A Chilly Touch of Ghost Envy

As I begin to put the final touches on The Victorian Ghost Hunter’s Casebook, I’ve become envious of Charles G. Harper’s Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural (1907) and especially John H. Ingram’s The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain (1897). These books are both compendiums of haunted houses — both charmingly illustrated — and both very, very British. Well, the houses in them are British. And there are a lot of haunted houses there!

Where’s the stateside equivalent? To be sure, there are books that catalog ghosts in the U.S., from Amityville to Winchester. Plenty of them. But — since I’m stuck in the 19th century — I want a book that focuses only on haunted houses from before 1900, roughly the nation’s first dozen decades. Spectral Edition: Ghost Reports from U.S. Newspapers, 1865-1917 comes pretty close, I guess. Should I create another book that reviews pre-1900 haunted houses in the U.S.?

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s enough material for such a thing. While researching material for the Casebook over the last several years, I only managed to find two interesting chronicles of ghost hunts held in the U.S. during the Victorian era. Only two. All of the other chronicles — twelve of them — discuss investigations conducted within the realm of Queen Victoria, which certainly fits the title. I guess The Casebook of Ghost Hunters from the Victorian, Jacksonian, Civil War, Reconstruction Eras, and the Gilded Age would have been a bit cumbersome title-wise.

I decided to put those two American ghost hunts into the Casebook’s Appendix. One of them is about Clermont Academy, which stood outside of Philadelphia once upon a time. The chronicle provides very thorough details on that haunting.

Clermon Seminary
An illustration of Clermont Academy in The Casket (April 1830)

Nonetheless, it’s really hard to find information similar to that. After a few hours of preliminary research, I had located only one article about a few New York residences said to be haunted. Only one. Granted, it has nice illustrations, and I’m a sucker for old illustrations. But two sources do not a well-researched book make.

Who knows? If I find more than a handful of sources, maybe I’ll start a new feature in “For Fun and Edification” sections of this website that will be my small, stateside version of Harper’s and Ingram’s books. In the meantime, I’ll continue to polish The Victorian Ghost Hunter’s Casebook — and look across the Atlantic to the UK with a chilly touch of ghost envy.

And then I’ll re-read Spectral Edition, if only to keep myself from becoming too jealous.

— Tim

Unless you live in or near Philadelphia, this part might bore you a lot.

I spent some time obsessing over where Clermont Academy would have been on today’s maps. I took an 1843 map of Philadelphia, which shows the school’s location at the corner of Nicetown and Heart Lanes. Those streets are no longer there, so I marked the Academy’s western and southern borders with a black “check mark.” To position and scale this against a modern map, I also drew a line from the corner of Church and Leiper Streets in nearby Frankford, streets that still exit, to the western point of Petty Island. I did the same on a modern map.1843 Map of Philadelphia County

Then I overlaid them, and here’s what I came up with:

Both mapsUsing Petty Island as a marker might have been a mistake, given 180 years of erosion. But that reversed S section of Tacony Creek seems to still fit pretty well (which itself is surprising seeing as how the creek has been straightened closer to the Delaware River). I’m no cartographer, but it looks like Clermont Academy would have sat on the property now edged by Whitaker Avenue, East Luzern Street, D Street, and East Erie. The site is where Hoffman Hall Prison and Correctional Facility currently stands.

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