Just like the X-Files

October 28, 2007

When Seth Magosky was a child, he knew exactly where he’d live as an adult.

“When I was in grade school I picked out the home I bought,” Pat Magosky, Seth’s father, said about his Morgan Street home. The elder Magosky said his son did the same thing.

“He said, ‘I’m going to own this building someday,’ ” Pat said.

On Oct. 13, the Hiram B. Scutt mansion at 206 N. Broadway. summoned spirited memories when a group of ghost hunters spent the night.

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That building is the historic Hiram B. Scutt mansion at 206 N. Broadway.

It took him some time, but one year ago, Seth and his parents, Pat and Andrea Magosky, bought the house with the intention of creating the P. Seth Magosky Museum of Victorian Life.

Like original owner Scutt, Seth did not get much time in the North Broadway mansion. In March, Seth died suddenly in the house he spent most of his life waiting to own.

The Magosky family always has been interested in people and places from the past. No one was more interested in this than historian Seth, and it showed when he led the Oakwood Cemetery tours every year, telling the tales of Joliet area residents who no longer were alive to repeat them.

On Oct. 13, the Broadway mansion summoned spirited memories of its own when a group of ghost hunters spent the night.

Led by members of the Will County Ghost Hunter’s Society, Herald News reporters, Pat and Andrea Magosky and friends joined to investigate the home. It was an obvious choice, because Seth’s untimely death is not the only tragedy connected to the house.

History of house

Built in 1882 (although a Will County property record card lists the home being taxed as early as 1871), the Scutt mansion looms over Broadway. It was the first house in Will County to have electricity or air conditioning.

The home boasts three floors, plus a basement and a tower, and in its lifetime has had many owners and many purposes.

Hiram Scutt only lived in the home he built for seven years. In 1889, he fell off a horse and died.

This was not the first tragedy in the home. Hiram and his wife, Addie, had two children, Frank W. and Grace, who died in infancy.

A later owner, John Audlee, found a 2˝-inch bundle of letters tied with a ribbon under the floorboards on the third floor. Most of the correspondence in the bundle was sympathy cards for the passing of Grace, referring to her death after an illness. Audlee does not know what happened to the bundle, and he cannot remember the year marked on the cards.

After Hiram’s death, ownership of the home passed to his son for a time. The longest use of the home was from about 1916 to about 1977, when it was used as the Hannah Harwood Home for professional girls.

About seven owners later, Magosky had the opportunity to buy the home he had fallen in love with as a child.

Ghost hunt

When the Will County Ghost Hunters Society arrived, investigators spent nearly eight hours watching, waiting and listening to see if after 125 years the historic home had something in it besides beautiful architecture and Victorian furniture.

Upon arrival, Pat Magosky lead a tour of the home, giving the history and perspective on the structure.

A movie theater that was once built in the home when Leonard Carey Williams owned it is now gone.

The tower, rumored to be a lookout post for Hiram Scutt to watch his barbed wire factory, provided a way to cool the home. “It’s to cause a hot-air draft, to ventilate the house,” Pat Magosky said.

After the tour, the group’s preparation for the investigation proved to be a huge undertaking. More than 1,000 feet of wire connected nine cameras to a multiview video-recording laptop that had infrared technology, two additional wireless cameras and a space to watch the recording.

Ghost hunting has never been an exact science. According to Dan Jungles, head of the ghost hunters, the research the group gathers from its investigations is as scientific-based as possible. Any photo, video, cold temperature or electronic voice phenomena (EVP) reading they get is examined for a logical explanation.

Members are encouraged to assume that all potential paranormal activity has some nonparanormal explanation. An apparent apparition caught in a photo could just be a fleck of light. A light flickering could be faulty wiring.

Sometimes, there are no explanations.

The anomaly

After concluding an investigation, the footage has to be reviewed. Jungles estimates the hunt produced more than 90 hours of footage. The video cameras turned out nothing.

But the story was different with the digital cameras and the EVPs. One photo, taken in Seth’s bedroom, has what Jungles describes as an anomaly.

“The picture can be an anomaly, but it’s unclear what it is,” Jungles said.

Some people who look at it see a profile of a person wearing a hat.

This is an interesting take on it because Audlee said the owner before him used to occasionally see the ghost of a man wearing a hat.

Others who look at the photo simply see a shadow. “I didn’t really make a whole lot of it,” Pat Magosky said.

Whatever it is, though, there is no explanation for it. Jungles couldn’t recreate it when he shot at the same angle with the same camera and the same lighting.

Hearing voices

The EVPs found in the house vary in clarity, with one being very clear and the other rather faint.

One incident was recorded outside of Seth’s bedroom.

During the nighttime investigation, ghost hunter Kathy Stimpson asked, “Is anyone here?” Although silence followed, the Will County group knows that sometimes human ears do not hear what comes from the other side. After reviewing recordings, a faint voice answers what sounds like “yes.”

The other EVP is clearly someone laughing, which occurred in the dining room in the basement. Most who hear it say it sounds like a little girl.

Pat Magosky disagrees. “I don’t think that was a little girl,” he said.

When the house was used as a home for girls, that room was used for dining. Pat said he has a photo with a table large enough to fill the room, around which about 18 girls are seated. All of them are laughing.

He thinks perhaps that joyful energy stayed in the room. “That may have been the best memory of her life,” he said.

A lesson in haunting

The Will County ghost hunter group notes that energy can be trapped in a place or a thing, and the mansion is filled with historic items. From books — dating back to the 1800s in the largest room on the second floor — to antiques scattered throughout the house and photos that line the walls, memories of the past could be trapped in any room or object.

Paranormally speaking, though, ghost hunters believe paranormal entities emit an electromagnetic field. To them, spikes in the meters and EVPs can be seen as a greeting, a sort of “how do you do?” in paranormal lingo. And the more sensitive members of the group sensed the entity of a small girl in the house.

Despite failing to collect any conclusive evidence, other than one photo and two EVPs, Jungles said he thinks spirits linger in the Magosky museum.

“I would use the word haunted,” he said. “There is no way to explain that laugh for sure. It definitely, definitely has to be explained further.”