Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paranormal Group Discovers Skeleton Buried Behind WV Mansion Wall

wtov9 - A historic Brooke County mansion is at the center of a police and paranormal investigation after skeletal remains were found hidden in a wall.

The remains were found at Aspen Manor in Wellsburg after paranormal investigators said they sensed someone was buried in a basement wall and heard a voice saying, "Help me. I'm stuck inside of this wall," the sheriff said.

Sheriff Richard Ferguson said the bones had "been chopped up into pieces" and had saw marks on them. Investigators also found glasses, hair and other items in the same wall. The remains were removed and are being sent to the state medical examiner, who will determine if they are human or animal.

The owner of the building, Gene Valentine, said the paranormal group came to the mansion to film because of the mansion's rich history and said he isn't surprised by the find.

The mansion was built in the 1895 by the Vandergrift family as a boys' getaway that hosted gambling and cockfights. Later, it changed hands and the Catholic community took over and turned it into an assisted living home. Most recently, Valentine turned it into a bed and breakfast.

Valentine said he is in the process of remodeling, but said if officials determine the bones are human, he will let them do whatever is necessary to investigate and find out what else might be hidden on the property.


Aspen Manor is no longer operating as an assisted living facility, but it will continue as a bed and breakfast and budget hotel, said owner Gene Valentine.

Valentine said 20 rooms in the assisted living facility section of the building will be marketed as low-cost hotel accommodations, while 10 rooms in the section that comprised the Vandergrift mansion will be available as bed and breakfast accommodations in a higher price range.

Valentine added the Eagle's Nest lodge will continue to be available as a rental hall, and he's working with a local economic development group to bring a new business to the site of the Bethany equestrian center he established several years ago.

Located above Wellsburg, WV off Brinker Road, Aspen Manor was the summer home of Joseph Vandergrift, a wealthy Pennsylvania industrialist, in the early 1900s.

It was designed by Frank Alden and Alfred Harlow, Pittsburgh architects who designed many homes for the wealthy.

Over the years the mansion, with additions, became a home for retired clergy operated by the Knights of St. George and an assisted care facility operated by the William Penn Association and the Catholic Knights of America before Valentine purchased it for $1.9 million.

Valentine said he invested $1.5 million in renovations to the building and adjacent facilities, including a new hardwood floor, kitchen and sound system at the former Knights of St. George Lodge, which he redubbed the Eagle's Nest in recognition of the property's scenic view.

But Valentine said he was unable to recover financial losses assumed by the Catholic Knights of America and under his own management.

He said much of the loss was due to many residents being wards of the state because they lacked the means to support themselves. All of the facility's patients have been relocated to other approved facilities, he noted.

Valentine said he's hopeful Aspen Manor can continue as a bed and breakfast and hotel, and he plans to market it for getaway retreats and business conferences.

Rebecca Morrison, marketing director for Aspen Manor, said the site is a unique and ideal location for weddings.

He said he plans to hire a firm to install a geothermal heating system at the mansion, including its indoor swimming pool, which he plans to refurbish.

He expects the move to reduce the facility's heating expense, which averages $25,000 a year, by 90 percent.

Valentine estimated such plans and renovations to additional rooms there will cost about $1.5 million to $2 million, but he remains committed to the property, which also is his home.


This mansion is a beautiful structure located on a hill overlooking the Ohio River Valley. The mansion has a rich history with multi-generational families having frequently inhabited it.

The mansion, however, hardly inspired beauty in its residents. Apparently in overwhelming guilt, a woman hung herself in the stables after her husband discovered her affair. Some say the woman still haunts her beautiful home.

One morning in 1904, Joseph B. Vandergrift woke up, dressed, and simply walked away from the mountaintop mansion he had built overlooking the Northern Panhandle town of Wellsburg only three years earlier.

Vandergrift took little with him and never returned.

Among those things Vandergrift may have left at the mansion was the remains of a stable, burned to the ground. He also may have left the bodies of his wife, Diane, and her alleged lover.

Today, the mansion has a new life as home to an assisted living center operated by the Catholic Knights of America. But some of the old life may still be around.

Vancroft Mansion, some say, is haunted.

Lights going on and off by themselves, bone-chilling cold rooms in the height of summer, visions of women who disappear in the blink of an eye, all have been known to happen at Vancroft.

The house, built in 1901, lends itself to the atmosphere - long, dimly lit hallways, dark rooms with hidden panels, a sense of heaviness in the air.

Eric Shoup, director of the Vancroft Assisted Living Center, said Joseph Vandergrift had money to burn. He had inherited a fortune from his father, an oil and steel tycoon in nearby Pittsburgh.

Vandergrift spent lavishly, building Vancroft on a 500-acre mountaintop farm. The architectural firm of Alden and Harlow designed every building on the property.

Even the furnishings were hand-designed pieces made to order for the mansion.

Vandergrift thought of everything when he built Vancroft. The mansion featured an indoor swimming pool, a grand ballroom, a formal dining room, as well as what are known as "The Indian Room" and the "Oriental Room."

The Indian Room adjoins the billiards room. It is decorated with Native American artifacts, including bones, spears, bows and headdresses.

The Oriental Room, which doubled as a library, is decorated in Japanese and Chinese furnishings, including woven grass wall coverings.

Perhaps the most fascinating room is the "Turkish Room," which served as an opium den. The Turkish Room overlooks the Grand Ballroom. It is said that the Vandergrifts' son hanged himself from the balcony in just one of the tragedies that took place in the home.

Off the Turkish Room is the private jail that Vandergrift used to house those who might have smoked a little too much hashish as well as those who might have gotten violent after losing too much money in one of his two-week poker parties.

Just down the hill from the main house, Vandergrift even had a track for horse racing and an arena for cockfighting.

"There were stories in town of people running around naked up here," Shoup said.

While not discounting the rumors, Shoup cautioned that even people wearing bathing suits would have been seen as "unclothed" by many at the time.

It was in this atmosphere of debauchery that the Vandergrifts lived. And it was from these stories that the legend of Diane Vandergrift's death grew.

Shoup said the stories have it that Diane Vandergrift was having an affair with a stable hand and that Joseph Vandergrift found out about it. It was said that Joseph Vandergrift had his wife killed and her body burned in the stable with that of her lover.

Since the time of her death, there have been reports of Diane Vandergrift's ghost being seen around the home.

While speculation about Diane Vandergrift's ghost continues, one thing is certain, not much has changed in the house since the Vandergrifts lived at Vancroft.

Much of the furnishings museum quality originals by Gustav Stickley - are still in the mansion.

Some single pieces of the furniture have been valued as much as $80,000 and Shoup said a representative of the Stickley Museum had told him the collection is priceless.

On the wall of one of the grand halls is a collection of original pictures of Native American chiefs from the 1800s. In a dining room is a collection of original, signed portraits of all of the country's presidents between Washington and Roosevelt, plus two extra.

"This picture, hanging out of sight behind the wall of the fireplace, is of President [Grover] Cleveland," Shoup said.

"He was elected twice, but not consecutively. Over on the other side of the fireplace, you will see the picture of the man who ran against him. Vandergrift hated Cleveland and said the other man was never president but should have been."

The second presidential picture that is out of place is that of President John F. Kennedy, whose picture was added to the collection by the Catholic order that currently owns the facility.

After Joseph Vandergrift abandoned the mansion, the Brinker family bought it and used it as a set for at least two silent films.

They attempted several other business ventures related to the mansion and its surrounding lands, but none were successful. The Brinkers sold it to the Catholic Knights of St. George, who adapted it as a long-term care home for its members.

In 1926, a large addition was added to the facility for patients.

Shoup said after some financial problems in the early 1990s, the order merged with the William Penn Association, a Hungarian fraternal organization, which shut down the property in 1992.

In 1996, the Catholic Knights of America bought the mansion and reopened it, saying the organization would restore and reconstruct the property, something that is continuing to this day.

Shoup said that currently part of the facility is once again being used as a longterm care facility, while another part is operating as a bed and breakfast. The mansion is also open to public tours.

Future plans for the facility include the possible development of an 18-hole golf course and a residential development.



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