The Mount: Edith Wharton Estate

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Matriarch Edith Wharton is still the gracious hostess and employer: cordial with both visitors, docents and employees.

She enjoys the company of a pony-tailed gentleman and some of her other spectral friends who were invited to The Mount for a visit.

Her spectral faithful maid still serves her, though she is still unhappy and a bit regretful for harming herself.

 

DESCRIPTION

“History & Beauty, Without the Velvet Ropes.”

From their website, The Mount’s Mission:
“The Mount is a National Historic Landmark and cultural center dedicated to the intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian legacy of author Edith Wharton. The Mount has evolved from a traditional historic house museum to a vibrant cultural center, engaging audiences through our year-round artistic and literary programs.”

The Edith Wharton Estate is located on 49.5 acres, making this property a lovely oasis, and a perfect place to relax and enjoy cultural arts and events. “The classically inspired Main House, elegant Georgian Revival Stable, formal gardens and sculpted landscape represent the only full expression of Wharton’s influential architectural and landscape theories.” (edithwharton.org).

 

The National Register of Historical Places (NRHP) and Wikipedia describe her home the best.

“Its west (entry) elevation is three stories; on the garden side it is two stories with an opening out to a large, raised, stone terrace overlooking the grounds. The house exterior is a striking white stucco, strongly set off by dark green shutters, and rises from a quasi-rustic foundation of coarse field stone. Clusters of gables and white chimneys rise from the roof, which is capped with a balustrade and cupola.”

“This main house is augmented by Georgian Revival gatehouse and stable, and a beautifully restored Lord and Burnham Greenhouse. Wharton’s sometime collaborator, Ogden Codman, Jr., assisted with the architectural design.”

For the outside garden areas, Edith Wharton hired her talented niece, Beatrix Jones Farrand, a talented landscape gardener and architect. She designed the kitchen garden and the areas along the long drive to the Wharton estate house. Beatrix Farrand’s artistry eventually broke the gender glass ceiling and she became the only woman of the eleven founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

 

Tom and I came to visit here in 2021. Walking down the path to the main mansion was almost as enjoyable as touring the mansion. Besides pathways that run through the forests and grasses, there are restored gardens that include “an Italian walled garden, formal flower garden, alpine rock garden, lime walk, and extensive grass terraces.” (N R H P).

As Tom and I left the parking lot, we passed the stable and saw a crew setting up for a social event. We started down the path to the main structure, and then it got interesting indeed. On the grounds on either side of this main path, there are creative sculptures amongst the trees and meadows, something a visitor doesn’t see every day on the way to a mansion tour.

We entered the patio, surrounded by a brick wall, and passed through front door to The Mount, a glorious spacious, beautiful home indeed.

The Mount has been called an autobiographical museum, exploring aspects of Edith Wharton. It has been furnished with turn-of-the-century furniture and art, with many different displays describing what life here was like; biographical information about Edith Wharton, causes she believed in, artists she supported, as well as the special places where she entertained and worked.

In a parlor just off the back verandah that overlooks the property, there is an entertainment area that has a round table that is set up, as if Edith was about to enjoy a meal or tea time with some of her good friends, mostly other writers and artists. Her table service was nicely arranged for each chair around the table, labeled with the names of friends she would invite. Included of course is her very close friend and mentor, writer Henry James.

The Shakespeare Company still performs plays here on the large stone verandah just outside this dining area, and in the other big spaces inside The Mount.

Other cultural partners who have developed connections with the director and the board have retreats, seminars and events here which keeps the joint jumping with artistic endeavors, and I’m sure very pleasing to most the spirits who still love this place.

 

HISTORY

About Edith Wharton (1862-1937)

In 1862, Edith Wharton was born in New York into a very wealthy family, which meant she received tutoring in the fine art of social skills in the Gilded Age, but she never got to go to Yale like her brothers did. The culture of the time expected women to become a wife, mother, and hostess, and to depend on their husbands to care for them financially.

Edith inherited a strong backbone and will, not worrying what the norms were for her society, always being true to herself. Being a bright person, she taught herself by reading the books in her father’s library. She continued to love to learn throughout her youth and adult life.

The family moved to Europe when Edith was a child in 1866 and they stayed there until 1872 when they moved back to New York. This was her introduction to European culture and way of life. She would wind up living half her life in America and half in Europe.

Edith’s ability to write blossomed at an early age. While in France, she wrote her first story in French for her tutor, to exercise her knowledge of the French language. Edith wrote some stories in her teens while still living with her parents, but she wasn’t allowed to publish them under her own name, so she used her pastor’s initials.

 

Edith Wharton was unlucky in love. The love of her life was a wealthy gentleman who loved her too; a match made in heaven. However, this gentleman’s mother nixed the marriage because if her son got married, the mother would lose control of his million dollar inheritance.

