Saturday, March 5, 2016

HGB Ep. 110 - Felt Mansion

Moment in Oddity - The Crystal Palace Pneumatic Railway
by: Bob Sherfield

There is, in South London, a tunnel that runs between the Sydenham and Penge entrances of Crystal Palace gardens. This tunnel, which was only in operation between Aug 27 & Oct 31 1864 was designed to test and operate a most peculiar type of train – one that operated on the principle of the vacuum. A carriage was fitted with a large collar of bristles and then sucked along an airtight tunnel for a distance of 600 yards. The carriage, which could seat 35 people, was propelled or sucked through the tunnel by means of a large steam powered fan, some 20 feet in diameter. Passengers would be charged 6d (pence) to take a trip, and it reportedly ran in the afternoon. An article in “The Mechanics Magazine” circa 1865, reported that “The motion is of course easy and pleasant, and the ventilation ample, without being in any way excessive. All the mechanical arrangements are so simple and must be so obvious, we imagine, that it is needless to dwell on them. We feel tolerably certain that the day is not very distant when metropolitan railway traffic can be conducted on this principle with so much success, as far as popular liking goes, that the locomotive will be unknown on underground lines." After its closure, the location of the tunnel fell from memory (it may have been destroyed in 1911), and by the 1930’s urban legends began to grow. School children would tell stories that a tunnel collapse had occurred on the line,  trapping and entombing its passengers, who remain there till this day. In 1978 a woman even claimed to have found the tunnel and seen it the carriage, filled with skeletons dressed in Victorian clothing. Using a vacuum to transport a train, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - King Henry VII Allows John Cabot to Explore Unknown Lands
by: Jessica Bell

On this Day, March 5th, in 1496, King Henry VII of England issues letters patent to John Cabot and his sons, authorizing them to explore unknown lands. Cabot wanted to be part of an expanding frontier of exploration of the Atlantic Ocean. The leaders in this enterprise were the Portuguese and the Spanish. The monarchs of both countries wanted to find new routes to Asia and its riches while avoiding the Mediterranean and the virtual monopoly on the spice trade held by the Italians. Neither Portugal nor Spain was interested in John Cabot.  As a result, Cabot turned in 1494 or 1495 to the merchants of the port of Bristol, where he settled with his family, and to the king, Henry VII. His scheme was to reach Asia by sailing west across the north Atlantic. He estimated that this would be shorter and quicker than Columbus' southerly route. On June 24, 1497, 50 days into the voyage, Cabot landed on the east coast of North America, though the precise location of this landing is subject to controversy. Some historians believe that Cabot landed at Cape Breton Island or mainland Nova Scotia. Others believe he may have landed at Newfoundland, Labrador or even Maine. Cabot claimed the land for England and returned to Bristol, arriving in Aug. The fact that Cabot had found a new continent soon became known in Europe, and early in 1498 Henry VII authorized a second expedition consisting of 5 ships and 300 men. After landing in Greenland, Cabot sailed southward, probably as far as Chesapeake Bay, but failing to find the rich lands he had envisaged and because supplies were running low he turned back towards England. It appears that Cabot perished on this voyage, though one or more of his ships may have returned to Bristol. Most historians maintain that he was probably lost off the coast of Newfoundland. Cabot’s voyages provided the basis for England's claim to North America and led to the opening of the rich North West Atlantic fishery. In 1997, to mark the Canadian celebration of the 500th anniversary of Cabot's expedition, the Canadian and British governments have both accepted a widely held conclusion that the Cabot’s landing site was at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland.

The Felt Mansion (Suggested by listener Becki)

The Felt Mansion was meant to be a beautiful and spacious place of escape during the summer for the Felt family. It was a representation of a successful life set on the shores of Lake Michigan. Death doesn’t care about family or success. It comes when we least expect it and at cruel times. And that is what happened to the Felt family. Now it would seem that family spirits have chosen to stay here in the afterlife. But there is something else here. Something eerie. Those mysterious shadow people have also made this their home. And on top of that, an urban legend has arisen from the mansion as well. Join us as we explore the history, legends and hauntings of the Felt Mansion!

