Accompanied by photographs, The Ghosts of Belcourt Castle recounts stories of the apparitions seen at this castle in Newport, Rhode Island. This sixty-room mansion was completed in 1894, but it stood empty for many years until the Tinney family purchased it in 1956.
Based on personal anecdotes and third-party stories, Tinney recounts some of the home's visitors-from the mysterious monk, to the pink lady in the Madame's bedroom, to the suit of armor that screams, to the ghostly dancers in the French Gothic ballroom, and the arm that points through the staircase. Judging from the list of apparitions who've visited the home, Belcourt Castle might just be the most haunted house in America.
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The Ghosts Of Belcourt Castle
By Harle H. Tinney
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Harle Tinney
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBelcourt Is Not Haunted
Belcourt was abandoned from about 1940 until the mid 1950s, when a caretaker, Benny Collin, a Danish-born artist, took responsibility for keeping the vandals out.
Gaining illicit entry became a challenge. Twenty exterior entrances and more than 50 second story doors and windows were boarded up. Nonetheless, determined trespassers occasionally succeeded in getting in, and Benny could only repair the damage and replace the boards.
One particularly bad day, after boarding up yet another point of unlawful entry, Benny had an idea for catching the culprits, or for at least ensuring that they would never return. He bought a white sheet, a broom, and a flashlight. He moved his pallet bed from the cozy southeast corner studio to the cavernous third floor Musicians Balcony overlooking Belcourt's French Gothic ballroom. From this central point, he could hear any activity in the eerie, echoing, empty halls.
After several nights of peace, Benny was awakened by the clump of footsteps on the grand stair. Intruders had found another way in! He threw his white sheet over himself and the broom, to which he had attached the flashlight. The barely five-foot tall Dane picked up a piece of chain he had gleaned from the beach after the 1954 hurricane, and waited until all the noises came from the ballroom. Then he lit the flashlight under the sheet, raised and lowered the broom, moaned, groaned, and rattled the chain. The startled intruders barely touched the stairs on their way out! Benny flew after them, his white sheet flapping in the wind. He chased them down the grand stair, across the marble floor toward the east basement, and through the ninety-foot tunnel. They went out as they had entered, through the tunnel door in the south courtyard. Down the dark street they ran. At Bailey's Beach, Benny, winded, gave up the chase.
Within a few days, the word had spread all over town: Belcourt was haunted. It worked! There were no more broken windows or damaged doors that season.
The Sequel: Years later, as I was giving a tour, I overheard a gentleman talking to his five-year-old grandson. "You know, son, if it weren't for you I never would have come back into this house."
Curious, I asked the man, "Why?"
"The last time I was in this house was over 35 years ago," he replied.
"Before the Tinneys bought the house?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said, "back when no body was living here. Something chased me and some buddies of mine out of this house, and I swore that day that I would never come back here again. Wouldn't have, neither, if my grandson hadn't talked me into it."
That middle-aged grandfather had harbored the memory of Benny's sheet, broom and flashlight for 35 years!
Chapter TwoBelcourt Becomes a Home
After Christmas in 1956, Belcourt groaned and creaked with a vibrant new life. Sixty years old, grand as it was, Belcourt had never felt the warmth of a family in residence.
The Tinneys moved in with 17 van-loads of glorious furnishings. Over the first nine months that they lived in the castle, the active family added lights and heat, repaired doors and windows. The roof was fixed, the floors were polished, the dust and grime of years was washed away. The old "haunted house" became warm and hospitable.
At night, as the long-cold walls felt their first heat in decades, the mansion made noises. Loud bangs and booms resounded as the woodwork adjusted. Some might have been frightened by the eerie, nightly sounds, but not the Tinneys. The Tinneys did not believe in ghosts. And when Benny Collin shared the secret of his escapade with the sheet, they now understood the rumor that their home was haunted, and they laughed.
As each portion of the castle was furnished, more and more guests dropped in on weekends. One Saturday there were 50 friends and friends of friends. The guests persuaded the Tinneys to open Belcourt to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Gradually the museum became a popular attraction. Visitors praised its walls, its stained glass, and the collections inside. In 1958, the house was literally jumping with 1500 members and guests of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's press corps.
By 1959, the Tinneys had hired tour guides because they could no longer manage the influx of visitors on their own. And now that Belcourt had outgrown the cute "summer cottage" label, the Tinneys added to its name a word that means a large, imposing residence: "Castle."
Chapter ThreeThe Bride
As a college student, I gave guided tours of Belcourt during my summer vacation. Donald Tinney inspired me with love and enthusiasm as he imparted his passion for the beautiful world of art. A talented musician, extraordinary artist, and tireless worker, Donald trained me as a guide. We fell in love, and were married in December, 1960. I moved into Belcourt Castle, eager to become a part of the Tinneys' magnificent world.
