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The Mysterious Mansion
Some say spirits still call White Hill Mansion home
By Kelly Lin Gallagher

In a home that’s nearly 300 years old, creaks and moans can be expected. But phantom hair pulling, flying objects and disembodied voices may be a bit unsettling even in the oldest of buildings.

In 1723, Robert and Mary Fields bought 300 acres in the area now known as Fieldsboro. The couple built a small home on the property about 40 years before their son, Robert, built a larger home nearby. That building is known as the White Hill Mansion and, supposedly, it’s haunted.

Loretta Kelly, founder of the Friends of White Hill Mansion group, and Dawn Reichard, vice president of the group and a paranormal investigator, have witnessed enough strange activity and heard enough ghost stories about the place to personally take the “supposedly” out of the description of White Hill Mansion.

In 2004, Kelly was working toward earning a degree in historic preservation when she began restoring White Hill Mansion for a class project.

“After I got my certificate, I asked the mayor if he really wanted to get the mansion on the historic registry, and he said, ‘Yes,’” Kelly says. “So I founded the Friends of White Hill Mansion, and we started to raise money for preservation work.”

Just a few years after she founded the project – which has since received a grant from the Historic Trust of New Jersey to develop a preservation plan to stabilize and maintain the property – paranormal enthusiasts began reaching out to Kelly, asking to investigate the historic building.

“I thought they were crazy,” she laughs. “I’d been in and out of that house a bazillion times, and there was nothing in there. But at the time, I was expecting to see full-bodied apparitions floating around the room, because I knew nothing about it.”

It was when she heard her first recorded EVP – short for electronic voice phenomenon – of a voice in the home that she began to question what was actually going on inside White Hill Mansion.

“The investigators started sending me the evidence they were getting, and I was absolutely floored,” says Kelly.

Then, one investigator asked Kelly to participate in an experiment during an early investigation.

“We went to the top of the stairs that lead down to the bar in the basement,” she says. “We put a recorder and a meter of some sort on the floor, then she told me to ask a question. I said, ‘Sure, OK. I’ll play your little game.’”

Kelly asked several questions, such as “What’s your name?” “Did you live here or work here?” and “Why are you still here?”

She asked these questions into thin air, but left enough time between each inquiry for someone to voice their answers.

After the EVP session was complete, the pair went into the next room to listen to the recording and determine if they captured any evidence.

“You hear me say, ‘What’s your name?’ and a man’s voice comes back and says, ‘Thomas,’” Kelly recalls. “Then he said he lived there. Mary Fields’ second husband’s name was Thomas.”

Mary’s first husband, Robert Fields, was the chairman of the Committee of Correspondence during the Revolutionary War. Members of this group were the people who began writing letters to the King of England stating they were no longer going to pay British taxes.

“Robert was wealthy, so he was more of an agitator,” Kelly says.

In 1775, Robert traveled by ship to Bucks County, Pa., for a meeting, and that was the last time Mary – who was pregnant with their last child – saw her husband.

“On the way back, he ‘fell’ into the river and drowned,” Kelly says.

Robert had discovered that one of his house servants was a British spy and planned to turn him in – but it’s believed that the servant took care of Robert before he could do any such thing.

“Robert was with the spy in a rowboat that was heading to the ship that would take them back to New Jersey,” Kelly explains. “When they got there, he wasn’t in the boat. The captain asked, ‘What happened to Mr. Fields?’ The servant kept telling different stories. The first thing he said was, ‘I don’t know. He was in the boat when we left.’”

But the boat they were traveling in was so small, Kelly explains, that it would have been impossible for the spy to be unaware of what happened to Robert.

Mary Fields, now left alone with several children and pregnant with another, was tasked with watching over their property and her late husband’s businesses. Being an intelligent and cunning woman, Mary claimed to be neutral in the conflict, but later confessed she had protection orders from the Colonists, the British and the Hessians.

“A lot of the houses along the river were burned down,” Kelly says. “But whoever showed up at her door was her best friend. She knew how to play both ends against the middle.”

It was obvious which side she was on when she married United States Navy Commodore Thomas Reed, and the two lived happily in the mansion until Reed died in 1788. In 1797, Mary turned the mansion over to her youngest son, but Kelly doesn’t think Reed ever left.

“Quite frankly, we think he’s still there,” she says. “I had a conversation with him myself.”

Reichard, Kelly’s fellow Friends of White Hill Mansion member, first investigated the mansion in 2010 and has also experienced plenty of paranormal activity while in the house.

“The biggest indicator that something is there is if you actually hear or feel something,” Reichard says. “If something pulls your hair or whispers in your ear, that’s the best.”

And she says disembodied voices – rare occurrences when you hear voices coming from someone who isn’t visible – are quite common at White Hill Mansion.

“I’ve picked up what seems to be dinner conversation on the other side of the house, but when you go to investigate the other side of the house, no one is there,” Reichard says. “I’ve had a lady ask me to please introduce myself. How rude am I to just walk into her house; can you imagine?”

Reichard says the basement, which once served as a speakeasy during Prohibition, is one of the most active spots in the mansion.

“Last summer, I ran down to the basement to get a screwdriver,” she says. “I don’t like going to the basement by myself because sometimes weird things happen down there, so it’s always good to have a witness.”

So she and two volunteers went into the basement.

“I went behind the bar to look for a screwdriver and, as I leaned over to open a drawer, a vase came flying off the counter and just missed my head. I tried to debunk it, but there’s no way it could have flown across the bar like it did.”

Legend says that a descendant of one of the original owners ran the bar and gets angry when anyone goes behind it.

“It kind of validated the story that it was his bar and you have no place back there,” Reichard says.

Recently, Reichard and a few other volunteers were decorating the basement for a party when one girl felt like her ear was stung by a bee.

“Sure enough, her ear got all red,” she says. “Another girl said something had poked her in the back. They went upstairs for a while.”

The basement isn’t the only place where the spirits are active in White Hill Mansion, claims Reichard. “I’ve picked up activity in almost every room in the house.”

The attic is one of her favorite places to investigate, because of its dark history. The attic is believed to have served as a bordello in the early 1900s.

“It wasn’t one of those cool bordellos you see on television in the Westerns,” she says. “We think there’s a spirit of someone who was maybe held against her will in the sex slave industry up there.”

While exploring the bordello area of the attic during one of the open houses offered by Friends of White Hill Mansion, a woman asked Reichard how ghost hunting is done.

“I said, ‘Basically, we sit in the dark and ask questions and see what happens,’” she explains. “She asked if we could try it.”

Everyone turned off their flashlights, and the group sat in the dark asking questions.

“We were just about to give up and leave that part of the attic when, between me and the woman, there was a long breath. It was very exaggerated. All the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. I don’t usually get freaked out in the house, but I looked at her and she looked at me, and she said, ‘OK, I’m done now.’ No one heard it but me and her.”

Reichard says one of her favorite aspects of paranormal investigation is sharing experiences with others.

“It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself,” she says. “I could tell a hundred stories on experiences I’ve had, but it’s so much more interesting when it’s an experience that you have. When you experience something personally and have no explanation for what happened, it really makes you think.”

 


Watch White Hill Mansion’s Loretta Kelly and SJ Mag’s Marianne Aleardi tour the mansion and go on a ghost hunt this fall on “This is South Jersey” on NJTV and WHYY. 

September 2017
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