A prior owner says place was area’s “own version of the ‘Amityville Horror.’ ”
By Jennifer Learn-Andes
The sales listing for a Wilkes-Barre property touts it as an “authentic haunted house.”
City resident Betsy Summers, who lives across the street, designed the advertisement hoping to stir up interest in the 46 S. Welles St. property. The owner, Katherine Watkins, died last year, and Summers said she is trying to help the family sell it.
Summers said she’s not making up the haunted claim, which has been detailed in several published reports.
“It has a pretty nasty reputation,” she said.
The house was featured in several Times Leader news articles from 1979 through 1982, with one prior owner describing the place as the area’s “own version of the ‘Amityville Horror.’ ”
Walker Bennett told reporters he moved out of the property in 1978 because it was haunted.
He described the ghostly figures of a well-dressed man with a cane and a girl in a nightgown, inexplicable sounds coming from the attic and walls, and bloody spots on walls and pools in the living room.
Bennett said he witnessed his daughter trip at the top of a steep flight of stairs in January 1977 and float slow-motion through the air to land on her feet at the bottom, unharmed. His wife witnessed the same thing happen again a month later, he said.
He said he knocked down the wall in a back bedroom seeking the source of strange sounds coming from that area and discovered a tin box containing a red ribbon, human molar and chicken bones tied together in the form of a cross. He theorized the objects were part of a voodoo curse against industrialist Augustus C. Lanning, who built the house in the mid-1860s as part of his estate.
Bennett also found a photo of Lanning and said it was the same man who kept knocking on his door.
He blamed the haunting on family illnesses and stress and brought in a priest to bless the house.
The Bennett family fled the house, leaving expensive electronic equipment and many other belongings, in March 1978, when Walker said he awoke to a thunderous roar, even though the weather was clear. He described footsteps pounding in the attic, a rattling front door, dishes crashing in the kitchen and the cry of a child behind a wall.
News reports said prior inhabitants committed suicide in the home in 1950 and 1940.
Paranormal investigators Ed and Loraine Warren, famed for their investigation of the Amityville house in New York featured in the book and movie, toured the Welles Street property in March 1980. A photograph of Lorraine shows her holding her hand “as if in pain” as she emerged from the home.
“I sense a terrible despair. The effect on people who lived in this house was very, very negative,” she said.
Neighbors have expressed mixed opinions on whether it was haunted.
Watkins purchased the four-bedroom, mortgage-foreclosed property in August 1982 for $20,000, generating an article with the headline, “‘Haunted’ house sold in Heights.” Watkins told reporters she was not afraid of ghosts.
A representative of the mortgage holder said the property had been remodeled and occupied by tenants after the “ridiculous publicity” about the haunting. The tenants said the property was not haunted.
Summers said Watkins, who was her friend, told her her family experienced unexplained phenomena, such as a shaking bed, moving objects and a light or television turning off when the power was still on.
Paranormal investigators also have captured activity in photographs and on audio recordings, said Summers, a veterinary sales worker who has run for several local elected offices.
The 2,092-square-foot home is assessed at $63,200 and listed for sale at $30,000, though Summers said the family will consider any fair offers. Potential buyers can contact her at 610-955-6361.
The advertisement, which was listed in the Wilkes-Barre Independent Gazette, led to two showings of the property, she said.
“They were interested because it is haunted,” she said.
Summers said the family may opt to use the house for a haunted bed-and-breakfast if it doesn’t sell.
She said she regularly pops into the house to make sure it’s secure.
“I take care of what I have to do and get out. I try to ignore any noises I hear,” she said.