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 (

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Friday Fotos: Halloween Edition

Bet you thought I forgot about FFFs again this month didn't you? But no, I knew I'd be back at Graeme Park this evening on a secret mission (more to come on that shortly) so I decided to try a nighttime shot in this most appropriate month of October.

I didn't have a tripod on me so I had to use the flash, otherwise my results looked like this:

This is me waving the camera towards the lamp post because it was so dark the shutter wasn't closing and I thought I broke the camera.

For a review of the changes that have occured in the landscape over the year, check out SeptemberAugustJulyJuneMayAprilMarch,February, and January's "fotos." 
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