Sunday, September 17, 2017

HGB Ep. 222 - Culbertson Mansion

 Moment in Oddity - Dog Carrying Day

The Miao people of Jiaobang village in China celebrate an annual festival that is known as The Dog Carrying Day. This festival has been observed for centuries and is a form of worship of man's best friend. A certain dog is picked out to be the honoree and it is then dressed in human clothing, set upon a wooden sedan chair and carried through the streets in a parade. People sing and beat drums as the procession goes along led by a shaman. People have mud thrown at them as part of the ceremony and this is a symbol of wishing the dog health and prosperity. People use the time to pray for a good harvest as well. Why does the tribe do this? A legend claims that the first settlers to the area were dying of thirst when a dog came along and led them to a clean source of drinking water. The settlers believed this to be a sign of divinity and the dog was considered a god. We love our dogs around here, but to treat them like gods, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Agatha Christie Born

In the month of September, on the 15th, in 1890, Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born South West England. We know her today as Dame Agatha Christie. She was largely home schooled by her father and taught herself to read by the age of five. She took a likely to the piano and became quite good at playing and many thought she would be a professional piano player, but she was painfully shy and turned to writing short stories. She met Archie Christie in 1912 and they married in 1914. She tried writing a detective novel because her sister bet her that she couldn't. Her first published novel was "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and in it, her famous character Hercule Poirot was born. Miss Marple followed a couple of years later. In 1926, her husband Archie asked for a divorce after announcing he had fallen in love with another woman. It would be in December of that year that the most bizarre event in Agatha's life would take place. On the third, the couple quarreled and Agatha left the home and disappeared. Her car was found with her clothes and an expired driver's license. One thousand officers and 15,000 volunteers searched for her. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hired a medium to find her. She was found on December 14th when some employees at the spa where she was staying under an assumed name, recognized her and reported it to the police. Doctors claimed she was suffering from amnesia and when Achie came to pick her up, she didn't recognize him or know who she herself was. She would never speak of the incident and it did not make it into her autobiography.The public remains divided as to what happened. She died in 1976 and is considered by Guiness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time. She is best known for her 66 detective novels and her works have sold over two billion worldwide.

Culbertson Mansion (Suggested by listener Melody Davis)

William S. Culbertson was once one of the wealthiest men in the state of Indiana. He made much of his fortune in the dry goods business and he became a very important part of the development of the city of New Albany. In was in this city that he built his dream home, the Culbertson Mansion. The mansion is beautiful and picturesque with the inside even more stunning than the outside. Artists turned the inside of the home into a colorful abode. Today, it is a state historic site that offers tours. William had three wives and one of them is believed to still be in the home in spirit form. A tragic fire has also left behind shades of former servants. Many guests and employees have had unexplained experiences in the home. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Culbertson Mansion.

The land where New Albany, Indiana is today, was granted to the United States after the Revolutionary War. The town of New Albany itself was founded in 1813 by three brothers named Joel, Abner and Nathaniel Scribner. They had come from Albany, New York and that is where the city's name comes from. Joel built his home here in 1814 and it still stands today and is known as the Scribner House. New Albany was incorporated in 1817 and grew to become the largest city in Indiana until Indianapolis overtook it in 1860. This was the wealthiest part of the state. During the Civil War, New Albany became a supply center for Union troops, but it was considered neutral ground which eventually caused it to be boycotted by both sides. The North felt they were too sympathetic to the South and the South boycotted it because it was located in the North. The city thrived on a steamboat industry, which ended in 1860 and then plywood and veneer became its main stays. It was in the 1860s when the Culbertson Mansion was built.

William S. Culbertson was born in 1814 at "Fairview Farm" in New Market, York County, Pennsylvania. His father died when he was only ten and left the family with nothing, so young William started working for a dry goods merchant to help his mother pay the bills. At the age of 21, William left New Market for Louisville, Kentucky. He tried to get a job at a dry goods in the town, but the owner wasn't hiring. He suggested that William head over to New Albany where there was a dry goods looking to hiring someone. Culbertson had a great business sense and he left the dry goods job to partner with two other men named Downey and Keys, and becomes the business manager for the firm for about five years. He married his first wife Eliza Vance in 1840. They had eight children together.

That same year, his brother moved to New Albany and the two men started their own wholesale business. It was very successful. During the Civil War, William was active in raising money for the Union cause. He also found ways to grow his wealth. He brokered a deal to sell 50 carloads of Cannelton Mills cotton to a New York firm that would then go on to England, but the port was unable to take the cotton and sent it back to Culbertson. It turned out to be a good thing because the war caused the price of cotton to skyrocket and he made bank reselling it. He then got into banking in 1863 and decided to built his family a beautiful mansion.

