Post by Joanna on Oct 16, 2015 20:28:55 GMT -5
Norristown's Most Haunted Mansion
NORRISTOWN, Penn. – While standing on the third floor of the historic Selma Mansion, with the wallpaper of what used to be a child’s room peeling around you and the floorboards squeaking beneath your feet, you can peer east out of a window toward the heart of the borough and imagine what it might have been like in the late 1700s. And if you believe in the supernatural, you might just turn around and ask the spirit standing behind you.
It was 1783 when General Andrew Porter, a veteran of the American Revolution and various expeditions against American Indians, retired to his farm in what was then Norriton Township to live out the remainder of his life in peace. In 1794, he erected the three-story Federal Style mansion as the centerpiece of his close to 160-acre property, which sat high on an incline above the rest of the town. The vantage point was so fantastic that he named his estate “Selma,” a Gaelic word that roughly translates to “highest point.”
Evidence of life in the 19th century can be found throughout the dwelling. The mansion is split into thirds, with two portions for the families who resided there and the third for servants. Sturdy doorways section off the two parts on every floor, and it’s clear which side was better maintained; the servants’ stairs creak a little more, the paint on the walls is just a tad more faded. There are bake ovens – or fireplaces – in the basement and doorbells hang in the kitchen above, with wires traceable to the front and back entryways where guests would have summoned the home’s caretakers as they prepared meals.
There is also evidence of the paranormal, according to Lisa Terio and Steve Foersch, founding members of the Pennsylvania Underground Paranormal Society (PUPS) investigation team and volunteers with the Norristown Preservation Society, which cares for the property. According to the couple, who have been investigating the paranormal for more than a decade, the servant’s bells still ring from time to time and the building’s occupants still move up and down the hallways, whispering names and messages to whomever is close enough to hear. “We’ve had cameras shut off, batteries instantly drain, seen shadows move, heard footsteps and piano notes when there was no piano – just about everything you can imagine,” Foersch says.
The Successful Porter Family. Foersch and Terio say they used to drive past the mansion quite a bit after moving to Norristown around the turn of the millennium. Already volunteers at Fort Mifflin, the pair had a strong interest in history, preservation and the paranormal and they happened to come across a webpage for the mansion and discovered it had a connection to Fort Mifflin. “James Madison Porter, a son of General Porter, raised a garrison for the War of 1812 at Fort Mifflin,” relates Terio. “We like volunteering in restoring historical landmarks, so we contacted the [Norristown Preservation Society] and introduced ourselves.”
Foersch and Terio would learn more about the rich history of the home. General Porter actually had four sons: Richard Porter, who became president judge of the 3rd judicial district; David Rittenhouse Porter, named for family friend David Rittenhouse, who served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1839-45; George Bryan Porter, who was appointed governor of Michigan territory by President Andrew Jackson; and James, who went on to serve as Secretary of War under President John Tyler and was the primary founder of Lafayette College in Easton. Other Porter family descendants include General Horace Porter, said to be the author of the account of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House, and Eliza Parker, mother of Mary Todd (Lincoln).
Knox Family Tragedy. In 1821, the Porters sold Selma to the unfortunate Knox family. According to the Preservation Society, records show that the family of Thomas Knox, the son of original owner Andrew Knox, was almost wiped out some time in the mid-18th century. Terio and Foersch say records reveal Knox lost three of four children, along with his wife Sarah Ann, within a few months’ time, most likely of yellow fever or a similar illness. It was also during this time that Knox began to sell large portions of the property, many of which would ultimately develop into what is now the West End of Norristown.
But the legacy lived on through surviving daughter Ellen, who married Joseph Fornance, the son of a prominent family in Norristown. Their son, also named Joseph, married Ruth, who became the last living inhabitant of the Selma Mansion until her death in 1982. Although the vacant residence was then offered to local, state and national historical societies, it ultimately fell into the hands of Ruth’s sister when no one took ownership. “Ruth’s sister was greedy and wanted money,” says Foersch, citing an interview with one of Ruth’s former caretakers. “She was able to get the contents of the house and had a huge yard sale in 1984, where dozens of Civil War uniforms were basically given away.”
The property eventually passed to a local developer who built apartment buildings around the property and used the Selma Mansion as a selling point. The Norristown Preservation Society was formed to care for the property and ultimately purchased a 99-year lease from the developer, Foersch said.
The Afterlife. Fast forward to 2011, when Foersch and Terio approached the society to volunteer and help restore the property. On April 30 of that year, the two held their first major clean-up day and that night, found their first evidence that members of the Porter, Knox and Fornance families were still in residence. “We had no idea if the home was [paranormally] active or not and it was pretty astounding as far as some of the things we caught,” said Foersch. “I captured a [voice], saying ‘John,’” Terio claims. “But nobody knows who John is – there never was a John Porter.”
Terio did additional research and found records at Lafayette College showing that James Madison Porter had written letters to someone named John Ewing Porter. With a little more digging, she found that General Porter had a son named John, who took his mother’s maiden name Ewing after a falling out with his father and he used to write to his brother.
PUPS investigated noises they heard in the house while searching for ghosts, one of which was a strange electronic buzzing noise. “By interviewing Ruth’s companion, who took care of her while she was bedridden, we found that Ruth used a buzzer to summon her when she wanted to eat or use the bathroom,” Foersch says. The team was able to locate the long, wired device Ruth used to activate the buzzer, along with the actual buzzer itself. However, there was one catch: the wiring had been severed, leaving the buzzer completely disconnected, so it couldn’t possibly make a noise.
Since the group’s determination that spirits still occupied the house, dozens of investigations have been conducted by PUPS and other paranormal groups. The laughter of children, a disembodied male voice saying what sounds like “I’m dead,” the unexplainable smell of roses, running footsteps and slamming doors are just some of the things captured or reported by investigators.
When Patch visited the mansion one Sunday night, Terio and Foersch conducted an impromptu two-hour investigation. With the exception of cars passing and a late football game on a nearby field, all was relatively quiet. But a review of electronic recordings revealed something else: what sounded like a grunting noise, a few indistinguishable whispers and perhaps even a voice saying a reporter’s name. Compared to the wealth of evidence offered online, it was not one of the more successful investigations, but not completely empty either.
Foersch and Terio take pride in thinking of how connected Selma Mansion to Norristown and surrounding areas. They assist the Preservation Society in hosting a number of public events throughout the year, including the upcoming ghost tour night and an all-day paranormal event Saturday. Those interested can simply show up at the house for a guided tour. While the mansion has been decorated for Halloween, its haunted nature and rich history offer something for everyone. In addition, Foersch and Terio say the society is always grateful for new volunteers or donations and offers tours and overnight investigation opportunities throughout the year. “We need the community’s help,” Foersch says. “We really need to restore this property to what Norristown, and Montgomery County, deserves.”
Ghost Tour. Selma’s Ghosts By Candlelight will take place Saturday, October 17 and Friday, October 23, from 7 until 10 p.m. both nights. Organizers describe the event as intended ”for those not into haunted houses, but who love a good ghost story – a more sedate tour. Living history guides will lead visitors through the mansion and discuss its history, residents and ghosts. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for 5-12. Proceeds benefit the mansion’s restoration. Selma Mansion is located on the grounds of the Elmwood Park Zoo.
Source: Justin Heinze, Tredyffrin-Easttown Patch, October 16, 2016.