Newport Rhode Island
Astor’s Beechwood Mansion
Beechwood Mansion was party central for the well-to-do, creating wonderful memories.
Spirits of loyal servants continue in their service.
A spirit who died in a famous accident finds comfort and amusement here.
Unrequited love and shameful treatment caused a suicide.
It can be described as being the oldest Gilded Era Newport, Rhode Island “Palatial Palace” villa. Astor’s Beechwood Mansion was one of the Newport’s first “summer cottages,” that later became the center of social activity for the Newport high society circle of wealthy people who summered in Newport, Rhode Island.
The original mansion, that began its existence as an Italianate villa, was built in 1851, by a wealthy merchant, Daniel Parrish, from New York City. He hired the talented architect and landscaper, Andrew Jackson Downing, and his associate Calvert Vaux; a pair of talented men who specialized in building Gothic and Italianate villas for the wealthy, cottages for the normal American and farm houses for farmers. When this beautiful villa burned down in 1855, a replicate mansion was simply rebuilt in its place. Although Andrew Downing was killed in a boat fire in 1855, his partner, Calvert Vaux used the same plans to re-construct the villa.
The next owners of this property were real estate mogul William Backhouse Astor, Jr. and his wife, Caroline; who preferred her nick name; “Lina”. The Astors bought the Parrish Mansion in 1881, for their summer escape vacation home. Seeing it as fixer-upper, William and Lina hired up and coming, brilliantly talented architect, Rhode Islandchard Morris Hunt, spending 2 million dollars improving this mansion, now called Beechwood Mansion, for their own social needs and obligations; reflecting their wealth and social status. Expanding the original Italianate villa to be 24,000 square feet, additions included a large ballroom, a library, dinning room and a music room with wall paper imported from Paris. The third floor was like a huge apartment, and housed the servants. The numerous separate bedrooms, were off a main living room and common areas.
For 25 years, Lina Astor spent 8 weeks in the summer hobnobbing with fellow wealthy class friends and neighbors, by hosting some of Newport’s most important cultural activities, events, including many dinner parties, and an annual summer ball, not to be missed. Of course, to be included, your family must be of old money, having at least 3 generations of American roots. Certainly not any of the new wealth folks, new to high society were invited to Mrs. Astor’s social events. Throughout Lena’s life, it was imperative for Lena to be seen as being not only the social queen of New York City, but also the social queen of Newport as well.
It would be safe to say that the Astors’ Beechwood Mansion magnificent renovations and expansions were most enjoyed by the Astor family and their friends, making their 2 million dollar investment well worth the money to them, though Mr. William B Astor avoided Lena’s social events.
Apparently, Mr. William B Astor didn’t like social functions much, probably because of the snootiness and showcasing of wealth by all that was put on display. Sadly, as the years passed, William lost interest in being with his wife, Lina, and focused instead on his other interests, such as horses, boating, other homes and trips to Europe. William B. Astor died on April 25, 1892, in Paris, France, because of a brain aneurysm. After his death, Lina became more intense about being the social event queen, wherever she was staying.
The Astors had four daughters; Emily, Helen, Charlotte, Caroline, but only one son, John Jacob Astor IV. What is interesting is that the Astors named their son, John Jacob Astor IV; using the name of William B’s older brother, John Jacob Astor III, despite the fact that the brothers didn’t get along. Yet, the brothers lived next door to each other for 27 years on 5th Avenue, in New York City.
William and Lena’s son, John Jacob Astor IV, joined the military as a young man and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the Spanish American War, before retiring from the military. Although John Jacob Astor IV eventually inherited his father’s wealth, which was the custom of the day, John Jacob Astor IV wasn’t content simply to live off his family’s money, but made his own fortune working as a businessman, real estate builder, investor, inventor, and writer.
All of William B. and Lina Astor’s daughters married very well indeed, though wealth didn’t safeguard the Astor family from life’s tragedies. Their eldest daughter, Emily, died as a young woman at 27 in 1881, leaving not only a husband, but several young children, who were no doubt well taken care of by other members of the family.
The animosity that existed between younger brother William B. Astor, and older brother John Jacob Astor III continued on in the following generation after deaths of William B, John Jacob Astor III, and his wife, Mrs. Astor. It had nothing to do about money or inheritance, but social ranking. This social squabble began when Lina Astor had assumed that since she was the last of the older generation, she felt that she was next in line to inherit the social title of “Mrs. Astor”, and took it, letting go of her own long held social title; Mrs. William Astor.
