Mudgett House

April 7, 2009 — So what makes a serial killer? Apparently, Gilmanton, NH, does.

It was 150 years ago in that small town 20 miles north of the state capitol of Concord, that Herman Webster Mudgett—or H.H. Holmes as he styled himself—was born and spent his formative years...a phrase that takes on sinister meaning when used in reference to a future multiple murderer and the creator of Chicago’s nefarious Murder Castle.

Holmes is generally acknowledged as America’s first serial killer, at least by the modern definition of the term, and was possibly also the country’s most prolific, with final tallies varying widely and, ghastily, into the triple digits. He was an exact contemporary of Jack the Ripper, although he didn’t have that guy’s press agent, and his more appalling crimes were concentrated in the early 1890s in Chicago, IL. He was executed in 1896 at the age of 36 in Philadelphia, PA, where his grave is still a badly healed wound in the earth. But he was born in New Hampshire.

And for some reason last year I found myself standing outside the forlorn-looking, white-paneled house where he spent half his life. No. I know the reason.

I usually only admit this to my bathroom mirror, but the fact that I’m drawn to the horror genre sometimes makes my conscience taste guilty between my teeth. I mean, for whatever reason, I often find myself enthralled by hideous scenes of grisly death, mortal dread, and gruesome torment. Ash dismembering his possessed girlfriend with a chainsaw. Hyde randomly bludgeoning an old man to death with a walking stick. Blind children scrabbling around in broken glass at the feet of May. Damien fratriciding his unborn sibling with a tricycle. I’m not saying I’m totally ashamed of it. I can, for the most part, defend the interest on both rational and moral grounds. It’s just that sometimes part of me doesn’t always buy my own defense, no matter how deep the discount.

Now, granted, I desire those horrendous depictions of horrific violence in my fictions, not in my or anyone else’s life, but it’s an inescapable fact that those fictions are stimulated by the reality of the world. Always at least indirectly. Often directly. After all, the horror genre exists because horror exists. For instance, without the deranged murders and death fetishes of Wisconsin’s own Ed Gein, the horror genre would probably be bereft of those characters inspired by him, including Leatherface, Buffalo Bill, and Norman Bates, some of the genre’s most well-known touchstones in some of its best works.

Of course, this fascination with atrocity is present to some degree in everybody, horror genre fan or not, but those of us who align ourselves with the genre tend to search it out in a way that’s different from mere evening news couch vultures and rubber-necking auto accident gawkers, and in a way that sometimes blurs those above lines between interest in stories of a fictional nature and interest in stories of a factual one.

All these thoughts often weigh on my mind, but they got a lot heavier when I was standing at the door of the house where an archfiend grew up, my shower a couple of hours away and my conscience shooting porcupine quills into the acutely vulnerable flesh of my insides. Visiting H.H. Holmes’ house certainly falls under that “searching it out” category. I’m sure it’s just one more way I suck as a person, but in my defense, the vicious crimes of Holmes are remote enough in time and astounding enough in execution to seem more like a compelling fictional tale than the dark, bloody spot on the pages of the history books that they were. Also, it’s not as if me going to the place makes it exist more.

Located at 500 Province Road, the tall house is surprisingly prominent in the center of this improminent town. According to a shingle tacked to the outside wall, the house was built in 1825, giving it genuine local historic worth beyond the macabre. Across the street sits a pair of similarly white-paneled and aged buildings of the more usual historic worth. Gilmanton Academy, where Holmes attended school before leaving the area for medical college and marriage, now houses town offices and the local historical society museum, and Gilmanton Community Church, which still functions as a place of worship...probably better than most, in fact. Every church should have at hand such a definite reference point for the easy existence of evil.

Obviously the Mudgett House isn’t supposed to be a tourist attraction, and Gilmanton does not claim it as such. But they have a habit of doing that. You see, Gilmanton is also the home and final resting place of Grace Metalious and is known for being the model upon which she based her best-selling novel Peyton Place, the semi-true and salacious story about a seemingly idyllic small town that harbors all manner of sordid scandal within its borders. This is the only part of this article that makes me chuckle. Every small town in the country reaches to the point of permanently loosened ligaments to find some bit of distinction. Gilmanton has two, and is embarrassed enough by both to not publicize the heck out of them. If you’re interested, Metalious is buried in the Smith Meeting House Cemetery, not too far from the Mudgett House.

When we visited the Mudgett House, the place looked empty and dejected, partially due to its peeling paint and scraggly lawn, partially due to the “For Sale” sign staked in front of it, but mostly due to its context.

It’s impossible to look at a building connected to H.H. Holmes without thinking about his Murder Castle, where the most abhorrent of his deeds were committed. Shirley Jackson once wrote that some houses are born bad. The Murder Castle was rotten all the way to its blueprints. Officially built as a hotel to cash in on the crowds migrating to Chicago for the World’s Fair, the Murder Castle, as it came to be known, was a three-story-tall, block-long edifice at the corner of 63rd and Wallace Streets. Holmes designed it, oversaw its construction, and financed it with funds drawn from various fraudulent schemes and the proceeds of a pharmacology business that he murdered into.

