The Haunted Houghton Mansion
172 Church Street, North Adams, Massachusetts
The Case of the Haunted Mansion
by Joseph Flammer
I was in the haunted mansion's parlor taking
notes when all hell broke loose at midnight.
Only a half-hour earlier a man had been
thrown up against a wall by an unseen spirit. A
woman had been touched on the face by an
inviable. An entity uttered a woman's name
The house where a tragic love story is
into her ear. Orbs and ghostly faces
showed-up in digital photographs and
flashed in mirrors. A heavy object
fell off a shelf for no good reason
right in front of our eyes!
I heard a woman moan and then
exhale loudly behind me. When I
turned around, no one was there. I
thought it surely must have been the
exhale a woman released at the
moment she died; a residual
impression from the very instant of
death for some lady who lived in this
old place a hundred years ago.
A woman across the room looked at
me and raised a dark eyebrow. "I
heard it too," she said. "It was a
"What's going on?" another lady in
the room asked me.
"We're being haunted," I said, and I
watched the woman's eyes widen as
if she was lost in the Black Forest.
With "things that go bump in the
night" busting loose all around us,
Diane Hill and I had stepped into
another ghostly adventure. This time
at the haunted Houghton Mansion at
172 Church Street in North Adams,
The CONTACT Paranormal
Conference Begins: 8:00 a.m.
Diane and I arrived at the dreary
mansion at about 8:00
a.m. for the weekend-long
I took a few shots with
one of our digital
cameras as we headed
into the building
because I thought
maybe my camera might
catch an entity
observing us: it’s
Were eyes of the
tormented dead staring
out at us in hope of
Were spirits eager for
us to send them “to the
light”? Were we being
watched by a wistful
ghost or maybe even
Is that a ghostly figure before the window inside the mansion’s upper floor?
This breathing sensation was a sure-
fire sign to us that a spiritual energy
was present. We had felt this
phenomenon before in haunted
houses and in graveyards where the
spirits are strong.
Ghosts can somehow constrict the
center of the human chest to create
a sensation that is uncomfortably
strange and definitely unwelcome.
Perhaps when the sensations come
over us it’s because the spirits are
rummaging through our emotions to
see what they can use to
communicate with us. Nonetheless,
when we feel that feeling, we know
a ghost is around us and it wants our
Other attendees at the conference
would be discussing this feeling in
whispers, I would later suspect.
Do the dead stir in the mansion’s bedrooms?
Ron Kolek of The New England Ghost Project stands beside a woman
making contact with the spirits of the mansion as she sits in haunted
chair in an upstairs bedroom. The room was once Mary Houghton's
bedroom. Many people who sat in the chair reported feeling sensations
of being touched or heard words whispered in their ears.
But the most alarming indicator of a ghost is in our midst is that weird feeling in our chests, it’s so
unlike anything else we’ve ever felt.
This tired-looking, dingy, white mansion with heavy grey ornate trim cast a general gloom, as if its
past had worn it down to a reluctant state of submission. There was much sadness in this former home
of the prominent Houghton family. We both felt this right away.
The Mansion’s Tragic History
The Houghton Mansion is currently home to a Masonic Temple and has been since 1926. There is not
much more than the Masons symbol above the stage in the ballroom to indicate that it’s a Masonic
Temple. In every way it’s just an old mansion.
But in its energetic heyday laughter and life filled its now haunted halls. It was where lovely Mary
Houghton resided with her sisters and their parents.
Mary Houghton died at age twenty-three from injuries sustained in a car accident. She had been
daddy’s girl and her father’s favorite child. Her father, Albert Charles Houghton, was the bearded,
stern-faced president of the Arnold Print Works and the first mayor of North Adams.
Albert Houghton built the mansion on Church Street to house his family in the late 1890’s. A large,
eerie portrait of him still hangs on the wall in the library. When he fell ill, Mary dedicated herself to
caring for him.
According to excellent research by Paul W. Marino, a local historian and expert on the Houghton
Mansion, tragedy struck Mary, her father, her best friend Sybil Hutton, and Sybil’s husband Dr.
Robert Hutton. They were riding in the Houghton’s newly-purchased automobile on a pleasure trip to
Bennington, Vermont on August 1, 1914.
The family chauffeur, John Widders, was at the wheel when he encountered a horse carriage. As he
attempted to drive around it, the soft shoulder of the road gave way and the car tumbled down an
embankment, overturning three times before it landed upright in a farmer’s field. Everyone but
Mary Houghton was thrown from the vehicle. Sybil Hutton died instantly when the car rolled over
her. The three men in the car sustained only minor injuries. Mary was taken to North Adams
Hospital where she died less than six hours later.
Then tragedy begat dark tragedy: John Widders, the distraught chauffeur, committed suicide the
next day by shooting himself in the head in the Houghton Mansion’s barn. The enormous guilt he felt
over the deaths was too much for him to endure.
Though Diane and I didn’t know it when we arrived, Mary Houghton and John Widders were deeply
in love. The ghosts needed to be reunited to complete each other. Mary’s torment at her death having
caused John Widders to take his own life was the source of deep pain for her spirit. This is what the
extraordinary medium Maureen Wood learned when she was later overtaken during the spirit board
session we would hold in the parlor that night – but I get ahead of myself.
