The Haunted House Experiment

Thanks to Skip Gibson for sharing his story! Skip is a paranormal investigator and has worked with The Society for Psychical Research on various cases. This story is about Skip’s experiences while investigating the historic Bolton Mansion in Levittown, Pennsylvania.  

When Skip was taking a psychology class in college, one of the assignments was to come up with an original experiment.  He decided to study people’s reactions when they stayed overnight in an allegedly haunted house.  He chose the Bolton Mansion, a historical house in his town that has a reputation of being haunted.  Built in 1687, the Bolton Mansion has twenty-seven rooms and was home to the highly respected Pemberton family for many generations.

By the time Skip was to conduct his experiment in 1971, the house had been vandalized and needed extensive repairs.  For safety precautions, the participants had to sign waivers and emergency personnel had to be kept on standby.  Skip documented reactions of fifty-six believers and non-believers, ranging from 18-70 years old.  The whole project lasted several months and included the assistance of staff from Drexel, Temple, Princeton, and Pennsylvania University, as a well as a grant from the psychical research society.

The locals knew about some of the ghost stories surrounding the Bolton Mansion.  Some have heard and seen the spirit of a black woman calling for help from one of the windows.  There is also the story of the ghost of a woman who is constantly searching for a lost child who disappeared while wandering the grounds.  The night that they did the experiment, no one had any paranormal experiences, although Skip did notice something interesting.  The people who believed in ghosts were less afraid than those who stated that they did not believe in the paranormal.

After the initial experiment was complete, Skip and the various university staff continued to study the house.  They wanted to see if they could capture anything on film.  They did an initial walk-through of the premises to make sure that they could map out how they would proceed through the house.  This was done so that they would never enter the same room twice.  They had a special kind of film back then that was revolutionary for the time.  It would pick up heat, electrical charges, and radioactive energy.  Since the film was highly sensitive, they sealed the house up for thirty days before filming to make sure that the rooms had had a chance to cool down.  They took three shots of each room.

Some of the pictures came back showing dry rot in the wood.  Others showed funny shapes like a glowing, white triangle with some sort of tail.  They did manage to catch fully developed apparitions on the second and third floors of the house.  In one of the rooms on the third floor, they captured an image of a man wearing a civil war uniform, standing with his back to the camera.  Then another photo revealed the figure of a woman holding up her skirts as she walked up the stairs.  None of these apparitions were visible at the time that the pictures were taken.

There is some historical information that supports the two figures that appeared in these pictures.  A family diary kept in the Bucks County Courthouse in Doylestown, PA later revealed that there had been two suicides in the house.  One of the Pemberton sons who had fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War had returned home to ask forgiveness of his family.  When his request was refused, he hung himself from the landing on the third floor.  His body had been discovered by a young female servant.  Three weeks later, the same servant shot herself.  It was rumored that she and the son had been in love with one another.  Suicide was considered both a sin and a scandal at the time and public knowledge of this would have been suppressed.  At the time that the pictures were taken, neither Skip, nor the rest of the university staff knew about the events that had occurred in the house.


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