Houghton Mansion

Article by Ryan Quinn, The North Adams Transcript - 10/12/04

Psychic seeks mayor's ghost inside Masonic Temple

NORTH ADAMS -- From in front of the Houghton Mansion at 172 Church St. in North Adams, a peaceful and bulky Victorian facade disguises the massive structure swallowed by the darkness behind it.

The building, now a Masonic temple, once belonged to Albert Houghton, mayor of North Adams in the late 1890s. On a Saturday night some 100 years later, the story of Houghton's final days was being revisited -- perhaps literally.

Interest in the building's previous inhabitants was stirred a few months ago when Nick Mantello, a Mason at the lodge for 15 years, was contacted by Cheri Revai of Massena, N.Y. Revai wanted to include the story of Houghton Mansion in her latest book, "Haunted Massachusetts: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Bay State." Revai, who was not present Saturday night, has gained popularity in her home state with two previous books in a "Haunted New York" series.

Houghton MansionMantello said that based on what he had heard from Revai and others, the building was supposedly haunted.  "Everything is 'supposedly,'" Mantello said, shrugging. "We've all heard noises. I'm open to it. I didn't believe in this stuff, but I thought, 'what the heck.'"

Mantello discovered the New England Ghost Project online and contacted its founder, Ron Kolek. Kolek, a self-proclaimed skeptic, started the group of paranormal researchers and investigators six years ago along with his wife, Janet, and their son, Ron Kolek Jr. Also making the trip from Dracut for Saturday's investigation were Maureen Wood, a psychic, and Marc Lemay, a video cameraman.

Wearing matching navy blue collared T-shirts with their compass star logo on the breast, The Project, as they often refer to themselves, set up their base camp in a room just inside the building's main entrance. Then they were briefed on the history of the building by local historian Paul Marino.

Lights blazed in several rooms while cameras, monitors, and other equipment were assembled on three tables. At first glance, the scene appeared more like a low-budget movie set than a ghost hunt. But as the equipment was checked and tested, word got around that the temperature in one of the rooms, which was being monitored by a remote thermometer, had suddenly dropped several degrees.

AC HoughtonMantello and the three other Masons in attendance seemed thrilled as the investigation got under way. They traded stories of mysteriously slamming doors and lit lights that could not always be explained by the person who last left the room.

Standing in front of a large portrait of Albert Houghton, Mantello tells a story of three deaths associated with the mansion. The Houghton's chauffeur, John Widder, was driving the family car when he hit a soft shoulder and the vehicle rolled. The accident killed Mary, one of the Houghton daughters. The following day, Widder brought a gun to one of the buildings behind Houghton Mansion and committed suicide. Albert Houghton himself died only seven days later, apparently succumbing to grief.

Mantello's version of the story is interrupted a few minutes before 9 p.m. because Wood, The Project's psychic, is making contact with the Houghton spirits in the other room. She stands in a circle of onlookers with her head bowed and a pendulum swinging from one hand.   Ron Kolek Sr. stands beside her, monitoring a hand held electromagnetic field, or EMF, meter that blinks red and beeps incessantly throughout the ordeal.   Kolek explains afterward that ghosts produce electromagnetic fields that can be detected by the meter.

Soon, Wood is breathing heavily and appears shaken as she murmurs the names of Houghton family members and mutters a few short sentences, such as "Not my fault," "I'm sorry," "I can't feel my arms. My arms are numb." And then suddenly, "I gotta get out of here." Clutching her arms and almost keeling over, she breaks off contact and hurries outside.  She returns 10 minutes later, mascara smeared from the sides of her eyes, looking relieved.   Ron Kolek Sr. said that the exchange was a "severe" and "highly unusual confrontation."

Wood, 41, who is an engineer by trade and says not many people at her day job know about her psychic powers, said she is also an empath, which means she can feel spirits, as well as hear and see them. She is asked what it's called when she channels the energy of spirits. "Pain," she chuckles, only half-joking.

She said the work takes a physical toll despite the frankincense and holy water she uses to protect her from the intense energy she encounters. Holy water, Kolek Sr. said, also protects camera batteries, which he says have a tendency to drain rapidly in the presence of ghosts. After an hour and a half, a photographer from the Transcript points out his camera battery, which typically lasts for three hours, is already getting low. And The Project's cameraman goes through three batteries as he films the group's tour of the mansion.

