.  Appearances of Gray Man go back nearly 200 years.  One of the earliest sightings was in 1822 near Pawley's Island in South Carolina.  Before the Sea Islands Hurricane in 1893, the Gray Man appeared to a family and warned them that a hurricane was coming.  A newlywed couple by the name of Collins were sleeping soundly in October of 1954 when a loud knocking awoke them in the predawn hours.  A man dressed in all gray clothing with a gray wide-brimmed hat pulled down low over his face was at the door and he told the couple they needed to leave, which they did after he completely disappeared right before their eyes.  Hurricane Hazel struck soon after.  The Gray Man was seen by another couple in 1989 and they knew they needed to leave because they had heard of the legend.  No one is sure why the Gray Man appears to certain people.  Would people miss out on protection if they did not heed the warnings of the Gray Man?   No one can be certain, but a nondescript specter that predicts weather and danger better than forecasters, certainly is odd.


This Day in History - New Amsterdam Becomes A City

On this day in history, February 2nd, in 1653, the New Amsterdam settlement receives municipal rights making it an official city.  New Amsterdam was established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island by a group of Dutch settlers in the 17th-century.  The entire area was considered the New Netherland Territory and New Amsterdam became the seat of the government.  Fort Amsterdam had been built outside of the settlement and was established in order to protect the Dutch West India Company's fur trade.  The fur trade was flourishing along the Hudson River, which had been named for English explorer Henry Hudson who had been employed by the Dutch West India Company.  The Beaver pelts were highly prized in Europe for the manufacture of waterproof hats.  The Dutch West India Company was feeling threatened by English interests and felt a need to protect the mouth of the Hudson and thus Fort Amsterdam was built.  Around 270 people lived in the settlement.  August of 1664 brought a big change for New Amsterdam.  The English and Dutch were at peace, but this did not stop a group of English frigates from demanding the surrender of New Netherland.  The settlement surrendered, but the moved sparked the Second Anglo-Dutch War.  In June of 1665, New Amsterdam was renamed in honor of King James II, the Duke of York.  That is why today we call New Amsterdam by its new name, New York City. 

Rockwood Mansion


Delaware is one of America's original thirteen colonies and the state's roots in American history are deep.  The city of Wilmington is not only its largest city today, but Wilmington is also the first city established in the state in an area that was once the settlement for the Lenape tribe.  Wilmington is home to a mansion that is situated off Marsh Road that is formally called Rockwood Mansion.  The mansion is old and beautiful, but it is also something else: haunted.  This home is considered the most haunted house museum in the state of Delaware.

The city of Wilmington is located on the site where Fort Christina was built in the 1600s.  The fort was originally a Swedish colony and the area was settled because of several rivers that all come together nearby.  The land had once been home to the Lenape tribe lead by Chief Mattahorn and the New Sweden Company bought the land from him in order to build their fort.  The Lenape tribe would later be driven west after the American Revolution.  The Swedish ruled this area until 1655 when the Dutch came in and took over and many of the people became Quakers.  The British would later establish their authority and occupied the area until 1778 when British troops vacated America after the American Revolution.  Wilmington would surge forward in growth during the Civil War because it was home to the manufacture of gunpowder, carriages and iron ships and also because it remained mostly neutral during the war supporting both the Union and the Confederacy.

Joseph Shipley was born in 1795 in Wilmington, Delaware to Joseph and Mary Levis Shipley.  The Shipley family owned flour mills along the Brandywine River.  The milling business was not for Joseph and after school he went into finance.  In 1823, Joseph moved to Liverpool, England where he became a successful merchant banker running his own firm and also joining with two other firms already established in England.  In 1846, Shipley rented an estate called Wyncote that had vast gardens on the property.  Joseph's nephew would write after a visit to Wyncote, "Wyncote is in beautiful order; elegantly & neatly furnished, and the grounds and lawns are such as I never saw in America. The painting of it at Brandywine [the family home in Wilmington] gives a good idea of the house, but....the softness of the verdure cannot be painted."  It would be the time spent on this lush property that would influence Joseph in his design of Rockwood Mansion.

Joseph decided it was time to retire because bouts of gout were plaguing him.  He sent his niece and nephew to look about Wilmington for some suitable land and in 1851 he purchased nearly 400 acres of farmland that sat up on a hill overlooking Wilmington.  Because of his time spent in London, Shipley had become very English in his taste and so he hired an English architect, George Williams who had designed Wyncote, and an English gardener to help him design his home and the beautiful gardens that would become a part of the landscape.  English style was very naturalistic when it came to gardening and Joseph followed those rules.  Some people may not be aware that English rules also meant that a garden was to be a private affair.  While we in America are typically use to the front area of homes being the show place, the English had their gardens visible only to those invited to the home to tour the garden.