Albert Houghton, Mary’s father, died August 11, ten days after the accident. It was clear to everyone
who knew him he died because he lost his will to live. He was overcome with grief by the loss of his
beloved daughter, the death of Mrs. Hutton, and the appalling suicide of John Widders. He gave up
the ghost, as it were.
This tragedy spoke to Diane and me as we entered the mansion.
The Ouija Board Session - Midnight
The light was dim, but I could see people gathering around the “spirit talking board” on the small
table in the center of the room where Maureen Wood and Ron Kolek, co-hosts of the popular radio
show, Ghost Chronicles, were seated. There were seven or eight such tables set up. The two Witches
of Salem – both males - wore black, frilly clothes and lots of rings. They had dark hair and eyes and
looked like pirates. They were overseeing the Cryptique and Ouija Board session. The sweltering
heat showed on the witches’ faces in a moist flush. At one point, Shawn Poirier, the High Witch
exclaimed, “I’m melting!” and everyone laughed at his reference to the Wicked Witch’s line from
The Wizard of Oz.
When everyone was seated, Christian Day, the other witch, led the group in a meditation. It was then
time to attempt to contact the spirits. People paired-off at the spirit boards, and a “note taker” stood
over them to record onto paper whatever letters or numbers were spelled out on the board.
Diane was seated across from a young man named Scott. She gently placed her fingers on the
planchette of the Cryptique Board as did Scott. A Cryptique Board is very similar to a Ouija Board
but it is dark blue and made in Salem, Massachusetts instead of by Parker Brothers. It is used the
same way the Ouija board is used. The users call upon the spirits to spell out words and numbers on it.
I was standing next to Diane and Scott, taking down the letters and numbers encircled by their
planchette, because I was their note taker.
“Are you a child?” Diane asked the spirit communicating to them through the board.
“WXXWR” the spirit wrote.
“How old are you?” Diane asked.
“IX”, the spirit wrote, with the planchette landing on the Roman numeral for the number “9”.
The disembodied nine-year-old child was mischievous. Diane and Scott sensed it was a girl. She liked
toying with them. This child-spirit refused to answer any other questions.
“MRIQPK” it wrote, making no sense at all. Then “OGNRY DNNK”.
All the messages were incomprehensible.
Suddenly the spirit rudely pulled the planchette off the board and onto the table with Diane’s and
Scott’s fingers barely touching as they followed it with raised eyebrows and incredulous grins.
“Whoa!” Diane exclaimed. This happened over and over again.
When the spirit talking board session ended later I would hear the participants at two other tables
report that the spirit of a nine-year old child contacted them on their boards as well.
“Kids love to play games,” Diane told me. “Or perhaps the child couldn’t spell.”
Obviously frustrated, the spirit of a nine-year old girl repeatedly
pushed the Cryptique Board planchette off the board and onto the
table. "Maybe the girl never learned how to read," suggested Diane.
The Mounting Evidence
An alarming disturbance suddenly drew my attention to
the middle of the room. Out of nowhere the medium,
Maureen Wood, the psychic investigator with NEGP, was
channeling the spirit of Mary Houghton.
Maureen, a pretty blond in her early forties, broke into a
crying fit as the spirit of Mary Houghton overtook her.
Maureen began channeling words. The Ouija board lay
under her hands. She looked possessed. Her eyes stared
straight ahead into Ron Kolek’s eyes. I could not hear
what was being said.
Then, after a few stressful minutes, the channeling
Ron Kolek later told me in a telephone call from New
England, “I understand what she goes through. I worked
long enough with her to know that something was going
on. Mary was definitely in her. I saw her eyes change and
“Something was different,” he continued. “I don’t know
how to describe it. I looked up at her and she starts
looking at me, but it wasn’t her eyes, it was those deep
eyes again, and I knew Mary had entered her. I was trying
to give her some of my strength by holding her hands.”
Click to go to the next page
Christian Day, a Witch of Salem, sets up a Cryptique
The ghostly energy
emanating from the old
mansion made our
breathing hard and
Diane and I could tell right away we
were in for a wild ride on this
paranormal roller coaster weekend
in New England. The conference was
called CONTACT – something we
made right away, it seems.
“The spirits want us to know
they’re sad,” Diane said as we
entered the mansion. “I can feel it.”
Neither of us is psychic, but as you
grow as a ghost hunter, you get to
know and appreciate certain feelings
you might otherwise dismiss.
Not all messages are audible or
visual; sensations are
communicators, too. They are
invisible like wavelengths sent to a
radio from a tower.
Spirits manipulate the airspace
around a person. The temperature
drops; or sometimes the
temperature increases. When ghosts
are around, goose bumps often form
on people’s arms. Diane and I
sometimes smell roses, cigar or
cigarette smoke that alerts us to
|paranormal conference hosted by The Berkshire Paranormal Group and presented by
The New England Ghost Project (NEGP).
We drove up the driveway, got out of Diane's SUV - that looks like a small hearse - and studied the
ominous windows of the bleak building. Then we fetched our photography and EVP equipment from
out of the back of the truck, for this would be a "hands-on" conference about ghosts. While we
hovered around the truck getting the equipment we felt the other-worldly eyes of unseen phantasms
pulling us into the mystery of the dark and foreboding mansion. As ghost hunters it was a feeling with
which we had become all too familiar.
The Paranormal Adventurers Investigate: