Restless Ropes family spectral members are upset by the circumstances of their deaths.
“My accident hurt a lot, and it killed me
because the servants didn’t hear my screams?”
“After all I did in my professional life, I was disrespected
and rudely treated by a mob at the end of my days.”
Spirits of other former residents quietly visit, sometimes showing themselves inadvertently.
“One of New England’s most significant and thoroughly documented historic houses.”
It is described as being a two-and-a-half-story Georgian Colonial clapboard mansion, with fifteen rooms full of Ropes family memorabilia, making the museum a true blast from the past.
The purpose of the Ropes Mansion Museum, also known as the “Ropes Memorial,” is to tell the stories of four generations of the Ropes family, who lived in the forever family home. The family furniture, works of art, and personal possessions are on display, such as Sally and Joseph Orne’s full set of Canton Chinese porcelain dinner service settings, that never left the mansion.
Other hands-on exhibits allow visitors to get a close look into the Ropers’ lives. Happy times, celebrations, friendships, tragedies, births, deaths, personal struggles, and stories of persevering are remembered in such a way that they inspire others who walk through the mansions’ rooms.
The exterior of the home looks very much as it did when it was built by Samuel Bernard, except for the 1830s upgraded Federal-style entrance. The 1727 exterior has “a symmetrical facade of two stories, three small pedimented gables through the slate-shingled gamble roof, roof balustrade, and modillioned cornice.”
However, because it was considered by all family members to be the Ropes clan forever home, the interior was remodeled to the liking of whomever was living there, which is often the case with an older structure. This explains why the property isn’t on the National Register of Historic Places, but is still esteemed by the city of Salem
In 1807, the interior was rather old fashioned, bordering on being dowdy, so Sally Ropes Orne had extensive renovations done to modernize it, giving it a fresh look.
In the mid 1830s, five interior rooms and the central hall all received a remodeled facelift, and this is when the central entranceway was remodeled, “featuring fluted ionic columns, granite steps and a six-panel door,”very much in the Federal architectural style so desired during this era.
In 1881 and 1884, additions to the house were constructed to update living conditions, adding late 19th century amenities for Nathaniel Rope V.
After Sarah, Mary and Eliza Ropes moved inside, the first thing they did was have the mansion moved thirty feet from the street under the supervision of skilled architects Stone, Carpenter, and Wilson. The second step was to install central heat, plumbing and electricity. Thirdly, at the back of the house, a two and a half story kitchen and southern wing were added, and a wood spindle front fence was put in place around the perimeters of their property.
In 1912, Ropes Memorial got its formal Colonial-style Garden right behind the house. It was designed by Salem botanist and horticulturist John Robinson, featuring”small, winding paths of brick and stone that lead to a center area,” that snaked all around the fantastic garden.
The lush displays of beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees became a truly wonderful place to walk and sit, enjoy, and drink in the calm and peace of this special garden. It became a huge hit with the people of Salem, dearly loved by the Salem community.
The greenhouse made of wood and glass came along in 1916. The pond seen today made its appearance in 1916. In 1930, a shaded pond was added to the garden as well. All its beauty and peace it inspires is still enjoyed today.
Activities in the Ropes Colonial Garden draw in many community participants. Every year, 5,000 plants are planted with the help of families and volunteer flower enthusiasts.
The story of Ropes Mansion started in 1727, when widower Samuel Bernard moved to Salem after his first wife Mary died in their home in Deerfield, MA. He was a successful merchant by trade, so he had the money to build his new home in the well-to-do neighborhood on Essex Street, where the rich merchants lived.
He was unlucky in not having long marriages, just short but happy ones. Not only did his beloved Mary die, his second wife Rachel died in 1743, and his third wife Elizabeth died in 1753. His fourth marriage was to Catherine, which lasted until his own death in 1762.
As he never had any children that lived, the property was left to his nephew, who also took care of Samuel’s widow. Six years later when Catherine either died or moved back to live with family, the nephew put the mansion on the real estate market, and sold it to Judge Nathaniel Ropes Jr., who had a merchant business on the side.
He was a Harvard graduate with an impressive law career. Sources say that he wasn’t a popular attorney, though he managed to be elected as a Salem Representative in the Colonial Legislature and also the Governor’s Council.
