Saturday, December 29, 2012

2013 Events at Graeme Park

While you're planning out your 2013 Calendar - scheduling all those doctor/dental/vet appointments, recording birthdays and anniversaries, practices, concerts, and games - why not take a few minutes to review some of the great programs we have planned at Graeme Park in the coming year and jot those down too so you remember them, and more importantly, make time for them. We'll have more details on each event as it approaches, so check back or subscribe to our email updates. You can also check on the new "DO" tab at the top to see these dates any time without having to go back through old blog posts or of course visit our website at

Colonial Valentine's Day Tours—February 10 - Learn the history of Graeme Park and of Elizabeth Graeme’s loves and losses as costumed actors present vignettes throughout the historic Keith House. Tours run approximately every half hour from 12 noon—3 pm and are $12/person, which includes light refreshments.

Colonial Cooking Class—March 9 - Experience first hand the emergence of our unique American appetite, as the period leading up to the Revolutionary War brings together elements of English, German, French, and Native recipes! Distinctively taught in the intimate summer kitchen at Graeme Park, the Hearth and Home cooking series will give participants the opportunity to prepare a full colonial meal over an open wood fire, as would have been enjoyed by the Graeme family during their time in the Keith House. $55/class or $100 for March and May classes. Reservations required.

Charter Day—March 10 - Free tours in honor of the granting of the Pennsylvania Charter to William Penn. If you’re one of the locals who’s driven by here countless times and never knew what we were about, please stop in and find out. 12 noon—3/3:30 pm. Free.

World War II Encampment—April 20-21 - Join us on the grounds of Graeme Park and the adjacent Penrose-Strawbridge House to see American and German camps and vehicles, including trucks and armor, military demonstrations and a mock battle, live music, and more. Admission charged.

Colonial Cooking Class—May 11 - Experience first hand the emergence of our unique American appetite, as the period leading up to the Revolutionary War brings together elements of English, German, French, and Native recipes! Distinctively taught in the intimate summer kitchen at Graeme Park, the Hearth and Home cooking series will give participants the opportunity to prepare a full colonial meal over an open wood fire, as would have been enjoyed by the Graeme family during their time in the Keith House. $55/class or $100 for March and May classes. Reservations required.

Celtic Heritage Festival—July 20 - In honor of the Scottish heritage of the Keith, Graeme, and Fergusson families, Graeme Park will be abuzz with Celtic vendors, music, dance, food, games, Celtic clans and non-profits, and children’s activities. A fun-filled day for the entire family. 10 am—6 pm. Admission charged.

Yellow Fever Living History Theater—August 25 - Learn about the Yellow Fever epidemic that raged through Philadelphia in the summer of 1793 and the effect it had on the residents at Graeme Park. Costumed actors will be presenting vignettes throughout the house. Tours run approximately every half hour from 12 noon—3 pm. Admission charged.

Homeschool Day—September 18 - This annual day for homeschoolers and their families features tours of the Keith House and various activities around the grounds, including a hearth cooking demonstration, military drill, colonial games and activities. Admission charged.

Senior Days—October 1-2 - In the tradition of Elizabeth Graeme’s Attic Evenings, where people gathered to discuss various topics and learn from one another, the Friends of Graeme Park are offering seniors two days of lectures, seminars, and discussions on a wide range of topics. We guarantee you will find something entertaining, educational, perhaps even enlightening. Continental breakfast and lunch included. Admission charged. Reservations required.

Haunted Moonlight Tours—October 25-26 - Graeme Park has been called the most haunted house in Horsham, and stories of Elizabeth’s ghost have been circulating since very soon after she died. Our own volunteers, staff and visitors often report strange smells, sounds, and happenings in the house. These evening candlelit tours take you through the house where you’ll encounter costumed actors presenting scenes related to the history of Graeme Park and Elizabeth, and hear stories about some of the experiences we’ve had ourselves or that have been passed down through the ages. Admission charged.

A Soldier’s Christmas—November 30 - Tour the grounds and first floor of the historic Keith House to see reenactors portraying various eras and wars and learn about how the soldiers celebrated the Christmas holidays on the battlefront. Crafts and refreshments will also be available. 3:00-8:00 pm. Free admission.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Teeny Tiny Graeme Park: Part II

You  may remember way back when we featured miniature versions of Graeme Park that had been crafted over the years. Well, a new version has come to light, and I'm happy to say that we are in possession of it.

