Wednesday, October 31, 2012

McArthur House's Ghostly Child

I love detective work, but I usually find myself more frustrated than I am gratified, lol.  Here's another tale that makes for a great ghost story, but I'm having trouble verifying the details!  According to Haunted Houses of Harpers Ferry by Stephen D. Brown (1976):

In the town of Bolivar, adjacent to Harpers Ferry, there is a large old home that has been converted into an antique shop. 

A woman was touring the house with the owner one day.

"Who is that child," asked the visitor upon entering a room on the first floor.  The lady was gazing intently at a small antique bed located in one corner of the room.

"What child?  There is no child here."

The woman continued to gaze at the bed.  She saw a small child, apparently very ill.  Moments later the image began to fade, then disappeared altogether.  She described at once everything she had seen, and the owner immediately went over to the bed, which seemed to him as usual, empty and undisturbed.

Several days later the owner met two elderly women who knew the house and of its former occupants, the McArthur family.  The ladies remarked that Mrs. McArthur, a century ago, was the first woman offered a pension by the federal government for her service in the military.

Intrigued with the history of the house, he asked the ladies to continue.

They told him that Mr. McArthur, the local undertaker, operated his business in the two towns ravaged by war.  He had a daughter who also lived there with her baby.  But the child became ill and eventually died.

"Can you tell me which room the child died in?" he asked.

They named the location.  It was the same room where the visitor two days earlier had seen the phantom child.  He decided to move the bed to another area, and the child has not been seen again.

Historic research is rarely easy, especially on locations that I'm not familiar with...and don't live close enough to really access certain key documents that can make or break a story.  I hate to publish anything until I thoroughly examine all facets of research, but I do love this story...and I did find SOME background information on it!

There WAS a John McArthur and his wife, Mary (Polly), who lived in Bolivar...on Washington Street, in fact, according to the 1900 census.  And, according to this census, John McArthur did serve as a funeral director.  At this time, also living with the couple was a servant woman named Martha, and a 9 year old colored child named John A. Welcome.

John McArthur was born in Scotland around 1837, and married in New York around the year 1857.  In 1880, the family was still living in Pennsylvania, and it appears that the McArthurs did have one daughter, Emeline.  It is unclear whether or not Emeline made the move to WV with her parents, as records for her seem to disappear.  However, after John's death in 1919, the 1920 census does have an Emma Ketzner and husband living with Mary in Bolivar.

Based on this information, it is possible that Emeline DID have a child who passed away, but the question as to where this house actually stands is another mystery.

I was able to track down some information from a life-long Bolivar resident who remembers a Ms. McCormick having an antique store in a big yellow building in town.  The obituary for Mrs. Edith McCormick does mention her running an antique store in Bolivar...on Washington Street, the same street where the McArthur's lived!  Today, there is another antique store on Washington Street--Jason's Antiques.  That's a pretty big coincidence!

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