Across Rhode Island are stories of abandoned towns, colonial lore, and the unexplained. From a haunted factory, to the remains of an abandoned city, and the state’s first so-called vampire case, here are only a sample of some of the state’s spookiest places with peculiar pasts.
1. The old farm Colonial that is now the ‘Conjuring’ House in Harrisville.
In 1973, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren went into the old clapboard Colonial on Round Top Road to conduct a seance in an attempt to rid the home of the spirits that were allegedly tormenting the Perron family. These entities, they claim, never left. The Perron’s eldest daughter, Andrea Perron, wrote a memoir about the family’s experiences in the house. The memoir, “House of Darkness House of Light,” noted that the Warrens suggested that Bathsheba was the name of an entity disturbing the family.
“The Conjuring,” a 2013 blockbuster movie, was loosely based on the Warren’s papers, but added a dramatic Hollywood spin. In the movie, Bathsheba was a demon witch who sacrificed her baby and hung herself. But these were simply lies, historians say. Bathsheba Sherman was a farmwife who lived an ordinary life before her death in May 1885. Sherman’s obituary said she was “a decent Christian woman,” and historians say she was never accused of wrongdoing in her lifetime. The leaders of the Burrillville Historical Society raised funds to restore Sherman’s gravestone, and are working to set the record straight on the woman who died more than a century ago.
For years, the home’s owners have rented it out for people to conduct overnight paranormal investigations — including to a Globe reporter. In 2022, it was sold for $1.525 million to Jacqueline Nuñez, a Boston developer with a passion for the paranormal. She continued day tours, events, 13-hour overnight investigations, and donated funds to the society’s efforts to pay for Sherman’s new gravestone.
2. The remains of Hanton City, which dates back to the late 1600s.
Hidden deep in the woods in Smithfield are the remains of Hanton City, which was a small village that dates back to the 1600s and was abandoned sometime during the early 19th century. Most of it has been overgrown, and the remnants of a few cellar stone foundations are the only things left of the original buildings, which have rotted away. One local urban explorer, Jason Allard, recently traveled there on two separate occasions with his mom to create a video of the lost city for his popular YouTube channel. He told the Globe the ruins are scattered around a one-mile radius and there typically aren’t any trails leading to them. It took them a total of 12 hours just to track down and film the remains.
“It was strange walking around there because of how isolated it feels despite being in Smithfield,” he said. In preparation for the video, Allard uncovered old Providence Journal articles and other resources to try to figure out what happened to the people of Hanton City.
In his video, which had nearly 10,000 views, he said he found a water well that was still uncovered and held together after all these years. “If one thing here is haunted or contains a ghost, it’s 100 percent this creepy well in the woods,” he said.
Allard said Hanton City peaked as nothing more than a small town in the 1730s with a population of mostly poor tanners and shoe makers. The residents relocated once a new highway pattern diverted traffic away from Hanton, which he said was once a rural stop between Providence and Woonsocket.
3. Barnaby Castle and America’s first recorded murder by mail.
Jerothmul B. Barnaby was a magnate in the ready-to-wear clothing industry with a large store on Westminster Street in Providence. In 1875, he commissioned an architectural firm to build him a home that matched his wild tastes on Broadway, which was nicknamed Providence’s Victorian boulevard. But in 1891 Barnaby’s widow Josephine was killed after she drank a poisoned bottle of whiskey she received through the mail from an unknown sender. Dr. Thomas Thatcher Graves, her physician and business partner, was convicted of murder after a six-week highly publicized trial. It was the first recorded murder that was committed through the mail in US history. Graves was sentenced to death and his defense team appealed the decision, but he allegedly committed suicide prior to his execution.
The story gets even juicier: it’s believed by some descendants that John Conrad, Josephine’s son-in-law, might have been the murderer. His own grandson and Josephine’s great grandson, author Barnaby Conrad, wrote “A Revolting Transaction” in 1983, which accused John Conrad of killing Josephine but also of potentially bribing a prison guard to slip poison into Graves’s food.
After years of neglect, the Victorian mansion has been undergoing restoration.
4. The lottery curse at Hearthside House in Lincoln.
Quaker Stephen Hopkins Smith, who lived in a modest home near Chase Farm, reportedly won $40,000 in a lottery and used his winnings to build the grand, Federal style-Hearthside Manor in 1810 in Lincoln. But when the Providence socialite who Smith was reportedly in love with said she did not want to live out there “in the wilderness,” he decided never to live in the home. He never married, and the home was regularly called “heartbreak house” or “the house that love built,” according to those who work to preserve its history. For nearly 200 years, the home was a private residence before it became a public building and museum. Yet, it’s known to have paranormal activity, and modern-day visitors can go through their “Gone but never forgotten” exhibit and tour to learn about Victorian era superstitions surrounding death, 19th-century embalming tools, and the beginnings of spiritualism during that time.
5. The grave of Mercy Brown and the vampire panic of Rhode Island.
The New England Vampire Panic took place in the 19th century, in reaction to the outbreak of the consumption epidemic, which is better known as tuberculosis today. Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial disease that affects the lungs and causes people to cough blood, suffer from night sweats and fevers, and lose weight. But the infection, which is easily spread, was thought to be caused by deceased family members sucking the life out of the household survivors. In some cases, bodies were even exhumed and rituals were conducted on the deceased’s organs.