Approximately 2 years ago we were contacted by Millie Wintz, who was active in the York Road Historical Society, served on Upper Moreland’s Historical Commission, and is an expert on the history of our area, with a particular interest in the mills on the Pennypack Creek. The reason for Millie’s email was to offer us a miniature version of Graeme Park and two dolls, one of Elizabeth, and one of Henry, that she had created back in the 1970s and used when she gave lectures and presentations on local history to various groups. Millie was cleaning out and preparing for a big move cross-county, so when the items did not materialize, we figured she had run out of time and took them with her or found some other caretaker for them.

That is until we received a recent phone call letting us know the caller, a friend of Millie's, was on her way with the house and dolls! The model of the Keith House is constructed out of foam core, with meticulous details including the gambrel roof, stones, windows, doors, and roof shingles drawn on.


The roof, featuring all five dormers, lifts off and Elizabeth and Henry, in period clothing, reside inside.

Their heads, arms, and legs are made from kaolin, a fine white clay normally used for porcelain, that was dug from the Pennypack Creek and they are stuffed with sand. Their outfits, which are removable, are detailed right down to shoes, stockings, and undergarments.


Elizabeth's likeness was based on a drawing of Elizabeth that is in our collection, and Henry, since there are no known portraits of him, was simply made up.


Nestled in the bottom of the house is a small, handmade scrapbook, covered in the same fabric Elizabeth’s dress is made from, that contains a bit of the history of Graeme Park and Elizabeth Graeme, a newspaper clipping about a student film that was made in 1976 by Upper Moreland School District elementary school students, the clothing patterns, and ribbons the dolls were awarded when they were displayed at the PHMC’s Bicentennial Doll Exhibit.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Week at Graeme Park: 1777

In the winter of 1777-78, Graeme Park was taken over by troops of the American army. Major General James Armstrong went into winter quarters here during Christmas week, 1777, and on New Year's Eve was joined by General James Potter and his brigade. At one point there were nearly 2,000 men encamped on the grounds of Graeme Park. This number, however, decreased rapidly as enlistments ran out and the men went home in the New Year. Both officers were replaced by Brigadier General John Lacey, Jr., who arrived at Graeme Park in mid-January, 1778 to find conditions here "deplorable" with the equipment scattered and the 600 green recruits who remained in camp "confused, demoralized, and leaderless." By January 24, 1778 Lacey reported that there were only seventy men left at Graeme Park. When the troops finally moved out, much to the relief of Elizabeth and Betsy Stedman, the mess they left behind was extensive. Valuable timber had been cut down to buld log huts for the men; the parlor of the Keith House had been occupied as a guardroom, and most of the furniture usually on the first floor of the house had been moved upstairs to storage rooms on the third. Elizabeth was reimbursed only ₤106.4 for 2,360 pounds of beef slaughtered, and that not unitl the end of March. How the women survived after the army left is hard to imagine, no cattle or horses were left and the stored grains and other food must have been pretty well consumed by the army.
 (From The Most Learned Woman in America: A Biography of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, by Anne Ousterhout and The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians And Soldiers In War By Wayne Bodle).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Final Friday Fotos: December 2012

Well, here we are, December already, and time for the final edition of First Friday Fotos. We began in January, 2012 taking a monthly photo of the summer kitchen and garden to see the development through the year. Unfortunately the garden didn't get planted this year, so the changes weren't as dramatic as imagined they would be. C'est la vie. While we had snow at the end of November, the December photo found us with another dreary, dull day. 

To review where we've come from, here are the thumbnails for each quarter:

Historical News and Notes: Graeme Park Man Victim of Hold-Up at Willow Grove

The following appeared in the Evening Public Ledger, published December 7, 1921.

Graeme Park Man Victim of Hold-Up at Willow Grove

Clarence McCoy, employed by J. Welsh Strawbridge, at Graeme Park, north of the city, has reported to the Abington police that he was robbed of $176 by two men while waiting for a trolley car at Willow Grove, after being drugged by the smoke of a "cigar."