After his eventual capture, the castle was stormed and found to have a more grisly purpose. The hotel was a labyrinth of torture chambers, secret passageways, trap doors, death rooms, body disposal apparatuses, gas chambers, and all manner of depraved constructions for use on the constant supply of diverse victims that only a hotel can offer. It was, in effect, one giant murder weapon.

An unknown arsonist burned the Murder Castle down shortly after Holmes was hanged. A U.S. Post Office now stands there...haunted, if anything in this world is.

Back in Gilmanton, there’s really not much more to say about this oddity (which explains all the tangents and rationalizing I’ve stuffed into the article), which is good, because I’m running out of new modifiers for the perverse. If you go to the town for the specific purposes of seeing the Mudgett House, you might need a palate cleanser afterwards. I suggest heading an hour south to Derry, NH, to see the birthplace of another American first, Alan Shepard, Jr., who was America’s first man in space. What a ridiculously wide spectrum of human achievement we’re capable of.

In closing, last week I posted an article that mentioned how much I dig monsters. Serial killers are always called monsters, but, really, only as a metaphor. Truth is, serial killers are human, as much as you or I or your favorite maître d’. And that’s the terrifying part. That you have a favorite maître d’.

20 comments:

  1. I student in my school at Gilford is from Gilmanton and is a relative of H.H. Holmes.

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    1. I live in Gilmanton, and will be attending Gilford High School this year.

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  2. The real life story of H.H. Holmes is one of the scariest stories I have ever encountered.

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  3. I have always wanted to go here

    Jess
    http://87life.blogspot.com

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  4. Probably not a direct relative of Holmes, unless descended from Scribner Mudgett, (Which is Jeff Mudgett's claim, author of the new book Bloodstains, he is from Florida, product of Herman Mudgett's marriage to Clara Lovering).

    Anyways, Benjamin Mudgett and his wife were the first settler's of Gilmanton back in 1762. There were many many Mudgett's to live in Gilmanton... so distant distant distant relative at best, same name most likely but, pretty cool and creepy regardless.

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    1. The saddest part about this whole thing, is I'm his cousin and reading this, just saddens me. Also, H. Mudgett looks exactly like my uncle Jesse.

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  5. i went to school with gilmanton kids. there was some pretty f*ucked up, screwed up,inbred trash in that town. many were narcissistic bullies and ignorant punks. the towns of gilmanton and nearby alton have a large zealously religious evangelical christian community that is one big sick and inbred club that controls or influences many organizations, including the alton fire department, which is simply a self-serving christian social club. it's downright scary. imagine what it must have been like in gilmanton 150 years ago....

    a perfect place to grow a sociopath.

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    1. You are clearly an idiot. Like most places, the social and political demographics of the lakes region run a bell curve. Sure, you have the ultra-conservative zealots on one end, and the possibly inbred on the other, but the other 99.7% of us are good people.

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  6. I live here, in fact...not far from the HH Holmes house and believe me, its a quiet and quaint little town. The "Anonymous" comment from Oct 27th, obviously has some issues

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  7. Funny you should mention Grace Metalious. Her house on Meadow Pond Road was once owned by Mudgett. Don't know if he lived there, but Mrs. Mudgett was supposed to have, and Grace said that she often saw Mrs. Mudgett. So did her teenage daughter. The house is now the Gilmanton Winery.

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    1. I live right across the street from Grace Metalious. Well two houses down. Now, her old house is an alpaca farm, and a winery, in which my sister and I work at. We have never seen anything strange, but when we are working in the back room all alone, it does feel as though someone is watching you. The owners dogs go crazy some times when they are with us alone.

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    2. I live in Gilmanton as well, and I wonder if the current owners of The Gilmanton Winery have an opinion as to it being haunted or not. I used to go to school with Grace's daughter, and my older brother dated the older daughter. My brother would walk about a mile to visit , and said he was being stalked by an animal in the woods along that long, dark, lonely dirt road. Spooky stuff ;)

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  8. Enjoyed reading this, and seeing the house. My husband's middle name is Mudgett. His mother was a Mudgett, from Belmont, NH..which used to be part of Gilmanton. Her father, John Mudgett, was 1st cousin to the "black sheep of the family, Herman W.". We used to have a ski house at Gunstock Mt., or Belknap...same area. Beautiful country.I never went to where you are pictured, so, thank you for posting. We have always had the books about Mudgett. One of the best is Bloodletters and Badmen (Evans). Pretty scary, and nothing to brag about.
    The family used to be afraid of discussing Herman Webster.

