You wouldn’t normally expect to see “Anne Bronte” and “haunted staircase” in the same newspaper article, but that’s just the sort of wacky little blog I’m running here. This installment of Norton Mockridge’s syndicated column appeared in the (Helena, Montana) “Independent Record,” September 4, 1966:
New York--Everybody knows, of course, that if you've got a very old house, or a falling-down castle, you might very well have a ghost in it. But what if you've got a relatively new house and you have a ghost in it? And what if that ghost is only on the stairs?
Well, that's what Mrs. Gladys Topping has at "Sanderling," her home on Beach lane, Quogue, Long Island. Honest!
Now let me explain. There's nothing kooky about Mrs. Topping. She's the widow of Allen S. Topping, a gentleman who built a large and prosperous industrial hardware firm, Topping Brothers, in Manhattan. And it's Gladys herself who now runs the business. She's also a real estate broker on Long Island, and in her spare time she judges horse shows.
But she definitely has a ghost in her house. And this ghost is a lady who goes up and down the beautiful Queen Anne staircase that Gladys had installed in her new house. The ghost doesn't seem to go anywhere else in the house, and Gladys believes she acquired it with the staircase when she bought it in England.
Here's the story: In 1958, Gladys and her husband were in London to attend the Kensington Antiques Fair. They were looking for mantel pieces, corner cupboards, chandeliers and such to put in their house, which had been built in 1954.
"You know," said one dealer, "you really ought to buy my Queen Anne staircase and have it put in your home. It's hand-carved and made entirely of burled yew which, as you know, is very rare. The staircast has quite a history."
So the Toppings drove 50 miles to the dealer's warehouse, fell in love with the staircase and bought it. It had come from a stately Eighteenth Century mansion called Blake Hall, in Mirfield, which had been dismantled in 1954, with everything in it put up for auction.
It was in Mirfield, which is on the road from Dewsbury to Huddersfield, Yorkshire, that the three Bronte sisters once lived and went to school. And Anne Bronte served as a governess for three years at Blake Hall, where she wrote hymns and composed much of her story of Agnes Grey.
Well, the Toppings had the staircase shipped to their house on Long Island and had it put in place of the old staircase in the main hall, leading to the second floor. I saw it the other day, and it's a beautiful thing.
Nothing happened for four years.
"But," Gladys told me, "on the third of September, 1962, about sunset, I was sitting in my second-floor bedroom in an hour of meditation. My husband, who had passed away the previous April, had given me a Doberman pinscher puppy who was my constant shadow and who now, 9 months old, lay peacefully sleeping at my feet.
"No one else was in the house, and only the late call of a quail on the grounds, or the cry of a waterfowl from the nearby marshland, broke the stillness of the day's closing. Suddenly I heard light footsteps which seemed to be on the stairs. The Doberman, Mister Wyk, was instantly on his feet and he hastened to the landing. I followed, to find him with hackles up and looking uneasily toward the first floor.
"To my astonishment, I saw the figure of a young woman ascending the stairs. She was dressed in a long, full skirt which she lifted above her ankles. A tri-cornered shawl was about her shoulders, and her hair was held in a bun on the back of her neck. In her right hand she carried a chamber stick. Her expression was pensive, as though she were locked deep in her own pleasant thoughts.
"As the silent figure approached the head of the stairs, Mister Wyk became agitated and backed to the end of the hallway. I spoke gently to him and, in that moment, the figure vanished.
"Mentally, I asked: 'Who?' and the instant impression I received was 'Anne Bronte.' It was an hour before Mister Wyk became completely quiet. I had, of course, read and studied about the Bronte sisters and had been touched by the exceeding pathos of their short lives. And, when in England, I had visited the lonely moors where they often had walked. Perhaps it was this bond that caused the spirit of Anne to pay me the visit and again climb that stair.
"Since then, I have not seen her again. But often I feel her presence. I hear footsteps and, occasionally, rappings and other noises. Mister Wyk hears them, too, and his ears go up, and he trots to the stairs. But Anne if, indeed, it is Anne, apparently does not wish to reveal herself any more. She seems content just going up and down the stairs."
Gladys has never heard of anyone else inheriting a ghost with a staircase, or with any other household furnishings, and neither have I. But if anyone knows of anything like this, she and I would be glad to hear about it.
The Topping home--complete with staircase--is still standing. No word on any further sightings of ghosts, unfortunately.