Niagara Gazette — Haunted Houses are popular thus time of year — most have people dressed up as ghosts and goblins, with a few fake spider webs strewn around.
But what about a REAL haunted mansion, complete with a ghost whose earthly remains are buried in the backyard?
That’s what The Van Horn Mansion in Burt has to offer, and the public is welcome to tour the mansion, lit only with candles, from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Attendees are encouraged to bring their own flashlights, as well as recorders and cameras just in case one of the resident ghosts decides to make an appearance.
The mansion, which was built in the 1820s by Justice James Van Horn, has a long and impressive history. It was the site of Newfane’s first town meeting April 6, 1924. The home also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
But is was one of Van Horn’s sons, James Jr., who was married to the mansion’s most famous ghost, Malinda.
Not much is known about Malinda’s death — some say that she died in childbirth, others suggest perhaps she was murdered or died in an accident — but one thing is sure, her gravestone was found in the carriage house, and her bones were later located by cadaver dogs buried in the yard. Her remains, along with the gravestone, have since been moved to an area behind the house.
But Malinda isn’t the only resident ghost at the mansion. Through the years, there have been sightings of many different ghosts.
According to Rose Schaeffer, vice president of the Newfane Historical Society, and organizer of the candlelight tours, there are several ghosts that haunt the mansion.
In fact, Schaeffer said she sees or hears something every time she is in the mansion, which is often. The day she was interviewed for this article, she had seen a “tall back-shadowed man” on the front porch.
“You never come here that you don’t see these things,” Schaeffer said.
Among the ghosts that are frequently seen, in addition to Malinda, are a boy who plays in the bathroom under the stairs, three children who play upstairs, a cook in the basement — where the original kitchen was located — a maid, a servant named Samuel who is seen in the carriage house, and Mr. Van Horn Sr., who likes to stand behind women visiting the mansion and growl at them.
“Mr. Van Horn is heard quite often. One time I had a group of three women taking a tour, and Mr. Van Horn came up behind them and growled. One lady almost jumped in my arms, but I told her not to be afraid, he just wants you to know that it’s still his house,” Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer said she and other volunteers often hear singing and conversations taking place, as well as seeing the apparitions.
But why have so many ghosts decided to haunt the Van Horn Mansion? Schaeffer believes it’s because so many old items have been donated to the mansion, and the ghosts attach themselves to objects.
“Some of the things here are from the mansion, but a lot of other items have been donated, and many times, spirits will attach themselves to objects that were important to them in life,” Schaeffer said.
The mansion is filled with antiques, from an ancient grandfather’s clock and fully furnished rooms, to centuries-old wedding gowns and other clothing, to perhaps the most “spooky” item, a Victorian wreath fashioned from a deceased person’s hair.
The candlelight tours begin in the carriage house and visitors then see a short video detailing the history of the house before touring the entire mansion, including the attic and basement. It takes about an hour or so to complete the tour. Schaeffer said there are no age restrictions, but warned that some younger children might find the experience too frightening.
Is Schaeffer ever afraid?
“No. I’m more intrigued than afraid. I want to know why they’re here,” Schaeffer said.
Her advice for visitors to the mansion?
“Always keep an open mind — and a camera.”IF YOU GO • WHAT: Candlelight Haunted Tours • WHEN: 7 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday • WHERE: 2156 Lockport-Olcott Road, Burt • COST: $5 per person • RSVP: Call ahead for groups of more than four at 622-6709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.