The Spy House Museum
It was the summer of 1991. My Aunt Rose and Uncle Mike had moved to New Jersey several years before, and my family would go to spend a few days there every month during summer break. I got to hang out with my cousins, Kathleen and Bridget, along with their siblings. I had some amazing times hanging out with them, along with some of the other neighborhood kids, such as Charlie and Eddie. They seemed tough at first, but were pretty okay guys once you got to know them.
One weekend in August 1991, the group of us finished breakfast and were uncharacteristically bored. Usually we'd go to the nearby park, or just explore the neighborhood. Being from the Bronx, I'd had little experience with suburbia, and quite frankly, it intrigued me. That day, though, it had rained early in the morning, and left an oddly dense, chilly fog in its wake. Inspired by the gloom, we decided to take advantage of the chilly day and go for a long walk. Where to go, though?
Standing outside my Aunt and Uncle's house, Charlie suggested the Spy House museum. Most of us had never heard of it, not being from the area. Kathleen and Bridget both agreed, thereby convincing my sister Trish. She was the eldest and therefore unfortunately the shepherd of this most unruly flock.
Charlie knew where it was, so he headed the group up and we all followed. Our spirits were high, since Charlie had told us how awesome the place was. It was supposedly filled with oddities and knick-knacks from as far back as the Revolutionary War.
It took us the better part of an hour to walk the distance to the Spy House. In attendance were myself, my brothers Matthew and Andrew, my sister Trish, my cousins Kathleen and Bridget, and their two neighbors, Charlie and Eddie. I recall lots of horsing around during that walk, with Trish futilely trying to restrain us and doing her very best to be the "good big sister". Her failure wasn't really her fault, as managing five teenage boys is neither an easy nor enviable task for anyone.
I remember my first sight of the Spy House. It was a large, stark white house set near a beach. The breeze coming in off the water, which would have been welcome on any normal day in August, felt oddly cold, like Autumn couldn't wait to swallow us whole a month early.
Upon entry, I noticed that they had their air conditioners on high. As if they didn't realize the temperature outside. It was almost too cold in there, and I shivered. I felt the hairs on my neck prickle, almost like I was standing right underneath one of the vents. I looked around, but didn't see any. I shrugged and chalked it up to an errant air current.
The clerk in charge of collecting admission fees seemed like the kind of woman who would brook no nonsense from anyone, much less a group of adolescents and a twenty-something woman. She seemed the kind that chewed iron nails for fun.
From there we split up, Charlie and Eddie, the spiritual predecessors to Beavis and Butthead, went one way. Kathleen, Bridget, Trish and Matthew went another. Andrew and I went upstairs and entered a room full of what to this day has become one of my least favorite objects; mannequins.
What is it about mannequins that freak me out so much? There are many stories in cultures all around the world about how figures like dolls and mannequins can house spirits. Spirits of dead people, animals, demigods, gods, angels, demons and elementals, to name but a few. The larger the figure, and/or the more accurately they are represented, the more likely it is that they can be inhabited. There was even a movie made in the 80's that took a comical look at this concept (along with a far worse sequel). There's also the famous case of Annabelle as investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the details of which have now been made into a major motion picture.
Here is a good article about the place of dolls in history.
To summarize, mannequins seem like receptacles. And so when Andrew and I walked into one of the rooms to peruse the tableau of 18th century life that it was meant to represent, that the chill on the back of my neck from earlier returned. I remember pausing at the door to the room while Andrew walked in. After a couple of steps, he too froze. He slowly turned to me. He didn't say a word. He didn't have to. The look on his face said it all.
There was an oppressiveness to the room that I still can't fully describe to this day. The best I can do is to say is that it was as if we were interlopers, that we had disturbed some scene of intense sorrow. I took a deep breath and stepped into the room. Nothing changed. I walked further in, past Andrew. I looked at several of the mannequins, waiting for one to jump up or grab me or move its head. None of them did, but I could have sworn that one of their eyes followed me all across its field of view. After a few more moments, I hastily departed the room with Andrew in tow. I couldn't shake the feeling that we were being scrutinized, instead of the other way around.
Once in the hallway, I let out a breath that I didn't realize that I was holding. I looked at my brother, and he was paler than normal. Still, for some reason, I grinned excitedly at him, and he kind of smirked back.
"Wanna go back in?" I asked.
"Nah, let's check out another room", he replied.
Slightly disappointed, I agreed, and after checking out a couple more rooms, and crossing paths with Charlie and Eddie, we came to the last room. It depicted a seamstress' chamber, and had a mannequin looking out the window, representing a woman watching for a spy boat to arrive so that she could see to its disposition. It wasn't that interesting to me, and I didn't feel the chill anymore, so I left Andrew in the room and walked into the hallway.
To the right were the rooms that we had already checked out. To the left was the end of the hallway, and a barricaded door that had a barely legible "under renovation" sign hanging on it. Being the curious lad that I was, I approached the door. It was made of old, grey wood and there were large cracks between some of the planks. The chill returned. The closer I got to the door, the stronger that feeling became. I was near panic by the time I arrived in front of the door. Something in my mind was telling me to run away as fast as I could. Something else in my mind told me to ignore that and to see if I could determine what it was that was making me so afraid. So I did the only logical thing that I could think of.
I leaned forward, pressing my eye to a large space between two door boards. For a moment, I only saw sunlight filtering through a boarded-up window. Then I felt... something. A force, a pressure, as if something rushed toward the door but was brought up short at the last instant. And with that pressure came a malevolence that I had never felt before. Well, maybe I had once. Either way, I got the message loud and clear:
And so I did. Andrew had just come out of that last room, and looked at me standing several feet away from the abandoned door. I must have looked quite scared, because he asked what was wrong. I told him, and he went to have a look for himself. We McMillans are either quite brave or very dumb. After having an almost identical experience, he backed off very quickly. Naturally, instead of leaving the building like sane people, we went looking for the rest of our group to tell them what had happened.
Trish and Matthew were eager to go have a look. Matthew reported the same feeling of foreboding, but by the time Trish took a look, it seemed as if whatever it was had worn itself out. She only reported feeling a minor sense of dread.
After these experiences, I had the idea of talking to the clerk downstairs, to see if she could corroborate any of our stories. Remember what I said earlier about brooking no nonsense? Well, she didn't. Apparently, Monmouth county was not happy about the fact that the ghost stories were being given more attention than the actual history of the place. As such, she was furious as soon as I mentioned what had happened. She ejected us from the premises forthwith, and threatened that if we ever returned, there would be hell to pay.
I always thought that the threat seemed rather ironic, given where she worked.
In 2011, my brothers Andrew and Kenny, along with my sister Sue and a woman that I was dating, Jennifer, attempted to go back to the Spy House. However, at that time, they were closed for renovations. We wound up going to historic Philipsburg Manor and Sleepy Hollow instead.
Several other paranormal groups have checked the place out, including New Jersey Paranormal, and it sits comfortably on many "top haunted places in America" lists.