22 Jun 2014
Three Haunted Buildings in Providence
Last week I was down in Providence for a conference. I had some free time one afternoon so I stopped by the Brown University Bookstore and left with a pile of new folklore books. One of them was Haunted Providence: Strange Tales from the Smallest State by Rory Raven.
As walked back to my hotel I had the sudden realization that my route could be taking me past various haunted locations. I pulled Haunted Providence out of my bag, and with just a quick scan found three haunted buildings that were on the way back to my hotel.
First up was the Nightingale-Brown House, which is located on Benefit Street. The house was built in 1792 by Captain John Nightingale, a Providence merchant who made his money trading sugar, rum and slaves in the notorious Triangle Trade. The house was sold to the Brown family in 1814, and is now part of Brown University.
Raven tells the following story about the Nightingale-Brown House. One night a new custodial worker was assigned to work in the large, rambling building. He and an older, more experienced co-worker were the only two people in the house, and the new custodian felt a little creeped out as he cleaned the old, empty rooms.
Towards the end of the shift he had to clean a room that had a large portrait on one wall. The eerie sensation he had experienced all night intensified as he vacuumed and dusted under the grim and watchful eyes of the painting. He completed his work as quickly as he could and turned off the light as he left the room.
As soon as he shut off the light a sepulchral voice said, "DON'T TURN THAT LIGHT OUT."
The new custodian ran out and found his co-worker. After he told him what happened, the older man said, "Yeah, strange things happen in that room. Don't worry about it, but whatever you do, don't turn out that light!"
Near the Nightingale-Brown House is the Providence Athenaeum, a private library that has been in operation since the early 1700s. Today it is housed in an imposing stone building built in 1836. The ghost of Edgar Allan Poe has been sighted several times in the Athenaeum. Shortly before his death Poe spent time in Providence wooing the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who lived just down the street from the Athenaeum and was a member. Either Poe liked Providence so much his ghost refuses to leave, or he was so traumatized by his broken engagement with Whitman that his ghost is trapped there forever. Knowing Poe's life, it's probably the latter.
The last haunted building on my list was the beloved Biltmore Hotel. I've been to a lot of events there, but never knew it was haunted. According to Raven, the Biltmore is haunted by the ghost of a financier who lost his fortune when the Depression started on Tuesday, October 29, 1929.
The financier was staying in a room on the fourteenth floor when he received word that all his wealth had disappeared in the crash. Overwhelmed by the news, he threw himself out the window to his death. Interestingly, his ghost supposedly haunts not only the room he was staying, but also every room he passed by as he fell. Guests staying in these rooms sometimes report seeing someone falling past their windows, but never see a body on the street when they look down to the sidewalk.