Take the case of Mercy Brown, for instance, which is one of the most notorious cases of an alleged vampire in New England. Between 1883 and 1892, George T. Brown’s wife, Mary Eliza, and his eldest daughters, Mary Olive and Mercy Lena, all died of consumption.
At the time, tuberculosis had killed more people in New England than any other disease. Brown’s son Edwin also contracted the illness and his health was fading. Neighbors believed that one of the dead family members had infected Edwin by feeding off of him from the afterlife, and Brown had several bodies of his family members dug back up in March 1892. Mercy Lena, who had died just weeks before and was kept in an above-ground tomb until the ground thawed enough to bury her, had exhibited almost no decomposition and still had blood in her veins. Despite the medical examiner at the time saying there was nothing unnatural about her state of decomposition, Mercy Lena’s heart and liver were removed and burned. A concoction made of water and her ashes was given to Edwin to drink, which was a common ritual during the vampire panic. Edwin Brown died two months after.
Mercy Brown’s grave, which is now anchored to the ground after being stolen previously, is located in the cemetery of the Baptist Church in Exeter. A police detail is often stationed outside the cemetery around Halloween.
6. The Ram Tail Factory, which the 1885 Rhode Island census designated a haunted place.
Along the Ponagansett River in Foster, R.I., William Potter purchased land and a few mills in 1790 and decided about 23 years later to expand operations, enlisting help from his son and other family members. Peleg Walker, the most important character in this story, was one of them. His relationship with Potter’s family members soured, mostly due to money, and they told him to hand over the keys to the factory’s buildings.
Shortly later, Walker went missing and his body was found in the mill. The cause of death was ruled a suicide, but diary entries by women who worked in the mills, uncovered by local researchers, referenced Walker and read: “One cut his throat in the tall hour and it showed blood all down the stairs.” Not long after his death, the factory’s bell would ring at midnight, there were reports of a man who was believed to be Walker walking through the factory with his lantern. One night the entire factory started running at full speed without any workers inside. Workers ended up leaving the village, and the mill eventually went out of business. It was set on fire in the early 1870s.
Walker’s headstone, which Allard recently tracked down about a mile away, reads, “Life how short, eternity how long.”
7. The Ladd School, and cleansing society of its “undesirables.”
The Ladd School was founded in 1908 in Exeter, in an attempt to cleanse society of those who were described as “feeble-minded.” During that time, that was a medical diagnosis that was open to some interpretation, but generally described as what is called a developmental disability today. Some who were admitted into the institution were people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, but others were mentally ill, physically disabled, elderly, sick, homeless, immigrants, criminals, unwed mothers, and otherwise “considered a detriment to society.”
But from around 1917 until about 1957, the rise of eugenics made it common practice for women to be indefinitely committed to the school because of illegitimate pregnancy, adultery, prostitution, and other sexual-related misdemeanors, according to the school’s historical society. The school was later renamed the Dr. Joseph H. Ladd School, and it was held to higher standards with support of federal funding. Yet, the school’s population began to dwindle and, by 1994, it closed after it was plagued by scandal with allegations of abuse, neglect, and medical malpractice. It stood vacant until 2014, when most of the buildings had begun to crumble. Others have been repurposed. A small memorial park remains.
8. The vault in the basement of Providence’s Superman building.
The Industrial National Bank Building at 111 Westminster St. in Providence, known as the “Superman” building, has been vacant for the last decade. In much of the building, such as the lobby, there are artifacts that were left behind as if someone would someday return. Hints of the past are scattered about: Metal calendars showing old dates. Gold pens chained to counters. A gigantic desktop computer. Two and half floors beneath the grand lobby is the old bank vault, which once held $6 billion in assets behind two doors that weigh 17 tons each. Hundreds of deposit boxes of different sizes kept safe the most prized possessions of wealthy Rhode Islanders.
Deeper underground is the boiler room, where hand-written notes of the previous maintenance workers are left scattered on a desk along with flipped-through binders and tools that once fixed things throughout the building. An eerie silence spreads across each of its floors. The building’s current owner, High Rock Development, plans to begin construction this month to redevelop the site into 285 apartment units.
9. Seaview Terrace, a historic and supposedly haunted mansion in Newport.
In September 2021, Seaview Terrace, a historic mansion along Newport’s Cliff Walk, hit the market for $29.9 million. The property, which is set on nearly 8 acres of land on Ruggles Avenue, has 29 bedrooms, 18 bathrooms, 10 fireplaces, and spirits that allegedly haunt the walls, according to ghost hunter and author Amy Bruni.
The home was built by Edson Bradley in 1907. His wife died in 1929 and he died in 1935. The home was left to their daughter, Julia Bradley Shipman, who failed to pay the property taxes and sold it for just $8,000. Over the years, it was later renamed “Carey Mansion,” and it’s been leased to Salve Regina University to use as dorms. But antique items scatter the halls, and it features an old Italian chapel that was brought from Italy and rebuilt into the mansion.
10. The tunnels of Fort Adams.
Starting in 1799, Fort Adams was a United States Army post, and its first commander was Captain John Henry, who was later credited with starting the War of 1812. A Ghost Hunters investigation in 2019 allegedly confirmed to some locals the paranormal activity they suspected after hearing knocking noises, whimpering sounds, doors opening unexpectedly, and even a child’s voice.