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October 11, 2011 > Shrouded tales tours

Shrouded tales tours

By Simon Wong, Photo courtesy of HAHS

The Hayward Area Historical Society (HAHS) hosted the first of its Shrouded Tales Tours on the evening of October 8, 2011, at McConaghy House, Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward. The location has much history associated with it and has been subject to paranormal investigations by the American Paranormal Research Association (www.apraparanormal.com) which will return to Hayward on Friday, October 28 and Saturday, October 29, 2011, for a two-night presentation of its findings and further investigation, involving the public, at McConaghy House and the Meek Estate.

HAHS's Collections Manager Heather Farquhar and Education Coordinator Johanna Fassbender briefed approximately 20 visitors, for each of the 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. tours, about the McConaghy family's history before guiding them room-by-room through the Victorian property and discussing late 19th/early 20th century death traditions and superstitions and paranormal findings.

How did families inform the public about a death in the family? What materials were used to make a wreath and why? How were visitors to the grieving family "protected from death?" Funeral services were generally held in the deceased's home before the funeral procession but why was it considered bad luck to lock the door of the house after the mourners left?

Guests were entertained in the Company Parlor but the room would also accommodate the deceased, displayed in his/her coffin for approximately four days watched by someone around-the-clock for signs of life. Why? Embalming was rare, so how did the Victorians combat the odor of putrefaction? If the deceased was embalmed, in which room was it done? Through which entrance/exit did the coffin leave the house and in which direction did it point? What did the undertakers do when the funeral procession left for the cemetery?

The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District saved McConaghy House in 1973, a year after the last family member, John McConaghy, passed away, aged 100. Unfortunately, most of the original contents were scattered before the acquisition but some pieces of furniture and items have been returned for display. According to paranormal investigators, spirits not only attach themselves to properties but also to objects.

"McConaghy House is open to the public on Saturdays between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Today, a member of a small group asked one of the docents 'Are there any ghosts? Is the house haunted?' The docent was diplomatic but the visitor interjected and informed her that she had already seen 'them.' Apparently, the visitor and her aunt are sensitive to such phenomena and had seen a young girl sitting at the kitchen table," stated Fassbender. "The McConaghy women passed away in adulthood; the family didn't lose a daughter in childhood. The kitchen table is not an original piece, so whom did the visitor see?"

Portents of death abound in Victorian culture. To modern minds, these are superstitions but might there be some truth in them? What was mourning jewelry? What are memento mori and their purpose? How does complex Victorian etiquette compare to today's form and what were the consequences of non-observance?

The Family Parlor is the latter-day equivalent of the family room. At McConaghy House, paranormal investigators recorded a man's voice saying "Just let them go, Dad." A member of the public, participating in past investigations, felt a distinct drop in temperature beside her while her body temperature remained normal. Are the McConaghys still in residence or are other people from the past present?

In September 2009, investigators recorded the name "Flo" in the Servants' Room and consulted Farquhar. Might this be John's wife, Florence, who passed away in July 1939? There is no mention of her in the short, family biography on the HAHS website and investigators claimed no knowledge of her as a family member until they consulted the Collections Manager.

Visitors who took the hour-long Shrouded Tales Tour of McConaghy House were treated to more electronic voice phenomena (recordings picked up by paranormal investigators using digital recorders) on reaching the attic, one of the more active places in the house for investigators.

"The tours are designed to educate visitors about Victorian traditions and superstitions associated with death, in general. However, the information, which includes some of the results of paranormal investigations, presented on each tour focuses on the location to illustrate how customs and values were reinforced. The families and symbolism play important roles," explained Farquhar.

Admission for each tour is $10 for adults, $5 for HAHS members, students and seniors. The tours are not recommended for children. Proceeds from the tour go to the care and preservation of these historic sites. Space is limited and tickets must be purchased in advance by contacting Heather Farquhar at (510) 581-2516.

The Shrouded Tales Tours is an annual series of guided and educational tours organized by HAHS each October. Any groups that would like to take the tours at another time should submit a request to Heather Farquhar at (510) 581-2516.

For more about the Hayward Area Historical Society, visit www.HaywardAreaHistory.org

Meek Mansion Tour
Saturday, October 15
7 p.m. & 9 p.m.
17365 Boston Rd., Hayward

San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery Tour
Saturday, October 22
7 p.m.
Corner of Hesperian Blvd., and College St., San Lorenzo

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