Friday, January 2, 2009

Raynham Hall - No, the One in New York!

Raynham Hall from the Raynham Hall Museum

Raynham Hall is the former home of the Townsends, one of the founding families of the Long Island town of Oyster Bay. Now a museum with 20 rooms, the building is a showcase of the community from its revolutionary war days in the 1770s through to the height of its fame in the Victorian Era in the 1870s.

It was built in 1740 by the Townsend family, and has a colorful history dating back to the Revolutionary War. The Townsends were the backbone of a Yankee intelligence group known as the Culper Spy Ring. Their home was used by the British to quarter troops, and the Townsends, being merchants, had free rein of the waterfront, so information was easy to come by and could be gotten out to the Revolutionary commanders by boat.

They once alerted George Washington about a planned British attack on the French fleet landing at Newport, Rhode Island. Once informed of the plan, Washington was able to bluff the enemy into believing he would attack New York City. The British had to withdraw their forces to defend the Big Apple, and the French were able to anchor without interference.

Its first ghost was due to the patriotic diligence of the family. A redcoat Major, John Andre (who was a friend and maybe more of Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold's wife), boasted of a letter he received from Arnold. He was ready to surrender his troops at West Point to the British for the right price. The scheme was overheard by one of the Townsend daughters and sent along to Washington, who foiled it before it began.

When Arnold heard that Andre had been captured, he skedaddled to the Vulture, a British warship. The Americans hanged Andre as a spy, but Arnold was never caught. Andre's spook has been seen on horseback roaming the grounds of the estate, perhaps still trying to absorb the lesson of keeping mum.

The Brits helped create another haunt of the home, too. John Simcoe, the commander of the unfortunate Andre, kept a lover in the mansion, Sally Townsend (OK, so they weren't all loyal to the colonial cause).

It's said Sally's spirit still remains in the home, and that her bedroom is frigid to this day, requiring the staff to don a sweater before going into it. Psychics claim the room is occupied by an unhappy spirit. It doesn't take an overdose of ESP to ferret that out.

The aroma of cinnamon and apple have been sniffed in the house, usually by staff near the stairwell by the kitchen. This manifestation is a good omen; it means that the "Ghost of the Kitchen" has accepted and welcomed you into her home. Her spook has been seen on occasion in the kitchen, although she's more often announced by scent than sight.

That's not the only smell associated with the house. In the front lobby, the aroma of pipe smoke and a woodburning stove are often encountered. The area was once a kitchen area of Raynham Hall.

The old servant quarters features the aroma of roses, and shadowy figures have been reported there. They say good help is hard to find, but heck, here you can't get rid of them!

And speaking of help that never left, the ghostie of 1860's laborer Michael Conlin has been seen in the garden and inside the house. He wears a heavy coat with brass buttons, and sometimes materializes as half a spook, with nothing below the torso.

When tour photos are developed, particularly from the children's nursery and sometimes in the master bedroom, orbs often appear. EVPs pick up screams and other sounds not heard when the investigators were present, especially in Mary Townsend's room.

Raynham Hall has been featured on a number of television programs on paranormal activity, and the help and many visitors accept that it's haunted. But hey, every thing's not so spooky there.

The Townsend home is also the the site of the first documented Valentine in the United States, a love letter from Lt. Col. John Graves Simhoe to Sarah Townsend dated February 14, 1779. So not all the vibes are bad.

(By the way, this is NOT the Raynham Hall that's home to the famously photographed Brown Lady. That one is in Norfolk, England, and eerily enough, is the home of a Townsend family, too.)

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