Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Once upon a time there was a haunted house in Elmira

Mrs. Mary Chamberlain died February 2, 1921 in her beautiful home on West 3rd Street in Elmira, Ny. Neighbors, future homeowners, and tenants claimed her lonely spirit never left. Some said she was stuck in between heaven and hell as punishment for taking her own life. Others said she was waiting for justice to be served up on a platter to the one who took it.  Either way, the old Chamberlain homestead was the haunted house on the block. Throughout the years there were mysterious sightings and sounds reported in the home and garden. The ghost of Mary was especially active late at night and in the early morning when she was seen peering from the windows or heard crying as she walked the premises.   

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An old post card, sales ad's from the Elmira Gazette,
Excerpt from the American Upholstery Journal in 1908, Photo from Ancestry

Mr. Harry G. Chamberlain began working his way up the corporate ladder starting his first day on the job at a store in Elmira owned by S.F. Iszard Dry Goods & Company. In 1908 he and five others were promoted from department managers to stockholders. 
With his advancement came power, a growing bank account, and soon the need to jazz things up on the home front. By 1910 Mr. Chamberlain, his wife (Mary), and two children (Bernice & Harold), were living in a beautiful three story home on West Third Street. A shiny new automobile was parked in the driveway. The gardens were immaculate and colorful. It seemed like the Chamberlain family was picture perfect. 

Around 11:30 am on the 2nd day of February, neighbors were approached by Mr. Chamberlain. He explained returning from work for lunch to find a meal had not been prepared and his wife was no where in sight. After checking the rooms, he inquired with them but no one recalled seeing Mrs. Chamberlain that day. 

The neighborhood was suddenly alerted that something was terribly wrong when flashing lights and sirens neared, arriving at the Chamberlain residence. Within hours Mrs. Chamberlains body was removed to the local funeral home. According to Mr. Chamberlain... he returned from the neighbors around 11:45, completely puzzled about his missing wife. A light went off in his head, and he checked the one room he forgot earlier... the bathroom. The door was locked so he pried it open. Blood covered the floor, walls, and ceiling.  He said he would not have recognized his wife had it not been for her partial attire. Mary's feet were in the tub, torso lay over the edge and head nearly gone. A pistol was visible in the reddish water. Mr. Chamberlain said Mary had been medicating at home, and recently seemed despondent. She must have taken her own life. 

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Sales ad's from the Elmira Gazette February 4, 1921 - Photo from Ancestry

The coroner declared her cause of death was suicide, which would be consistent with her husbands story. It did seem strange that she had shot herself not once, but twice in the head. Just not odd enough to prolong the investigation.  Bernice & Harold, now 27 and 18, were still living at home and also both working at a life insurance agency. They agreed that their mother had just not been her self in the weeks prior. People were shocked, especially those close to Mary who knew she had always been cheerful and happy. The rumor mill began to turn and there was talk around town of some type of conspiracy, maybe having to do with the life insurance policy on Mary, but there was no proof and no use in fighting a losing battle with a wealthy business man.  

Life went on for those on West Third Street. In 1923 Mr. Chamberlain married Mrs. Ada (Ferrenbaugh) O'Brien. After her move into the lovely home on West Third Street, Bernice and Harold were quickly moved out. Harry began to seem a little off, at times he was even heard talking to Mary in the garden. When Harry died at home April 19, 1936, some felt the living members of the Chamberlain family got what they all deserved. The sole heir and executrix of his estate was the new Mrs. Chamberlain who sold the old homestead and used the sizable inheritance to live out the rest of her years along the sunny beaches of Florida. 

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