Luden Bon Air Mansion
Spirits annoyed students and unnerved adults during its high school years.
The original, Italian Renaissance style Luden Bon-Air Mansion was built in 1914, for William H Luden; the candy maker, his wife, Anne and their two youngest children. Six of their children were up and out by this time. This spacious, full 3 story mansion, was designed by James Vickson. Though started in 1914, the entire mansion was finished in 1922. When this mansion was constructed, William Luden had mansions in Miami and Palm Beach, Florida. He later built mansions in Villanova, PA, & Atlantic City, New Jersey.
As Reading, PA, was Luden’s home town, where he started his candy/cough drop enterprise, Luden Candy Company, it makes sense that he would build a mansion here, close to his business in Reading. He was born in Reading on March 5th, 1859, and married Anne Ritter, in 1889, the daughter of the editor of the newspaper, Reading Adler.
Though the confection treats from the Luden Candy Company were very popular among the consuming public, William found that his most profitable product was a good tasting cough drop, that propelled his company to a huge commercial success. He sold 5 million nickel packs of these delicious tasting cough drops.
Originally built in a very ritzy part of town, this “opulent” 33-44 room, $750,000 Italian Renaissance style mansion was a grand estate for a self-made man. It was built over an old iron mine, that was sealed but never filled in. The outer walls of the mansion were made of limestone & brick, with marble pillars added all around the outside of the first floor, with marble trim and lovely stonework. From the western portico, the family had a lovely view of the city.
Inside, the finished wood floors were installed on heavy, reinforced concrete, as there were old mining tunnels underneath the mansion. There was a grand central staircase leading up to all three floors. The common rooms were on the first, the bedrooms and bathrooms for each room were on the second, and the servant’s quarters were on the third. The mansion had a ballroom, a library, a bowling alley, a living room, a dining room, and a breakfast room.
Just two years after moving into Bon-Air Mansion, William’s wife, Anne died in 1916. William remarried Kathryn Fasig.
William Luden retired in 1927, and sold his company to Food Industries of Philadelphia, in 1928. Luden passed away on May 8, 1941, in his mansion in Atlantic City.
The Luden Bon-Air Mansion was owned by family members until 1939, when the rector of St. Paul’s Parish in Reading bought Bon-Air Mansion, with the mission of transforming the building into a new Central Catholic High School.
During this transformation, the Bon-Air Mansion’s original architecture and structural lines were mostly preserved. The mansion’s rooms were easily renovated and adapted for use by the high school. School office was set up in the dining room, the library found a home in the living room, and the principal’s office was in the breakfast room.
Also on the first floor, the music room, with a 20,000 dollar organ, donated by the Luden Family, language rooms, commercial department rooms, home economics department, biology, and a laboratory with adjacent lecture rooms’ were found there.
The second floor bedrooms were renovated to provide five modern classrooms and a girls’ rest room. As the school grew in numbers over the years, the third floor was transformed into other classrooms and rooms for various activities.
The basement became storage, chemistry labs, and a cafeteria for the students and staff.
Throughout the years, additional buildings and facilities were built behind the mansion, and on property nearby. The first expansion doubled the size of the high school, when the mansion was connected to its carriage house. Many other improvements to the high school took place throughout the years to keep the high school up to date, and current, in order to be able to fill the educational needs of the students.
By 2004, it was decided that a new Catholic high school was needed, so plans were drawn up, money was raised, and the new high school, Berks Catholic High School opened its doors in September of 2011.
While the old Central Catholic High School is closed, with no one there, and its future is up in the air, its spiritual residents now have their Bon-Air Mansion all to themselves for awhile; until the living decide whether to sell it to a new owner, or find another purpose for it.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Spirit people sometimes prefer to stay in a familiar place where they feel comfortable, and in control, perhaps wishing to continue to experience their lives in their favorite spot in this world, not yet ready to pass over to the other side. Perhaps they feel the need to supervise or help the living.
Sometimes people love their homes, but don’t get to live there as long as they had planned, because of circumstances beyond their control, or because of bad choices made, that lead to their deaths.
Sometimes if family members decided to stay in their home after they die from illness, suicide or accident, the nurturing one of the family will sometimes choose to stay with them in this world when they themselves pass away.
William’s first wife, Anne, passed away in the mansion in 1916, living there just two years before either dying from an illness or accident.
William and Anne’s youngest son, 17-20 year old William, known as Billy, also died in this mansion from unknown causes. Urban legend claims that he suffered from some sort of mental illness, and hung himself from the staircase, between the second and third floor of the mansion, as an act of rebellion; in response to his parents concern. His parents, knowing his limitations, kept a close eye on him, not allowing him to leave the mansion by himself. One source tells the story that before Billy killed himself, he wrote a note telling his parents, “Now, I will never leave this mansion.” Uh oh!
Another version of this suicide theory says that Billy hung himself from the mansion’s western portico.
However, while Billy may have been a handful when alive, there is no proof that he was unbalanced, and did indeed kill himself on purpose. The entity of the young man thought to be Billy is still a handful & high spirited, much like he was while alive. However, this spirit doesn’t show any unbalanced behavior that one would expect from a spirit who committed suicide, seen in many stories on hauntedhouses.com. Suicides caused by emotions out of control usually result in emotional hauntings; crying brides, remorseful spirits; etc.
My theory is that he either died because of a dumb kid accident caused by poor choices, or during a risky stunt to show off, as teenagers/young adults think they are impervious to death. His teasing of students perhaps is an effort to get attention, and his pleasure in unnerving authority perhaps point to his unintended death, whom he may blame on his parents, instead of his own foolishness.
It seems that the people at Central Catholic High School have been treated to the full sports package of paranormal activity that has unnerved staff, and students alike for years, since the school opened so long ago.
Entity of an older woman, thought to be Anne
An apparition of an older woman has been seen, gliding down the central staircase of the old mansion.
A teacher was mystified to see the student papers that were waiting to be graded on his desk, being slowly lifted up by invisible hands, and turned over neatly in a pile, as if some unseen entity was giving him a hand, by reading them.
An apparition was seen inspecting the garden area.
Entity of a 17-20 year old boy, thought to be Billy
He is described as being playful, mischievous, and enjoyed unnerving adults.
The sighting of a full, clear apparition of young man who was standing on the west portico of the mansion has been witnessed by many, perhaps looking wistfully, wishing to be able to leave and enjoy what he thinks is freedom; something that eluded him in this world. Or, perhaps he is thinking about what his life could’ve been if he hadn’t died unexpectedly.
Shadow of this young man has been seen all over various spots in the high school, especially in the old mansion areas.
An electrician on the third floor, during the evening hours, was found by two other electricians, being held against the wall, off the ground by an unseen presence.
Reported paranormal activity includes:
Hearing foot steps,
loud noisy banging,
doors opening and closing,
and lights going on and off in locked, empty classrooms.
A huge PROBABLY SO!
Though no hard evidence has been allowed to be published, many people from the opening years of the Central Catholic High School have had vivid personal experiences.
The entities here have done a great job annoying students, and unnerving adults.
School Staff, students and other people with business in the old mansion have been reporting “unsettling occurrences” for years, though none would give their names, except the late music teacher, Mr. Arnold, who wasn’t afraid to tell about his experiences.
JAM Paranormal investigators held an investigation in the fall of 2007, and caught some interesting evidence, that they weren’t given permission to post. They had personal experiences though, as well.
1400 Hill Road
Reading, PA 19602
Luden Bon-Air Mansion, former home of Central Catholic High School, can be found on a hillside, near the intersection of Hill Road and Clymer Street, not far from Berks County Park. The other cross street is Eckert Avenue.
- Haunted Places: The National Directory
by Dennis William Hauck, Penguin Books, 2002
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr