Witches Night Out explores the history and hauntings of Grumblethorpe

“We’re here to see if there is something out there”, said Steve Kates who drove from Glouchester, NJ with his family to attend the second annual Witches Night Out at Grumblethorpe this past Saturday. He and more than 80 visitors went to the historic home for a tour of the grounds and to hear stories of the famously documented hauntings that have taken place in the building’s 268-year-old history.

Grumblethorpe was built in 1744 as the summer home of John Wister, a Philadelphia wine merchant. Occupied by the Wister family for more than 200 years, the home witnessed the Battle of Germantown during the American Revolutionary War as well as the yellow fever epidemic. Due to its mysterious and dark past, the home is said to be one of the most haunted places in Philadelphia.

Among other stories is one that remains particularly chilling. During the Battle of Germantown, British General James Agnew made Grumblethorpe his headquarters. The General was wounded and bled to death on the wooden floor in the front parlor of the house. The bloodstain can still be observed there today. It has been said that a black mist rises from the spot in the floor and moves throughout the house. If one stands in that spot on the anniversary of his death, it is rumored you can hear him moaning.

Another tale told was that of the one time house manager Justinia who appeared in front of John Wisters’ girls in their bedroom late one night. The girls were startled, knowing that Justinia was at their home on Market Street in the city. The following morning, the family was informed of Justinia’s death the night before. Her spirit is now often encountered after sunset followed by the smell of freshly baked bread, representing her favorite pastime of baking.

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The Wister family does not stand alone in their ghostly encounters. Three paranormal investigations have been conducted on the property so far and numerous ghostly run-ins have taken place among staff members. Diana Thompson, the Education Director at Grumblethorpe recalls seeing, “a black shape, low to the ground, spinning very quickly from the dining room into the Colonial parlor.” Several other staff members have seen figures or eyes in the dining room mirror.

“It’s all very exciting. It makes you really think and wonder”, said visitor Irene Gladstone as she held up a pair of divining rods. The Ghost Tour of Philadelphia’s guides supplied the rods, along with EMF meters, which are designed to detect electromagnetic fields. However as guide Ginger Belle-Petty stated, “your most important tool is yourself.”

Those in attendance certainly had an open mind and many were spooked. “You could sense the presence and history of the people who lived there. The stories told about them made their pasts vivid,” stated Gladstone.

German Walpurgisnacht, or halfway to Halloween, is a time in German folklore believed to be when the worlds of the dead and the living are at their closest. Due to the German roots of the Wister family and Germantown, this night was an appropriate time to celebrate the spirits of Grumblethorpe and share it with the public.

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