I've been asked to post the history of the house I lovingly refer to as the "horror house" where I lived with my mother starting in the late 1990's. I've detailed several of the phenomenon which we experienced there here on Your Ghost Stories. The following post is the result of research conducted by both my mother and I through property tax rolls, land transfer records, local newspaper articles, journal entries from prior occupants and information from County and Historical Society archives. Thankfully, we've also been able to contact the descendants of the Butler family themselves, who were able to locate additional details about the house. They have been tremendously helpful during our research and happily provided me with permission to relate the house's early history and the tragic loss that occurred there.
The house was constructed for Henry Butler, his wife Elizabeth and their three children. Mr. Butler and his eldest son, Henry Jr. Worked at the California Powder Works, a major provider of gun powders and explosive products to the US Government and various commercial interests. The Powder Works had been a leading employer and source of revenue for the early city and most of the residents owed their livelihoods to these factories in one way or another. The house was completed in 1891 and featured all the "modern" amenities that people of era had come to expect. The house was piped for gas from the City Gas Works which provided lighting in every room and fueled a boiler below the house which circulated hot water to radiators for heat. The house offered indoor plumbing, complete with the hot water from the radiator system being connected to the bath. Mr. Butler was something of a local hero, he worked as a boy at the docks and eventually moved to the Powder Works as a laborer. As he worked there management noticed his exceptional skill at managing tasks and increasing productivity. He was eventually promoted to Foreman at the Smokeless Powder building and then, to Master of Facilities which was an executive position in the company. With his newly acquired wealth and fame he purchased land, hired an architect and set to work on his family home. Following completion of the house, the happy family took up residence in May of the same year, but disaster struck soon after. The city at the time used "Gassified Coal" in the Gas Works which was quite common at the time. This gas contained high concentrations of Carbon Monoxide, and due to a poorly soldered connection in his daughters' room, both girls nearly suffocated within a week of moving in. The girls survived, but only barely, and the pipe was repaired...
April 26, 1898 at 5:15pm a series of explosions rocked the city from the direction of the Powder Works. As the city rushed to put out the flames before they spread and with burning debris raining down around them Mr. Butler and his son were dragged from the blaze and taken to a medical tent which had been hastily prepared. Both men had been "excessively injured" as one doctor told a company laborer, who was instructed to return the injured father and son to their home to await death with their family. Mr. Butler died shortly after being returned home, while his son survived for seven additional days in agony before succumbing to his wounds. Elizabeth and her two daughters were destroyed by the loss and couldn't bare to live in the house any longer. They arranged for an agent to sell the house, buried Henry Butler and Henry Jr., then left for Sacramento to her father's home. Many people lost faith in the powder works and felt it was too dangerous for such a facility to exist so close to the city. The house did not sell immediately, and reducing the price several times did not help the situation. With the Powder Works badly damaged the city was in turmoil and no one seemed willing to invest in an expensive and "modern" house. In 1900 the family ordered the house stripped of its remaining furniture and all copper and brass fixtures to be sold for scrap. The cast iron radiators and kitchen stove were also sold and the house was left largely abandoned. As the estate considered the possibility of bankruptcy a buyer finally emerged in 1902 and took the property, as shabby as it now was for the (then) shocking sum of $9,500.
Shawn and Mary Sullivan were the new owners of the house, they were planning a family and were reasonably well to do as Shawn was Vice President of the county's largest bank. They set to work replacing the stripped brass fixtures, radiators, buying a stove and getting the home back in livable condition. The couple lived happily there for ten years, until 1912 when a "mild" outbreak of Influenza struck the city. Mr. Sullivan was seemingly infected at work and spread the illness to his wife. After several days of high fevers and dehydration, they died together. The house sat empty for only a few months before being purchased again. This time by a younger couple, the Millers and their infant daughter. They set up housekeeping in late 1912 and lived there in relative happiness until the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 struck. As people across the country began to catch the virus and die, the Millers managed to escape exposure until January 1919. Their daughter was the first to catch the illness, she was transported to a hospital in San Jose just to die four days later. Upon returning home with their child's body, both of the Millers became infected and died near the end of February 1919. Although hundreds had died in the city between 1918 and 1919 this house in particular became a target for the city's less popular newspapers and a reputation began to grow about the house's unlucky nature. The wildfire of rumors were fueled by a sensationalized newspaper article in April 1919 titled "Thrice Damned is the House that Butler Built" which recounted in grisly (and largely fictional) detail the multiple deaths over three families which had occurred since 1898. The house was boarded and largely left alone until 1922 when its next major change came about.