The society section the newspapers blamed the break-up on Edith’s precocious ability to write, which was supposedly the deal-breaker that her husband-to-be couldn’t accept, letting his mom off the social hook.

Edith had known Edward Teddy Wharton, a close friend of her older brother, since childhood. It seemed like a safe marriage prospect, so she and Teddy tied the knot in 1885 at the age of twenty-three; an age where unmarried women in this society were thought to be on the road to spinsterhood.

Teddy turned out to be a terrible marriage partner for Edith, despite her knowing him for such a long time. He was difficult to live with because of his bipolar condition, his depression, and his growing dangerous behavior at the end of their marriage. They struggled to remain married from 1902 to 1911.

The marriage lasted until Teddy’s doctors warned Edith that it wasn’t safe to live with him anymore. It was a painful decision to sell The Mount and to divorce Teddy. She had to sell because she had over-extended herself financially.

Though she probably received an allowance, most of her $92,000 inheritance was tied up in a trust, run by her brothers, who wouldn’t let her have it after her parents died. Perhaps, her brothers knew of Teddy’s inclination to spend money frivolously. Teddy had taken her allowance money to spend without clearing it with her, so their suspicions were right.

 

From the beginning of her marriage in 1885, she decided that she would make her own money, and began publishing her work under her own name. Her first book THE DECORATION OF HOUSES was co-authored with architect Ogden Codman, Junior.

She and Codman made the case for discarding the old Victorian architectural style and embracing one they thought was a lot better; a combination of European styles. “Good architectural expression included order, scale, and harmony.”(Wikipedia)

In 1902, Edith and Teddy built their own retreat mansion in the middle of a large property of 113 acres, using her money. Edith and Codman, who assisted with the architectural design, created the perfect house on the principles stated in their book.

Edith wrote about how she felt about her dream home.

She shared: “On a slope over-looking the dark waters and densely wooded shore of Laurel Lake we built a spacious and dignified house, to which we gave the name of my great-grandfather’s place, the Mount…There for ten years I lived and gardened and wrote contentedly…” (edithwharton.com).

In 1905, Edith wrote a best seller, entitled THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, which explored the struggles of a New York socialite whose drive to be her own person clashed with what society expected her to do with her life.

 

After her divorce in 1911, Edith traveled around Europe, eventually settling permanently in France. She wrote for women’s magazines, as well as still working on her novelas. Her novela, ETHAN FROME was another best seller about a New England farmer who has an affair outside his loveless marriage.

His life for him ends as he knew it, with his wife having to take care of both him and his mistress, as both had become paraplegic due to a sledding accident on one of their illicit dates.

During World War 1, Edith stayed in France, helping displaced women and children at the Western Front, who had lost everything. She implored her literary friends to donate works to be sold to raise money for hostels for these refugees. She was honored by the French Government which made her a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1916.

Another highlight of her career was her 1920 novel, AGE OF INNOCENCE. It was originally written in four parts to be published in four issues of the magazine, Pictorial Review, in 1919. It was published as a novel in 1920, and won the Pulitzer Prize, the first one given to a woman!

In 1923, Yale honored her by giving her an honorary degree, something she had longed to earn but couldn’t because of cultural norms.

In 1927, her novel, TWILIGHT SLEEP, was a best seller. She finished her career with her autobiography, A BACKWARD GLANCE, in 1934. She died in France in 1937.

 

The Mount (1911-2021)

The Wharton Estate was a popular property to own. The Mount was sold to another well-to-do family in 1911, who later sold it to yet another family. In 1942, The Mount and its grounds were annexed into Miss Farrell’s Foxwood Boarding Secondary School for Girls, that had established itself in 1930 at a neighboring property, the Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt Estate.

When Foxwood Boarding School closed in 1976, the Mount was put back onto the real estate market. It stood empty of the living until the Shakespeare Company bought it and used it as their theatre space and as a place to sleep over before or after rehearsals and performances.

The Wharton Estate was then bought by the Edith Wharton Restoration organization, which has restored much of the estate to its original condition and oversees the running of the property.

The main attraction, Edith’s mansion, opened as a house museum, with roped-off rooms to be seen in the hallways. However, it became financially in trouble with cash-flow issues, as the organization had a tough time honoring their loan obligations. Restoration work was expensive and having just the museum there didn’t bring in enough money to cover costs, let alone their loan.

Their bank threatened to foreclose, and even came out to make notes on the value of the assets on display.

When things get tough, the tough get going! The new director, Susan Wissler, and the member of the Edith Wharton Restoration Board decided to take down the ropes, open the estate up to cultural events, and make partnerships with the creative arts community in the Berkshires and beyond.