John Jacob Astor III’s son, William Waldorf Astor, didn’t agree with his Aunt Lina. William Waldorf Astor insisted that his own wife be known as “Mrs. Astor”, a social title his mother had been known as in society, being married to the eldest son, John Jacob Astor III ! A rather intense turf war ensued between William Waldorf Astor, and Lina and her son, Col. John Jacob Astor IV, who of course backed up his mother. Lina won that battle! Though William Waldorf Astor moved his family to Europe IN A HUFF as a result of his defeat, he had a plan of revenge to get back at his Aunt Lina. William Waldorf Astor tore down the family mansion on 5th Avenue, that was located right next to Lina’s 5th Avenue mansion, and built a huge 13 story hotel, that he called The Waldorf Hotel. Because it was built to resemble a German Renaissance Chateau in architectural style, this massive building overshadowed Lena Astor’s mansion, as well as all the other properties in their 5th Avenue neighborhood.
After awhile, Lina couldn’t stand living next to this huge, commercial hotel, and thought about tearing down her mansion too, and building stables to create the proper aroma to express her feelings. But cooler heads prevailed, and she and her son, Col. John Jacob Astor IV, built instead an equally huge hotel, called The Astoria. The two hotels merged at some point, becoming one grand hotel, known as The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, as the families must have mended bridges at some point, and ended this silly feud. However, in 1928, both hotels were torn down to make room for The Empire State Building.
After losing her long-time family home on 5th Avenue, Beechwood Mansion became more important to her than ever. Upgrades were made to Beechwood Mansion, so the family could live there year round, if desired. Lina continued on, as the ultimate, gracious hostess, until 1906, when she retired, and spent her last years quietly living at her beloved Beechwood.
Waiting until his mother, Lina, passed away on October 30, 1908, to spare her the grief and shame, John Jacob Astor IV, divorced his first wife, Ava Lowell Willing, and married an 18 year old girl, Madeleine Talmadge Force in 1911, in the Beechwood Mansion ballroom. To escape the scandal of his divorce and remarriage, John Jacob Astor IV and Madeleine went to Europe, for an extended honeymoon. When Madeleine became pregnant, the couple caught the RMS Titanic in France to return home, as they wanted their baby to be born in America.
Uh oh! Not a good idea! While Madeleine, and her maid survived, as they made it into the life boat, John Jacob Astor IV and his butler went down with the doomed Titanic. John Jacob Astor IV was killed by a falling smoke stack, while trying to free another life raft. Interestingly, John Jacob Astor IV, one of the richest men on the Titanic, has been portrayed as the hero who put two immigrant children on one of the life rafts in several film productions depicting the sinking of the Titanic; a truthful fact that has been long remembered.
Madeleine inherited Astor’s Beechwood, and turned the entire third floor into her walk-in closet. She raised their son, John Jacob Astor V there, who in-turn inherited Beechwood Mansion when his mother died. John Jacob Astor V figured out a way to help bring in money to help with the upkeep of Beechwood Mansion. He opened a living history museum, Astors’ Beechwood Mansion. During off-season months (February to May), servants of the Astor family provided tours of the estate as if they are still living in 1891, dressing in period attire. Tourists were treated like they were “applicants” for a summer job on Mrs. Astor’s 1891 staff, and were introduced to all positions that were vital to the running of the household, including personal assistants: The jobs of the gardener, footman, butler, chef and his staff, and housemaids, as well as others, were portrayed and explained.
During the seasonal months, beginning in June, actual members of the Astor family would give tours of their mansion, treating visitors as if they were members of Lina’s, exclusive, 1891 “400 Club”, for families from old money. In later years, actors and actresses from the in-house Beechwood Theatre Company, were hired and had a field day portraying both family and servants in their daily lives there in 1891, at Astors’ Beechwood Mansion, and in later years of the following generation as well. Family history was also shared. Of course, visitors were warned not to mention to Madeleine Astor about the sinking of the Titanic, or the fact that she was John Jacob’s second wife, because John Jacob divorced his first wife to marry her.
