Cranston, Rhode Island
A group sits around a candle-lit table, their hands joined in what might be called prayer. One calls out to the air, asking that the persons responsible for disturbing the peace in this house reveal themselves. Imagine his surprise when he is answered, and the séance takes a turn toward the macabre as a story of murder and tragedy is spun from the ether.
There are certain houses that lend themselves to haunted reputations. Either by appearance or by history, those homes become well known for unexplainable things that occur within their walls. Some such places are abandoned, allowed to decay until meeting their demise by the wrecking ball and the bulldozer blade. Others, however, are saved from destruction by people aware of the importance that such buildings have in the history of a city. Along with the walls, however, many save more than they bargain for, in the form of restless souls, no less important to history.
It may be hard to believe, but the sprawling mansion that now sits on Cranston Avenue began in the 18th century as a modest farm house, built by the Sprague Family. In 1806, William Sprague, who then ran a grist mill, converted his family business into a textile mill, which was among the first to use a process called chemical bleaching, as well as one of the first to print calico patterns on cotton fabric. The so-called Cranston Print Works became one of the most important businesses in Cranston, amassing the Sprague Family a fortune.
When William died, his sons Amasa and William II took over the family business, though their life paths would take them in different directions. Amasa concentrated on running the print works while William became a senator. It was during this time that Amasa began expanding the modest farmhouse. Adding wings on both sides, the house began to take shape that is recognizable today. He used the house to entertain guests and influential people in the community. Things seemed to be going well for the family, with both their financial and political aspirations being met, until tragedy struck.
In December of 1843, Amasa left his mansion on business. He was found the following morning within sight of the mansion grounds, bludgeoned to death. According to local legend, the perpetrator was thought to be a man named John Gordon, whom Amasa had prevented from getting a liquor license. Whether the motive or not, public record and history shows that John Gordon was, in fact, executed by hanging for the crime. He was, however, later cleared of the charges, and the real killer was never found. The trial, however, had lasting effects on Rhode Island, as capital punishment was outlawed, making Gordon the last man ever executed in the state.
William resigned from the Senate, returning home to manage the family business, until his empire collapsed.
According to those in the know, there have been many disturbances in the house since 1925, when the first apparitions were reported. According to published reports, the apparition of a man has been frequently seen walking down the stairwell in the house. Other places of phenomena include the wine cellar, where claim to feel cold winds and see the image of Amasa himself. Blankets have been pulled off beds, making sleeping difficult for some who’ve stayed in the house. Another room where phenomena has been recorded is the “Doll Room,” so called because of the large collection of dolls that adorn the walls. In this room, some report hearing footsteps or seeing the lights go on and off by themselves. Still more complain of a “presence” that exists in the room.
In 1968, a séance was held by a Brown University Student who was living in the mansion as a caretaker, and was determined to get to the source of the hauntings. When asked, two spirits stepped forward and claimed responsibility for the phenomena. One, Amasa Sprague, was expected. The second, however, turned out to be a butler from the 1890’s who, according to legend, had expected but did not get a large inheritance from his employers. According to published record, the séance ended when the ouija board being used began hastily spelling out “My Land!” over and over, frightening those present. According to the student, when he asked what the souls needed to be at peace, the board responded saying “Tell my story.”
In 1967, the Sprague Mansion was in danger of being demolished. Its former glory had long since faded and its use had gone from being a boarding house to a foreman’s home. By the mid 1960’s, it sat abandoned. A plan to knock it down was thwarted by the Cranston Historical Society, who purchased and renovated the building, and now uses it as their headquarters. Far from ruin, the Sprague Mansion now houses impressive collections of period furniture and hosts tours to any who are interested. It is also available for events and banquets.
Still, the hauntings persist. The presence in the basement just as active as it was eighty years ago, as is the presence in the doll room.
The Cranston Historical Society provides tours by appointment only, and while one is likely to encounter the butler at any time, the best chances of encountering Amasa Sprague are in December, near the anniversary of his death.
See you in two weeks!