Just a stone’s throw away from the Housatonic River in Stratford, Connecticut, the Phelps Mansion—known as the location of the “Stratford Knockings”—was home to a minister and his family and, reportedly, more than a few coldhearted spirits.
Reverend Eliakim Phelps purchased the mansion from George R. Dowell, a former sea captain, and his wife, Elizah. Dowell’s father-in-law, Matthias Nicoll, had originally built the house for Elizah and George, and the design mimicked that of one of Dowell’s ships. The house was as eccentric as it was large, with a long main hallway that had twin staircases meeting on the second floor landing, resembling a clipper ship’s upper deck.
Phelps bought the house in February of 1848, moving in with his young wife, her three children from a prior marriage, and the couple’s infant. A widower himself, Phelps also had grown children who lived elsewhere.
For the first two years, all seemed well for the blended Phelps family. Then, in March of 1850, the family claimed an onslaught of strange events swept through their home, seemingly from nowhere.
On a Sunday in late March, the family returned from church to find all the doors in their house thrown wide open and their belongings strewn across the floor. Phelps’ first thought was burglars, but the family found nothing valuable to be missing. After straightening their home as best as possible, the Reverend sent his family back to church for afternoon services, while he quietly sat and waited to see if the vandals would return. Hearing no noise of any kind for quite some time, the minister crept downstairs. Upon entering the dining room, he saw something that shocked him.
According to Phelps, his dining room was filled with eleven women, in various states of kneeling or devotion; some had bibles, and all were completely still. Upon inspection, Phelps found that these “women,” were in just stuffed dummies dressed in clothes—the family’s own clothes, filled with rags and household materials.
The family contended that this strange day was the beginning of what would be a years-long encounter with ill-meaning and even demonic spirits; these strange happenings not only continued, they intensified over the coming years. Members of the Phelps family and many unnamed “witnesses” reported hearing, seeing, and experiencing otherwise inexplicable events. Objects flew through the air; belongings disappeared and reappeared; “knocking” sounded throughout the house and on outer doors with no apparent “knocker” to blame—thus giving the house its nickname. Windows shattered and the family suffered pokes, pinches, and slaps from unseen beings.
Two of Phelps’ step-children seemed to receive the brunt of the paranormal attention. Anna and Henry, 16 and 11 years old respectively, both told of being physically harassed by the spirits. At one point, it was said that Anna had a pillow placed and taped over her face while she was sleeping. Henry, too: the family claimed he once lifted up from his chair, and was carried across the room.
Rev. Phelps was very friendly with the media. In fact, he encouraged reporters, critics, and curious strangers to come see the odd occurrences that he claimed were happening in his house. This was at the height of spiritualism; séances and sightings of ghosts were abundant, especially among Christian communities. Critics claim that Phelps may have been riding this wave of popular attention. Indeed, many of the articles resulting from these visits rely heavily on rumor, hearsay, direct family members, or unnamed “sources.” The reliability of the Phelps’ claims must be taken with no small amount of skepticism.
The mansion soon developed a reputation for being haunted. After the Phelps family moved away in 1858, ownership transitioned to Moses Y. Beach. Coincidentally, the change in ownership also corresponded with a quieting of the paranormal activity. Nevertheless, the paranormal rumors refused to leave. For years the stories of its “haunting” lingered, even after the mansion was eventually converted into an assisted living home for the elderly.
The Phelps Mansion was demolished in 1974, but the story of the Reverend’s family and their apparent live-in ghosts still linger.