A full tour reveals that the building is sufficiently spooky. The basement is the first stop. In the expansive labyrinth of tight concrete spaces, pipes traverse the ceiling and naked bulbs emit a harsh white light revealing cob webs, old paint cans, and more unused pipe. Janet Kolek leaves her post at the base camp to join the group after she complains over a walkie-talkie that her television monitors are producing only static.

In the basement, Wood describes making contact with the spirit of Mary, the daughter killed in the car accident. This confrontation is less severe than the first, and Wood speaks without any sign of pain. "She didn't die here ... She doesn't want to leave ... No more pain," she said.

The rest of the house is toured via illogical hallways, some not wider than narrow corridors. Chips of plaster and drywall crackle underfoot and stacked old chairs and couches form dark shapes against the walls. Almost every room possesses a unique fireplace and several foggy, distorted mirrors.

"Do you want me to turn on the light?" someone asked as the group reached an office on the second floor. "No, we don't need light. We don't like light," Kolek, Sr., said definitively.

Meanwhile, Wood walks around the room quietly, pendulum swinging in one hand as her other hand massages her neck. Occasionally the EMF meter blinks to life, but none of the mansion's upper rooms seem to possess the energy that Wood and Kolek Sr. had detected downstairs and in the basement.

Making sense of a paranormal investigation appears to depend somewhat on the beliefs of the beholder.But for whatever good the New England Ghost Project provided, they did not likely bring any peace of mind to the Masons who occupy Houghton Mansion. Perhaps in October the Masons will go ahead with a long talked about plan to turn part of their building into a haunted house. It might not take much.

About The Houghton Mansion

The Houghton Mansion is located in North Adams Massachusetts (deep in the Berkshires). It was owned by the wealthy patriarch and former mayor of North Adams, Albert C. Houghton. On a warm summer’s day in 1911 a family outing turned tragic. Chauffer John Widders was driving the Houghton family in a Pierce-Arrow when he was forced to go around a work crew on a narrow mountain road. He hit the soft shoulder of the road, which gave way sending the automobile rolling down the embankment. Sybil Hutton was crushed in the auto and died at the scene. Mary Houghton, who was badly injured, was driven to the nearest hospital by the first doctor to arrive on the scene. She never made it. She succumbed to her injuries on the way. John Widders and Albert C. Houghton suffered only minor physical injuries.

John could not forgive himself for what happened to Mary. One-day his lifeless body was found in the barn behind the mansion; a bullet in his head (he had committed suicide). A C Houghton never recovered emotionally from the accident and died soon after at the mansion. The Mansion soon passed to the Masons, who still own it today; however they not only inherited the Mansion, but reportedly a ghost or two.

Nick Mantello, the Secretary of the Masonic Lodge located in the Houghton Mansion decided to call The New England Ghost Project to do an investigation to verify the existence of ghosts at the mansion. They agreed to conduct an investigation, but stipulated that because of the great distance they would be traveling (2 1/2 Hour trip) they would have to stay overnight. He agreed without hesitation and a date was set for the investigation.

As the Ghost Project arrived at the mansion,they were greeted by Nick, his family, Paul Marino (a local historian), several members of the lodge, and a reporter and photographer from the Transcript (a local newspaper). After an exchange of niceties, the NEGP unpacked their equipment and headed inside. There was a large room to the right with several large tables.Which is where they set up their base camp. After setting up their equipment, The Ghost Project decided to journey to the local cemetery to visit the graves of this Adams family.

Once they arrived at the graves, the local historian recanted the story of the demise of the Houghton family. They visited all the graves including that of the chauffer, John Widders. There they took a few infrared shots and then headed back to the Mansion. Once inside things began to get “interesting”.  With pendulum in hand, Maureen (the psychic investigator for the Ghost Project) soon made contact with the spirit of a man. Great sorrow overcame her and she uttered phases of sorrow and remorse. Her eyes soon became teared and her mascara began to run. Ron (the lead investigator) decided to break contact. He went to help Maureen outside, but couldn’t move her. It was if she didn’t want to leave (her words were saying yes, but her body was saying no). She finally walked out by herself. When Ron joined her outside, they discussed what had happened. Maureen told him that when he attempted to help her, she could feel what she described as heavy hands pushing her away from him. It became apparent that they did not want her to leave. After she composed herself, they headed back inside (It was going to be a long night.)