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  9. I currently live in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. On Meadow Pond Rd, right across the street from Grace Metalious's old house. Now it is an alpaca farm along with a winery. I currently work there. I have never seen anything strange, but when I am in the back room, alone or with my sister, it feels as though someone is watching me, or us. Also, the new owners live there, and they have two dogs, when I, or my sister, am around the dogs in the back room alone, they do some pretty strange things. Such us bark at nothing. And I know some dogs just bark randomly at things, but no, they are consistent, and are barking at something that we can not see. Now I do not believe in ghosts, or demons, or anything of the sort, but this stuff that has been going on is a little bit mind puzzling! I know that no one is going to read this, but if someone does, and finds it interesting, please comment, or message me on Facebook. (the link is listed below)

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  10. I viewed this property in 2003 when I saw the listing on NNEREN. I was drawn to the beautiful pictures of the yard, the house and the age of the home. When my daughter and I arrived the listing agent remained outside while our agent walked us through the home. The moment we walked into the kitchen I had a sense this was not for me however the price was so low that I continued. When we went upstairs the agent explained the couple who owned the property purchased three years ago and were in the process of renovations when they decided to divorce. They wanted a quick sale and the price reflected this. When we reached the 2nd floor the agent explained they removed the ceiling to open up the first level with more light. We saw the bath, one sewing room however were not able to see the master bedroom. She stated the owner was asleep. We were then led back to the stairs and we saw two doors directly across from the master bedroom however there was no way to reach these rooms with the floor completely removed.
    We were led through a small room to the right of the stairs (leading to rooms over the barn below). As we passed though the "purple room" we noticed there were no windows. The agent stated this would make a great "nursery". Very weird. We stepped up to what was the attic area over the barn and this stored assorted weird items which was explained off as the owner being a Halloween addict? We crossed through to another door and when stepping into this room the first thing noticed was the wall paper dated to the 1920's? We all entered the room and as the agent explained the options for this space my daughter said "I need to get out of here" and she almost knocked the agent to the ground as she departed! I could sense this room held a lot of bad energy and began to leave. The agent said "you need to see the basement, they have a brand new furnace"..when we reached the kitchen on the first level my daughter was waiting with her back pressed to the door. I told the agent I had seen enough but at her insistence I followed her to the basement. Half way down the stairs I saw a dirt floor, the old stone foundation and I began to feel anxious and nauseous. She led me to the new furnace and I looked to the left of the basement and saw a bricked room with an iron gate that was clearly added after the home was built. When I approached this area every hair on my arms stood up and I had the awful sensation of something horrible, some very dark energy in this area and I said "I've seen enough and almost ran up the basement stairs. My daughter was waiting for me with her back still pressed against the door and we both left in haste ignoring the agents questions! I looked back and said "thanks but I'm not interested". I pulled out of the drive and turned along the side of the building to view the outside of the barn area and the creepy sick feeling was only made worse..we drove off speeding to get as far away as fast as we could! We stopped in Alton and looked at each other in disbelief and pretty much said at the same time.."did you feel that??".
    Months later, while on a cruise with a friend we happened to dine with some locals that I knew. The subject of me trying to move back to the area led to my experience. It was then that I learned the history of this house! I was absolutely floored when he went on to explain growing up a few houses up (another building with history)and shared the detail of what happened there, the murders in Chicago, the folklore of abuse on this property...I was speechless!
    Last weekend my daughter was home from Chicago for a long weekend visit with friends and we shared this experience with her friends and what I later learned. When she returned she found your site and posted this link on my FB page. Now, we can validate our own experience with other experiences shared here.

    I would never go into that building again..pure evil.

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  11. I went there yesterday expecting a boring ride, but after watching a documentary on H.H. Holmes on Netflix the day before I was intrigued enough. I was shocked to realize I've driven by the Mudgett house unknowingly dozens of times in my life. Creepy.

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  12. I'm a second generation Gilford- Laconia resident. For a few years I rented a place in Gilmanton Corners - the same little four corner town with a blinking light that the Mudgett house is in. After reading all the posts above what keeps going through my mind is that Gilmanton is really no different than any other small New England town.... everybody is related to everybody else (almost always in a distant way so that the whole 'inbred' thing is ridiculous), every house has a history (sometimes dark, sometimes joyous), and for sure every family has a black sheep. You could walk into any old house in the Lakes Region and get creeped out; just the same as any old house in Philly or rural New York.
    As an aside, my Dad swore he knew most of the people Grace Metalious wrote about. I laughed pretty hard when many years ago Barbara Walters visited Gilmanton and tried to talk to people about Peyton Place... she got a pretty cold reception on live television....

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  13. Being a direct decedent of Gilmanton settlers, I was shocked to see the documentary on netflix of where H.H.Holmes grew up. Many of my ancestors are buried at Smith Meeting House Cemetery. I will be laid to rest there. Grace Metalious‘s grave is not far from my final resting place next to a brother who was buried there in 2004. Gilmanton is a beautiful town. The Cemetery is all that one could hope for to have as a place to spend eternity. But in reality, the town does have it`s mysteries.

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