Myths and Legends was this year’s theme for Clarion County Historical Society’s (CCHS) family-friendly haunted museum, held in the Sutton-Ditz House the past two weekends. The haunted museum in Clarion will be open for a final time on Halloween from 6-9 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under.
“We’re doing myths and legends. We’re doing some Egyptian legends, we’re doing aliens, we’re doing a crime scene that’s connected to a legend. Voodoo, New Orleans voodoo,” said CCHS Executive Director Mary Lea Lucas in describing some of the featured vignettes.
“We wanted to keep it (the haunted museum) family friendly. I mean that’s the whole point, to get families out for Halloween together. So I don’t want to traumatize young children. There’s some humor, we keep humor in it too. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Adding to the family-friendly atmosphere all visitors were welcome to sample homemade cookies, candy and punch from the treat table. Children also received a treat bag that included a coloring book, crayons and a glow in the dark bracelet. Though attendance figures are not yet known for this year, 550 people visited the haunted museum in its inaugural season last fall, according to Lucas
The CCHS haunted museum was begun to provide more than thrills and chills. Seven rooms of the two story museum, originally built in 1850 as a house for the Thomas Sutton family, were transformed to showcase some of the more obscure items from the CCHS collection.
“We always use a casket. We have a viewing casket in our collection and it’s very rare. It isn’t otherwise out because of the space it takes and we don’t really have a place to put it since we’re a ‘house museum,’” Lucas said. “We have a really bizarre looking instrument for eye testing and other electronic devices and scientific devices that we incorporate. Just anything that we have that we can pull from the collection to add.”
In addition, it is hoped that those attending the haunted museum might also become more interested in local history.
“You know, many, many of the people who came last year had never been in this building (the Sutton-Ditz House). They came back again when it wasn’t a haunted house to see our exhibits and learn about history,” Lucas said. “A number of those people actually joined the society.”
The house isn’t necessarily an inappropriate setting for a haunted museum, having seen its share of tragedy. “The man who built this house was an attorney. He only got to live here three years; he contracted typhoid and died. The day before he died his 6-year-old son died of scarlet fever. And then the widow, after the funerals, went back home to Pittsburgh where her family lived, and her 8-year-old daughter died of scarlet fever,” she said.
“It’s just so sad about the beginning of the house. It (the house) just has this melancholy feel to it.”
Considering its past, the fact that the Sutton-Ditz House has a history of paranormal activity seems unsurprising. “Yes it does, it definitely does (have paranormal activity). We’ve had paranormal investigators here twice, two different groups. We’re going to do it again in November (have paranormal investigators visit) just to see if we come up with anything else,” Lucas said.
During one of these visits there were two instances in which communications were received via a spirit box, a device used as an electronic medium for directly contacting spirits. Additionally, while filming in the basement, paranormal investigators recorded a moving orb in association with the Kiser stove, once owned by a hermit who was brutally murdered in a search for money. Ghost hunters believe orbs, small balls of light, are spirits made visible at allegedly haunted locations.
Lucas also described other mysterious incidents that have occurred when paranormal investigators weren’t present. These included a typically unused antique wall phone inexplicably ringing late one night. Lucas, working at the time, answered it and heard a little boy wailing for his mother. In another instance, Lucas said a young girl on a Christmas-time visit spotted a boy on the house’s staircase that nobody else could see.
Regardless of whether the Sutton-Ditz House is truly haunted, it sees plenty of use on a regular basis as CCHS’s museum, library, and research room. “Researchers come here from all over the United States and even other countries to do family history,” she said.
The haunted museum is CCHS’s biggest fundraiser, with proceeds helping to support the organization’s activities and services throughout the year. Plans are already in the works for next Halloween, when Lucas anticipates vignettes centered around a carnival-theme as based on the book and Disney movie “Something Wicked this Way Comes.”