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The famous Stratford knocking

By Thomas D'Agostino

1738 Elm Street in Stratford, Connecticut, became the site of one of the most famous poltergeist infestations in American history. The mansion fit in with the rest of the homes when it was completed in 1826. The exquisite domicile was a gift from General Mattas Nicoll to his daughter and new son-in-law, Captain George Dowdell. The Georgian style mansion boasted Doric columns on both the outside and interior halls. A special staircase was constructed to resemble those found on a clipper ship of the times. The couple lived there until their deaths. In 1849, the property was sold to Reverend Eliakim Phelps.

The Phelps family, consisting of the Reverend, his wife and four children, moved into the massive home. The winter seemed quaint and peaceful but that was about to change. On March 10, 1850, the family attended Sunday sabbath. Upon returning, they discovered a most horrifying event had transpired in their brief absence.

The home was locked up tight when they left, but when they opened the door, they found the furniture had been thrown about the house, some smashed to pieces. Black crepe used during funerals of the era was hung across the door. More horrific than the previous sights were the effigies of people made of women's clothing rolled and twisted into human form. Some were kneeling in a prayer position, one with its face touching the floor. There were bibles open in front of them. Above them was another grotesque figure dangling from the ceiling as if flying above the others. In another room, a figure laid out in a shroud resembling someone laid out for burial was placed upon a bed.

Within days, Stratford and half the region knew about the unearthly phenomena that took place in the Phelps home. People came from all around in hopes of witnessing a ghost or any other sign of the other world. Writings on the wall, apparitions, furniture moving, items flying off shelves in the kitchen were among the acts performed by what people came to know as poltergeists. The appearance of the effigies continued despite constant guard. Rooms were closed tight and carefully watched during the night but upon entering the next morning, the figures would be present in their positions. No one ever saw the clothing disappear or found any sign of intrusion.

Soon the knocking began. At first they were just loud raps upon the walls but it was not long before they turned into thunderous blows that shook the home. Scores of witnesses were present when the paranormal activity transpired. The Phelps family fell under scrutiny with many authorities believing the children were responsible for the acts. Many events transpired while they were in rooms by themselves. Mediums and psychic researchers of the day came and studied the amazing goings on in the mansion with no rational explanation as to their origin.

Some suspected the reverend's wife, who longed for her hometown in Pennsylvania, as being the culprit creating the havoc in hopes of driving them from the home. Strangely enough, when she and her two children from her previous marriage went back to Philadelphia, the activity ceased. The reverend sold the home and over time several owners lived in it with little activity. In the 1900s it became a nursing home and many of the residents frequently complained of strange rapping, heavy footsteps and apparitions appearing in the rooms.

By the early 1970s the building was condemned and stood empty of the living. Vandals took over from there, destroying the interior and setting fires within the structure. By 1972, the city had decided to demolish the decrepit mansion. The wrecking ball would be the final knocks that would emanate from the walls of the building. The land where the home once stood is part of a parking lot and the spirits may have moved on, but not before they could etch into history, one of America's most endeared haunting.

Thomas D'Agostino may be reached at