The area where Felt Mansion will be located was once the land of the Gun Lake Tribe. They are officially known as the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish band of the Potawatomi Tribe. The name comes from their chief. The band claims to be a mixture of Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi. The chief was known in English as Bad Bird. The United States was trying to expand into the Northwest Regions and a band of tribes known as the Western Confederacy put up resistance resulting in the Northwest Indian War. The United States won and Bad Bird signed a treaty giving up much land to European settlement. The later Treaty of Chicago gave the Tribe land near Kalamazoo for a village, but seven years later, Bad Bird would sign another treaty giving up that tract. So there has been much turmoil here on the land.

William C. Butler came to the area and founded Kalamazoo Village. He platted out the village in 1833. The city was incorporated in 1868 and a postmaster suggested the name Saugatuck for the city and it was adopted. Saugatuck became a lumber and port city and then home to an art colony. The Arts and Crafts Movement was popular here. Today, it is considered the “Art Coast of Michigan.” It’s a resort town with white sand beaches and grassy dunes, which is what attracted Dorr Felt to the area.

Dorr Eugene Felt was born in 1862 in Wisconsin. He decided he was through with school at the age of fourteen and he left home to find work. Mechanics was always an interest of his and he got his first job at a machine shop. He learned as he went and before long he was inventing things. At twenty-two, he came up with an idea for a new calculating machine. He had no money, so he built a prototype from a macaroni box, rubber bands, skewers and staples. He took the contraption to a businessman by the name of Robert Tarrant. He liked the idea and the two men formed the Felt and Tarrant Manufacturing Company. They called the invention the Comptograph. It was the first printing adding machine. It made Felt a rich man. He went on to acquire 46 American patents and 25 foreign patents. That original macaroni box prototype is now at the Smithsonian Museum.

Felt married Agnes McNulty in 1891 and they had four daughters. He and Agnes had enough money that they could splurge on a summer home. He picked a piece of land near Lake Michigan and bought several acres in 1919. The area is so beautiful; it was once referred to as the Midwest Riviera. Much of what is now the Saugatuck Dunes State Park comes from Felt’s land. Felt wanted a home big enough for not only him and Agnes, but also for the families of their daughters. Construction began on the 12,000 square foot Georgian styled mansion in 1925 and it was completed in 1928. The roof was slate tiled. There were 25 rooms and a beautiful ballroom up on the third floor with a dome roof. Originally, the ballroom was supposed to just be an attic, so the only stairs leading up to it are the narrow servant stairs. Unique accents in the ballroom were star shaped lights. A metal circular staircase leads from the ballroom up to the Widow’s Walk.

The library was paneled in wormy chestnut and had a small brick fireplace with a wood carved mantle. The kitchen had blue and cream tile throughout with a stainless steel sink and counters. There was a large pantry and cupboards rose to the ceiling. The master suite had a fireplace, four large windows, a master bath and an enclosed sleeping porch. The closets in all the bedrooms were lined with red cedar. The bathrooms were all fully tiled with inlaid soap dishes. Showers had multiple jet streams of water. A Carriage House was built to house Felt’s automobile collection. A second floor was built above the garages to serve as a place for the caretaker to stay. The mansion really was an extraordinary home.

The story turns sad here. Agnes really never had the opportunity to enjoy the summer home. Only six weeks after completion, Agnes passed away in the mansion. Felt himself died a year and a half later from a stroke. The family kept the Felt Mansion, which was known as Shore Acres Farm at the time, until 1949. Their father’s inventions had become obsolete and the cost of upkeep of the large property was too much. The St. Augustine Catholic Seminary bought the mansion and used it to house students. Later, they leased it to Dominican cloistered nuns. In 1977, the state of Michigan bought the mansion and used it as a police building. The state built the Michigan Dunes Correctional Facility on 44 acres. Later, Laketown Township bought the property from the state for $1 and they knocked down the prison. The Felt Mansion has been undergoing renovations since 2002 when the Friends of the Felt Estate formed after Pat Hoezee Meyer and her husband Dean were hiking in the park and saw the mansion. Pat knew they needed to restore the place. Today, it is available for weddings and receptions and there are tours and other social gatherings.

