If there is one thing you can say without contradiction about houses and ghosts, it is that, the older a house gets, the more likely it is to be haunted … or at least get a reputation for being haunted.
So it is no surprise that the Nathanael Greene Homestead in Coventry is about to be studied for the presence of ghosts.
“In conjunction with the Nathanael Greene Homestead Association, RISEUP Paranormal announces that it will conduct a series of public investigations at the former home of the former Continental Army General,” read a press release.
“The home has generated an astounding number of paranormal claims through the years and has always been a much-sought after location for paranormal investigators all over the Northeast. To date, all requests have been denied … until now.”
What is surprising is that Greene himself is not among the suspects believed to be roaming the relatively modest colonial home, in spite of the fact that he referred to the house as “Spell Hall.”
Richard Seimbab has been working as a volunteer and docent at the homestead for more than 40 years, and he has been convinced for some time that spirits lurk in its upper rooms.
“I was here by myself once and walked upstairs to Elizabeth Margaret’s room and found the baby carriage at the door to the room,” he said. “For 40 years, I have never seen that carriage anywhere but its usual place, on the other side of the room.”
From all outward appearances, Seimbab is not the sort of person you’d expect to go on about ghosts and things that go bump in the night. He has an encyclopedic grasp of the Coventry branch of the Greene family and conversations with him about the house and the people who lived there take on the delicious flavor of fresh gossip.
“Julia, Jacob’s daughter, was considered by many as the most beautiful girl in Coventry,” said Seimbab. “She married Theodore Foster and he took control of the family’s businesses; he took advantage of her, and ruined the family fortunes with his many business schemes. That’s when they lost the forge. He squandered the money … He’s buried in the family cemetery but he doesn’t have a marker for his grave. No one is sure exactly where he is buried.”
According to RISEUP Paranormal, the group that is investigating the ghostly claims, “The claims of paranormal activity there include door latches being tripped by unseen hands, anomalous voices heard inside and outside the house and reports of various human apparitions seen throughout the home.”
Seimbab himself says he and others have heard sounds that indicated someone was in the house, usually the sound of footfalls and latches being lifted, but he does not claim to have actually seen a ghost.
“What I do find interesting is the story told by the daughter of the original caretaker of the [newly formed] Homestead Association in the 1920s,” said Seimbab. “Before they built the cottage next door, the caretaker’s family lived in the house. When the daughter came back for a visit years later, she told of the sound of horse’s hoofs on the path leading up to the house. She said, on a summer night, they sometimes heard the sound of a carriage driving up to the house that would turn the corner of the house and then fade as it reached the back of the house.”
For the most part, no one appears to be particularly scared by the ghosts and Seimbab does not report anyone refusing to go into the house because of them. That’s probably because the Coventry branch of the Greene family was more of the victim of plain bad luck and, absent any evidence that Theodore Foster was an evil man and not a simply incompetent one, none of the usual motives for haunting, like murder, madness or mayhem are present.
“Elizabeth Margaret went through three husbands but they all died of natural causes,” said Seimbab. “Children died here, but that was not uncommon in those days. If you survived to the age of 5, you were probably strong enough to grow up. So, my candidate is Elizabeth Margaret, because she lived here the longest and saw so much sadness in her life [1814-1899].”
More recently, there was a report of the smell of fresh-baked bread permeating the air in and around the house one recent Christmas morning, though no one lives or cooks in the home. None of the surrounding homes took responsibility for it.
Of course, if you do not believe in ghosts, you may come to a different conclusion about what happens in an old house; floors settling, boards warping as they get drier or damper, or pranks by humans with any number of motives. Which is why, after resisting it for so many years, the Homestead is letting RISEUP come in and take a look around.
“There are a lot of people out there who claim to be ghost hunters, but RISEUP has a good reputation for being respectful of the properties they investigate,” said Seimbab. “I think we can trust them to do this in a responsible way.”
According to their website, RISEUP Paranormal is a not-for-profit organization, based in Rhode Island and Connecticut that specializes in the investigation of paranormal activity within the realms of hauntings, UFO experiences and crypto zoology. Teams are comprised of experienced adults from many professional backgrounds, including historic and archaeological research, psychology, photography, electronics, the defense industry, health care and electronic and structural engineering.
They claim their ultimate goal is to conduct unbiased data.
“We accomplish this by using a variety of recording instruments, thorough historic research and common sense. We are always available for consultation regarding unexplained phenomena in your home or business and all of our services are performed at no cost.”
Of course, there are those who simply don’t believe in ghosts, or, as Benjamin Radford asserts, there is no way of proving there are ghosts. Radford is considered the best of the truly unbiased and science-based ghost hunters in America and is an avowed skeptic when it comes to paranormal events.
“The whole idea of ghosts runs into trouble as soon as a little logic is applied,” he wrote in Skeptical Inquirer in 2006. “There's not even agreement on what ghosts are – or might be. A common claim is that ghosts are spirits of the dead who have been wronged or murdered ... If murder victims whose killings remains unsolved are truly destined to walk the earth and haunt the living, then we should expect to encounter ghosts nearly everywhere … There are about 30,000 homicides in America each year … Where are all the ghosts?”
Further, Radford says victims would logically want to help police bring their killers to justice.
“Why would they hang out in scary mansions instead of directing police to evidence that would avenge their murders?” he asks.
Radford is also intrigued by the fashion sense displayed among the apparitional social set.
“It's one thing to suggest that a person's spirit has a soul that can be seen after death; but do shoes, coats, hats and belts also have souls?” he asks. “Logically, ghosts should appear naked. The fact that they don't suggests that people's ideas of what ghosts are – and what they look like – are strongly influenced by social and cultural expectations.”
Radford said, in spite of all the technical trappings and claims of objectivity, the evidence for ghosts is no better today than it was a year ago, a decade ago or a century ago.
“Ultimately, ghost hunting is not about the evidence,” he wrote. “Instead, it’s about having fun with friends, telling ghost stories and the enjoyment of pretending you are searching the edge of the unknown.”
As for Seimbab, anything that prompts more curiosity about the Nathanael Greene house and more visits, the better. The social and cultural expectations of a bygone era are on display at the Homestead for all to see. If they happen to get a glimpse of a ghost at the same time, it’s all good.
“The Homestead is one of the hidden historical treasures of Rhode Island and the more people we can get to care about it, the better we will be able to preserve it.”
Even the skeptical Radford wouldn’t challenge that.
Details about how the public can attend the RISEUP investigations can be found on their website, or you can contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 624-1782. Benjamin Radford’s books are available at amazon.com or your local bookstore.