Thursday, November 6, 2014

The House that Fairbanks built - and furnished with ghosts

While researching family legends over the last several months, I discovered that there are many hidden stories out there waiting to be told - if we just dig deep enough.  Hopefully the stories written so far have been interesting and fun for you to read.  I have to admit, however, that when the thought started nipping around the edges of my consciousness that it would be fun to write about a legendary house, it was pushed out just as quickly - that is, until I started digging deeper into the story of the Fairbanks family and learned of their commitment to care for a part of their legacy which began hundreds of years ago.  

The Fairbanks House today

The legend began in 1633 when Jonathon Fairebanke (aka Fairbank, Fairbanks) migrated to America from England with his wife, Grace, and their children.  They weren't in their new country very long before they decided to settle in Dedham, Massachusetts and build a house for their large family.  The construction of the building took over a year to complete, and the family lived in a small house situated on the property until the first livable phase was completed in 1636.

They would no doubt have been shocked to learn that for almost 400 years, their home was continuously occupied by their lineal descendants - until it was converted into a museum still managed and tended by the Fairbanks family.  Perhaps just as remarkable is that there has never been a mortgage encumbrance upon it. 

Although it is generally accepted that the house was built in 1636, there has been considerable disagreement among historians about its construction.  One of these historians believes that it was not built until 1654, based on the “fact” that while the old house is a framed building of massive oak timber, there is no historical evidence that any framed houses were erected in the town at that time. 

A strong argument against this alleged ”fact” is the established tradition that  the frame for the main part of the house, as well as the bricks, tiles and windows, had been imported from England to Boston, where they were stored for several months before being transported to Dedham.

This very old house stood tall through the bloody birth of America, and continued to house its family while our country's history was being played out through the  centuries. 
But that's not the end of the story, and this next  chapter makes it even more intriguing. Because of  paranormal activity claims made by the staff and visitors (hearing children laughing when none are in the house and disembodied footsteps which have no apparent explanation), the house now carries the title of "The Nation's Oldest Haunted House"!

Finally, after the management of the museum continued to hear these odd stories from more than one person, they hired The Atlantic Paranormal Society (aka TAPS), a group of “ghost hunters”, to investigate.

After arriving at the site and interviewing the staff, TAPS made arrangements to stay in the house all night  in order to make audio recordings.

Fairbanks House parlor
One of the museum's employees, who is also a member of the Fairbanks family, joined the TAPS team in the house's tiny parlor that night and admitted that he got little or no sleep - especially when his cell phone went off in the middle of the night and began playing organ music! 

After reviewing those tapes the next day, the team  identified sounds that they identified as laughing kids.  Even the employee who had spent the night with them admitted that he too had heard the sounds.  He became a little calmer about the incident when the ghost hunters assured him that if there were spirits in the house, they were likely members of his own family and wouldn’t harm him. The TAPS team also told him spirits like to ‘mess with electronics,’ which might explain why tourists cameras often stop working when in the house.

The TAPS group returned for a second round of testing, this time armed with their elector-magnetic field detectors and audio recorders. The team leader described the outing as “awesome” and made an official report which said, in part, that "the house had a very different feeling the second time" and that there had been "lots of knocking and moving sounds".  She  stated that she and her team now firmly believe there is paranormal activity in the house.
This report was, not surprisingly, questioned by more than one observer, who claimed that most paranormal groups don't properly investigate and analyze the data that has been collected.
Despite those reservations, however, there are others who firmly believe that the house is populated by “strange spirits” and could well be one of the “most haunted houses in America”. One of theose believers is a museum director whose ancestors built the property:

"There’s always been weird things happening in the house, from the doorbell going off a million times to flashlights never working. . . there are sometimes footsteps heard on the stairs when no one is there. Also, a newly-installed alarm system went off every night for several weeks with the alarm company unable to offer an explanation.”

It's natural to assume that  if you have ghosts
haunting a house, there had to have been some violent deaths in it. Therefore, you might not be surprised to learn that there was at least one such death which was reported in 1801, when one of the Fairbanks sons, 21 year old Jason, was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Elizabeth Fales, in a nearby pasture. She had apparently spurned his marriage proposal.  He was hanged from the gallows on Dedham Common in one of the most sensational murder cases of the time. A few months after the hanging, Jason's older brother Ebenezer published an expensive booklet entitled "The Solemn Declaration of the Late Unfortunate Jason Fairbanks", in which he proclaimed Jason's

Hopefully the story of this wonderful old house and it's long history has been enjoyable to read.  Perhaps because of this story, you will add the Fairbanks House at 511 East Street in Dedham to your itinerary if you should happen to be traveling through the Northeast. Both the staff and the spirits will be happy to welcome you!