Today, “one of America’s most haunted mansions” is open to the public for tours. Around Halloween each year they also hold an annual Ghost Party— playing on their reputation and the home’s history of tragedy to maintain a building of significant historic value. Once the home of society’s elite members, the Sprague Mansion in Cranston, Rhode Island fell on hard times and faced demolition in 1967. Luckily the local historical society purchased and has since maintained the estate.
The Sprague family was powerful in Rhode Island society. Investing early in textile mills and printing the popular calico cloth of the late 1700s and 1800s in bulk brought them riches. But it also seems to have brought them a share of tragedy. Two of the Sprague brothers, William and Amasa, ran “Sprague Print Works” in Cranston in the 1860s. Business was booming and the Sprague family was growing tremendously wealthy thanks to the wonders of industrialization and the factory system. And then, on New Year’s Eve day, 1843, Amasa’s badly beaten body was found. Amasa was dead and there were no eyewitnesses.
There was, however, an entire family to blame the murder on. It seems an Irish immigrant (a member of an unpopular minority at the time) by the name of Nicholas Gordon owned a small pub near the print factory. At lunch the Sprague’s workers would frequent Gordon’s pub and drink a pint or two. The idea that their workers were drinking on the job infuriated the Spragues and Amasa managed to get the city council to revoke Gordon’s liquor license.
Amasa had no real reason to ask such an action be taken, but he was a Sprague, and therefore quite influential. Gordon was just another struggling immigrant. The license was revoked.
Unfortunately, Nicholas Gordon had asked his entire family to come join him in Rhode Island due to the popularity of his pub. He felt certain he could find work for them since business was going so well, being as how he was so close to the Sprague’s factory. His family had only recently moved in when the liquor license got revoked. It must have been like a punch to the gut. Suddenly Nicholas’ booming business was nearly worthless.
So when Amasa’s body turned up, dispersions were automatically cast on the Gordons. Amasa’s body lay in state at the family home in Cranston before his burial. Perhaps this is why his spirit lingers there.
The police supposedly arrested every member of the family they could find, including an elderly matriarch and the pet dog. Claiming the Irish families were tremendously tight and surely there was quite a conspiracy as a result, the first trials were for Nicholas’ brothers. With a prostitute as the main witness (and she supposedly kept mixing the brothers up when delivering her testimony) and a jury that certainly included no Irish immigrants’ peers, the first trial found John guilty of the murder. They had no tangible evidence, and the prosecution and the judge both showed blatant examples of discrimination. John was hanged as a result. It took him twenty minutes to die. William was found unanimously not guilty. Nicholas was released on bail, most of his jurors voting for an acquittal. By the time his trial came up, the murder that originally had no witnesses now had nearly 100.
Perhaps it is no wonder that Amasa haunts the family home—rather it may be a greater marvel that John Gordon does not as it seems he certainly has a right to. Strange presences have been felt in the house and a man in black has been seen on the stairs. Cold spots are frequently felt and visitors often get strange and creepy feelings related to the “doll room” where a collection of traditional dolls stares at the visitors staring at them.
Strange things have shown up in photographs of the cellar and people have seen strange reflections in the cupola; some were debunked by the “Ghost Hunters” (TAPS) investigation crew in 2007. But TAPS also experienced some strange things while there. The RI Paranormal Research Group also performed a lengthy investigation of the site, finding sufficient evidence to support claims the mansion is indeed haunted.
But then there’s the ghost of the lovely Kate Chase Sprague. Kate may well be the ghostly woman first reported in 1925. In her time Kate was considered a remarkable beauty and a woman at the height of fashion. Her style was often mimicked by other ladies, and, as the wife to Governor William Sprague, she hoped to someday be the First Lady of the White House. But things did not go as Kate had hoped and she died at her father’s deteriorating estate in Washington DC, destitute and all alone in 1899. It is no small wonder then that people have believed they’ve seen Kate standing before the mirror in the mansion’s ballroom. Perhaps she returns to the mansion to relive better times just as Amasa returns to revisit tragedy.