Judge Nathaniel Ropes Jr was also a judge for the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. By 1772, he was appointed to the Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court of the colony. He was blessed with both an impressive career, and a happy family life.
Trouble started in 1774, when the British insisted on providing the judges’ salaries directly, hoping to disrupt the judges’ willingness to be fair with cases involving the colonists, and lean toward supporting the Crown in it disputes with colonists.
The blowback was tremendous! The infuriated colonists demanded that all judges change their Loyalist views, and reject their royal pay checks. During this time, Judge Ropes had the misfortune of catching small pox, becoming very sick.
Angry colonists paid him a visit in an ugly mood, not caring about his health battle upstairs. They threw mud, sticks and rocks at the mansion, yelling rude things. This emotional upset pushed him over the waterfall health-wise, causing him to die at the age of forty-seven that very night. He didn’t have time to change his Loyalist views, though he had rejected the royal pay checks.
Understandably, his widow Priscilla and their six children moved to Danvers, MA where they had farm property. However, after the Revolutionary War was over, Nathaniel the third and his new wife Sarah Putnam, moved back into the mansion as he probably inherited it from his father. They were unlucky with their first two infant sons, who didn’t live long. The third son Nathaniel the IV survived.
Nathaniel the third and his wife Priscilla also had two daughters, Sally Fisk (Ropes) Orne and Abigail Pickman Ropes.
Sally and her cousin Joseph married in 1817, and became the third generation of Ropes to live in the mansion because her older brother, Nathaniel 1V had a successful life as a merchant in Cincinnati, and had started a branch of Ropes Family there. He married Sarah Evans Brown and had nine children, six of whom made it to adulthood: Sarah Putnam, (d. 1899), Nathaniel V (d. 1893), William Augustus (d 1879), Eliza Orne (d 1907), and Mary Pickman (d 1903).
Sally and Joseph had one daughter, Elizabeth, in February of 1818, a few months before Joseph died of TB on September 1st, 1818, at the age of twenty-two! Sally carried on bravely, raising her daughter in the family house.
Sally suffered even more family deaths. More tragedy happened in 1839 when her sister Abigail suffered terrible burns and died. Her daughter caught TB and died at the age of twenty-four in 1842. Sally never remarried but made the best of it by leaning on her faith, and managing to find joy and purpose in life. She became close with Nathaniel IV and his family, especially with Nathaniel V, who visited her often during the time he attended college.
The Christmas dinner of 1847 was remembered as a grand affair with six courses, served on Sally’s Canton Chinese porcelain 300 piece dinner service, that she and her husband Joseph had received as a wedding present. It was a way for her to celebrate the memory of Joseph and her deceased loved ones and enjoy the blessing of friends and extended family.
In her later years, she had Nathaniel V handle her business affairs. He moved to Salem to do so. When she died in 1876, Nathaniel V lived in the Ropes forever home. When he died in 1893, he left the property and a considerable fortune to his three sisters, Sarah, Mary, and Eliza who were living in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Two steps forward, and one step back applies here. During renovations, a fire was intentionally set by a disgruntled employee.
They had the money to restore what was damaged and continued forward. As their trust fund was huge, they established the Ropes Memorial, a foundation to keep the Ropes Museum going after they had all died.
Sarah died in 1899, and Mary in 1903. When Eliza died in 1907, the property and the funds to maintain it as a museum were bequeathed to the trustees of the Ropes Memorial with a plan to start a free botany school in a future Ropes Colonial Garden, as a memorial to the Ropes family.
In 1912, Ropes Memorial opened as an independent museum, because the Essex Institute wasn’t interested in being involved. The trustees throughout the eras were faithful stewards of the Ropes Memorial and the Ropes Colonial Garden.
In 1981, Ropes Mansion was made part of the city of Salem’s McIntire Historic District, which included the historic buildings found on Broad Street, Chestnut Street, Federal Street and Essex Street.
With this new honor, the trustees decided to donate the whole property to the Essex Institute in 1989, who accepted the responsibility this time around. They proved to be a trustworthy organization that would carry on the mission of the Ropes Memorial, encouraging community involvement while showcasing the Ropes’ lives.