Construction on the Culbertson Mansion began in 1863 and was finished in 1867 at a cost of $120,000. The house was designed by architects Joseph and William Banes in the Second French Empire style. It covers 20,000 square feet, rises to three stories and has twenty-five rooms. The mansard roof was covered over with imported tin and had a 3-foot railing. The outside of the mansion was striking, but the interior was even more magnificent. The floors were either covered in wall-to-wall carpet or hand-painted with this "faux bois" graining. The ceilings were hand painted by artists and these artists also used the technique of trompe l’oiel in several rooms to mimic paneling, molding or other textured surfaces. The staircase was carved and the fireplaces were built from marble.

Eliza had died in 1865, before the house was completed, from Typhoid Pneumonia. Two years later, Culbertson married his second wife Cornelia Warner Eggleston. She was a widow herself and the two had two children together. William ventures into the railroad business and worked to establish a New Albany to St. Louis Air Line Railway. An air line railroad was a railroad that was relatively flat and straight with a shorter route. Something we would call a bee-line today. He also became a stockholder and director of the New Albany and Charlestown Turnpike Company. By 1870, Culbertson was the second richest man in Indiana. He was a philanthropist as well and built the Culbertson Ladies Home for women who could not take care of themselves and set up a trust to continue financing it even after his death. He financed the first electric company in New Albany

Cornelia died in 1880. Four years later, Culbertson married his third wife, Rebecca Keith Young, when he was seventy. He died in 1892, at the age of 78, achieving a net worth of $3.5 million dollars, which would be about $61 million in today’s money. He is buried at New Albany's Fairview Cemetery with his first two wives and several of his children. A little rabbit hole: Cornelia and William had a daughter named Blanche who had the nickname "Scandalous Blanche." Diane had to know why she had that nickname. Blanche fell in love with a man named Leigh Hill French from the circus and her father did not approve. He added a special exception to his will that stated that if Blanche married French within ten years of his death, she would not receive her $500,000 share of his fortune. Blanche waited for a year after her father's death before she eloped with French. She then sued for her portion of the estate and won. Blanche was a strong independent woman and played a significant role in New York's suffragette movement becoming president of the Equal Franchise League of New Rochelle, one of New York City's large suffragette organizations. So, although she is remembered for her scandalous marriage, she should really be remembered as a hero in getting the vote for women.

The Culbertson family sold the mansion and its furnishings in 1899 to John McDonald. When he died, his daughter gave it to the American Legion. It then went through a series of owners and was turned into an apartment building that modified even the ballroom, splitting it in half. Historic New Albany purchased the home in 1964, and the mansion was accepted as a State Historic Site in 1976. Exterior renovations were begun in 1980 and later, the staff and the Friends of Culbertson Mansion began work to restore the original interior. The house was taken back to its Victorian glory. Photos were used to rebuild the first floor veranda and recreate the etched-glass panel in the front door. Tours are offered at the house and these include ghost tours because apparently, the Culbertson mansion has a few ghosts hanging around.

First, we should discuss the ghost lore that is connected to the house and that is because the Carriage House has been operated as a haunted house during the Halloween season and there is a story attached to that, which has unfortunately made it out onto some websites as though it were actual history. This tale claims that in 1933, Harold Webb bought the mansion for himself and his family. He was a doctor and so he set up his medical office in part of the house. Over time, people who were his patients went missing. The house began to give off a foul odor and strange noises were heard in the basement. In 1934, the police were called in to investigate when the Webb family was unable to be reached after a few days. The police found the entire family dead. The doctor had murdered them all and then taken his own life. The police also found secret passageways in the basement that led to rooms that had torture devices used for gruesome experiments. Some bodies were still in the rooms. After the cleanup, the building was locked up for thirty years and then eventually sold to the American Legion. The group restored the building and it was during restoration that reports of ghostly activity started.

While we were unable to find any facts to back up the story about Dr. Webb, there are plenty of tales about paranormal activity in the mansion. The most believable reports come from the woman who has served as the site manager for over 30 years, Joellen Bye. The news-tribune interviewed Joellen and they asked her about rumors of ghosts in the mansion. She said, "That has always been a hot topic. I have seen and heard things that I cannot explain. We are not ghost hunters or ghost crazy people. We have ghost hunters who approach us about setting up cameras at night and doing their thing, but we always have to tell them no for insurance and liability reasons." When asked if she had really experienced unexplained things herself she answered, "Yes. There are the typical things ... maybe you hear a door shut or it may sound like someone is walking upstairs when there is no one up there. My office is in the basement and at night, if I am here alone, I can hear things. We know something is here, but we have never confirmed it."