Once inside, they decided to do a sweep of the building. With Nick, Maureen, and Ron in the lead, the entourage followed them into the basement. Once they entered the basement, Janet (the base camp supervisor) reported via the two-radio that she had lost all telemetry from the infrared camera and asked to join the group, which she did. The basement was a maze of brick rooms in various states of decay. As the group passed through the various rooms, Maureen told Ron that she could “feel” something following them. She soon made contact. It was the spirit of a girl, but from the information that they were receiving, it wasn’t one of the spirits reportedly in the house. Was she lying or was there another spirit, which no one knew about. Maureen told us, she “felt” that she was pretty playful. Ron attempted to provoke her, by asking her to knock his cap off my head but nothing happened, so they broke contact.

The group then left the basement and continued the sweep of the house. They passed though creepy stairs, dark corridors, and endless rooms until they came to the lodge. As they passed through the massive doors of the lodge a feeling of serenity passed over them.It was as if they had entered another realm.The group spent quite some time there. Maureen was free from the spirits here and everyone else felt a euphoric feeling. Was this caused by the ceremonies conducted there? (There were never reports of any paranormal activity there.) Whatever it was, they hated to leave it, but there was still much to do.

Most of the group headed back to the base camp, while Ron led a small group up another set of stairs to the roof. The roof was covered with a thin layer of water with several deeper puddles. After exploring the roof, Ron and one of the Masons headed back to the roof’s door. As they walked across the roof, they heard what sounded like footsteps sloshing through the water behind them. As they turned to see if anyone was there, a rush of cold air passed by them and the EMF meter in Ron’s hand went off, but they saw nothing. They discussed what they had both witnessed and went back down stairs to join the others.

It was now after 2:00AM. One of the rooms, which had a remote temperature sensor, had a constant reading of 66.6. Ron decided that the group should try to make contact there. While the others talked, Ron went into the dining room to set things up. He got a round table and placed a candle arbor in the middle. He also set up the remote infrared camera so that it was focused on the table and took the camcorder on a tripod and placed it on a table, so that it also could record the events. Finally, he placed one of the remote temperature sensors on the table.

Ron seated everyone at the table, lit the candles, shut out all the lights, and closed all the doors to the room. Maureen placed a variety of crystals and items of protection on the table. The group joined hands and Maureen attempted to make contact. The protection seemed to be working, maybe too well, for it seemed nothing was getting through. Then they heard a banging at the pocket door. Ron’s meter went off and that familiar look of pain passed over Maureen’s face. Ron began to ask her several questions with mixed results. It seemed as if Mary was talking through her. He finally asked her it she and the chauffer had a thing going on. His meter immediately went dead and coldness filled the area. Nick began to feel something inexplicable and was getting very excited when Maureen bellowed out in a strange voice

He seemed to be fascinated by what had just transpired and had to know more. He took his EMF meter and scanned the area. There on the table, just in front of where Maureen was sitting it went off the scale. As he placed it on the table, he felt a cold spot, but the thermometer sitting only a few inches away read normal (68-70). He took his hand held laser thermometer and began to take temperature reading from different angles. They revealed that the temperature by the EMF meter was considerably different (52-54) than the thermometer sitting on the table. Had they opened up a portal or was a spirit there? Ron quickly took some infrared shots and continued measuring the area. After a while, the rest of the group drifted in and verified what he had determined. It finally disappeared and they headed back to the base camp to review the tapes. (Actually one tape, the camcorder had shut itself off shortly after the contact was made.) After reviewing the tape, they decided to spend the rest of the night in the serenity of the lodge and the night ended uneventful. The events of the night had revealed a presence at The Houghton Mansion, but who or what it is, is yet to be determined.

Other websites and stories on the Haunted Houghton Mansion

The Haunted Houghton Mansion's main website

The Berkshire's 5 most haunted places

ISIS investigation into The Haunted Houghton Mansion


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