It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….at Whispers Estate

It may be a cliché to say it was a dark and stormy night, but as we pulled into the eerily empty downtown of Mitchell, Indiana on our way to tour Whispers Estate, it literally WAS a dark and stormy night. In fact, it rained for the better part of two and a half hours as my 19-year-old daughter and I made the drive south of Bedford but, as we were headed to an actual purported haunted house, we didn’t really mind. It only added to the experience.

Whisper Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Whispers Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Frankly, as we crawled to a halt on Warren Street, we both realized this place didn’t need any help from Mother Nature. If spooky has a poster child, it’s Whispers Estates.

Pulling up in the dark, it wasn’t difficult finding the place. Just picture a typical block near the downtown of any small Indiana burg with its large older homes in various shapes and sizes and you’re half way there. Now picture one of those large houses standing silent, dark and foreboding with only creepy purple light streaming from its street lamps and you’ve crossed over to the other side. Whispers Estate announces its presence in silence and – lucky you – you get to pray that silence is the only thing you hear. Given its past history of growls, knocks, self-closing doors, childish singing, falling objects, mysterious footsteps and vague whispers – hence the name, Whispers Estate – before the night is over, you may be begging for a little silence from beyond the grave yourself.

And did I mention the earthquake shaking toilets? Which, in this instance, have nothing to do with either my husband or too many refried beans? More on that in a moment.

We parked on the street, somewhat unsure of what to do as I had forgotten when I registered for our hour-long flashlight tour that we were to meet in the garage in the backyard. I did, however, remember that we were to wear athletic shoes. No hard sole shoes are allowed on any flashlight tours or mini investigations to reduce background noise. This became a reoccurring and somewhat unsettling theme during our visit to Whispers Estate. The home’s owner, Van Renier, and his tour guides are very serious about the goings on at Whispers Estate and, collectively, they take great pains to explain away and debunk ANY unusual occurrences. Their attitude was so upfront about what wasn’t paranormal that, I’ll admit, I was impressed. And then, I’ll admit too, I was nervous.

If they voluntarily explain every odd noise, just what, pray tell, can we attribute to the UNexplained ones? That had me pondering.

My daughter, Jackie – a lover of all things ghostly – stood back on the sidewalk as I climbed the steps to the front porch where a solitary rocker sat. At any moment I expected it to start rocking on its own, but fortunately, it cooperated which was good since I forgotten to put on a pair of Depends. Naturally, a funeral home stands cattycorner to the house and, in this dark little town which seems to have forgotten to pay the light bill, it was the only building well lit. Turning back toward the house, I tried peering through the windows, but could see nothing as they were blacked out. Terrific, I thought. Bring on the dark.

Jackie in her element at Whisper Estate

Jackie in her element at Whispers Estate

Back on the sidewalk, we were joined by three middle-aged couples who didn’t know each other, but who all happened to live in Avon. Since there is safety in numbers, we proceeded as a group through the rain to the backyard and entered the garage which serves as a makeshift launching pad to the supernatural world beyond.

There we signed in, handed over our liability release waivers – which declared us to be healthy and which gave the folks at Whispers Estates permission to seek emergency medical treatment if we needed it – we selected our flashlights from a basket on the table, and sat down to await our tour. As we sat, we chatted with the guides while also looking at posters displaying pictures of past visitors who apparently got more their money’s worth. From a police officer with a large bite mark on his arm to a teenager with three strange, red scratches on the back of his neck, evidence mounted that this wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill, high-school-fundraiser, pop-up-only-at-Halloween type of experience.

And naturally it was after I read the description of some earthquake-like experiences on the toilet that I heard my daughter ask innocently enough, “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

Great. No more soda for you, grasshopper.

Like most old garages, the one at Whispers Estate is potty free, so one of the tour guides led us through the back door of the house to the small bathroom just off the kitchen. Fortunately, there was a light, but bright as it was, we still looked around nervously while awaiting a good shaking as we took turns doing our business. Had something happened, at least we would have been in the right place.

Returning to the garage, we joined the other six for a lesson on the house’s less than pleasant history. Note – I stuck around and was able to hear this same introduction to the 10 p.m. tour group which was comprised of young girls (who I would guess to be about 10-years-old) and their parents. As I sat in the background listening to this same introduction, I realized that the guide was downplaying certain aspects of the goings on in the house – and rightly so. Once more I was impressed with the staff at Whispers Estate. Apparently, when you give tours at a house that is really haunted, the goal is to not work at scaring the guests. After all, why make the effort when you can let the house do it for you?