The carriage house was struck by lightning in 1888 and it is believed that everyone inside of it was killed by the fire that was started. Servants refused to go out to the carriage house because they claimed it was haunted by the souls of those who perished in the fire. The mansion itself has quite a bit of activity ranging from items going missing, to phantom footsteps being heard in the hallways. Strange temperature drops occur often as well. The first wife, Eliza, is said to walk the halls of the third floor. She did not like that William had remarried and it is thought that this is why she is at unrest. She is blamed for turning the vacuum on and off by itself. The third floor also has the children's rooms and a ballroom and these are all said to be haunted by ghosts. The third floor staircase features the full-bodied apparition of a grey-haired woman appearing in the morning or late at night. One of the children's rooms is said to carry the weight of death and one night, when a staff member was staying overnight, she claimed to catch the scent of rotting fish around the bed. She asked that the smell go away and it did. Some tour guides feel that the spirits are angry in the house because they don't like all the people coming through.

Of course, our favorite experiences to share about locations are from you the listeners. Melody, who suggested this location, shared some chilling experiences of her own in an email:  I live in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which is just across the Ohio River from the Derby City, Louisville, Kentucky, and just east of New Albany, Indiana. There are many wonderful historic sites, restaurants, cultural venues, and haunted locations in this area which we affectionately call Kentuckiana, but New Albany is where I have had some very strange experiences in a beautiful old historic mansion on Main Street called the Culbertson Mansion. I had always been an odd kid with an interest in the strange and supernatural - I remember the first book I checked out on my own in the school library was a collection of Edgar Allen Poe - and I would go to spooky historical places with my like-minded mom. One of those places was this mansion. We would go to the amazing haunted house in October that was held in the home's carriage house, which of course was all show and fun. But during daytime tours, I would experience odd things, such as the sweet smell of cigar smoke outside of the freestanding closet the Culbertsons had for punishing the children when they misbehaved. It is said that Mr. Culbertson would sit outside this wicker closet and smoke his pipe while the children were shut inside to think about their actions.

This as a 12 or 13 year old was very creepy and very interesting to me, and of course made me a bit uneasy. Another experience I had there happened after visiting the haunted house one night. They would tell ghost stories by lamplight in the parlor of the mansion. In our area, there were a lot of families torn apart during the Civil War by the differences in beliefs about slavery and politics, being that we are on the Indiana-Kentucky border. During this event, I heard two men arguing rather loudly upstairs for several minutes. By this time it was around 11:00PM or midnight and no one was upstairs. And, only one or two other people in the room seemed to notice at all. I remembered then that on an earlier tour we were told that the Culbertson brothers were on opposite sides of the war, and thought this must be the two men arguing. I found out later others had heard this on different occasions as well. Unfortunately I could only make out a random word here or there. This was strangely not frightening to me, and I remember that I just kind of smiled in amazement at what I was witnessing.

The most experiences I had were during the time we went to the house soon after the third floor was reopened after decades of being closed. If I recall correctly, the floor was full of dead birds and bird waste from years of neglect. The birds entered through a small hole in the wall. The Culbertson Mansion had started giving Ghost Tours that fall where they would give tours in the evenings with the lights turned low to approximate what things would have looked like when the house was lit by gas lamps. During these tours they would tell the usual history of the mansion and the Culbertson family, but would also tell all the stories from docents and volunteers over the years of strange things they had experienced in and around the home. The first thing happened while we were waiting in the beautiful old foyer before the start of the tour for the rest of the tour group to arrive. This was before the start of the tour so the lights were not yet turned down. Several of us were looking around and myself, my mom, my friend, and several other people were looking up the gorgeous stairway to the newly opened third floor. Several people were looking up, but only myself, my friend (we were around 12-13 years old), and one other woman saw something: A black, featureless figure of what seemed to be a woman peering over the rail and  looking down at us from that top floor! We were quite startled and especially because not everyone who was looking up saw her, and she was only there for a second (at least I think so, I think I was so scared I couldn't look long). This was before I had ever even heard of shadow people but later when I did, it seemed to fit what had happened to me.

Another strange thing that happened to me on that tour was another instance of only a few people experiencing something despite being in the same place. We were walking down the hall in the third floor and walked past a vacuum cleaner on our way into a room. As I passed the unplugged vacuum cleaner - I could see the plug away from the wall on the floor- it suddenly and briefly roared to life. I nearly jumped out of my skin! Again, only I, my friend, and the woman who sensed the figure before, heard this. My mom was very startled by my reaction, but didn't hear the vacuum come on. There are tons of other stories like these from other visitors and volunteers over the years. There are stories of the police being called because a woman in a long dress was seen walking the back second floor porch in the middle of the night. They found no one at the house. A woman cleaning in the basement would smell flowers and turn around to see rose petals on the freshly vacuumed carpet, over and over.

Not only do we have stories from staff and guests that have been reported on the Internet, but our own listener has experienced some really creepy and weird things at this mansion. Could it be that some of the family still remains in the house in the afterlife? Is the Culbertson Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Main site for information on tours:

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