Rockwood Mansion was built from 1851-1854 in the style of Rural Gothic Revival Architecture and the property included stables, a coach house and a kitchen garden.  As for the grounds, Joseph spared no expense.  He placed orders for over 1,200 trees and shrubs.  Several of those trees are still on the property to this day.  The Mansion itself has twenty rooms and Joseph decorated those rooms in Victorian style with blue silk damask for the curtains and upholstery, rosewood furniture and the Conservatory was described as "stunning."  Walls were painted in muted tones rather than using wallpaper.  Rockwood had the most modern conveniences of the time that included central heating, bathrooms, servant buzzer box and boilers and the farming equipment was all modern as well.  People remarked that it was as if Joseph had picked up an English estate, sailed it across the ocean and planted it in Delaware.  The only American touch was a piazza he added to the southern end of the home.  The Gardener's Monthly wrote of Rockwood Mansion in 1861:
"The magnificent place constructed and occupied by Joseph Shipley, Esq...whose name is well known in the commercial world... commenced... ten years ago after plans made in England, and under the direction of Mr. Salisbury, a gardener whom he brought out for that purpose. The entire place is improved upon the plan of natural landscape gardening so much employed in English country places...we will say that it is the most splendid specimen of the English park-like style of landscape work that we have ever seen... We feel quite sure that there is nothing of the kind equal to it, in its peculiar style..."
Joseph died in 1867 and his estate passed on to his sisters, Hannah and Sarah.  The sisters only used the estate as a summer retreat and although Joseph's servants had stayed on to look after the place, it was not well kept.  The property went up for auction in 1892 after Hannah died and Joseph's niece, Sarah Bringhurst who had helped him locate and buy the land, bought most of Rockwood.  She then passed it on to her son Edward Bringhurst, Jr.  Edward's daughter Mary inherited the property and she lived there until her death at the age of 100.  Mary passed the property to her niece Nancy Sellers Hargraves who donated Rockwood to New Castle County in 1973.  New Castle County restored the property in 1999, which included the Gardener's Cottage, Porter's Lodge and the Barn and Carriage House, which was converted into a banquet and catering facility.  Rockwood is now a museum that can be toured Wednesday through Sunday.  Rockwood Park that surrounds the estate is free to tour.  The home is listed on the National Register of Historic places.

There are not just garden and mansion tours at the museum.  Ghost tours are also offered because the family members who loved this home and lived and died here have been reluctant to leave.  Employees at the museum claim to have seen full bodied apparitions.  Philip Nord, who is the Director at Rockwood, claims that he saw a male figure sitting in a seat in the Tea Room one evening when he was doing the rounds before locking up the museum.  He asked the man to leave as he felt a chill run up his spine.  He glanced away and when he looked back, the specter was gone.

The room that had belonged to Mary Bringhurst, the daughter who had lived to be 100, is considered the most haunted in the mansion.  She does not like people in her room.  Psychics say that the energy in the room is so strong that they are reluctant to enter.  People have felt ill or passed out in the room.  Mary spent the last five years of her life on the main floor in the Butler's Room because she had become blind and crippled and could no longer manage the stairs.  She is felt in that room as well.  Photographs have captured a strange human shaped mist of what is thought to be Mary both in a hunched and crippled position and also appearing as a younger Mary.

Mary's younger brother Edward has had a lot of activity occur in his bedroom.  A child has been heard giggling near the stairway and footsteps have been heard on the stairs as well.  A paranormal investigator caught a picture of what looks to be a little boy sitting on the stairs.  A woman in a gown has been seen at the top of the stairs.  Flowers and perfume are smelled inside the mansion with no direct cause for such scents.  Lilac is the scent that is reported most often.

The basement is extraordinarily creepy with cramped hallways.  Women feel very uncomfortable in the basement as though they are not welcome.  A photograph that is one of the most compelling we have ever seen appears to be a shadow person with black eyes towards the back of the basement.  Here it is:


Ghost Finders Investigators believe they picked up a servant boy during a ghost box session.  The spirit is heard saying, "Yessum."  Other voices were recorded asking for help.  Balls of light and strange sounds are heard throughout the rest of the museum.  The most bizarre claim about Rockwood is that it has a vortex above the house.  A misty substance is seen above the house that occasionally reveals faces from within and thus it has been dubbed, "The Vortex of Souls." 

Is this beautiful English estate home to more than old furnishings and magnificent gardens?  Does the family that owned this home for over a hundred years still remain on the premises?  Is Rockwood Mansion haunted?  That is for you to decide.

*For more information on Rockwood Mansion tours:  http://www.nccde.org/431/Rockwood-Museum-Park
Or visit:  http://rockwood.org

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