Thursday, July 30, 2020

HGB Ep. 347 - Griggs Mansion

Moment in Oddity - The High Line or Death Avenue

Above 10th Avenue in Manhattan on the West Side lies a train line known as the High Line. Today, it has been transformed into a beautiful park, but the history behind this rail line lead this lane into being nicknamed "Death Avenue." There was a need in the city for a freight train to carry goods to and from the warehouses and factories on the West Side. There was just one problem. This is Manhattan, so it was incredibly busy and crowded. Running a train through cross streets, traffic and pedestrians would not be a good idea. But that didn't stop the New York Central freight line. They built rail lines down the middle of 10th and 11th Avenue in 1846. Shortly thereafter, the maiming and deaths began. To try to help the situation, the West Side Cowboys were born. These men would ride on horseback, waving red flags and lanterns, in front of the trains to warn people that the train was coming. It was a dangerous job and not as effective as it was hoped it would be. By 1908, well over 430 people had been killed by the trains. Some tracks were moved underground and eventually this set of tracks was moved above the street and named the High Line. The last train ran here in 1980. We can only imagine that witnessing a cowboy riding down the middle of 10th Avenue in Manhattan, waving a flag and screaming "The train, the train" while a locomotive rumbled behind him, certainly was odd!

This Month in History - World UFO Day

In the month of July, on the 2nd, in 2001, the planet started observing World UFO Day. UFO stands for unidentified flying object and this particular day was founded by UFO hunter Haktan Akdogan. The day is meant to help spread awareness that there may be life in existence on other planets. The hope has been that enough pressure will get international governments to come clean about what they have in their UFO files. People celebrate the day by hosting watch parties  where people spend hours watching the skies for weird anomalies. The date was picked to commemorate the rumored crash of an UFO in Roswell, New Mexico on July 2, 1947. Some people choose to observe World UFO Day on June 24th instead because this is when the first ever official report of a UFO in the United States was made by avaitor Kenneth Arnold. Either way, make sure next year you have your lunar cocktails ready and your bags packed because who won't be ready for a trip off this planet? As long as there are no anal probes involved!

Griggs Mansion (Suggested by: Sharon Remackel)

The Griggs Mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota was originally built for wealthy merchant Chauncey Griggs in the 1880s. This house stands on a street full of historic homes and although it is quite beautiful, it has been through several hands. No one knows why it changed hands so many times, but it seems as though no one managed to live there for more than a couple of years, save for an art school that took up residence for twenty-five years. Could that be why this home is rumored to be one of the most haunted houses in the state? Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Griggs Mansion.

St. Paul is one of Minnesota's biggest cities and has a strategic position along a deep bend of the Mississippi River. This was originally land inhabited by the Ojibwa and Sioux tribes and it would be the Sioux tribe that would make a treaty with Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike in 1805 that would give the US possesion of the land. Fort Snelling was built here first, followed by settlers like tavern owner Pierre Parrant whose Pig's Eye Tavern gave the settlement its name, Pig's Eye Landing. Parrant was one of the settlement's more notorious residents and was a whiskey salesman with a crooked eye and a big troublemaker. Catholic missionary Lucien Galtier arrived in 1841 and built a log chapel that he dedicated to the apostle Paul and the town would take on the name St. Paul. This town would become the capital city for the Minnesota Territory, which officially became a state in 1858. The Northern Pacific Railway helped the city to grow and soon St. Paul was the gateway to the Pacific Northwest. As the Depression took root in the 1920s, gangsters made St. Paul their safe haven. St. Paul continued to grow and is the second largest city in the state. Chauncey Griggs arrived in the city in 1856 and would build his mansion here in 1883.

Chauncey Wright Griggs was born in Connecticut in 1832 to a family that was known as good New England stock. It as written of the Griggs, "In whose tombs scandal never slept." By the age of fourteen, Griggs was already working as a clerk in an office while he continued his education. He decided to go into teaching initially, but found it boring and decided to move to Detroit and go to business college. He found work as a clerk in a bank there after graduating and was soon talking about business pursuits with some of the clients. The furnishing business is where he started his mercantile pursuits, but by 1856 he decided pursuits further west would be more prosperous and he was right. Griggs was only twenty-two years old at this time and he set up a general store in St. Paul. He knew that railroads would be needed, so he set his sights on promoting the building of the railroads as a contractor and was eventually a coal and lumber merchant.