Before they knew it, they had beaten back their creditors, and paid off their loan. They discovered the more they had opened up the estate, the more people came to support the Edith Wharton Estate Museum.

All the restoration efforts and hosting cultural events have surely pleased most of the spirits who have decided to reside or visit here.

 

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

Trying to find peace in their afterlife is a goal of all the spirits who reside or visit here. While alive, these spirts found peace despite the bumps in the road, and now that they are dead and restless, they have come back to a place that was a piece of heaven to them, dispite their earthly troubles. Perhaps they stay here to work on their restlessness. However, what has made them restless as spirits in the first place?

Having to leave a favorite place, a much-loved forever home, due to unpleasant circumstances, can draw back spirits who want to spend their afterlife there, to make up for their losses while alive.

Pittock Mansion Museum, OR (Mr. and Mrs. Pittock built this fabulous house to be their retirement home. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to live there very long).

Hartford Twain House, CT (Because Mark Twain was not a good money manager, and their daughter had died there, they had to move out with their remaining daughter, eventually selling their dream home).

Custer House, ND (On the grounds of Fort Abraham Lincoln, General Custer and his family really loved their house, designed by General Custer himself. After Custer was killed in the Battle of the Little BigHorn, his wife had to move out. After The U.S. National Parks Service rebuilt the house using Custer’s own plans, guess who moved back inside?).

Edith Wharton Estate: The Mount, MA (When Edith and her husband, Teddy, got a divorce, they had to sell their beloved estate, never to live there again while alive. Edith had stated years later, “The Mount my first home, and though it is nearly 20 years since I last saw it; for I was too happy there ever to want to revisit it as a stranger. Its blessed influence still lies in me”).

 

When a property is being used for purposes that please the spectral owners, it acts like an environmental trigger that encourages interaction with the living, and a sense of peace.

The Cabbage Patch Settlement House, KY (The spirit of Alice Hagan Rice likes to visit here, so happy that her book inspired this social service organization).

Yunker Farm Children’s Museum, ND (The spirit of a former farmer’s wife, Elizabeth, loved children and would be thrilled that her house has become a children’s museum).

Chateau at Coindre Hall, NY (The former spectral owners, George and Pearl Brown, like to watch the very expensive, social events, such as weddings, receptions and other affairs for their kind of people).

Edith Wharton Estate: The Mount, MA (The spirit of Edith must have been pleased and relieved when the living opened up her home to the public, and made such great partnerships with the cultural arts community and women’s writing event planners).

 

Guests who had great times in a structure while alive, like to stay there as spirits, especially if the person who invited them is a resident spirit.

Goodman-Legrand House Museum, TX (The spirits of Sallie and James LeGrand still have events for their spectral friends here, and even invite the living to join in on the fun).

Beauregard Keyes House Museum, LA (Apparently, parties are still being held for spectral guests to relive their good times).

Edith Wharton Estate: The Mount, MA (At least one spirit person who was a very close and intimate friend of Edith, has moved in as well, even making personal performances when annoyed by the living).

(A second rather large spirit who may have had a growth disease while alive may also be a former friend of Edith Wharton, or perhaps he was part of another family who lived here).

 

Suicide it seems doesn’t provide an escape from fear and emotional storms; just a continuation of the feelings that drove the person over the waterfall into self-harm.

Stranahan House, FL (Mr. Stranahan found out that he was suffering from a fatal disease, and felt a lot of shame from a business deal gone bad, so he tied a large rock around his body and threw himself into the river).

Old Allen House, AR (A daughter of the Allen family had one two many relationship disappointments and poisoned herself).

Waverly Hills Sanitarium, KY (During the TB Hospital days, a nurse who became pregnant, hung herself).

Edith Wharton Estate: The Mount, MA (When one of Edith’s maids discovered she was pregnant, she hung herself near the butler’s pantry located in The Mount).

MANIFESTATIONS

The Mount offers the full paranormal sports package which includes shadows, disembodied voices, see-through apparitions, footsteps, staircase activity and sometimes direct contact with the living. The spirits who reside or visit here, find peace from their restlessness that keeps them in this world.

The Spirit of Edith Wharton

Ever since the days of Foxwood School, a female spirit dressed in early 20th century clothing has been seen walking around the various floors of The Mount.

She is supportive and friendly with the people who volunteer here and employees who work in the Gift Shop.

One Gift Shop employee told me about the time she couldn’t remember the story that had a person addicted to card playing in the plot. A visitor to the Gift Shop had asked her this.

The door flew open with no help from a windy draft and knocked down the very book off the shelf that had the card player character in the plot line, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. The employee attributes this to the helpful spirit of Edith.

The employees can feel a friendly, and supportive presence keeping them company at times.

