This is a podcast transcript, originally published as part of the Crimes & Witch-Demeanors Podcast.
Hello and welcome back to your regularly scheduled Crimes and Witch-Demeanors programming; I’m your host – Joshua Spellman! Last week we took a small detour and discussed the Deuel House, the site of one of my personal paranormal experiences and switched meandered around history with no clear direction. However, while this week we are covering yet another haunted Victorian, a Queen-Anne to be precise, it has a much more unified and chilling history and yet again, somehow it circles back to me…I knew the name sounded familiar. However, as we have found out with most ghost stories on this podcast – the information that is perpetuated in the modern day is not often truthful or accurate.
This week we are headed to Boyds, Maryland to investigate the Winderbourne Mansion. Now, I am saying Winderbourne because that’s what everyone says and it sounds enchanting and like something from a Neil Gaman novel…but through my research I have my suspicions it’s actually supposed to be pronounced Winder-bourne…even if it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue or make any phonetical sense whatsoever. You’ll have to let me know what you think.
This legend is interesting, and I thought it had to be true since one of my sources is a government source but – spoiler – I don’t think it is. This mansion has seen its fair share of tragedy and has been left abandoned for well over a decade. It was on the real estate market for probably just as long, but now it seems it is no longer for sale, so its future is uncertain, as is its past. Join me now to learn the alleged history of our Windy…or Windy…mansion.
Winderbourne Mansion was built in 1884 at the behest of Enoch and Mary Totten. The Tottens lived in Washington DC but wished for a summer home to escape the hustle, bustle, and stifling heat of the city. The couple decided on a plot of land near Little Seneca Creek, where the B&O railroad line gently curved around the property on two sides. Access to the parcel of land was from Clopper Road, which the Tottens also purchased. Eventually, the railroad expanded from a single track to a double track and needed to cut off the road. The Tottens and the railroad came to a compromise, each paying half the cost of a bridge that went over the track and the railroad agreed to maintain the bridge in perpetuity.
Enoch Totten did well for himself, as he was a prominent lawyer in DC and was a Civil War Veteran…he even managed to survive being shot four times at the Battle of Spotslyvania Court House…in fact, one of these shots may have been his own fault as a projectile bounced off of his sabre and hit his right hand. Regardless of this strange mishap and his career as a lawyer – the capital for the construction of Winderbourne mansion came from his wife, Mary.
Mary was the daughter of a Wisconsin senator named Timothy Howe who was the cousin and heir to the massive fortune of Elias Howe, the inventor of the Bobbin-Winder. This device is what inevitably inspired the name of Winderbourne.
When Winderbourne was completed it was painted a pale pink with dark rose trim and shutters of a deep plum – a vibrant contrast to its current pallid, moss-covered facade. It’s architecture was unique, sporting a triangular fireplace, a room suspended above the foyer, and hidden rain spouts that directed water to an underground cistern.
The Tottens hosted elaborate formal affairs on their lawn, landscaped with rare and exotic plants imported from around the world. And while Winderbourne acted as the Totten’s summer home, it was staffed all year long, with increased staff during their stay.
In addition to the parties on their lawn, they also hosted extravagant dinner events. However, the food was never set upon the table; instead maids would carry around silver platters and bowls and served those who were seated at the table.
Sadly, the Totten’s life was soon struck by tragedy. The three Totten children contracted typhoid fever from drinking contaminated water. Two of the children survived, while one of their sons died from the grisly disease.
This tragedy soured the Totten’s love of the Winderbourne property. However, they kept the property and it stayed in the family. One of the Totten daughter’s, Edith, inspired by her tragic childhood experience became a physician and came into ownership of Winderbourne sometime before 1915. She did not marry but adopted a daughter.
The little girl loved Winderbourne, exploring its every nook and cranny, running through its magic halls that seemed to never end. One of her favourite activities was to slide down the bannister of the massive staircase that led to the foyer. However, one day when she slid down the bannister as always, she gained a little bit too much speed, lost control, flew off, and fell to her death.