McCoy says he was drugged and while in this condition the men took the money from an inside pocket and escaped.

"The men engaged me in conversation," McCoy said "and one of the men asked me if I could change $500 in notes of large denomination. He said he was about to negotiate a real estate deal, and did not want the agent to realize just how much money he had. I told them I had only $200.

"One of the men, who had introduced himself as the Rev. Mr. Harris, was puffing away at a large cigar and was exhaling the smoke in my face. I noticed it had a very unusual odor, but I thought nothing of it, until I suddenly became dazed and leaned against an iron pole for support. It was the smoke that drugged me."

The Library of Congress has made historic newspapers, dating from 1836-1922, available in their Chronicling America Series. Papers are easily searchable by keywords and location.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Historical News and Notes: Graeme Park for Sale

The following announcement appeared in the November 24, 1919 Evening Public Ledger

GRAEME PARK FARM of 191 acres, in Horsham township, Montgomery county, 18 miles from Philadelphia, containing Keith mansion, built 1722 with wainscoted walls and open fireplaces; large farmhouse; also tenant house, 2 large barns and other buildings all of stone; 47 acres timber land; stream.
M.B. PENROSE Hatboro R.F.D. Pa

The seller of the property would have been Morris Penrose, who in 1920, sold Graeme Park to Welsh Strawbridge.

The Library of Congress has made historic newspapers, dating from 1836-1922, available in their Chronicling America Series. Papers are easily searchable by keywords and location.

Friday, November 2, 2012

First Friday Fotos: Hurricane Sandy Edition

Well, here we are, November already. The summer and fall seemed to just fly by and before we know it, it will be 2013. This past week has been difficult for many as a result of Hurricane Sandy, and we wish them the best as they begin the recovery and rebuilding process. Graeme Park, which normally gets a lot of flooding and power outages during even the most basic of storms, came through just fine with only minimal loss of branches, no leaking thanks to our new roof, and power and communications networks intact. Our resident ferals hid out in the shelters and straw bales we provided for them and all* seem to be just fine (*there is one we haven't had a siting of, but she comes and goes and it is not unusual to not see her for weeks or months, so we're hopeful she's ok). Several of our volunteers have been by to make coffee and charge up phones, Kindles and laptops since they still don't have power back at home.

As you can see in this month's version of First Friday Fotos, it is still a bit gray and rainy here today, and I think we've lost a few more shingles off the summer kitchen roof and the little bump out in the back, which you can't see in the photo, but for the most part, all is well here at Graeme Park.

To review previous First Friday Fotos, see October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January. See you on December 7 for the final edition. Will there be snow on the ground? I hope not, but stay tuned.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Historical News and Notes: Obituary of William S. Carothers

The following death notice ran in the October 29, 1915 Evening Public Ledger.

CAROTHERS - At Graeme Park, Davis Grove, Pa, on the Fifth-day, Tenth Month, 28th, 1915. WILLIAM S. CAROTHERS, in his 52d year. Relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral, in the Second-day, Eleventh Month, 1st, at 2 p.m., from Horsham Friends' Meeting House. Interment at adjoining burial ground.

The 1920 Federal Census lists Morris Penrose as living with his widowed sister, Mary P. Carothers, so I'd assume William was his brother-in-law. Mary was single in the 1910 Census, so they must not have been married very long before William met his early demise.

The Library of Congress has made historic newspapers, dating from 1836-1922, available in their Chronicling America Series. Papers are easily searchable by keywords and location.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Soldier's Christmas

Peace on Earth. It’s such a central message of the Christmas season, but wars don’t stop for Christmas. Nor do they prevent Christmas from being celebrated by soldiers far from home fighting for that peace. In fact, many of our beloved Christmas traditions came out of wartime celebrations. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Christmas in America was a quiet religious occasion and not celebrated with a lot of outward festivities. Many historians credit the Hessian soldiers from Germany, who fought in America alongside the British, with introducing Christmas trees to the United States.

