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Grumblethorpe: Philadelphia’s Seriously Haunted Historic Home

The bloodstain remains on the floor to this day—and several witnesses have claimed to see a black mist materialize from the spot and glide through the house.

Standing at 5267 Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia is a nondescript building with an otherworldly reputation. 

In a city with so many historic landmarks, the oddly-named Grumblethorpe (said to come from a novel about a German family in England) looks like nothing more than another stone colonial structure. But tales of its spectral happenings go back over two and half centuries and continue to this day.

Grumblethorpe was built in 1744 as the summer home of John Wister (originally Wistar, but later anglicized with an e). Wister was a wine merchant in the city, and his family was prominent in Philadelphia. John’s brother, Casper, was a German-born glassmaker and one of the first German colonists in Pennsylvania. The Wisters would also become the namesake of the Wisteria plant. 

Indeed, their horticultural interests were great. Grumblethorpe included several acres of plant and flower beds, and a looming Ginkgo tree which still stands. The tree is said to have grown from a seedling brought from England in 1754. 

Thirty years after it was completed, Grumblethorpe became the home and headquarters of British Brigadier-General James Agnew, who was still recuperating from wounds sustained in the Battle of Brandywine. A few days after Agnew took up residence, the Battle of Germantown raged on October 4, 1777. Agnew rode into battle without support and was promptly ambushed by over 100 enemy troops. As he turned to escape, he was shot in the back. Agnew’s soldiers and his servant Alexander Andrew carried the mortally wounded leader away; they took him back to Grumblethorpe, where he bled to death on the wooden floor.

Related: The Real-Life Haunting That Inspired The Changeling 

James Agnew reportedly haunts the home. The bloodstain of his death still remains on the floor of Grumblethorpe, and several witnesses have claimed to see a black mist rise from the spot and move throughout the house. Others remember standing on the spot and subsequently hearing the sound of moaning—especially on the anniversary of Agnew’s death.

But Agnew isn’t the only ethereal guest of the old house. 

grumblethorpe
  • Grumblethorpe as it stands today.

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There’s another ghost, referred to as Justinia Hemberger. According to legend, Justinia’s father Justin died in the 1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic. She was orphaned, but taken in by the Wisters before she could be displaced. She soon became the house manager. One of Justinia’s favorite pastimes was baking bread; she did so every Friday night for the purpose of distributing it to the poor on Saturday mornings. 

Then late one evening in 1820, Justinia appeared to John Wister’s daughters in their bedroom. Believing that Justinia was at their other home on Market Street several miles away, the girls were a bit startled by her sudden presence. The following morning, the Wister family learned that Justinia had passed away the night before.

Ever since her death, people have insisted that her spirit lingers in Grumblethorpe and is most often seen on Friday evenings after sunset, usually accompanied by the smell of freshly baked bread. She is a friendly presence and has also been seen by many children who visit the house with their parents.

Related: 14 Underrated Paranormal Books That Will Get Under Your Skin 

Aside from visitors, staff members at Grumblethorpe have had paranormal experiences that defy explanation. Education Director Diana Thompson recalled seeing a “black shape, low to the ground, spinning very quickly from the dining room into the Colonial parlor.” Thompson then said “I’m not in the mood for this,” after which the shape disappeared. Thompson’s son also saw the same black shape. Its description matched the entity seen near James Agnew’s blood spot.

Other staff members have claimed to see figures or eyes in the dining room mirror. Some young volunteers have admitted that their parents are too afraid to pick them up at Grumblethorpe. Volunteer Kelli Alsop recalled a particularly unnerving experience in an upstairs room. Walking through the room with two other staff members during the middle of the day, Kelli noticed their shadows cast on the floor. But she also noticed a fourth shadow that didn’t belong to anyone in the room—one that was clearly wearing a dress when everyone else was in jeans.

Despite the eerie occurrences, those who work at Grumblethorpe do not feel threatened. To the contrary, workers have learned to coexist with their otherworldly guests. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It now operates as a museum and is open to the public. 

Information, hours and photographs can be found on Grumblethorpe’s website can be found HERE

Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published on 20 Jun 2019

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