The curved railroad track around the home was straightened and the bridge that was supposed to have been maintained by the railroad company was demolished. Leaving the Tottens with no access to their home. The Tottens took the case to court and the home and surrounding property was sold off to the railroad.
Not long after, Edith Totten dropped dead unexpectedly after giving a lecture at John Hopkins University at only 48 years old.
Winderbourne Mansion was repurchased by the Pickrell family in 1929. Edward and Beulah Pickrell raised their two sons, Edward Jr. and Paxton on the property. Both Edward and Beulah passed away, leaving the property to Edward in their will. During Edward Jr.’s ownership the house began to fall into disrepair, and he eventually passed away in 2004, leaving the responsibility of the quickly decaying property to Paxton.
To this day the house remains abandoned. Vines and the surrounding vegetation have completely engulfed the property. Blending in more and more with Black Hills regional park that sits against the estate. Winderbourne Mansion, once elegantly groomed, now appears like a map from a post-apocalyptic video game with several old muscle cars left abandoned in the yard and furniture, clothes, books, and magazines still left inside. While the house has decayed and succumbed to the elements, the ghosts of its past still roam its halls in opulence; ignorant to the passing of time and the erosion of their beloved mansion.
This story continues to befuddle me. I’ve spent so much time trying to confirm parts of this story, that as of now seem impossible. Let’s see…where should we start? There are a few articles on this house and its history, they all seem to refer back to an article from the Washington Post. I dug a little deeper and hit the jackpot! Or what I thought was the jackpot: a 1978 report on the home’s history available through Maryland’s government website. It is an ACHS summary form, I cannot figure out what it stands for but I’m guessing it’s a historical site or historical society.
This form seems legitimate, I had no reason to doubt it. It compiles the history and it seems this is where most of the information available on the home and the Tottens stems from.
When I started doing my own research though…I found some conflicting information. All sources say that Enoch and Mary Totten had three children and that they lost a son to typhoid fever after all the children fell ill after drinking some contaminated drinking water at Winderbourne. The historic report also details this while also saying that all drinking water there was boiled prior to use and that the cisterns that collected the water were regularly cleaned. Still, there is always room for error, this is not what I found strange.
Instead, I found that the Tottens had four children: Edith, Howe, Gerald, and Alice. Even stranger still only one of them died…a daughter…but before the house was ever built. Alice Crosby Totten died at the age of 16 on October 6, 1881 according to Washington D.C.’s Evening Critic and her tombstone. Both of the Totten sons outlived Edith by decades and died in their seventies.
Now, I did find the obituary for Edith Totten. Which…goes to show the stupidity of machine reading or people, I haven’t decided. Some databases let you “clip” stories for collections and you can add information. For whatever reason her one obituary in the Richmond Times Dispatch was clipped with her name being recorded as “Edith Tettea Saeeamba” while her siblings names’ were recorded accurately. This happened because of the title: Lecturer Dies: Dr. Edith Totten Succumbs at John Hopkins. I’m assuming this is yet another OCR issue but luckily the search picked up Edith and the Totten of her brothers and I was able to locate it. But I digress. Edith passed away after she completed a lecture on “Imagination and Thought” of a cerebral hemorrhage. So it appears this story is true.
I was not able to find any record of her adopted daughter but it is entirely possible it happened. I am really curious about Edith’s story as she never married, inherited Winderbourne, and became a doctor and professor at John Hopkins. For a woman produced of the Victorian age I find that so fascinating and impressive. However, there isn’t too much on her. I was also surprised there were no pre-researched family trees for the family. Her father, mother, and brothers all had some historical significance and I found it odd.
The name Winderbourne or Winderbourne or Winterbourne sounded so familiar to me and I found out that is because one of Howe Totten founded Winderbourne Kennels who bred Great Danes. Now you’re probably like…why…does that make the name familiar to you? For those of you who don’t know I used to serve as the librarian for the American Kennel Club; and a lot of my time was spent researching pedigrees or dog genealogy for various researchers as well as digitizing and archiving old photographs. I spent a good time with Great Danes and yes, this was a prominent kennel name I had seen time and time again! They bred a lot of champions and if I’m not mistaken were one of the more foundational kennels for the breed. The more you know! It really is a small, small world. But I digress! Enough about dogs.