We had been married for about two weeks when, at around 4 a.m., something woke me. A man standing beside our bed seemed to be holding the canopy bedpost at my feet. I reasoned it must be Donald. But as I slid my hand a few inches under the sheet, I realized Donald was in bed. Fear crept over me. By the dim light of the streetlight outside the window, I could clearly see the form of a man silhouetted against the wall. As I debated whether or not I was dreaming, I began to fear that we might have a thief in the room. I imagined him with a gun or a knife, holding us hostage while the antiques and valuable pieces of the museum were being looted.
Hoping to wake Donald without letting the intruder know I was awake, I whispered, "Donald, there is someone standing beside the bed."
Donald softly answered "Go to sleep." The perfect answer for my robbery theory.
I lay as still as a corpse, eyes wide open, hardly breathing. The man turned slowly and walked about six feet past the bed-and right out through the wall. My sense of reality was shaken. "That is a wall," I thought. "There is no door there." For the next two hours, I lay perplexed, pondering my fate in an insane asylum. "I'm only nineteen," I mused.
On arising to start the day, I dared not say anything to Donald about my encounter with a specter. He'd think me crazy. I managed to remain silent until noon. When the entire family was enjoying lunch together, I finally related the strange incident of the night.
My mother-in-law began to laugh. "What did he look like?" she asked.
I replied, "I didn't see his face. He had something over his head-a hat or a hood. And he was dressed in a long coat that went all the way to the floor. It was a dark color."
Ruth looked at each of the three others at the table and asked, "Remember that night in "Seaverge"?" She explained to me that "Seaverge" was the mansion on the ocean where the Tinneys lived in 1955 before they bought Belcourt.
"One night after dinner, the four of us-Harold, Donald, Aunt Nellie, and I, the only people at home that evening-were sitting in our petit salon. It had a fireplace at one end of the room and a door to the 90-foot-long main hall at the other. We all saw a man walk by that door.
"We immediately jumped up to accost the intruder. Reaching the hall within seconds, we found no trace of a person. We had heard no sounds: no doors opening or closing, no windows being raised, no footsteps on the polished marble. We didn't want to go to bed with an intruder in the house, so we searched it, all 43 rooms, attic to basement. We looked under servants' beds, in closets and coal bins, to no avail. Nevertheless, we all agreed, before retiring two hours later, that we had seen a man with a long brown coat and a hat that covered his face."
The family concurred as she added, "I haven't thought of that in years."
The word "ghost" never came up in the conversation during that lunch.
If the apparition I had seen during the night was the same as the one Ruth described, and today I am certain it was, then it must have come to Belcourt with the Tinneys-or rather, with some of the furniture and works of art they brought to the castle. Eventually, we would discover how that could have happened.
For now, it was enough that we seemed to agree that it meant no harm. And without realizing how appropriate the name would prove to be, we nicknamed our apparition "The Monk."
The Sequel 2009: In 2008, I renovated the second floor of the west wing, beginning with the bedroom where I slept on my wedding night in 1960. Under the supervision of my architect, Richard R. Long, carpenters moved a partition to create a kitchen where there had been a bathroom. Later, I decided to add a door between the reception area and the conference room. When the carpenter cut an opening in the wall for the doorway, he discovered that in 1894 there had been a door there. Though the new door was a few inches offset from the original door's location, I felt happy about the change as a historical restoration.
Early in 2009, I was showing a friend the completed renovations. Pensively I reminisced that the room we were standing in had been the bedroom I moved into nearly fifty years before. I recounted the night I had seen my first ghost, who had walked out through the wall. I pointed toward that wall. After being walled in for more than sixty years, the door was there once more!
Chapter FourThe Monk
The Tinney family bought a stained glass studio in Providence, Rhode Island, in early 1961. Monday through Friday, except for July and August, Harold, Ruth, Donald, and I commuted together between Belcourt and the studio.
One morning, as was our custom, Donald and I secured the first floor of Belcourt to be certain that all was in order before we left. Similarly, Ruth and Harold inspected the second floor. Don and I were waiting at the foot of the stairs for Ruth and Harold to walk to the automobile with us. Normally we all finished at about the same time. But this day was different.
After a few minutes of waiting, Donald and I saw what we assumed was Harold, wearing his winter coat and hat, walk across the end of the Grand Hall in front of the green glass. Since we did not see him coming toward us after that, we assumed he had gone into the ladies room to double-check the water. That room is very small, and would take only a few seconds to inspect. But he was in there a long time.
Waiting for Harold to reappear and for Ruth to come down the grand stair, Donald and I were engrossed in conversation. Don was always teaching me about the beautiful antiques and their history, the sagas of their acquisition, and the people who had owned them. Every piece had a story.
Suddenly, Aunt Nellie appeared on the staircase landing; "They've been waiting for you in the car for fifteen minutes." Her voice was strident, and she seemed a bit annoyed.
"No, Aunt Nellie," said Don. "Mom is in the car, but Dad is in the ladies' room."
Aunt Nellie replied positively, "They are both in the car."
Don and I looked at each other. "Then, who's that in the ladies room?"
Donald rushed to the ladies room as I went out to the car, where Ruth and Harold were indeed waiting. Now in a panic, I told them about the man in the ladies room, and said that Don would need help. Without any hesitation, they both jumped out of the car and hurried to the Grand Hall.