The Felt Mansion plays host to more than just living guests. There are spirits here ranging from known ghosts to shadow people. But before we talk about those supernatural entities, we should discuss the urban legend that surrounds the mansion. Apparently, melon heads roam about outside the mansion. Melon heads are human-like creatures with large bulbous heads that come out of hiding to attack people. They are found in Ohio and Connecticut as well. The legend attached to Felt Mansion is that these are children who were suffering from hydrocephalus and being housed at the nearby Junction Insane Asylum. They somehow became free, but they were so damaged by the abuse they had endured that they were feral and wild. The 2011 movie “The Melonheads” features the legend. In truth, there never was a Junction Insane Asylum, but the former correctional facility has been referenced as well. The story gets wild to the point of claiming the kids killed the doctor who was torturing them and they cut up his body and spread the parts outside of the mansion. Supposedly his spirit is seen in the mansion as well as the children’s spirits.

When it comes to spirits, Agnes Felt is the most prominent one. Her full-bodied apparition has been seen in various areas of the house. She startles guests often as she just appears next to them out of nowhere and seems to want to carry on a conversation. Her disembodied voice and footsteps are heard as well. The room where Agnes died has a set of French doors. They open and close by themselves and the West Michigan Ghost Hunters Society caught it on video once.

And then there are the shadow people. Where these entities come from, nobody knows because Agnes is the only person we know to have died at the property. The shadow people are seen mostly in the third floor ballroom and they seem to be interacting with the ballroom. One entity has been seen apparently sweeping the floor and other shadowy figures sway to and fro on the dance floor. This makes us wonder about energy and time and what was captured here. Are these just replays of days gone by and not actual spirits? Perhaps seen as shadows because they are trapped memories or moments in time? Shadow people have long fascinated us because they seem to have no explanation.

From the Michigans Other Side website:
"I can say from personal experience we had some strange stuff happen while helping out the tours. Doug of Ghostly Talk Radio remembers standing outside at the mansion and seeing Tom Maat from Michigan's standing very close to someone by the large fountain. They seemed so close that Doug asked Tom who he was "getting so buddy buddy with" by the fountain. Tom told Doug that he hand't been standing next to anyone over there, but that Doug's story confirmed what he had been feeling...that someone unseen was standing right next to him. I personally saw some of the wildest shadow people on video while recording in the ballroom on the third floor. I was there for an all-night Halloween event and it was around 3:30 a.m. We had set up a night shot camera in the ballroom and sat back to watch if anything would happen on a television in the next room. In the far corner of the ballroom, which is now next to newly installed restrooms, a shadowy figure stepped out from nowhere. Everyone in the room suddenly came down with a case of the chills and goosebumps. The figure appeared to be human-like and blacker then the shadows around it. It had density. It seemed to be doing a "sweeping motion" as if it were holding a broom. Suddenly a second figure appeared next to it and then as quickly as they had materiazlied, they were both gone. South East Michigan Ghost Hunters were a paranormal team there as well and everyone tried to re-create the event by standing in the back of the ballroom, seeing if our shadows could have made the movements but nothing we did equaled what we saw on video. The shadows had appeared in a corner where we had a mock graveyard set up with tombstones and other Halloween props. I had made a couple tombstones and wasn't keen on walking over to that corner to pick them up during clean up,even with the lights on. Of course, the video went home with an investigator who later got out of the study and the video was never seen again. This was before things were digital. Even without video proof, it was an experience no one that night will quickly forget."
One of the crazier rumors we have heard that has no historical documentation to back it, is that Agnes died because she commited suicide by jumping from her bedroom window. It continues that at 1:28am every morning, her ghost is seen crossing the room and jumping from the window, but she disappears before hitting the ground. This would explain why her ghost would be here, but it is highly unlikely.

The Felt Mansion is today coming back into its former grandieur. Do ghosts roam its spacious interior? Is Agnes trying to enjoy the summer house in the afterlife to make up for not having more time while she was living? Are there such things as melon heads? Is the Felt Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!

No comments:

Post a Comment