Through all this, Chauncey had a girl back home in Connecticut, Martha Gallup, and he brought her out to St. Paul and married her in 1859. They would go on to have five children. Griggs and Martha had just set up home when the Civil War broke out and he joined the Third Minnesota Infantry where he was soon promoted to Captain. He fought in Nashville and helped General Grant with his pursuits in Vicksburg. In 1863, he became ill and had to resign from his post. He recovered and not only kept up his business pursuits, but entered politics serving first for two years in the State Legislature and then seven years in the Minnesota Senate. The Griggs had amassed a small fortune and decided to build a grand mansion next to Grigg's business partner, Addison Foster, on Summit Avenue at number 476. Eventually, Summit Avenue would be filled with Victorian mansions and today is the longest stretch of Victorian-era homes in the United States. On this 4.5 mile stretch, of the 440 original homes built here, 373 still stand. *Fun Fact: Frank Lloyd Wright called the street "the worst collection of architecture in the world."*

The four-story Griggs Mansion was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style by architect Clarence Johnston, one of Minnesota's most prolific architects. The mansion was constructed from Bayfield brownstone, which is found in Wisconsin along the Lake Superior coast and is a quartz sandstone. There are these wonderful turret like parts of the structure and arched windows. The property included a carriage house and cost $47,000 to build and was completed in 1885. There were twenty-four rooms and all floors had high ceilings causing people to describe the rooms as cavernous. The interior also had beautiful wood-paneled walls and stain glass windows. The Griggs didn't live in this house for very long. After four years, the family decided to relocate to the West Coast. They just missed out on the streetcars finally arriving just south of Summit Avenue, granting access to downtown more easily.

In 1910, the house was heavily damaged in a fire that nearly gutted the entire mansion. A New York interior decorating company restored the house and updated it for around $6,000. Roger B. Shephard bought the house and when he died, his family donated the house to the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art. This was in 1939. At this time, the front dormer was replaced by a skylight to bring more light into the painting studio. The school remained at this location for twenty-five years until a new center was built. Carl Weschke (Wesk) was a publisher of occult books under Llewellyn Publications and he owned the house throughout the 1960s. (Llewellyn was his middle name.) He is considered the father of New Age and grew up with spiritualist grandfather that heavily influenced him. For a time the house was broken up into apartments and today is a private residence. We're not sure how many people actually owned this home, but it really seems to have been like a "hot potato" as so many people have described it with families spending a lot of money hiring staff and buying furnishings and then moving out very quickly.

There are reports of the mansion having at least six distinct spirits roaming its rooms. Sharon had written us about Griggs Mansion, "Have you ever done a cast on the Griggs Mansion in St. Paul, MN? It’s considered to be the most haunted house in St. Paul, possibly, even in Minnesota. The reason I’m asking is that in 1963, I think, I spent the summer working as a Jill of all trades for the summer. My first real job. I did clerical work, clean up work and whatever needed to be done. That was the last year that the St. Paul Art Center was there. After that, the mansion was bought by Carl L. Wescheke who was a publisher of occult books and the founder of Llewelyn Publishing, which publishes FATE magazine. He was there for a couple of years. The home has an EXTENSIVE history of haunting and there’s about seven or eight spirits inhabiting it. I experienced several 'haunted' things during that summer, I have always been 'sensitive' to the paranormal. (remember, playing in cemeteries - lol). So didn’t allow it to affect me too much. Also, at this time I had no clue about the reputation of the home. Going forward to the early 80’s I found a book called the Haunted Heartland which had the Griggs Mansion in it. Imagine my shock when I found out about it’s reputation!!! It also explained some of the strange things I encountered while I was there, that summer."

At one point, Carl Weschke had asked a university student to watch his house while he was away in February of 1965. On an evening during that time, a neighbor made a frantic call to the police department claiming that he could hear cries coming from inside the Griggs Mansion next door. Patrolman Jerry Dolan and his partner were sent out to investigate. When they arrived at the house, it was dark and quiet. They checked the front door and found it locked, so they went around to the back door. It was unlocked and they pushed it open. As they entered the house, they swept the room with their flashlights and found a disheveled young man crouching in a corner, overcome with fear. He was shivering uncontrollably. Then all of a sudden they heard a howling coming from somewhere in the house. The officers did a quick search of the house, but found no one else in the house. Officer Dolan claimed that his hair stood on end the whole time. They  wrapped the young man in blankets and loaded him in their patrol car. They asked him what happened and he cried out, "I have seen death!" They took him to the hospital where a doctor found that he had nothing physically wrong with him, but that he was in a state of deep shock.