Don, looking puzzled, was standing alone in the middle of the hall. "There was nobody there," he said.
Pondering how a person could have escaped our notice when leaving that room, we decided to search the whole building before we left. We were not eager to leave our elderly Aunt Nellie alone with a trespasser or thief.
Then Harold Tinney thought better of the idea, and inquired simply, "Did you hear anything?"
"No," we agreed.
With that, Harold opened the ladies room door, and in so doing, reminded us of its customary loud creak, a noise to which we were so accustomed that we had not given it a thought. No, we hadn't heard anything, but as Harold was demonstrating, we should have.
Without telling Aunt Nellie about our experience, we left her alone with The Monk.
Chapter FiveThe Cassone
Another experience on our daily commute, driving home to Newport from Providence, gives rise to the theory that spirits sometimes work by making mental suggestions: no words, no visions, and no absolutes.
One night, Donald inexplicably asked, "Let's not take the highway. Can we go the old way?" Behind the wheel, Mom was tired after twelve hours of work, but she trusted Donald's intuition.
It was after six in the evening, and the stop-and-go traffic allowed us time to observe the surroundings. Though familiar in many ways, the old road seemed changed, transformed by the new buildings that dotted the once tranquil countryside.
We stopped at a red light, and Don noticed a sign, "Antiques," diagonally across the intersection. "Let's stop here." he said.
"Why not?" we agreed.
"We can telephone Aunt Nellie and tell her that we'll be home later than usual, so she won't worry," said Ruth.
Pulling up in front of the store, we saw only one other car in front. A very dim light shone in the shop, but the OPEN sign was hanging on the door. A bell announced our arrival as we entered. There was very little light, so we moved slowly and cautiously through the shop. It was chock-full of furniture and bric-a-brac.
Breaking an eerie silence, a distant voice startled us. "There is a medium in the room."
We could see no one. Then a crack of light back-lit a short figure as she opened a door from the back room. Dressed in black slacks and a black sweater, the mature woman emerged and turned on light switches until the place was fully illuminated.
She stared at the four of us, and then pointed at Donald. "You are the medium."
This was rather strange, and I think we all felt uncomfortable. The eerie feeling slowly passed, however, once the woman introduced herself and began to make pleasant small talk. She had been working after hours, she told us, repairing some lampshades, and did not expect to have any customers after dark.
It took some time to go through the shop. There were so many things, mostly Victorian. Don, exploring on his own, ferreted out a very early cassone, buried under some rugs and tapestries covered with small antique pieces. We guessed that the large and elaborately carved piece had been there a very long time, since it was way in the back of the shop. After inquiring about several of the more showy pieces of furniture, Don asked about the chest.
"It came from a big Newport mansion," the woman said. It was a long time ago; she could not recall which mansion.
After some discussion, Don convinced us that we must own that antique Italian chest. It was hundreds of years old, probably older than anything else in the shop.
We came to terms and bought the cassone. Extricating it from the store without damaging other merchandise took care and skill. Don and Harold loaded it like a casket into the back of the old 1955 Ford station wagon. While I sat in the front seat with Dad and Mom, Don had to sit cross-legged beside the chest for the rest of the trip.
In the daylight, we unloaded the beautifully carved piece. Our preliminary research told us that the low, walnut cassone, likely used as a bridal or dower chest, had been created about 1390 A.D. On the back, written in faint pencil, we could distinguish the letters "OHP Belmont." Whatever guided us through that bizarre evening had seen to it that we brought the piece "home."
Years later, a local photographer gave us a picture from 1914 of that very chest in Belcourt's first floor Grand Hall-further proof that this medieval antique now was, and still is, where it should be.
Chapter SixStrange Noises
From about 1966 to 1976, we lived in Belcourt's main wing, which is the museum. Harold and Ruth slept in the Louis XV bedroom, formerly that of Alva Belmont, while Donald and I slept in Oliver Belmont's master bedroom.
Excerpted from The Ghosts Of Belcourt Castle by Harle H. Tinney Copyright © 2010 by Harle Tinney. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Chapter I Belcourt Is Not Haunted....................1
Chapter II Belcourt Becomes a Home....................5
Chapter III The Bride....................7
Chapter IV The Monk....................11
Chapter V The Cassone....................15
Chapter VI Strange Noises....................19
Chapter VII Conversation with a Ghost....................21
Chapter VIII The Monk Speaks....................23
Chapter IX The Monk Walks Again....................25
Chapter X The Disbelievers....................27
Chapter XI The Mysterious Hand....................31
Chapter XII The Pope....................35
Chapter XIII The Believers....................39
Chapter XIV Discovering the Monk....................43
Chapter XV The Secret Door....................49
Chapter XVI Other Ghosts....................51
Chapter XVI Christmas Party Apparition....................55
Chapter XVIII Who Moved the Tools?....................57
Chapter XIX In Life I died, In Death I live....................59
Chapter XX Spirit Orb....................63