The old stone walls of the Summit Mansion hold a lot of stories.
The tales pile up along with the passing years. Stories of the Underground Railroad, revolting slaves, bouts of insanity, a massacre — the legends add to the possibility of spirits in the house, if you’re inclined to believe such things. And some folks certainly do believe.
The home on Summit Street, also known as the “Hitchings House” or “Mount Providence,” was built in 1834 and can certainly be described as “creepy,” at least from the outside.
Regarding the house, what’s true and what’s not is subject to debate, just as it has been for many years now. But now, curious souls will get their first chance to see the mansion from the inside.
“It’s quite a place,” says Russ Krest, co-founder of Western New York Paranormal Research With Integrity.
Krest’s group has leased the home from its owner and opened it up to the public. The group is conducting daytime tours of the property and hosting overnight stays. WNYPRWI also plans on hosting a special event at the home each month — the group is preparing for a candlelight tour this Friday night.
The group has already hosted tours for dozens of people so far, Krest says. Many visitors have expressed interest in buying the property, until they realize how much money it would take to make the mansion livable again.
“It’d probably take $300,000 to $500,000,” Krest says, as we enter the room that he believes was once the ladies sitting quarters in the house.
There are a few candles to light the way and some merchandise and information in the foyer, but the house hasn’t been modified.
“We didn’t change anything,” Krest says. “We made it safe, cleaned it up.”
When asked about the rumors and legends that surround the house’s history, Krest is hesitant to confirm anything, but as in any good ghost story, murky details and vague theories abound.
“There’s a lot of curiosity about the place from the paranormal field,” he says, looking up at the kitchen ceiling. “(Curiosity) which I’ve not substantiated yet ... yet.
“I couldn’t say that it’s definitely haunted because we haven’t done a formal investigation yet, but every member of our team has had a personal experience here.”
What kinds of experiences?
“Me, personally, I just get the feeling ... it’s a skin-crawling feeling. Just the feeling you’re not alone.”
Other members of the team — founder Rhonda Denz and manager Daniel Denz — may have heard voices, Krest says. Everything the team finds, they’ll put on the group’s Web site at www.wnyprwi.com.
Krest knows about the house’s stories, but he’s been researching the topics himself.
Did slaves live in the home? So far, Krest lists that rumor as “unsubstantiated.” If there were slaves, did they revolt and massacre the homeowners? Krest finds that doubtful.
As for whether or not the site was part of the Underground Railroad, Krest believes that’s still up in the air as well.
“Maybe,” he says. “We haven’t discovered secret tunnels, but we have discovered a secret room.”
We walk into a back room and he pulls some boards aside, revealing a hole in the floor. Krest notes that other Underground Railroad stops are in the nearby area and says it wouldn’t be a stretch to think this could have been another location.
Krest says the group isn’t out to persuade the public one way or another. They’re looking for the truth.
“We come as the ghost hunters that we are to prove the things that aren’t real,” he says.
While we’re walking through the house, a couple shows up for the house tour. The man peers into the hidden room and seems convinced of one thing.
“This tells me this was definitely part of the Underground Railroad,” he says.
The man, Tim Bookhagen, is at the site with his girlfriend, Tracey Raymond. The Lockport couple visit haunted sites as often as they can. Ghost hunters in their own right, they have photos and recordings from the sites. Seeing the Summit Mansion with open doors is a welcome sight, Raymond says.
“This was a dream come true,” she says. “I’ve been waiting to come into this (house) for a long time. We’ve heard all the stories. You don’t know what’s real and what’s not.”
“The owner would never let anybody in,” says Bookhagen, who compared himself to a child on Christmas morning when he saw the mansion was open for tours. “That just adds to the legend even more.”
Raymond considers modern technology “a gift” when it comes to tracking ghosts.
“What I’m hoping to prove is that there is something else beyond this part of existence,” she says. “Energy can never die.”
No one seemed to be feeling anything at the time, but it was only approaching noon. A good time to see the house’s interior, but not to search for its spirits.
“This place takes on a whole new personality at night,” he says. “It’s eerie.”
After all the talk, the research and those “unsubstantiated” rumors, does Krest believe the house is haunted?
“Yeah, I do think it’s haunted,” he says. “This place is a calm, wonderful place during the daytime. Soon as the sun goes down, it changes.”
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday ($5 adults, $3 children)
8 p.m. to midnight — This Friday ($10)
Overnight ghost hunts:
$140 for up to four people, $35 for each additional person
Call 863-1390 for more information.
The old stone walls of the Summit Mansion hold a lot of stories.
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