The spirits were talkative Friday night at the 1890 House at 37 Tompkins St., Cortland.
Chester Wickwire was there, and so was his wife Ardell. Their son Raymond — the one who died at age 6 of scarlet fever — also showed up, but only briefly, and so did their oldest son Charles, who was much more talkative.
Not that anyone present in the candlelit room heard any voices — only knocks on pipes and on the walls and floors. Later in the session, most of the messages came through via crossed and uncrossed divining rods in the hands of Rosalie Hopko, associate director of the museum.
Chester Wickwire, founder with his brother Theodore of the Wickwire Brothers Co. and the man who built the 1890 House, died of a stroke in the very room the séance was conducted in. This fact, combined with the rappings and eerie flickerings of the candles, were clearly creeping out Brittney Mapstone of Pompey, one of the six participants in the 7 p.m. séance Friday night.
“I really do not want to believe,” she said afterward, but she also admitted she was also a little bit afraid. “I’m still on the fence a little bit, honestly.”
Shane Cullen of DeRuyter was leaning more in the direction of belief. Cullen said at one point during the session he saw a dark form loom over Debbie Jansson of Cortland, who sat across the table from him. At that very moment, Jansson nearly jumped out of her seat and said something was touching her.
“It poked me twice,” Jansoon said. She also complained that her right arm became very cold during the session, while her left arm became unusually hot.
Both Cullen and Jansson reported having had paranormal experiences previously. Cullen said he lives in a haunted house, and Jansson said she has had contact with her deceased mother, to whom she directed questions during the séance, and the divining rods appeared to provide yes and no answers. Jannson said she has also seen shadowy figures near her friend Don, who was also present but declined to give his last name.
“I don’t know what they are,” she said, “but they follow him around.”
This atmosphere Friday night was very late 19th century and highly period appropriate, said Hopko; spiritualism was popular at that time, especially among the upper classes. It’s likely, she said, that Ardell Wickwire, Chester’s wife, given her social station, participated in a séance or two.
So were spirits at work Friday night? While the séance manifested no ectoplasm or apports, the rappings and flickerings were definitely real. The question is what caused them.
David Cashill Lane, the museum’s new executive director, who was present before the session and said he went upstairs while it was in progress, said that he too heard strange noises but wasn’t sure what caused them. A skeptical observer might have noted the convenient timing of his absence and enigmatic smile on his face when he returned.
The 1890 House will have seances at 7 and 9 p.m. Oct. 12 and 13, and again the following weekend from Oct. 18-20, Hopko said. Tickets can be booked on the museum’s web site at http://the1890house.org.