Happy Halloween, Knowers!
Last time, we were discussing author Patrick Dorsey's Haunted Webster Groves, a collection he purports to have gathered through months of research and interviews in the St. Louis suburb he calls home. As I mentioned then, I’m a skeptic but a few of the stories made me think there might be some more early explanations. And interestingly in one case, the homeowner—who, by the way, is certain his home of over forty years is haunted—has already debunked many of the tales about the place.
I really, really respect that.
The Gehm House on Plant Avenue in Webster Groves is probably the second-most well-known haunted house in the St. Louis area. Surpassed in notoriety only by the famous Lemp Mansion, its stories have been repeated in books from Hans Holzer’s well-known Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond to James Longo’s well-respected Haunted Odyssey: Ghostly Tales of the Mississippi Valley. According to Dorsey’s book, it’s been owned by four families since original owner Bart Adams built it sometime around 1890 (nobody seems to have kept much in the way of records for construction projects back then). It was later bought by Henry Gehm, an eccentric railroad businessman whose name is associated with it to this day.
In 1956, S.L. Furry and his wife Fannie and their children moved in to the place and almost immediately, Furry began experiencing unexplainable happenings. When Fannie was often awakened from her sleep by someone urgently shaking her or violently hammering the headboard of the bed, yet when turned on the light, she’d find herself alone and the headboard unmarked. There was pounding on the windows and footsteps on the stairs. Their youngest daughter began telling them of the strange little boy visiting her, accompanied by an old woman in a black dress who would spank her with a broom (WTH, ghosts?). And, of course, there was a white, misty figure that would glide through the house.
A hazy figure was also reported by the home’s next owners, the Walshes, who also described footsteps climbing up and down the stairs at night. They further experienced a typewriter furiously typing when no one was in the room with it, drawers being opened and emptied, doors opening and closing in the middle of the night, and items stored in the attic being taken from their shelves and left laying about on the floor.
Those last few caught my attention. Sound less like a ghost than someone searching the place, doesn’t it? We’ll come back to that.
That jibes with what Walsh mother Clare learned when talking to her neighbors: eccentric Henry Gehm had supposedly hidden treasure somewhere on the property.
See where I’m going? Why assume ghosts when it could far more likely be neighbors or even just people who’ve hear the treasure stories breaking in and looking for hidden gold or jewels? I think that’s the basic plot of about 30% of the episodes of Scooby Doo…
And the latest owner as of Dorsey’s 2015 book agrees, at least in some instances. I enjoyed how he didn’t take the stories at face value, commenting that “…with my background in the physical sciences, I could usually find alternate explanations for anything that occurred.”
The Walshes, for example, told of finding a loose tread on the three-story home’s staircase, with a hidden compartment. Some stories suggest that the ghost of Old Man Gehm would walk up and down the stairs either looking for or looking to protect the gold he once hid there. But our current owner debunked that by talking with one of the Gehm daughters, Julie. She told him, “That’s where my parents used to hide the silverware whenever we left the house for vacation or a trip.”
There are also stories about a secret chamber in the attic. Dorsey got to see it for himself, and was underwhelmed, conceding that it was behind a hidden panel but describing it as looking more like a little bit more space for the closet. Again, Julie Gehm’s recollections come to the rescue as she revealed to the owner Dorsey interviewed: “Oh, yeah, back in there’s where father used to keep his moonshine!”
Strike two for the miserly ghost hoarding treasure from the afterlife.
That’s not to say the house had no treasure. During his interview with Dorsey the owner revealed an entire bookcase of books and file folders with newspaper clippings and student research papers about the house and its haunting from neighborhood kids going to the local schools over the years. That, Dorsey concludes, is the “Plant Avenue House’s genuine treasure.”
Research, knowers. Records and knowledge. I can’t disagree with the value of that at all.