In 1992, a merger between the Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum created the Peabody Essex Museum, who now owns Ropes Mansion and Ropes Colonial Garden, continuing to support the founding mission of this property.
In 2009, another fire, caused by a workman’s tool, did damage despite some quick actions of workers. “The fire spread inside the walls and destroyed much of the third floor and attic and also caused water and smoke damage to the first and second floors.” (https://historyofmassachusetts.org/ropes-mansion-salem/)
Ropes Mansion was closed for public viewing until 2015, when all repairs and restoration work was done. The Ropes Colonial Garden remained open and thriving during this time.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Many courageous people who stood their ground over their unpopular beliefs got rough treatment from those who disagreed with them. Their spirits seek peace as they work out their restlessness.
Glebe House Museum, CT (During the Revolutionary War, Episcopal Reverend Marshall was put under house arrest for being a Loyalist, except on Sunday so he could do his duties. He suffered severe beatings that led to his early death a few years after the end of the war. His spirit stays to enjoy the peace he didn’t have while alive).
The Witch House, MA (People who voiced their disapproval of the witch trials were accused themselves of being witches and hung, which makes their spirits restless).
Kahler Grand Hotel, MN (The spirit of Brach candy heiress Helen Vorhees finds some peace in her favorite hotel. After she became a victim of fraudster Richard Bailey, to whom she paid $50,000 for two mares, only worth $9,000, and a supposed champion stallion for $48,000, only worth $8,500. When she threatened to tell the District Attorney, two hitmen brutally beat her to death and permanently disposed of her body).
The Ropes Mansion, MA (On the night he died of small pox, Loyalist Judge Nathaniel Ropes suffered from fright and humiliation because of an unruly mob. He finds peace and comfort in the mansion).
Forever family homes have the tendency to continue to be so during the afterlives of family members, especially if they can visit their possessions as well.
Stranahan House, FL (Various spectral members of the Stranahan clan stay at the Frank and Ivy Stranahan’s House as they find some love and peace given to them by kind and loving Ivy, as well as stay in their own rooms).
Linden Mansion Bed and Breakfast, MS (Some spirits of family members like to reside in their home and encourage their descendants, who run a bed and breakfast).
McRaven House Museum, MS (This house has so many residing spirits who love this place that the living are not comfortable staying here, even overnight. It was turned into a museum, and became a favorite place for ghost hunters to investigate).
The Ropes Mansion, MA (A few unknown spirits of both the Bernard and Ropes family members may reside or visit to see how the living are treating their house. Some may visit their prized possessions, like Sally, who may visit her Canton Chinese porcelain dishes).
Spirits who have died a painful death (emotionally or physically) sometimes try to find peace in a familiar place that they loved. Sometimes they can’t forgive the people who caused their pain.
Old Allen House, AR (Unlucky in relationships, daughter LaDell Allen killed herself by drinking poison, a painful way to go. Her son suffered an early death in his 20s caused by a hereditary condition. Both spirits find peace living in the family home, along with the living).
Waverley Plantation House, MS (The third son of the Young family, Confederate Private Beverly Daniel Young, was shot in the leg at Gettysburg, was captured, and sent to the over-crowded David’s Island Prisoner of War Camp, where he died from gangrene that formed in his poorly treated wound. His spirit returned to the family home to find peace among the spirits of his family).
Boca Raton Resort and Club, FL (The spirit of dedicated employee Esmerelda still serves guests, despite losing her life in a fire. She loved her job, so why should she stop just because of a fatal accident?).
The Ropes Mansion, MA (Both of the restless spirits who reside here find peace in their beloved home, as they work out their restlessness. Abigail suffered a painful death. She can’t forgive her servants for their failure to act). (Judge Nathaniel died from small pox after getting the new vaccination that was supposed to prevent the disease, which must be a big frustration).
People who care deeply about their favorite place in this world, may like to keep an eye on the living who now own it, stepping in when needed.
Eldridge Hotel, KS (The spirit of Col. Shalor Eldridge keeps a friendly eye on the staff, trying to help and encourage them).
Joslyn Castle, NE (The spirits of George, Sarah and daughter Violet love to watch all the activities that take place in their forever home, ready to help if need be).