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Flashlights in hand, the eight of us finally proceeded through the backdoor. One poor man had made the unfortunate mistake of expressing a lack of enthusiasm for all things paranormal so our first tour guide nominated him to open the doors of each room as we entered. Another victim – I mean, visitor – was nominated to shut the doors of each room behind us. Quickly, we proceeded through the main hallway to the parlor where we sat down and the real tour began.

For the record, I’m not going to give away any of the tour highlights. Each room is unique and comes with its own story. For example, in the parlor we were first introduced to Rachel, the young adopted daughter of Dr. John Gibbons and his wife Jessie. One Christmas eve, Rachel snuck downstairs to peek at the presents, but her nightgown caught fire in the parlor and she died a few days later as the result of her injuries. Mother Jessie died in the master bedroom of tuberculosis. Four other people are also known to have died in the house, not counting any patients of Dr. Gibbons, who apparently couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

The flashlight tour covers the house from attic to basement including a red-painted room that had each of us muttering, “redrum” from Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The good doctor’s exam room did give me a frightful start when I noticed the scale on the floor, which reminded me of the horribly hateful one in my own bathroom back home. My daughter nearly fainted when she spied an actual rotary phone and may still need counseling.

As we toured the house, the three women from Avon openly called out to Rachel throughout the house, but heard nothing in reply. The house’s owner, Van Renier, joined us at the end of the tour and asked that none of the child spirits be provoked. Van is protective of his young spirits, though not so with the one referred to as “Big Black” who may be responsible for the scar over his right eye – tangible evidence from his own encounter when he was shoved down the stairs of the attic.

Our tour was the first of the night at 8 p.m. and, for the most part, we survived it unscathed. The 9 p.m. tour apparently was not so lucky, given that a large shadow followed them up those same attic stairs responsible for Renier’s scar and, while the group stood in the “redrum” red room, they could hear soft knocking on the door. The guides told us that, as the night progresses, activity picks up so if you’re dead set – excuse my pun – on having an experience, the later the better.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel's bedroom.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel’s bedroom.

As for me, I will admit, I’ve never had an encounter with anything paranormal. But I’m not saying I don’t believe. Two people whom I have known all of my life and who will remain anonymous have had experiences and they are two of the most honest and least imaginative people I know. As for me, nothing.

I shared my lack of paranormal experiences with Van who did give me the greatest chill of the night. As we discussed his own experiences in the house which have led him to believe and my own lack of paranormal experience, he warmed, “You can’t un-ring the bell. Do you really want to fall down the rabbit hole? Because once it happens, you can’t go back and pretend it didn’t.”

Now that’s a scary thought.

For me, it has yet to happen. At least, I think it hasn’t happened. In Jessie’s bedroom I experienced a feeling – I won’t give it away so as to not prejudice you should you go – just as our guide began to describe this very same feeling. Was it paranormal? I don’t know. I also don’t know if I really want to thoroughly un-ring that bell. But curiosity is a wicked mistress so I’m sure at some point, I will go back.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

If you would like to un-ring that bell for yourself, Whispers Estate offers flashlight tours hourly from 8 p.m. to midnight and mini-investigations starting at midnight through either 3 or 4 a.m. (the times change from month to month) beginning at the end of August and running every weekend through October. Halloween is primetime so make your reservations early as tours and investigations fill up fast and the number of participants is limited. While regular tour hours end after Halloween, Whispers Estate is happy to schedule visitations for groups of 10 or more at other times throughout the year. My suggestion? Even if there are only seven or eight of you, given them a call and ask. They may just accommodate you.

Flashlight tours run $10 per person and, in my opinion, are well worth it even if you don’t end up wetting yourself in the process. Mini investigations run $10 per hour per person, thus an investigation from midnight to 3 a.m. will cost you $30 per person, and until 4 a.m. will cost you $40 per person. I haven’t participated in a mini investigation yet so I can’t tell you what goes on, but it is definitely on the bucket list and you can get a sense for these investigations on YouTube.