This warm, friendly presence can be felt in Edith’s living suite, being hospitable to visitors and volunteers alike.

She also is courteous to paranormal investigators.

The Spirit of Teddy

When an actress from the Shakespeare Company was sleeping in his old room, she was awakened by seeing a transparent man with his back to her, showing his pony-tail.

He turned around and glared at her.

He wasn’t happy that he had to share his room with her.

His apparition has been seen walking around The Mount.

He likes to read in the parlor and other favorite places.

The Spirits of Edith and Teddy

They are making amends and peace with one another now that they are spirits.

Both spirits make visual appearances together in Edith’s bedroom, where she is seen reading to him from one of her books.

They like to sit side by side in their favorite places in the Mount for quiet activities, such as the drawing room, and read their books.

The Spirit of the Maid

When she isn’t going about her duties, she is reliving her suicide.

A female servant is seen going about her cleaning assignments from room to room.

While working in the kitchen, which was once the Butler’s Pantry, a member of the Shakespeare Company heard a woman scream, followed by the sounds of her strangling in a noose.

The Spirit of Henry James

During a Shakespeare play performance on the back patio, one of the thespians was standing by the glass doorway when a see-through man appeared next to her, dressed in turn-of-the-century fine attire, looking very annoyed.

He spoke to her, saying “What is all this commotion?”

She then saw him disappear into thin air.

He obviously wasn’t a fan of having a dramatic event with all the throngs of humanity attending, right outside the room where he and other guests dined with Edith.

His apparition has also been seen walking around the Mount.

The Spirit of a Large Man

A large, seven-foot shadow person is staying here as well.

He is a gentle giant and hasn’t hurt anyone, just curious.

TAPS ghost hunters caught a huge hand print on a wall on the third floor, and an equally huge shadow head peered around the the door to look at them.

A docent felt a large hand gently touch the top of her head.

His huge shadow figure is seen walking around the second and third floors, going between doorways of rooms opposite each other, and going up staircases.

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

The opening up of The Mount to cultural partners and the making of autobiographical exhibits about Edith, has increased the paranormal activity. The docents, employees and visitors have all had personal experiences with the mostly happy spirits who reside here. These spectral residents/visitors find peace here and are not afraid to make themselves known or seen.

Paranormal investigators and tour participants never leave empty-handed. The Mount offers ghost tours with a local paranormal group, which has become another source of income.

According to one ghost tour guide,”I have heard countless visitors’ tales of odd sensations, sights and sounds experienced during tours. Others have sent in photos that are truly unusual. And many people from the local community have shared stories with me of strange things experienced here over the years.”
(GHOST HUNTERS TO AIR NEW EPISODE article, by Jennifer Herberdeaux)

TAPS came back and filmed another episode here, and caught more proof of the spirits who love this place. Beside the huge handprint and the entity who peeked around the corner at them, they recorded disembodied voices, including a pleasant woman’s voice, courteously saying “Please,” in Edith’s living suite rooms.

 

STILL HAUNTED?

A Big Yes Indeed!

Edith Wharton Estate is still a place of peace for restless spirits looking for a break from their restlessness. It is a place where they can also work through what is bothering them, while they enjoy their favorite place of respite in this world.

Edith and Teddy are trying to mend their relationship in positive ways in the place that they both loved but had to leave because of the difficulties in their marriage.

Henry James still enjoys the beauty and comfort of the Mount and being with Edith and perhaps other artist friends also in spirit form.

The large shadow man is in a place where he could hide from the world while he was alive, and probably felt love from his family members. No wonder he wants to stay here in his afterlife.

The maid is restless and still unhappy, but takes comfort in still being able to work in her mind in a job that she could do well, in place that was so peaceful and positive.

 

LOCATION

The Mount: Edith Wharton Estate
2 Plunkett Street
Lenox, MA 01240

The city of Lenox is located in western Massachusetts in an area called the Berkshires.

SOURCES INCUDE

  • https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/8f5a057e-28ea-44f8-bdb9-058bc00597cb
  • Susan Wissler, executive director, talks about this transformation in an interview directed by Jason Brown.
    https://www.edithwharton.org/about/
  • GHOST HUNTERS TO AIR NEW EPISODE FILMED AT THE MOUNT IN LENOX, BY JENNIFER HUBERDEAU, Nov 17, 2015
    https://www.berkshireeagle.com/archives/ghost-hunters-to-air-new-episode-filmed-at-the-mount-in-lenox/article_2fa129f7-05b2-546f-9e16-8ae785bc7308.html
  • Edith Wharton is Born: This Day in History, January 24th, 1862
    https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/edith-wharton-is-born
  • The Mount
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mount_(Lenox,_Massachusetts)
  • Fox Hollow School
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxhollow_School
Haunts in Massachusetts