August 11 - Happy Birthday to a Gentleman Farmer!

Posted on August 11, 2018

Today's birthday is famous locally - in the area around Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. 

I couldn't find a photo
of Warren Brown,
but this fellow was
considered a gentleman
farmer, too.
Warren Brown was a farmer, but he was considered a gentleman farmer. That probably mostly means that he didn't do the hard or the grimy work on his large estate, but rather owned and managed the workers on the estate.

Brown, who was born in New Hampshire on this date in 1836, was more than just a gentleman farmer. He was president of his state's Agricultural Society, a politician at the state level, a businessman who operated a saw mill and invested in electric railways, a historian, and an author of a two-volume book on local history.

But all of that admirable stuff is not the main thing I want to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about haunted houses and rewriting history.

Haunted houses...

Above, Sunnyside.

Below, the house of the Addams
Family, on TV. It's possible that
the fact that Sunnyside is a
Victorian house that looks a
bit like the Addams Family's
house probably helped foster
those haunted house rumors.
So, in 1999 a guy named George Blaisdell and his wife bought an old Victorian house that was the very house that Warren Brown and his wife Sarah built, way back in the late 1800s. Brown's wife had named the house Sunnyside. And when the Blaisdells bought it, Sunnyside really, really, really needed a lot of repairs and a ton of TLC. 

Somehow, Blaisdell - in all the mucking about with a mucky basement, in the removal of dead animals (hundreds of dead squirrels and bats!) from the attic, in the jacking up the slumping kitchen floor and repair of almost everything - well, somehow Blaisdell got the idea that Sunnyside was haunted.

Once an idea like that takes root, all sorts of small occurrences - a cre-e-e-e-eak here, a missing candle there - can begin to seem like further "proof" of the existence of ghosts. 

But of course there are other perfectly good explanations for vague sounds and small missing items. 

Apparently, Blaisdell's ghostly idea spread to the community, and there were whispered rumors that Sunnyside was haunted. It wasn't long before local handymen and plumbers decided that they'd seen or heard something downright mysterious at the house. 

Blaisdell invited mediums and ghost hunters to come inspect the property. Naturally, everyone seemed to have enough weird experiences to draw the conclusion that the house COULD be haunted - but nobody was able to get any proof, not even a little bit.

At least three ghost-hunting shows have been filmed at Sunnyside. Still - no actual evidence.

Some of the ghost hunters took the time to track down and talk to former owners of the house. I don't think you will be surprised to hear that these former owners suddenly realized that they'd lived in a haunted house! Suddenly these folks would remember a strange experience that could be explained by the whole ghost thing.

All of these things are examples of suggestion, confirmation bias, suggestion, and the malleability of memory. 

Suggestion means that we often see, hear, and feel the things that we expect to see, hear, and feel. We may interpret moving air or a small sound as nothing of interest in one location but as a ghost in a place we've been told is haunted.
Confirmation bias means that we see, hear, and feel what we WANT to see, hear, and feel. We interpret things as confirming what we already believe to be true.

Something is malleable if it can easily be formed and reformed. Silly putty and modeling clay are malleable - and so is human memory. We can easily change our memories - what's hard is noticing that we are doing so!

Rewriting history...

In 2006, a group of Hampton Falls folks got together and started the Warren Brown Foundation. They were determined to discover the Brown family's past - and they started a website so that they share their findings.

The trouble was, the descendants of Warren and Sarah Brown still lived in the area, and they were a bit upset that this group hadn't consulted them about this Foundation. They pointed out that knowledge of the Browns wasn't mysteriously missing or in need of "digging up," and they pointed out that the first of the "findings" publicized on the website weren't accurate.

Stop re-writing our family's history, was basically the message.

The Warren Brown Foundation was soon discontinued, apparently, and the website was taken down. The moral of the story is, if you want to honor and discuss a person from history, maybe chat with her or his descendants first.

Also on this date:

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