So how did all this information about the family’s three children and a son dying get so…wrong? I looked into the report a little deeper. All the stories about the Totten family tragedies were not from written record but were instead from a 1978 personal interview with a Hershey Ayton. While I love oral histories and I think they’re great for personal experiences, preserving indigenous languages, and folklore…I do not believe they’re great for accurately recording events before your lifetime from another family.
Now, perhaps Ayton was some type of authority on the subject and they have information we’re not privy to…that cannot be known. But, insofar as the documents available to me, since I cannot access a lot of paper records without visiting institutions in Maryland, it doesn’t seem like their accounts are wholly accurate. Alice Totten surely died very young but it was before the home was built and she was not, to my knowledge, a son.
Another fascinating facet of this story is how Mary Totten got her money. I won’t go into it but Elias Howe does not get enough credit in these news stories. Elias Howe while he was not the inventor of the sewing machine per say, he is the one that perfected it, creating the lockstitch sewing machine. He was awarded the first patent for the device in 1846. His machine included the three foundational mechanisms of modern sewing machines: a needle with the eye at the point instead of the back, an automatic feed, and a shuttle beneath the fabric to form the lock stitch. However, despite being awarded the patent he could not find investors in the United States and so went to England. There were some business disputes and so despite selling the machine, he did not make any money.
Upon his return to the United States he found that many other entrepreneurs were selling and manufacturing sewing machines using his methods. Most famously, he became embroiled, or maybe we’ll say embroidered, in a court case lasting from 1849 to 1854 with none other than Isaac Singer of Singer machine fame. Isaac Singer and Walter Hunt had perfected a version of Elias Howe’s machine and were selling it with the exact lockstitch that Howe had invented and patented.
In the end, Howe won the lawsuit and gained a rather amazing deal in the process: he was able to collect royalties on all lockstitch sewing machines sold by not only Singer, but a number of other manufacturers as well. This is how the Howe’s became filthy, filthy rich. Howe also patented the zipper, or as he called it, “automatic continuous clothing closure” which doesn’t have the same ring to it. He never pursued it seriously so he is not credited with its creation.
Elias Howe died at age 48 of a massive blood clot in 1867. So how did Mary Howe Totten receive his fortune? Elias’ first wife died, leaving him no children and Howe’s brothers also died. While Elias’ did remarry, his cousin, Timothy Howe, Mary’s father, became the heir to the fortune, which is eventually passed down to Mary herself. Very convoluted, very confusing. But extremely interesting nonetheless.
Insofar as the ghosts of the mansion…if there are any…you could technically visit yourself. But I do not recommend it, at least physically speaking. It is still private property as Paxton Pickrell has been trying to sell it since 2004. Originally listed at 2 million dollars, dropping to 1.5, and then to 895,000. It never sold. It’s very tragic since it is such a unique home, described by the Maryland historical document as “the only grand and elegant structure in the simple rural town of Boyds” However, elegant it is no longer. The gardens are overgrown, with some of the rare vegetation from the Totten’s exotic gardens still flourishing.
Many people still come to the property, trespassing, I may add. But lucky for you, if you’re interested you can find many urban explorers who have recorded their visits. Some of their personalities are grating while others are not, but you can explore the whole of the property through these videos. Some people come because it’s creepy, strangely many people visit for the abandoned muscle cars on the lawn. Regardless of their motivations, it surely looks quite haunted…but I have not been able to locate any tales of real ghost sightings or encounters. The real horror here is the home’s history…or…the urban legend of it, rather.
However, Paxton Pickrell, who grew up in the house said “That place to me was just a wonderful home” and was rather perturbed when the home was first published on a list of “the spookiest, creepiest old houses for sale in America” on a real estate website. The house is dilapidated, the local government has purchased all the land surrounding it. According to Pickrell, the county has been trying to take the 9 acres of the property and that his defiance in selling it is standing in the way of progress. I stand with Pickrell on this one.
While the property itself may not be haunted, what remains is a skeleton of the past. Once a place of grandeur and wealth, it sits covered in vines looking more like the home of the Addams family or the set of a Scooby Doo cartoon. Daring urban explorers frequent the site to catch a glimpse into the past, and I recommend checking it out. I will post some images of its current state on the podcast Instagram, @CrimesAndWitchDemeanors, but I also recommend checking out some of the videos. It’s eerie how many objects are still left in the house.
But that is all for today’s episode. Please, if you enjoy the podcast, tell a friend or two, force them into listening by any means necessary. Leave a review if you’re particularly cool. And until next time; don’t slide down the bannister, adamantly defend your patents, and of course, stay curious, and stay spooky. Bye~
6 Jun 1915, 14—Evening Star at Newspapers.com. (n.d.). World Collection. Retrieved February 8, 2021, from http://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/332078312/?terms=%22Winderbourne%22%2BNOT%2BKennels&pqsid=x3NN_YD5pyhW_nx6SDusZg:1063000:1697821625
7 Nov 1901, Page 15—Evening Star at Newspapers.com. (n.d.). World Collection. Retrieved February 8, 2021, from http://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/207674218/?terms=%22Edith%2BTotten%22&pqsid=x3NN_YD5pyhW_nx6SDusZg:489000:332569778
17 Nov 1927, 1—The Times Dispatch at Newspapers.com. (n.d.). World Collection. Retrieved February 8, 2021, from http://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/615380246/?terms=Dr.%2BEdith%2BTotten&pqsid=x3NN_YD5pyhW_nx6SDusZg:12000:1740180449
22 Mar 1908, 6—Evening Star at Newspapers.com. (n.d.). World Collection. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from http://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/330817925/?terms=%22edith%2Btotten%22&pqsid=9JF4FvyGyHeayxOjkNzP5g:84000:1858908365
1880 United States Federal Census—AncestryLibrary.com. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/discoveryui-content/view/35148805:6742?tid=&pid=&queryId=77426bcee4ef96704997c9b6b70ace89&_phsrc=eBA275&_phstart=successSource
1900 United States Federal Census—AncestryLibrary.com. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/discoveryui-content/view/33891257:7602?tid=&pid=&queryId=77426bcee4ef96704997c9b6b70ace89&_phsrc=eBA275&_phstart=successSource
Alice Crosby Totten (1869-1884)—Find A Grave… (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/38919506/alice-crosby-totten
Coleman, Peg, et al. (1978). Winderbourne ACHS Summary Form. https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/stagsere/se1/se5/016000/016900/016957/pdf/msa_se5_16957.pdf
Document | America’s Historical Newspapers | Readex. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/apps/readex/doc?p=EANX&sort=YMD_date%3AA&fld-base-0=alltext&val-base-0=%22alice%20crosby%20totten%22&val-database-0=&fld-database-0=database&fld-nav-0=YMD_date&val-nav-0=&docref=image/v2%3A11BE946A9536E73A%40EANX-11C7E39797D27AF0%402409458-11C7E397DEA90B78%402-11C7E3988129E5B8%40Mortuary%2BNotice&firsthit=yes
Elias Howe. (2021). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Elias_Howe&oldid=1005648130
Elias Howe | American inventor. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elias-Howe
http://www.facebook.com/johnfranciskelly. (n.d.). For sale: The faded grandeur of the Winderbourne mansion. Washington Post. Retrieved February 7, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/for-sale-the-faded-grandeur-of-the-winderbourne-mansion/2016/04/18/2138eeda-0568-11e6-a12f-ea5aed7958dc_story.html
The Strange, Fascinating History of This Abandoned Mansion Gave Me Goosebumps. (2016, November 30). Definition.Org. https://definition.org/strange-fascinating-history-abandoned-mansion-gave-goosebumps/
Winderbourne Mansion. (n.d.). Atlas Obscura. Retrieved February 7, 2021, from http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/winderbourne-mansion