For many years, Astor’s Beechwood Mansion was a living history museum, a venue for upscale weddings, murder mystery plays and special shows by the Beechwood Theatre Company, and Christmas events, but recently had been put on the real estate market, and is now back in private hands, not open to the public as of 2010. The new owner plans to keep his large collection of art here. Hopefully the new owner will do a great job keeping Astor’s Beechwood Mansion up to snuff, and will care about preserving this glorious mansion as much as the art collection. If not, he may get some “guidance” and encouragement from the spirits who now reside there.
When Tom and I were in Newport, the summer of 2010, we snuck a picture or two of the front of the mansion for our website. A caterer who often did weddings at Astor’s Beechwood Mansion, still has his web page up, promoting their services at this once lovely venue. (Morins) You can see what some of the interior looked like.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
People who really enjoyed social gatherings, cultural events and entertainment using the arts, often like to spend their afterlife staying or just visiting the structure where it all took place. People who were in charge of planning many memorable events in their homes, also like to remember all the great times as well.
Lina Astor’s passion was focused on providing high end social events in her beloved Beechwood Mansion, as it was an important part of her vision of herself.
Madeleine raised her son in this mansion, and had many happy memories here as well.
Servants who have loyally served their employers for many years, will continue to do so, even in their after-life.
People who kill themselves because of a broken heart caused by betrayal or denial of someone that though loved them, don’t find the peace they were looking for, but are restless and still in emotional upset.
A woman who had worked as a maid for one of the Astor households who lived here, killed herself off-campus, after being used and rejected by a boyfriend who she thought loved her. There is no documentation to prove this event.
People who so look forward to events in a new life and suddenly die before experiencing any of it, can stick around in this world, and enjoy memories and perhaps pretend what might have been, if they hadn’t been rudely yanked from this world.
Col. John Jacob Astor IV was so looking forward to spending the rest of his life with Madeleine and their new child. He had endured the scandal of divorcing his high society wife, and marrying a girl still a teenager. On that fateful day aboard the Titanic, they had made some progress in getting the life raft free, only to be killed by a falling stack! How annoying, maddening and disappointing.
A telephone repairman was electrocuted in the basement, around 1911, experiencing a sudden and quick death, leaving his life and family in this world very suddenly, forever depriving him of his hopes and goals for this world.
Madeleine also looked forward to spending her life with her beloved, watching their child grow up.
No one is really sure who the spirit people are who now reside in Astor’s Beechwood Mansion. Not much research has been done. They seem to be playful, with a tendency to tease the living, especially the staff and people who were there every day. Some are annoyed when the living invade their room.
General Activity Experienced
Staff, actors and actresses involved with The Beechwood Theatre Company and visitors for years have experienced:
Doors that open after being shut. This happens on all the floors.
After closing all the doors to the rooms on the second floor, before going up to her quarters on the third floor, she noticed that not only was the door she just shut open, but all the doors were open again.
Cold spots that have been felt in various parts of the mansion, especially the ballroom.
Disembodied voices, have been heard by people.
A costume manager for The Beechwood Theatre Company was putting away some costumes in the closet located in Mrs. Astor’s dressing room. Right behind her, she heard a loud sigh of disgust from a female spirt, thought to be Mrs. Astor.
Spirit of Male Presence
Perhaps John Jacob Astor IV, or the man electrocuted in the basement.
Teases females -who feel a sensation of breath on the neck, and a voice whispering their names in their ears.
Candles have been blown out by an unseen presence or two, as the air was still with no drafts.
Foot steps have been heard on the mansion’s staircases.
Many folks have experienced the feeling of being touched.
Unseen presences have been felt in the room, giving the living the sensation of being studied and watched.
Spirit of a Lady in a Yellow Ballroom Dress
Several members of the Beechwood Theatre Company, who live in the third floor large apartment, have seen:
A female entity in a yellow turn-of-the-century ballroom dress – Thought probably to be Caroline Lena Astor, though it could also be Madeleine, as this apparition has been seen on the third floor via the staircase, perhaps to go to her extensive clothes closets.
While watching TV in the common living room in the large, third floor apartment, both actors saw in their side vision a woman in a yellow ballroom dress. They thought it was the actress who lived in one of the other rooms, as she owned a period dress of that color. A little later, they realized that it wasn’t their roommate when she came back from an outing.
Spirit of a Servant
A female entity, dressed in a maid’s uniform has been seen in various parts of the mansion, dutifully doing her chores.