1890 House Museum, NY (It is the forever home of the Wickware Family. The spirit of Frederick has to settle for supervising the living, which includes docents, workers, board members, and anyone else who enters his home. He makes sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to do).
The Ropes Mansion, MA (The spirits of the three Ropes sisters may visit to see how the museum is being run and cared for by the living, as well as the lovely Colonial Garden developed after they died. So far, the living don’t need their help).
None of the Ropes Mansion spirits mind sharing their forever home with the living, and are content to have a museum and Colonial garden too on their property.
Spirit of Judge Nathaniel Ropes Jr.
He enjoys walking around the family house museum, looking at family mementos, dishes, furniture and some of his belongings.
He has a favorite couch in the front hall where he loves to sit and rest. He feels that he died before his time, and wants to stay in his home.
He has appeared showing just some of his body parts, never a full apparition. Perhaps he wants some chuckles, or to let the living know that he is still present, trying to work through what keeps him here.
He can’t forgive the mob or the inept doctor who gave him the wrong amount of vaccine.
Stuck in the Moment
The spirit of Abigail is stuck reliving her 1839 accident which she feels could’ve been prevented.
People have sometimes heard her screams of pain.
She suspects that her servants heard her in distress and didn’t come.
If the living hear her screams, why didn’t her servants?
They may have prevented her death caused by severe burns.
Her unforgiveness keeps her here.
Abigail’s spirit finds ways to distract herself.
She enjoys walking around the mansion, remembering fond memories and enjoying the family items that are on display.
A female figure has been seen looking out a second-floor window.
Her apparition has been seen by staff and visitors all over the mansion, and walking in the Ropes Colonial Garden.
She may be the unseen presence who taps people on the shoulder.
Unknown Spectral Visitors
It is thought that other spirits who lived in the mansion may like to visit and enjoy the mansion museum and garden.
Samuel Bernard’s wives, Rachel and Elizabeth, and Sally, her husband Joseph, and daughter Elizabeth, Nathaniel V and maybe others that have died in the mansion are keeping Abigail and her grandfather Judge Nathaniel Jr. company as they visit.
Some of the female apparition sightings may be the other female spirits and not always Abigail, as there have been many sightings of female spirits all over the mansion and the Ropes Colonial Garden.
All these visiting spirits have impeccable manners and wouldn’t dream of interacting with the living, or disrupting the activities that take place.
Spirits of the Three Sisters
Other possible spectral visitors could be the three Ropes sisters who planned that the family mansion be turned into a museum about the Ropes family, and that a Ropes Colonial Garden would be created.
They may enjoy a trip down memory lane or a walk in the Colonial Garden that was added after they died. Disembodied whispers that are heard in the Ropes Colonial Garden might point to these three.
Spirit of the Gardener
This male spirit is thought to be the gardener, Andy Bye, who was hired in 1931 to oversee the Ropes Garden, a job he enthusiastically embraced until his death in 1994.
For chuckles, he likes to playfully tap the shoulders of visiting garden enthusiasts.
Other Ropes Garden lovers hear the disembodied whispers of an unseen presence.
Staff and visitors have seen many apparitions and shadows, too many to discount.
Staff members have taken pictures of the ghostly hands of Nathaniel as he sat in his favorite couch.
With the exception of Abigail and Judge Nathaniel Jr, all the spirits are just happy to see what is going on, enjoy their memories and possessions on display, and walks in the Ropes Colonial Gardens, sometimes appearing.
318 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970
The Ropes Mansion house museum is located in the historically posh neighborhood where the well-to do merchants and other people of means lived in Salem. It is close to the Judge John Corin House, now called the Witch Museum.
- Ghosts of Salem, Haunts of the Witch City, by Sam Baltrusis, pg. 56-58, Haunted America Publication, 2014.
- WIKI https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ropes_Mansion
- History of the Ropes Mansion in Salem, Massachusetts, by Rebecca Beatrice Brooks April 3, 2022 https://historyofmassachusetts.org/ropes-mansion-salem/
- Ghost City ! The GHOSTS OF THE ROPE MANSION
The Ropes Sisters, and the Ropes Mansion-The Ropes Mansion and Garden are favorite spots for many of us, but did you know the women’s history story behind them?
Bonnie Hurd Smith, Neighbor
Posted Mon, Feb 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm ET