Decorated trees were just starting to catch on when the Civil War broke out, and at least one account records Civil War soldiers as decorating their tree with “hard tack and pork” – materials they had on hand, just as they would have used popcorn, dried fruit, pine cones, and homemade paper decorations had they been celebrating at home. Our modern vision of Santa Claus also comes out of the Civil War. Cartoonist Thomas Nast used his editorial drawings to express his political opinions and his image of Santa as a jolly fat man with a white beard in a fur-trimmed suit delivering gifts to the Union soldiers is the image that caught on and remains with us today, although Santa's suit has changed from the stars and stripes of the Nast version to the red velvet we know today.

Later generations of soldiers did their best to maintain established traditions that reminded them of home, with visits from Santa, wrapped gifts arriving from loved ones, decorations, and if possible a special Christmas meal.

On Saturday, November 24, 2012 the grounds and first floor of the Keith House at Graeme Park will be open for free tours from 3:00-8:00 p.m. with soldiers representing different wars encamped on the property demonstrating how Christmas was celebrated on the battlefront during different eras throughout our history. Crafts and refreshments will be available for purchase.

Call 215-343-0965 for details. Directions are available on our website at

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is Graeme Park Haunted?

Mention Graeme Park to a Horsham resident, and most will tell you it's haunted! The stories of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson's ghost have been circulating since her death in 1801 and continue to be experienced by our staff and volunteers today. The Horsham police dread the nighttime alarms they are sometimes called upon to answer at the Keith House. I can only vouche for what I myself have seen, heard, and smelled. Read for yourself and see what you think.

Betsy Stedman
Betsy Stedman was one of Elizabeth's closest friends. The two women lived together at Graeme Park after the Revolution. Elizabeth's husband, Henry Hugh Fergusson, had returned to England, branded a traitor for his Loyalist support during the war while Elizabeth struggled to regain title to her ancestral home, which was confiscated by the state for Henry's politics. The never-married Betsy had a small inheritance that the women lived off of until Elizabeth was able to regain title to her home and sell Graeme Park and move into rooms in a boarding house. Shortly after Elizabeth's death in 1801 Betsy was apparently back visiting Graeme Park and reported "passing Elizabeth on the stairs."

Margaret Marshall Strawbridge
Mrs. Strawbridge and her husband Welsh purchased Graeme Park in 1920. They lived in what is now known as the Penrose-Strawbridge house, elsewhere on the property and used the Keith House for entertaining. Mrs. Strawbridge had a real love of history and delighted in taking visitors down to "the old house" to show it off. The couple donated 42 acres of their property, including the Keith House, to the state of Pennsylvania in 1958. In 1989 she participated in an oral history project, allowing the staff at Graeme Park to interview her and record her memories on many subjects, including Graeme Park. The following excerpt is her accounting of the "ghost stories" associated with Graeme Park:

Interviewer: Do you believe in the ghost stories about Elizabeth and Hugh Fergusson?

MMS: It's hard to say just how much I believe. I nearly always had Irish help. And the Irish help always could see ... she used to see the Governor with a yellow satin waistcoat, and silver buckles on his shoes. She could tell me all the wonderful things she saw, I used to wish I could see, and almost made myself believe I did. I tried, with imagination, to see all the family. And it was very exciting.

Interviewer: But you never saw Elizabeth?
MMS: Not actually, but I really did think I heard the rustle of her skirts on the stairs. And, of course, I thought she was coming down the stairway. And it was easy to imagine a little breeze making that happen.

Interviewer: But you feel her presence?
MMS: I felt very strongly her presence.

Recent Experiences
One of the stories that was told to me shortly after I began working at Graeme Park had to do with a Christmas tour that had been held several years before. The volunteers had been in the house decorating the windowsills with artificial greenery and when lunch time came around, they locked the house, ate their lunch in the Visitor's Center and went back to the house to complete their task. They found the greenery on one of the windowsills in Elizabeth's room had been strewn around the floor. According to the history, Elizabeth sat in one of the windows of her bedroom on the terrible day in 1772 that she decided to tell her father of her marriage to Henry Hugh Fergusson and watched him drop over dead as he made his way through the gardens and back towards the house. Perhaps this greenery was in the way of her favorite spot to sit and observe her grounds.

Elizabeth's bedroom also contains a painting of her, which a few years ago was sent down to Washington DC to be cleaned and repaired. While it was gone one of our volunteers took a woman and her young daughter down to the house for a tour. While they were in Elizabeth's room the girl began tugging at her mother and whispered something to her. The mother said to the guide "she has her grandmother's gift, and she sees a dark haired woman sitting in the chair over there smiling." The girl was very young to be making up stories and the painting of Elizabeth, which shows her as a dark haired woman, was not in the room at the time.

Another more recent account took place a few years ago. The weekend before our annual Celtic Festival a couple from New Jersey came in for a tour. I took them around the house as usual and after the tour the man, who represented a Scottish Clan indicated his interest in setting up a table at the festival. He filled out the paperwork, handed over his check and they were on their way. The following week when he arrived to set up his space, he pulled me aside and asked "do people report strange things about the house?" When I inquired as to why he asked, he said when they got home his wife said she was convinced she'd heard children laughing outside on the grounds, but when she'd looked out the windows there was no one else around. Neither I nor her husband remembered hearing anything. The room we were in at the time, the master bedroom, is beneath the children's dormitory on the 3rd floor and because of the busyness and activities associated with setting up for the Festival, we skipped the video which has Mrs. Strawbridge speaking of her experiences with Elizabeth's ghost.

My Own Experiences
While all of the stories that have been passed down are fun to retell at Halloween, in general I will not mention them on a typical tour of Graeme Park. If my visitors should happen to ask, however, I will tell of my own personal experiences with Elizabeth's ghost.

The most common experience I have with her is in trying to set the alarms at the end of the day and they won't set. I push the buttons that tell me what the problem is, and it tells me that there is motion being detected in Elizabeth's bedroom. I trudge down to the house, knowing full well there is no one there, unlock the door with a large skeleton key, and call up the steps "Good night Elizabeth, the house is yours again." Back in the visitor's center I am then able to set the alarm. These instances frequently occur when we have stormy weather, Being somewhat rational, I'd like to attribute it to a fault in the alarm system triggered by the rain or wind, but perhaps it is on these dreary days that Elizabeth is more likely to be at home rather than out visiting her friends or enjoying the grounds at Graeme Park.

On another occasion I took a rather large group into the house, maybe 10 or 12 people. As we entered the office, I thought I heard footsteps beating it up the stairs in the adjacent stairhall. I did a quick head count to make sure no one from my group had slipped out of the room to explore on their own, but all were accounted for. So what ghostly presence had we caught unaware on the stairs?

More recently I was in the house with one other (female) volunteer setting up or cleaning up candles for an evening tour. As I descended the stairs between the 3rd and 2nd floors, I thought I heard a man's voice quietly say a few words. I could not make out what he said, and when questioned, the volunteer, who was down in Elizabeth's room at the other end of the house, had not spoken.

The closet in the third floor dormitory has a pin on the inside of the door that slips down into a hole in the floor, locking it from the inside. Before our evening candlelight programs I like to get the fire extinguishers out of the closets "just in case" but before one such program a few years ago, I was not able to open this one. I reached down and could feel under the door that the pin was engaged and there was no way to open the closet from the outside. No one of this earth was hiding inside. Several weeks later I tried the door again and it opened just fine, the pin being lifted and latched into place as it should have been. No one would admit to being in the house or accessing this closet for any reason.

On occasion I am unable to unlock the front door either. The locks are somewhat tricky if you're not familiar with them, but after many years of working here, I know just how far to insert the key and which way to turn it. Every once in awhile it is locked up tight and no amount of hammering will release it. Until suddenly it is fine.

In November, 2006, Sue Serio, a weather anchor on one of our local morning shows broadcast a segment she calls "Sue's Clues" from the parlor of the Keith House. She does the weather from a mystery location and viewers call and email in to try and guess where she is. During the 7:00 o'clock hour, their camera battery, which was at 80% capacity, suddenly went dead on them. I too have had problems taking photographs inside the house. The camera just malfunctions and won't take the picture, but when I go back outside everything is fine.

