MIDDLEBORO — For the staff at the Historic Oliver Estate in Middleboro, being greeters, tour guides and caregivers is more than a job. All staff members are volunteers, and all of them are believers in the supernatural.
Speak with any of the volunteers at the Oliver Estate — on Plymouth Street, just off Route 44 —and they’ll tell you stories about seeing apparitions or shadowy figures, hearing voices when all alone in the house or finding objects in the house mysteriously being moved, fallen to the floor or flying across a room.
Chris Andrade, Assistant Coordinator at the Oliver Estate, tells the story of conducting a tour when she came face-to-face with a full-body apparition in one of the second floor bedroom closets. She says it was a girl who stared at her for a few seconds before disappearing into the wall. “This house got under my skin. There’s just something about it. The house will pick who it wants to stay,” said Andrade.
Many of the volunteers are also affiliated with various ghost hunting groups. Whether one is open-minded or more of a skeptic, some of these claims of encounters, usually accompanied with audio and visual recordings, can’t easily be explained or dismissed. The same can be said for many of the other ghost hunters and believers in the paranormal who have investigated the property over the years.
Since voting to purchase the pre-Revolutionary War home via Special Town Meeting in 2015, the property has been a lightning rod of attraction from the paranormal industry. It was an unlikely, but ultimately lucrative opportunity that came at a time when officials in favor of the acquisition didn’t necessarily know what was to be done with the estate.
“We saw the historic value of the house, but we had no idea what we were going to do with it. We didn’t yet know of its paranormal connections,” said Leilani Dalpe, Middleboro Selectman and Chair of the Oliver Estate Advisory Committee.
Selectman Dalpe was one of the most vocal proponents of the town purchasing the Oliver House and has been instrumental in its restoration, having successfully garnered several cultural and historic preservation grants from various state and private funds in order to make it an attraction.
Over the last few years the Oliver House has not only become a big draw for history buffs, but is also one of the region’s most popular “haunted” features.
“We make an incredible amount of money from this. All these volunteers, bless them, because all these tours and events, the funds directly go into the house,” said Dalpe.
“We feel a sense of duty not just to preserving its historic significance for future generations, but we also owe it to the energies that reside in the property,” said Christy Parrish, Event Coordinator and Ghost Tour Manager for The Oliver House. “They all have a story to offer. They have taught us so much, and we learn more each time we come back. Over time, the house has peeled back its layers and has let us see more. There are many secrets of history to be covered here and that takes time.”
Ghost tours are booked at the Oliver Estate year-round and in abundance, ranging from casual tourists to full-fledged paranormal investigation groups, including numerous crews for various ghost hunter TV shows, online programs and podcasts.
“There’s no question in my mind that it’s very haunted. I didn’t see any full blown apparitions, but others have. I definitely felt the energy of those who passed,” said Amelia Child, Producer and Co-Host of Ghost Hunting in New England, a podcast which covers and investigates local legends in New England. A psychic medium, Childs visited the Oliver House in August and told of the enlightening experience on her show.
Everyone in the paranormal field has beliefs on what makes a house haunted, and just why other old homes aren’t haunted.
Stephanie Burke, a medium and volunteer at the Oliver House, believes that everyone’s paranormal encounter is different and that not everyone will have an encounter through one or even several visits.
“Everything affects the energy in a home. You’re essentially walking into living history,” she said, citing factors like the time of day and year, lunar phases, the attitudes of visitors, the history of the house, and the lives the deceased had as influencing these manifestations.
Childs cites Stone Tape Theory, otherwise known as “residual haunting”, where the energy from emotions, thoughts, and other strong mental impressions or events is imprinted onto an environment or natural object.
“We all have energy within us. Some people suggest this energy sticks better to places with natural materials,” said Childs. This residual haunting takes the form of a spirit reenacting an event, seemingly stuck in an eternal loop and not necessarily interacting with visitors to the home.
Burke and the other volunteers at the Oliver House refer to their experiences in the house as “intelligent haunts,” meaning they’re not stuck in a loop and are aware of visitors’ presence. “These are spirits who haven’t crossed over, who stay here because they’re comfortable here. I’m having direct conversations with them,” she states.
Intelligent haunting runs contrary to the belief that entities are stuck in purgatory or haven’t crossed over to the other side because of some trauma or unfinished business. Both Childs and the volunteers at the house state the energies they’ve encountered have never been malevolent or dangerous.
“This is their home and they don’t want to go. We’re not sure if they’re seeing our space, or if they’re seeing us in their space. We remind the people who come that you are a guest, a visitor in their home, and to treat the space with respect,” said Parrish.
The story of the Oliver Estate is an important part of history for both the town and the nation. The family of Peter Oliver was one of the most influential and affluent in 1700’s Massachusetts. Peter Oliver himself was Chief Justice for the State’s Supreme Court, while his older brother, Andrew, was Lieutenant Governor. In 1769 Judge Oliver had the house on Plymouth Street built for his son, Peter Oliver Jr., a prominent doctor. Peter Jr. married Sally Hutchinson, daughter of Governor Thomas Hutchinson, and they lived in the house until about 1774.
The Oliver family were staunch loyalists to British rule and opposed colonial rebellion. Leaked correspondence letters between the Olivers and Governor Hutchinson with English authorities recommending a greater military presence in the Colonies, coupled with several angry mobs, ultimately led the Oliver family to flee their homes and escape back to England. The Sons of Liberty confiscated the Oliver House in 1774, auctioned off the estate and its valuables, and used this money to fund the beginnings of the Revolutionary War.
“The seed of the American Revolution started here, in this house. There are many stories to be told here,” said Selectman Dalpe.
Over the centuries, many families have inhabited the Oliver House. Two of the most famous Middleboro families to live there were the Westons and the Sproats. A story several of the volunteers bring up during a typical tour concerns Bethania Sproat, daughter of Thomas Weston, and wife of Earl Sproat.
“She was born here. She lived here. She had children here. And she died here. This was her only home,” said Parrish.
Between 1841-1844 Bethania and Earl lost three of their children. Son James died from pneumonia in 1844. Bethania suffered a miscarriage with another child in 1841. Daughter Abigail, also died in 1841 from an accident after a kettle of scalding water fell on her body. She was two years old.
All these details are backed up through historical records and death certificates. “We have an obligation to do the research to back up what we’re told,” said Parrish.
Parrish also states she likes speaking about Bethania when conducting tours because she’s one of the most vocal spirits in the house and also because she can relate to a lot of the pain and heartache she still carries. “When sharing these stories with the public, we want to give the right details. You’re getting the families’ accounts, not just what’s written in books.”
The Oliver Estate books private tours according to the level of paranormal interest expressed. The types of tours offered include Regular (2.5 hours), Novice Night (3.5 hours) and Pro Night (6 hours). All events are designed to give extensive historical details as the house and property are explored, as well as allow people hands-on experience and opportunities in ghost hunting and investigations.
Again, all revenue generated goes towards the continued maintenance and restoration of the Oliver Estate.