An Unquiet Silence
Northwest of Philadelphia, about 40 minutes from the New Jersey border, can be found the borough of Norristown, PA. It's a historic town, dating back to 1784, and serves as the seat of Montgomery County. Just driving through town the age of the region is plain to see, as many beautiful old buildings, some dating back over 200 years, are tightly nestled between supermarkets and fast food chains that have risen up since. The old and new worlds mix together here, and at times it's difficult to even picture the city of today as it may have looked when it was still a small rural town. One Norristown property in particular has come to be a symbol of the collision between modern life, and the quiet old town upon which the present-day city has grown – The Selma Mansion.
Grey clouds covered the sky. The quick-moving kind that you can sit and watch tumble and churn upon themselves, they stretched out forever like some inverted ashen sea. On a hilltop below that gloomy canopy stood the pale form of Selma Mansion. Just looking at the old place it was clear it had seen far better days than this one. A large marking covers the front of the old house, framing the entry door and extending to surround the window on the floor above. It looks not unlike a scar, and marks the place where once a beautiful porch and balcony stood. In other places the original stonework, long concealed away behind a stucco facade, peers through in patches where rain and weather have eroded it away. The entire scene looked as if it could have been lifted from the pages of a horror novel, and rightly so.
Inside things are not much different. Peeling damask wallpaper runs the walls around large wood planked floors, upon which markings still remain of rugs and stair runners from lifetimes past. Long disused gas lamp fixtures extend from the wall, showing that even before electricity, Selma stood brightly upon its hill. That was a long time ago however, and things are far darker today. Upstairs chandeliers still hang, but now under a coat of grey dust. As you walk through the rooms of Selma you simply can't help but imagine the house as it may have been when still lived in. To say things were different when Selma was built in 1794, would be an understatement. This knoll, now surrounded by apartment buildings, was once the peak of an open expanse of land, with a view that saw nearly all the way into the central parts of the city. The man behind its creation was a Mr. Andrew Porter. A name that, perhaps, many may not know. Most have surely heard of the United States Marine Corps though, a branch of the armed forces which he helped found. Mr. Porter had four sons, all of which went on to have great influence, some of which on a national level. His most well-known relative, however, was his granddaughter – Mary Todd, who became wife to Abraham Lincoln.
In 1821 Selma changed hands, coming into the ownership of the Knox family. It was passed down through the family for a couple generations until it came into the hands of Joseph Fornance, husband of sole surviving Knox family daughter Ellen. The Fornance family was the last family to own the mansion, and called Selma home until the mid 1980's when widow Ruth Fornance passed away. Upon her death the house was intended to be donated to Montgomery County, PA. Ruth even had a plaque made up that she proudly hung on the wall in the mansion stating such. Her caretaker who knew her during her final years said she would often point to the plaque when passing it, saying the home would be in good hands after her death. Sadly this proved to not be the case. Both the county and township did not wish to take possession of the home after Ruth's death, and an estate sale was held on the property in the late 1980's which essentially liquidated the historic artifacts from the once-proud home. Even Ruth's plaque was not spared. The land was then sold to a developer, who quickly began erecting apartment buildings on the estate's outer perimeter. The intention was to convert Selma into a rec center after the apartments were complete, but those plans fell through. The developer then began weighing the possibility of leveling the old mansion, to make room for a new construction or possibly additional parking for the complex. A fast food burger chain was even vying for the property.
With such history tied to the old house, and the wrecking ball now seemingly winding up to give Selma an ill-deserved end, a group of concerned citizens banded together and formed the Norristown Preservation Society with the sole purpose of saving Selma. They succeeded, and were able to purchase the old house and surrounding parcel of land from the developer in the 1990's. Maryann Buser, a member of the preservation group, quoting a visitor who had come to see the aged mansion - “It is a house that wants to live... and we want to give it that chance”.
Beyond her role as a host at Selma, Lisa Terio is the founder of the Pennsylvania Underground Paranormal Society (aka PUPS). She and Maryann also volunteer at the historic Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia. The old fort is deeply tied to Selma, well beyond Lisa and Maryann's shared volunteer work. Andrew Porter was, himself, an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and thus would have likely frequented the fort during his military career. Years later, in the early 1800's, his youngest son James Madison Porter, went on to manage a militia at Fort Mifflin. Selma and the historic fort share a lot of memories, and it seems this mansion remembers them well. Though numerous unexplained occurrences have transpired within the old home over the years, for those who were at the old mansion in the early morning of March, 23rd, 2014, one story stands above all others. It was around midnight, and the group had gathered on the uppermost floor of the house. On that floor there is an old bathroom at the end of the hall, within that old bathroom, in a corner, stands a very old cast iron bathing tub. It is here where the events of that evening begin.
Lisa was the first to take note of it – She described the sighting as a murky black mass which was emanating from the bottom of the tub. Altering the others in the group, everyone present cautiously congregated around the tub. The mass was seen by everyone present, and was described as rising and slowly lowering back into the tub. As the group gathered closer the mass grew, and writhed over the sidewall of the antique tub. Lisa described it as “When you see a horror movie, and someone drags a dead body out of a bath... it looked just like that”. The mass took no form other than what was described as a loosely formed blackish haze. Maryann, who was also present for the occurrence, said that the inky mass eventually blotted out all vision in the room. “I couldn’t see anyone at all, all I could see was the light coming in the window.” At this point the group was in a panic, both Lisa and Maryann describe the others as either fleeing the area, or cautiously standing their ground awaiting what would happen next. After spreading across the floor and down the hall some ways, the mass began to recede, eventually returning to the old bath. Then it was no more.
For most people, that singular occurrence would have been more than enough to remove any doubt of otherworldly forces, and it is surely a story that will forever haunt all those involved, but the night was just beginning. After the events with the blackish mass in the tub, the group proceeded to hold a spirit box session on the second floor. A spirit box is a device paranormal researched use to communicate with spirits, via radio frequencies and white noise. In effect it is designed to allow people to attempt real-time conversations with those who have gone beyond. A message did indeed piece through the static that evening, and though seemingly enigmatic at first, it was later proven to be eerily clear.
It was around midnight on the darkened second floor of the old mansion when the first words gargled forth from the box - “Wake up Wayne”. “Wake up Wayne” it repeated, between static hisses. Lisa and Maryann both knew who the box was speaking of. “Wayne was the caretaker at Fort Mifflin”, Lisa explained. “He wasn't here with us that night”, she continued, “so we thought the spirits were looking for him.” “Wake up Wayne” continued to be repeated from the box numerous times through the night. It's meaning not understood... until hours later.
Lisa arrived home in the early morning, “I was home no more than a minute when I get a call.” , “Maryann called me, she's told me the fort's on fire!”. Lisa was panicked. As fort caretaker, their friend Wayne lived on the grounds. “A Boy Scout troop saw smoke and called the fire department. They saved Wayne.”, “Firefighters woke him out of bed.”. As it turned out, Wayne was fast asleep just down the hall from the fire. It has been estimated that the blaze ignited around the midnight hour.
There's always a creepy doll.
If you would like to visit the Selma Mansion, or participate in a paranormal investigation, you can inquire through their official website - norristownpreservationsociety.org
You can follow the Pennsylvania Underground Paranormal Society on their Facebook page