Edwin Gonzalez’s wife Lillian is the one who fell in love with the home.
“Since she was a little girl, she’s always wanted a Victorian,” he explained. It was Thanksgiving 2008 and Lillian’s sister sent her the Gardner, MA listing. Three days later, Edwin and Lillian went to see the home.
“The minute we walked in, we felt like we were going back in time,” Gonzalez said. “Lillian said, ‘This is mine!’ It was a dream home, really, it’s very charming. It calls you in.”
They bought the home and moved in about six months later. That’s when they started hearing rumors about the stately Victorian. Apparently, their dream home was haunted.
The home is known as “The Victorian.” A gorgeous and enormous estate, it was built by furniture maker S.K. Pierce in 1875. With bay windows, intricate wood work and a mansard roof, the house is a prime example of the period’s Victorian architecture.
Nonfiction author Eric Stanway is writing a book about the home’s history, which he believes could be the cause of alleged ghost sightings on the property.
The first owner, Pierce, moved into the home with his family and shortly after, tragedy struck. His wife died suddenly of a bacterial disease, and he remarried another woman, Ellen, 20 or so years his junior. The age difference didn’t sit well with Pierce’s son, Stanway says.
As a result, Ellen inherited the property instead of Pierce’s son. Following her death, Ellen’s son, Frank, took over the home in the 1900s. Frank, however, reportedly lost the entire estate in a card game, though he was allowed to remain living in the basement.
“He’s one of the ghosts,” explained Stanway.
There are other rumors of unhappiness in the home, says Stanway. A girl drowned in the pond out back and at one point, the home reportedly operated as a brothel and one of the women working there was murdered in an upper bedroom. Another resident, a Finnish immigrant, fell asleep while smoking and burned to death.
“It’s had its share of things,” said Stanway. All of these events, he theorizes, have led to the influx of ghosts. “The place is crawling with them!”
The home at one point was slated to be torn down, not because of ghost activity, but for another issue. The house had not been updated for some time and at one point, stood vacant for 20 years.
Yet after the home was condemned, the city of Gardner didn’t have the funds to go through with demolition. The house ended up selling to another buyer. A younger couple, Stanway says, bought it with plans to fix it up.
But the new owners only lived there a few years before moving out. Again, the home was vacant until Gonzalez and Lillian decided to buy in 2008.
Gonzalez says he knew nothing of the home’s history when he moved in, but from day one, he’s reported odd things happening: an enormous potted plant tipping over for no reason, shadowy figures, footsteps, and a glass ornament that was moved from the mantle to rest exactly in the middle of the floor several times.
But, it wasn’t until Gonzalez saw his first ghost that he started to believe that the home was more than just a bit odd. Prior to that, he dismissed any haunting story.
“I heard rumors about ghosts, but I thought it was so silly and I thought people just said that because [the house] was creepy,” he said.
But then he had what he calls a “life-changing experience.”
“I saw a man appear in the nursery, in broad daylight, in what was my office,” Gonzalez said. “When I looked, this man, with jet black eyes, looked at me in this pasty white color. I didn’t expect it; I started shaking.”
Around the same time, a new neighbor stopped by asking Gonzalez if one of his kids could play. Gonzalez and Lillian don’t have children, but the neighbor claimed to have seen a small boy several times in the window.
Unbeknownst to Gonzalez, Lillian was having her own strange experiences, which culminated one morning. Lying in bed, Lillian said she felt a sudden pressure on her chest and lungs, making it impossible to move. That moment in 2011 scared both Gonzalez and Lillian enough that Gonzalez decided it was time to move out. Gonzalez says they haven’t really been back since, other than to host the occasional ghost tour.
Gonzalez and Lillian still own the home and have had it featured on a few ghost hunter TV shows. This fall, they’re offering ghost tours of the home with benefits going to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
Despite their experiences, Gonzalez is unsure about selling. They still love the home and see its potential.
“It’s still Lillian’s dream to fix it up,” he says. For now, they’re holding onto it — living in an apartment, while deciding whether the ghostly property is worth the investments.
Author Stanway echoes Gonzalez.
“It’s a remarkable place,” he adds. “Architecturally, it’s brilliant.”