October – and therefore our annual Blogtoberfest here at The Jump – is upon us.
There’s nothing like touring an old mansion to get into the spirit of things, and I got to do just that the other day at Ventfort Hall in Lenox. Ventfort Hall is one of the Gilded Age mansions – palatial, private homes built in U.S. by some of its richest families circa 1870 to 1900. You might recognize the facade from The Cider House Rules and its posters:
It has a fairly storied history, and therefore plenty of supernatural speculation surrounds the property. Several packs of ghost hunters have passed through, including the Syfy Channel‘s troupe and a few hired on by PBS.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, though, Ventfort Hall has undoubtedly had its share of intriguing inhabitants. It was built in 1893 for George and Sarah Morgan, sister of J. P. Morgan (George and Sarah were distant cousins; hence the same last name).
Our tour guide let us know that this was very much “Sarah’s House…” she envisioned it, oversaw its construction, furnished it, and presided over it. Her reign was not so long, though, as she died in 1896 – I can see why she might want to hang around a little longer in the afterlife.
After George’s death in 1911, the house was rented for several years to Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt, whose husband died years earlier in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. It changed hands a few times after that between private owners, then served as a dormitory for Tanglewood music students, a summer hotel, a ballet camp, and housing for a religious organization that didn’t always have the best relations with its neighbors.
That list of boarders has lead to haunting accounts including whispers, opening and closing doors, and an unknown woman seen descending the main staircase. Ventfort Hall even hosts its own ghost hunts from time to time, but its standard tour has a smattering of spook on its own.
The Morgans were fans of international architecture, picking up items they loved wherever they went. This People Under the Stairs heating grate, for instance, is just one part of an entire Italian threshold which the Morgans ‘borrowed’ on one such trip and installed in their library.
On the second floor, dining rooms are set up as though a Gilded Age soiree is about to start, which definitely lends an eerie feel. In one bedroom, preserved butterflies under glass are on every wall, and a wedding dress stands quietly by a dresser.
Tinted glass in the bathroom, meant to ease the harsh morning light after a night of garden-partying, creates an ethereal look.
And, of course, the 19th Century child’s room has the prerequisite number of scary dolls.
The bulk of the tour focuses on the restored parts of the mansion, but I was able to sneak a look into a long untouched section of the house, where my urbex instincts took over for a minute:
I’ve included some of the more forboding shots from the tour above, but you can view the entire set here.