Perhaps my most dramatic experience with Elizabeth's ghosts occured a few years ago when we did an evening "Anniversary Tour" the day before her wedding anniverary with her husband Henry Hugh Fergusson. Elizabeth and Henry did not have the happiest of matches. She was 11 years older than he and married him in secret and against her father's wishes. She was said to have tripped on a tombstone as she left the churchyard after the ceremony, which was considered a bad omen. Henry served with the British during the Revolution, which broke out a few years after their marriage, seperating them during the war and after when he returned to England. There were allegations of an illegitimate child, which Elizabeth could not or would not get over. Our tour focused on this history, and likely stirred up some memories for Elizabeth. I tagged along with one of the groups to get photographs of the actors presenting the program. In Elizabeth's room, I smelled a sweet, flowery smell. I thought maybe someone had overdone it on their perfume, but did not smell it during the rest of the tour, some of the rooms being much smaller and the crowd bunched in tighter, than they were in her room. After the tour, which was on a rainy night, we had our usual problem with the alarm system detecting motion in her room. As I went down to the house to check on things with the volunteer who had played Elizabeth that night and been stationed in her room she mentioned having smelled this floral smell all night too. There are not many flowers on the grounds or Graeme Park and the windows are sealed up tight. So was a perfumed Elizabeth with us that night, enjoying the performance or bemoaning her rascal husband? Did scents from the once lush formal gardens to the north of the house and destroyed by encamped soldiers waiting to fight the Battle of Brandywine suddenly waft their way into her room as they may have back in the 18th century?  

So what do you think? Do you believe in ghosts? Tonight and tomorrow night (October 26-27, 2012) we'll be hosting our Haunted Moonlight Tours, where we explore Elizabeth's history and the stories and legends that have "haunted" us since her death in an entertaining, family-friendly tour presented by costumed reenactors. The tours run approximately every half hour between 7 and 9 pm and are $12/person, which includes light refreshments and a bonfire (weather permitting). We also host periodic Paranormal Investigations where groups investigate with various paranormal teams using high tech equipment - the next one is scheduled for November 3, 2012 and will include an investigation of the Penrose-Strawbridge House on the adjacent property and is $50/person which includes light snacks and a review of evidence collected on previous investigations. Contact us at 215-343-0965 for more information on either program.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Let's Shout it from the Rooftop: The Roof is Done!

Can I get a huzzah? Just over six weeks after they began, the two man crew from Ressler Construction, Brownsville, PA, finished up the roof and dormers on the Keith House earlier this week. We've been following the progress since the project began on August 24, so for the entire process from the beginning, see our previous posts here, here, here, here, and here. And now, because there isn't much more to say, the pictures:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

2012 Weddings at Graeme Park

We've just concluded our first full season of wedding rentals here at Graeme Park since the new Open Aire Affairs tent went in back in July of 2011 and the landscaping was improved earlier this spring (see details of the path and plantings here, here, here, and here), so we wanted to share with you some images of the events that were held here.

The season started off in June with the wedding of Angie and Tom, who chose to have their ceremony on the south side of the Keith House by the herb garden.

We don't know if it was deliberate or not, but the wedding party sure looked nice color coordinated with the trim on the house!

At the end of September, Cheryl and Kris were married in front of the waterfall.

Their color pallette was orange and yellow for fall, mixed with pretty peacock blue for the bridesmaids' dresses and groomsmens' vests.

They kept things simple in the tent with burlap wrapped potted mums for table flowers and table linens in traditional fall colors,

but had elaborate and artistically arranged crudite tables in the barnyard during cocktail hour.

Peter and Kate, who were married here in early October, really embraced the rustic setting and incorporated farm antiques around the property to enhance their ceremony, cocktail and reception sites.

The pick-up truck from the family's ancestral farm served as a location for post ceremony photographs:

Simple flowers in collected jars, along with milk caps, corks, votive candles, and small antiques, dressed the tables which were covered in plum and white with burlap runners:

An old ladder served as a staging spot for place cards:

Pumpkins and mums dressed the path to the tent:

This old wheelbarrow full of flowers decorated the entrance to the tent:

Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres were staged in the open area between the Keith House and barn:

The bridesmaids walked out of the Keith House and down to the ceremony in the barn yard,

and the bride passed the summer kitchen...

...and the barn on her way to meet her groom.

And finally, the guests danced the night away in the tent.

For more information on booking your 2013 wedding at Graeme Park, please contact Open Aire Affairs at 215-860-1859 (

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