Thursday, May 1, 2014

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Author, Abolitionist, Spiritualist

From Wikipedia
It's the beginning of a new month, yet the end of a chapter in Haunted History.  After several years of collecting tales from around the United States, this haunted location from Connecticut completes the first round of my Haunted America page!  Don't be too sad, though...I've already started on Round 2.  But first, here's a tale all the way from Hartford, Connecticut.

Everyone knows Harriet Beecher Stowe as the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, but few know that she was a devout Spiritualist as well.  It is these spiritual beliefs and practices that perhaps left their mark on one of several homes throughout the East that bear her name.

Today, the house is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center of Hartford, Connecticut.  Built in 1871 for attorney and politician Franklin Chamberlain and his wife Mary, Stowe and her husband Calvin E. Stowe moved in around 1873.  This would be the home where Stowe would spend the last 23 years of her life, before passing away in 1896.

After her death, the home changed hands several times until it was purchased in 1924 by Katharine Seymour Day, who was the grand-niece of Harriet.  Katharine was an artist and a preservationist and worked hard over the 40 years she lived in the home to preserve it and turn it into a museum dedicated to the history of the family.

Volunteers and staff at the museum have long reported strange occurrences throughout the home. Footsteps are heard throughout the home, particularly in the dining room area.  In the parlor, the window shades flapped up and down on their own accord.  And, it the old carriage house, which is now a gift shop and visitor center, a bearded apparition has been seen.  In response to these claims, TV's Ghost Hunters investigated the house during their sixth season and unfortunately weren't able to substantiate much.  The bearded apparition sightings were "debunked" as a trick of light, but an EVP recording resulted in what sounded like checkers moving on a checkerboard when no one was in the home.

One of the theories as to why the home is so active is a direct correlation to Harriet's interests in Spiritualism.  Allegedly, this interest began with a trip to see her brother, Henry Beecher.  Henry hypnotized Harriet in 1843, leading her to believe that she had visited a spiritual land.  After that, she sought out the guidance of various mediums, going so far as hosting regular seances in her Hartford home.

But why was so Harriet so fascinated with Spiritualism?  There really isn't any one answer, but there are a few circumstances that undoubtedly led her to this path, beginning with the strict, Calvinist ideals of her preacher father, to which she and her brother, Henry, rebelled. Secondly, Spiritualism was in fashion with the times, especially with those of a progressive view of the world and politics as a means of scientifically explaining the spirit world.  And finally, it was simply because Harriet was no stranger to tragedy, and possibly sought out Spiritualism as a means of keeping in touch with loved ones who passed on.

Harriet was married to her father's employee, Calvin Stowe, in 1836, shortly after the death of Calvin's first wife, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth and Harriet had been friends and was affected by her death same as Calvin.  Throughout their marriage, until his death in 1886, Calvin was a sickly, hypochondriac who often claimed to regularly see the ghost of his first wife.

The couple had seven children, several dying before their time.  In 1849, while living in Cincinnati, their son Samuel died of the cholera epidemic that hit the city.  In 1857, another son, Henry, drowned in the Connecticut River.  This death was theorized to really send Harriet deep into the world of Spiritualism, as she was worried that the teenager had not made his peace with God before his unexpected passing.  Another son, Frederick, simply disappeared in 1870. 

Whatever the reasons for the activity in Harriet's Connecticut home, it is still said that the home IS haunted.  Each October, the museum hosts special ghost hunting tours called The Spirits at Stowe's Tour, where equipment is provided for visitors to try to capture their own evidence of the afterlife.

Links of Interest:
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Website
Find-a-Grave--Biography and Burial Information
Harriet Beecher Stowe and Spiritualism by Al Benson, Jr.

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