For more information on Whispers Estate and to schedule a tour or mini investigation, check out the website at: http://whispersestate.com/

To follow the mansion’s haunted happenings like the Whispers Estate’s Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/whispersestate?fref=ts

Follow my newspaper column blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

I want to Go with Oh to Venice – The Remix Tour

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

As Leah and Lola made their way across Europe courtsey of Go with Oh, I followed their adventures with amusement.  Who doesn’t love a good girls’ road trip, especially when it includes five European cities over four weeks, not to mention trains and planes, wine and pasta, feather boas and flamenco dancers?  It was a veritable arm-chair traveler’s dream!

 But even as I lived vicariously through their daily exploits and even as I daydreamed about a possible Go with Oh month-long trek of my own some day, I’m practical enough to know that – by necessity – my own such adventure would have a somewhat different theme.  For want of a better term, let’s call this fantasy trip the Fritz Family Foray into Europe.

 My dream plan is simple enough – a week in Dublin and London with my Anglophile loving daughter Jackie for some mother-daughter bonding time, followed by a week in Rome and Venice with my 15-year-old son Jordan, where I hope to introduce him to some real Italian culture – with the emphasis being on REAL.  As I’ve already covered why Dublin with my daughter is on the list, it’s high time to explain why oh why I want to take my baby boy to Venice. 

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

For starters, that boy needs some perspective.  While looking over pictures of my friends-only trip to Venice, he actually said in all seriousness, “Oh, I’ve been there,” all the while pointing to the bell tower in the Piazza San Marco.  “I climbed up that dome,” he said matter-of-factly as if he had actually “climbed” the basillica.  “See that bridge?” he declared, “I jumped off of that,” pointing to the Rialto.

A weary world traveler, is he?  Not exactly.

The Piazza San Marco as "reimagined" by the video game, Assassin's Creed

The Piazza San Marco as “reimagined” by the video game, Assassin’s Creed

Of course, my xBox-bleeding teenage boy was referring to his video game, Assassin’s Creed, one version of which takes part in Venice and allows players to crawl over every dome, bell tower and bridge re-imagined by the game’s designers in all their gorgeous glory.  He knows of the Piazza and the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, but, unfortunately, we’re talking in CG graphics detail only. 

 As a mother, I desperately feel the need to point out to him the difference.  While the graphics in Assassin’s Creed are good – very good, in fact – nothing takes the place of actually BEING in Venice.  Good graphics or not, the experience isn’t even close.  Actually being IN Venice is a tactile experience which should include, in no short order, the following:

–  hearing the bells toll throughout the city upon the hour, any hour;

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

–  reaching out your hand in the Piazza San Marco toward a cloud of forward pigeons who promptly swarm you for food and get a bit familiar in the process;

–  getting oh so deliciously lost on a daily basis and not caring if you ever find your way back;

– smelling that ever present hint of salt water every where;

– discovering the uniqueness of Venice’s highly socialized dog population:

– discovering hidden treasures like a Knights Templar cross cut into street pavers, tiny doors, building bolts and Flavia’s costume shop, and;

One of Venice's hidden treasures - a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

One of Venice’s hidden treasures – a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

–  making wonderful new friends.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Additionally, as a picky, picky child, Jordan practically lives on butter, pasta and cheese.  We often joke that he’ll some day own a store called ‘Carbs, Carbs, Carbs!” so naturally, his place is in Italy.  He once asked me to bring home a gigantic wheel of parmesan, but since I couldn’t fit it in my carry-on luggage, it seems like a shopping trip in Venice is in order too.  It’s time he try lugging home his own 30-pound wheel of cheese.

Lastly, having been to Venice recently with friends, I find that I desperately need to go back, especially given the city’s recent flood.  I want to make sure that things are still as magical and as different as we experienced before.  Plus, there’s still so much to see.  As we crawled through the city at a snail’s pace – seriously, there is SO much to see – we only scratched the surface.  Naively, before we left, we actually thought we could see every square inch of this modest sized city in the course of a week.  Little did we realize that our average daily pace would turn out to be two blocks an hour.  It’s THAT different.

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia's shop

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia’s shop

So now, I want to go back, bringing my 15-year-old son along with me in what can best be described as the “remix tour.”  I can only imagine at this point what it would be like for him to actually stand in the Piazza San Marco without his computer and online friends.  As he is a curious, smart and personable young man, I know he’s going to love it. 

Or else he’s grounded.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  

http://www.gowithoh.com/

 And enter the competition.  Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out Go with Oh badgein it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

 http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

 By Robin Fritz

The bell towers sound magical... even the leaning ones.

The bell towers sound magical… even the leaning ones.