Nick Woltman wrote in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press in 2016 about three reporters from the Pioneer Press who tried to stay overnight at the Griggs Mansion back in 1969, "They were invited by the house’s then-owner, a local publisher of books on the paranormal named Carl Weschcke, to investigate rumors that it was inhabited by ghosts — but they fled before dawn after hearing what sounded like footsteps approaching their room. 'We all agreed on one thing,' they wrote. 'There is no prize on earth that could get us to spend a single night alone in that great stone house.' The article also shares the owner at the time, Carl Weschke's, experiences. Mr. Weschke had the home renovated, which included replacing the windows. After that, one window kept opening by itself. Weschke finally got frustrated and nailed the window shut. The next morning, he found the window open again. He had told Woltman that he was in the library when he saw a man standing in the doorway and explained, "Neither of us moved. There was no sound. We just kept standing there face to face. He wore a dark suit. His face was long and thin. His hair was bushy and white. He seemed to have an expression of surprise when he saw me.” And then the man just faded away. Once when he was on the back staircase, he felt himself being picked up and tossed in the air.

This man was seen by many people in the house. Another person who saw him was Dr. Delmar Kolb. In the early 1950s, Dr. Kolb joined the art school staff and he needed a place to stay, so the school allowed him to move into an apartment down in the basement. One night he awoke with a start when he felt two cold fingers pressed to his forehead. He had broken into a cold sweat too. Kolb flipped on the light and saw a blue flash or streak that disappeared. Two nights later he was startled awake once again and could make out a figure at the end of his bed. This looked to be a man of average size, dressed in a black suit and top hat. We're not sure if there was a light on somewhere that enabled him to see this, but we wouldn't be surprised since he had the scary experience two nights before. At first, the teacher thought that maybe this was someone who had broken into the house, but when it turned and walked into the brick wall, he knew he had just seen a ghost. This was not the only report of this man in a suit and hat. Several people claimed to have seen him.

We went back and found the 1969 article from the Pioneer Press that the reporters wrote relaying their experiences in the house. They had brought a psychic named Roma Harris with them. He said, "There has been much sorrow here, a lot of suffering … things have been done that shouldn’t have happened. There was a general — or something — here. I see a blue uniform with lots of gold on it." Roma also felt the passing of the maid at the stairs and said, "Someone was pushed and fell here … the police were called … the person was permanently injured … but it was an accident." He continued, "There is so much activity here … so many who have lived here. The house has a heaviness about it — like a ball and chain." He left and the reporters stayed. Throughout the night, the men felt a sense of dread, especially near the staircase. Around 1:20 a.m.,  there were five distinct thumps like heavy footsteps and then silence. At 3:35 a.m., the men heard a creaking sound that was not like the house settling, but rather sounded like soft footsteps. These were on the stairs. They stopped after a minute. One reporter ran over to the stairs and saw no one. At 3:45 a.m., there were some squeaking sounds on the stairs as though someone were walking down or up the stairs. They packed up at 4 a.m. and decided they would never return again.

One of the other spectres thought to be in the house might be Chauncey Griggs himself, which is odd since he didn't live in the house very long and didn't die here. As we just shared from the Pioneer Press article, Roma saw a man in a blue uniform. Many people believe that this was Griggs in his officer uniform. There was a gardener employed here at some point named Charles Wade. He was very dedicated to his work and could be intense. Wade often used some of the books in the library to help him in his gardening efforts. When he died, people believed his spirit returned to the house and now occasionally flips through the books in the library trying to continue his work on some unfinished business. There are also claims of a teen-aged girl named Amy being in the house. No one knows at what point she lived here, but she had played the piano in the mansion. And she may be doing that still in ghostly form. Roma had claimed to feel this girl as well. Three students moved into the basement apartment and one of them saw an apparition too, only this one was not a man in a black suit. This was the head of a child floating above his bed. Many students at the school claimed to feel as though something were watching them or hovering behind them.

One of the more well known spirits here is said to belong to the maid that the medium Roma had claimed he felt at the stairs. But the story about her doesn't seem to include an accident on the stairs, but rather a suicide. She had a romance that didn't end well and she went into a depression. This was in 1915 and she made the horrible decision to hang herself off the fourth floor landing of the stairs. Shortly thereafter, she started appearing to people in the house. Two of these people were a servant and a butler in the fourth floor hallway. Many people have a feeling of foreboding when they climb the stairs, especially near the fourth floor. Could this be one of the entities that the reporters heard during their investigation?

Other experiences that have been reported are people being shaken in their beds, shadowy apparitions, rasping coughs from empty rooms, light bulbs shattering, bags falling off shelves and jumping across the floor and the feeling of something unseen walking by them. With all these stories, it's hard not to believe that something strange is going on inside the mansion. Is the Griggs Mansion haunted? That is for you to decide!

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