Baleroy Mansion has stood in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill section for over a century. The estate was built in 1911 by a carpenter who eventually murdered his wife in the main house—at least according to lore.
The apocryphal story set the tone for tales to come. In 1926, the mansion was purchased by the prominent Easby family, whose roots could be traced back to England’s Easby Abbey. The family also counted Civil War hero General George Meade among its notable members. When Meade’s great-grandson, George Meade Easby, took control of the 32-room mansion, he named it Baleroy after a chateau in the Loire Valley of France.
Over the years, the Easby family experienced strange happenings in the house—from hallucinations to unexplained deaths. Several housekeepers reportedly died on the premises. Encounters of ghosts were so rampant that Baleroy earned the title of “Most Haunted Home in America” and “the most haunted house in Philadelphia”.
Many visitors have observed an elderly woman with a cane, dressed in black and hovering in a corner on the second floor. The usual bangs and knocks are prevalent. Wall decorations have fallen inexplicably. One particular painting was flung 15 feet by an unseen force; the nail in the wall was still secure and the rear hanging wire unbroken. People have even claimed to see the ghost of Thomas Jefferson standing near a tall grandfather clock in the dining room.
But there is one room inside the mansion that stands apart—an 18th Century drawing room with a simple piece of furniture called the Death Chair.
The chair is a 200-year-old wing-back that was reportedly once owned by Napoleon. George Easby advised guests not to sit in the antique chair, and draped a silk rope over its arms as a method of dissuasion.
The reason? He and many others were convinced that sitting down spelled certain doom.
Though a reputed four deaths have been attributed to the chair, holdings in the Chestnut Hill Historical Society only corroborate three of them. According to Chestnuthill Patch, Easby told the authors of Haunted Houses U.S.A. that his housekeeper, his cousin, and a friend all died within weeks of sitting in the chair.
Easby blamed the chair’s malevolence on “Amanda,” a ghost he dubbed a “loose cannon.” She has ripped open doors only to slam them shut, and seems to possess powers of a wicked nature. Amanda has been seen, not as an apparition, but as a cold, ectoplasmic red mist hanging in the doorway from the Reception Room into the Blue Room. It is here where Amanda appears and entices people to sit in the chair.
Séances and visits from famous mediums have attempted to unlock the Baleroy mystery. One of them was Judith Richardson Haimes, who, upon crossing the threshold, remarked “My God, I can’t believe how many spirits are in this house!”
Interestingly, Easby came to respect the many ghosts in his home, and, on one occasion, voiced his wish for them to stay indefinitely. He believed one of the ghosts to be his own mother, Henrietta, whose guidance from the other side helped to steer him away from opportunists and bad business deals. Additionally, Easby claimed to have found papers from a great uncle stashed away in a cabinet, which ultimately led him to a sizable inheritance. He credited his mother’s ghost with that discovery, as well as the discovery of a pair of valuable candlesticks hidden in the attic rafters, which belonged to his mother.
Another ghost, he believed, was his brother Stevey who died at the age of 11, but was seen many times at the window. On one occasion, a laborer working outside glanced up and saw a “young kid with blond hair” staring down at him.
Easby passed away in 2005. For a short time, Baleroy Mansion offered tours, allowing visitors to admire the home’s antique treasures. But as the years passed, the antiques were removed and tours were discontinued. The Baleroy is now a private residence.
Photo used with permission: Roxborough Runner / Flickr