Ford’s Mansion by Lady G
Gee, where to start? There have been a number of instances in my life, which qualify as ‘ghostly’ so here are a few that tie into my employment with the National Park Service, when I worked as a ‘seasonal’ employee at Morristown National Historic Park.
The park consists of 2 locations– the museum and washington’s headquarters in the city of Morristown, and 7 miles down the road, the army encampment site at Jockey Hollow. As historical interepreters, the seasonal and full-time staff had to alternate days at the Ford Mansion, the museum, Visitor’s Center or the Tempe Wick House. As you can guess, having been the site of a Revolutionary War winter encampment, the place had its share of….memories.
I worked as a seasonal for two terms– once in ’77-78, and again in 81 or 82– 9 month terms each time. Anyway, during my first employment there I had the distinct honor of working at the Ford Mansion, on the exact date of Mr. Jacob Ford’s death— the 200th anniversary no less. For those of you unfamiliar with the place, General George Washington and his staff were quartered in the Widow Ford’s mansion during harshest winter of the Revolutionary War. The mansion sits on a hill, well removed from the museum and parking area at the bottom. (at the other end of the block, really) A large area of grass and trees fills the property in between, making the mansion fairly isolated from the rest of the place. I was one of the few people who would stay in the mansion all day, alone, when scheduled to work there. Other guides would stay in the museum, and only come to the house when they had a tour group. Apparently, they were too spooked to stay in that old dark house by themselves.
Well, it never bothered me. And on this particular day I was sitting in the massive entry hall, all decked out in my 18th century garb, reading a book and waiting for visitors. Directly across from me stood a large grandfather clock, one of the original Ford family pieces still in the park’s pocession. In fact, it had recently been sent for cleaning and repairs, and was now ticking away perfectly, large pendulum swinging back and forth in perfect time. Up until noon. that is. I looked up from my book, having counted the chimes to twelve, and was surprised to hear it continue to chime. The pendulum stopped swinging, and the hands started to move around the face rapidly. Now I don’t know the workings of clocks, much less antique ones, and so I got on the cleverly concealed mansion phone and dialed the museum office. By now we were past 30 o’clock, and I was told thata maintenance man would be up to have a look at it asap (oh, like they could fix it any better than I could!)It was strange, sure, and I could only imagine one of my more timid co-workers running away, screaming, if it had happened on her day! To be honest, I found it ‘cool’— especially when the chiming stopped at 200, just before the maintenance guys arrived. Now the Ford Mansion had minimal lighting, and on rainy days or early winter evenings, the place got dark fast. Other than stories of the motion detectors being triggered in the middle of the night (and the rangers finding nothing out of the ordinary when they checked it out) there were no real bona-fide ‘sightings’ or ghost stories. Still, as mentioned, a number of people who worked there, and the occasional sensitive visitor, found something ‘unsettling’ about the place. I loved it, and never got seriously spooked, despite the ‘noises’ and ‘creaks’ that came in the average course of a day. Except one day, I had an experience which I still cannot explain.
It was closing time, and nearly dark out. As the usual routine for closing up the house at night, I used the huge brass key to lock both front and rear doors while still inside in the main hall (to be sure no one came in while I was checking the house) and then commenced my ‘walk-through’ even though my last visitor had left 2 hours earlier. we had to make sure nothing was blocking the ‘electric eye beams’ of the security system, etc. Routinely, I would go up the stairs off the main hall, walk through all the upstairs rooms, and come down the narrow stairs in the kitchen hallway, before making my way back across to the main hall. Everything went fine, but as I descended the stairs into the kitchen area, I had the curious feeling I was not alone. When I reached the foot of the stairs, I was aware of a man standing to my left, around the corner.
I saw him briefly, in the corner of my eye, and immediately whirled around to face him. But he wasn’t there. His image was marked in my mind in that previous intsant, and I sensed he was a stablehand or male servant of the household– I recall what he wore, the drab colors, his disheveled hair, even his dirty boots– standing just a few steps from the door to the rear of the kitchen hall, and within arms length of me. But I felt I had startled him just as much as he startled me. And now I was standing there, alone, in the growing dark of an empty 200 year old house… and still had my rounds to finish!! Maybe I was in a bit more of a hurry that day, but certainly not in a panic. In fact, as soon as I reached the museum, I shared the story with several co-workers, who didn’t seem the least bit surprised. Unfortunately, it also terrified one girl, who later requested that she never be assigned to the mansion again.
The last memorable event took place on the opposite end of the park, in the Tempe Wick farmhouse. This small house, built in 1769, was without heat or much electricity (a single light over the door of each room), and a fair distance from the Visitor’s Center. In fact, it’s around a bend in the path and completely hidden by a wooded area. It’s only other amenity was a phone to the visitor’s center, concealed in a cupboard. Again, there were some guides who would not stay in the house alone. The Wick family was not terribly exciting, except for the legend of daughter Tempe hiding her horse in her bedroom so the soldiers wouldn’t steal it. Oh, and the older brother about whom little was known except he was ‘mad’…
However, as you may have guessed, I was not one of those who waited for visitors in the safety and warmth of the Visitor’s center. When it was my day to be at the house, I would get in, unshutter the windows and immediately get a fire going in the hearth if it was winter. Then I would sit down as near as I could to the fire, in a settle, and wait for the public to arrive. Cozy, too.
One winter I worked there the day after a snow storm. The Park was open because sledders and cross-country skiers usually came out on such days. Well, I sat in the house for 7 hours without a single visitor. It was almost closing time when I distinctly heard the voices of a group of children, laughing, coming around the side of the house. I put down my book and waited for them to come in. Nobody showed up. (entry was at the rear of the house in the kitchen, and that was where I spent my time.) Finally I opened the door and looked out. No one around, not even on a distant hill from where voices might have carried. Curious, I went outside and looked around the corner, but the only tracks in the snow were mine, from that morning. Finally I got on the phone to the Visitor’s Center and asked if a family, or a group of kids, had come through there headed my way. No, I was told there wasn’t even a car in the parking lot, except mine and the ranger’s vehicle. Well, at least I had another story to tell when I got home! Home, by the way, was a huge turn of the century estate that sat on top of a near by ‘mountain’, owned by the Park Service, with rooms rented to park employees– the Cross Estate. Miles from town, with a driveway over half a mile long, in the woods– now THAT place was SCAREY!! But, that’s another story!