Probably so, as people have been having personal experiences for years: seeing, hearing and feeling spirits.
The only paranormal investigation of Beechwood Mansion that I could find, was one of the early episodes of Ghost Hunters (Season 2, Episode 8). The investigators were doing passive investigations back then when this episode was filmed, just depending on their equipment, and not trying to entice spirits to come out, by having EVP sessions, or providing trigger objects or situations, or by gently chiding or provoking. It was also an all male investigating team. Some spirits respond only to women.
(Be sure to watch the video below on the ghost hunting method used by Paranormal Inc. for comparison!)
The teams only investigated known hot spots and didn’t even attempt to cover the whole 24,000 square feet of the mansion, leaving plenty of places for spirits to stay out of the way. Not surprisingly, this investigation didn’t get much evidence at all, but did catch two anomalies on film in the ballroom, which they too quickly dismiss. Careful examination by an expert would’ve been the right move.
The good news from their investigation is that they didn’t make activity worse, and they thought that they found a reasonable explanation/theory as to why doors would open again by themselves, after the employee had shut them, bringing some comfort to the scared employee. When investigators tried to shut them completely, the doors were swelled a bit from the moist weather, and didn’t shut all the way. A breeze from a window could’ve caused the doors to open by themselves.
They also discovered that some of the heating ducts in the basement had towels stuffed in them, which might have been the cause for the cold ballroom. However, they didn’t follow through, and ask why the towels were there, and investigate further. If they took the towels out, would it get warmer in the ballroom?
They couldn’t find an explanation though, for the disembodied voices in the ear that some employees had been experiencing, the breathing down the neck, the feeling of being watched, hearing disembodied voices or the appearance of the apparitions.
The interview with the staff docent included in this episode was an indication that some spirit is getting chuckles and recognition! Having a voice whisper in your ear is something you don’t forget. The shock of realization that there is a unseen spirit world, and there is such a thing as ghosts could be seen on the female staff member’s face, as she retold her experience to their crew. Her affect was a good indication that she indeed had a personal experience.
As spirits aren’t on the payroll, they sometimes need to be invited into this world via an EVP session, the use of trigger objects that they like, or be offered enticing situations that appeal to them, to encourage interaction with the living. This Ghost Hunter’s investigation episode didn’t try to motivate the spirits in any way to play with the investigators, who also didn’t seem to have the mind set to be open to having personal experiences. The spirits were given no reason to interact with this team, and they certainly weren’t going to initiate contact with total strangers, who didn’t seem too interested in them.
Since this Ghost Hunter’s team didn’t experience anything, and they didn’t catch any hard evidence, then the place isn’t haunted?? This is the logic of some ghost hunting groups, thinking that their equipment by itself will inevitably do all the work for them. This 8th episode of Season 2 was filmed in the early years of this entertaining show. Watching their recent shows, the viewer can see real growth in their skills and more openness and alertness to paranormal incidences. There is now at least one female investigator on the team in their current TV episodes. Creative EVP sessions are regularly done, using a variety of styles of questioning, and trying harder to entice activity; resulting in capturing more hard evidence to show the concerned parties on “The Reveal”. They have changed their thinking, in that they are looking for hard evidence of a haunting, but don’t discount the owner’s experiences, if they don’t catch anything.
Being under new ownership means that changes in Beechwood Mansion will inevitably take place; changes that the spirits may not like at first – perhaps inspiring a call for a paranormal investigation by the new owners because of increased activity. While the spirits of the mansion should be pleased with all the fine art work set up throughout this home, and less of meddling strangers in their rooms, they will truly miss the fancy up-scale weddings and social events that have long been held here. For chuckles, they may begin to tease the people who now own the mansion, to let them know that they are still in residence, and maybe even try to make suggestions!
Astor’s Beechwood Mansion can be found in the mansion row section of Newport, grand estates that grace that long stretch of Bellevue Avenue between Bancraft Avenue and Yznoga Avenue. The mansion is on the left side of the road, in a prime location, with a view of Rhode Island Sound.
- Ghosts of Newport
by John T. Brennan
Haunted America, 2007
- Haunted Rhode Island
by Thomas D’Agostino
Schiffer Publishing, 2006
- Biography of Richard Morris Hunt
- Picturesque Italianate Architecture in the U.S.
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr