I moved into the old Summit Avenue Mansion in 1962 and lived there for about 15 years. Built in the late 1800s by a timber and railroad magnate, it was a great old house of thick red sandstone, towers and chimneys, a spectacular north-facing skylight on the third floor, and a huge carriage house in the rear. Every room was heavily wood paneled, as were the eight foot wide halls and the grand staircase leading upward to west-facing windows that spanned sixteen feet wide and sixteen feet high. Every room except for the kitchens and eight bathrooms had a fireplace. There was even a huge walk-in safe for the silver and a walk-in ice-room. We converted the old kitchen into a large office and the butler's pantry into a modern kitchen. The floors were all hardwood, and lay in multiple layers over felt so there wasn't a single squeak in any floor or stair. Every inside door was solid as were the five outside doors.
The acoustics were very interesting. A normal sound made in one room couldn't be heard outside that room, yet sounds made from the grand stairway landing could be heard throughout the house as if I were a giant sounding board. The original builder had a piano there, and brought in singers for the Christmas holidays. We had our stereo there, and I delighted in playing loud Russian and German music. Prior to my purchase, it had served as an art school and gallery for more than twenty years. As a matter of fact, I had taken evening art lessons there up in the old ballroom converted to a studio.
In the early years we had our offices in the old kitchen, and our art and editorial staff worked on the third floor in the original ballroom under the skylight. For a few years we used the carriage house to store books and ship orders. Later we bought a building in Minneapolis (a former mortuary) that served as a bookstore (Gnostica Book Store), a school (Gnostica School of Self-Development) and our warehouse and distribution center.
I still officed in the Summit Mansion, and we continued with the editorial staff on the third floor until we bought a building on Fourth Street in downtown St. Paul and consolidated our growing operations and bookstore in one place.
In all those years we all encountered phenomena of various sorts in every part of the house. When I bought the place, the previous owners told me the story of the maid who committed suicide, and other stories of two entities that they nick-named "George" and "Martha" for no particular reason. They treated their various encounters with light humor, and so did we. George seemed to be a "loner," while Martha was very domestic—moving dishes about, replacing flatware in drawers, turning the stove burners off.
George first manifested in the old billiard room in the basement that had been converted into a studio apartment. It was a lovely room paneled in birch and brick, a spectacular fireplace, and a small kitchen/bar with a small bathroom adjacent.
The tenant, a museum curator, was reading one evening—as the story was told to me—when the lights went out and he felt "cold clammy fingers around his throat." Struggling, he got the lights back on and saw a tall thin man dressed in formal evening clothes exiting the room. Giving chase, he found no one!
After that, many of the evening students reported seeing such a person wondering the halls at night. That was "George," and that one episode was the only experience of any malevolency reported associated with him.
But there was another tenant at the other end of the basement who told of a floating head glowing red in the dark! No one else, apparently, had this same experience. We used that area as part of the office, and workers claimed to hear footsteps coming down the hall outside that room—footsteps that would stop at the doorway, and nothing was there to be seen. Yet, no one ever felt fear—rather these occurrences were treated with humor.
In my own experience that old house was filled with noises and strange phenomena. Days and nights there were the sounds of footsteps in the hallways and of doors opening and closing. Before I moved our offices into the house, I got in the habit of calling out "It's just me, George" when I got home from downtown. As time went by these phenomenon lessened only to be replaced by the open "window syndrome."
As in the case of many old houses, the original wood storm windows (used in cold climates during the winter before the advent of double pane insulated glass) had deteriorated and were mostly missing. I had a contractor quote on combination storm and screen windows, and as he gave me the quote he commented on the open window on the fourth floor. First I had to admit that I didn't even know we had a fourth floor!. But, indeed, around the high-ceilinged sky-lit studio/ballroom there was a fourth floor serving as a traditional attic accessed through trap doors. Looking up from the west side, he pointed to a pair of windows, one open and the other closed.
I sent a workman up there to close the window, but the next morning it was open again. This time he closed it with a nail. That was the end of the matter—for a while. Then third floor windows on the same side of the house would be opened at night to be closed by the editorial people in the morning. Even with the new metal storm windows, having the wood interior windows opened let a lot of cold in during the winter.
Later that stopped, to be replaced by windows on the tower stairs—the same one where the maid had hanged herself—and windows that did not have storm windows because of the curved glass would be opened at night at the 2 ½ level. My second floor bedroom was just opposite that stairwell and I would be awakened a night with the cold winter wind pouring down those stairs! That did produce shivers.
That, too, stopped, to be replaced by second floor windows being opened. But all this time, the phenomenon was slowing, and it stopped for a long time. Then one evening I was telling the story of the windows to a visiting author who used the pseudonym "Ophiel" and I said the fatal words "but it has never happened on the first floor."
We both heard the sound of a window sash being raised, and—yes, there it was, again on the same west side of the house where all the window-openings had happened. But that was the last time—at least for as long as we lived in the house.
Ophiel, by the way, was one of the first truly modern writers making the Occult practical and accessible to "the masses:" no need to join a secretive organization and memorize long incantations in archaic languages, buy expensive robes and equipment, and depend upon a hierarchy to dribble out knowledge. He helped inspire my own philosophy of publishing: putting the student in charge of his own curriculum by providing both comprehensive and accessible books that provide the "how to" of esoteric knowledge and its "practical" application.
Carl Llewellyn Weschcke (Minnesota) was the owner and chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide, the world's oldest and largest metaphysical publisher. He played a seminal role in the rise of Wicca and Neo-Paganism in the 1960s and ...