Photo: Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York. The
mansion nearly completed in 1898. Credit: National Park Service
I am fortunate to have a close friend whose father was a Superintendent of several parks back when she was a young girl. Through her, I am sharing this Haunted National Parks story.
The Vanderbilt Mansion, originally known as Hyde Park, was designed and constructed in the late 1890s, becoming the country estate of Frederick W. and Louise Vanderbilt. Consisting of fifty-four rooms, the mansion (and not the adjacent farm) was transferred to public land and designated Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in 1940. In 1966, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
So, is the mansion haunted? A great question! There is a documented death in the mansion that took place on October 21, 1900. A new cook, just 2 weeks on the job, mistakenly opened the door to the elevator, and stepped into the open shaft, falling 40 feet to her death. Is this spirit still there? My friend's experience suggests it might.
Many years ago, when she was a young girl, my friend's father made a business trip to this site. While he was in a late meeting, she and another NPS employee's daughter were left to explore the mansion on their own. All they had to do was to stay out of trouble!
The girls were alone in the building, exploring room after room, mostly looking for things "to get into," as children often do. The mansion was very quiet and they began to feel quite uncomfortable being alone and as darkness was setting in. Aware that someone had fallen to her death in the building didn't help. What happened next scared them silly! They heard the dumbwaiter start moving. Knowing that the dumbwaiter was hand operated and, in fact, inoperable at that time, they both screamed and ran as far away from the Dining Room area as possible.
To this day, my friend is convinced this was a paranormal encounter. Even if someone else had been present to operate it, the dumbwaiter when it was built was hand operated and Mr. Vanderbilt specifically chose not to electrify it in later years. It was inoperable at the time of her visit, so hearing and feeling it moving through the walls was definitely shocking - and scary!
Photo (Right): Vanderbilt Mansion dumbwaiter.
Photo (Below): Vanderbilt Mansion floor plan. Location 7, the Butler's Pantry, is the location of the dumbwaiter.
Was it the cook that died suddenly in the elevator shaft operating the dumbwaiter? Could it possibly be the spirit of one of the other servants that worked here? That, we don't know. But I'd love to hear from anyone that has visited the site for their impressions and experiences!
Dr. Carol A. Pollio
Director, Intuitive Investigations®
National Park Service. Vanderbilt Mansion: A Gilded Age Country Place: A Historic Resource Study. (2008). Accessed online: https://www.nps.gov/vama/learn/historyculture/upload/VAMAHRS.pdf