The house was purchased in 1922 by Mr and Mrs Kenneth Reed. If the house was cursed, it certainly didn't rub off on them. Mr. Reed worked for General Electric and during his residence was promoted twice. From 1923 to 1924 the house was wired for electricity and the gas lamps were replaced by electric bulbs for the first time. The boiler system was converted from coal gas to natural gas and the small carriage house was modified to make way for their automobile. The family's happiness continued with the birth of their son in 1925 and daughter in 1926. In 1930, Kenneth Reed was offered a position at the now independent Radio Corporation of America and had to pack up and relocate to New York City. Mrs Reed wrote to family speaking of how sad they were to leave the house and city, but as the nation was now in the grip of the Great Depression, they couldn't afford to turn down such a stable position.
Management for sale of the house and property were then transferred several more times between 1930 and 1936 due to bank and law firm bankruptcies. The house was finally purchased in 1936 by Eric and Lucy Lapask, they were both well connected to area society and Eric's family was rich through the ownership of a large fishing enterprise. They had their first child in 1937, a daughter who died nine days after bringing her home from the hospital. They tried again and had a son in 1938, who was diagnosed with hemophilia and died the following year in 1939 from internal injuries caused by falling while trying to climb out of his crib. Stricken with grief, the Lapasks' withdrew from society and attempted to have one final child. In 1941 Lucy gave birth to another son, however it was apparent immediately that he suffered from what was referred to as only a "physical malformity." It was reported later by household staff that Lucy became mentally unstable after this, she would frequently be seen talking to herself or crying in her room while staring out the window for hours at a time. In 1943 Lucy drank a bottle of whiskey mixed with Laudanum, left her husband a goodbye note on the table in the front hallway and threw herself down the stairs. Mr. Lapask put the house up for sale and moved, with his son, from the area...
The house sold again in 1944 to the Yaun family, Chinese immigrants who opened a Tea House in the downstairs rooms and lived upstairs. Their elderly grandfather died in 1945 at the age of 78 from natural causes. In 1949 a tea house patron by the name of Lionel Furguson had a heart attack in the dining room while eating. In 1952 the family closed the tea house and moved from the area. Through the 1950's and 60's the house was occupied by four additional families. There were no deaths during this period that we can find, and the house was kept generally in shape. The house had its electrical wiring updated in 1961 (long after it should have been) although the quality of the work was terrible. In 1969 the family living in the house at the time, the Langleys, filed for bankruptcy and lost the house to the bank. The house didn't sell, and eventually fell into disrepair. Neighborhood children began to break into the house to search for "ghosts" and participate in "initiation" rights. The story that the house had been occupied by "Satan worshippers" developed seemingly from thin air and it became common for graffiti pentagrams to be painted on the walls and floors. In 1974 two area teenagers broke into the carriage house/garage to smoke and caught the structure on fire. They were unable to escape back whichever way they had used to enter and perished. The carriage house was destroyed but the house escaped damage. The city ordered the property be boarded up, which of course didn't discourage the break-in's. The house and property finally sold in 1982, to the couple who owned it prior to us. Sam and Jeanette set to work restoring the damage done by a decade of abandonment. They stripped the bizarre graffiti from the walls and floor and removed the piles of trash. The house had to be re-wired again as its previous repairs were poorly done.
Although the house was restored a great deal by the early 1990's it began to decline soon again after that. Sam and Jeanette were simply too old to keep up on the repairs and the structure wouldn't retain paint. Colors faded, the grounds became overgrown and at one point they just started paying the fines when the city would complain about its appearance. Jeanette was the final death in the house to this point, she died in 1995 from cancer in the presence of her husband. Sam very much wanted to see the house return to the way it had been originally and was happy when my mom turned out to be the one who purchased it. As we worked to restore the house we kept him updated with photos and stories which he enjoyed. At Christmas 2003 with the help of the Historical Society, we decorated the house in full Victorian Christmas splendor, complete with a candle lit tree and invited Sam to join us. It was a wonderful experience to see the house and grounds restored to the way it had looked in December of 1891 (although without the carriage house). Sam passed away in 2004. The house had survived so much, been through so much and had seen three centuries already. We've come to realize that it's up to us to keep the house safe for another new generation to enjoy. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading my accounts of the "Horror House" which, I suppose should now really be more appropriately referred to as the "Butler House." My mom has no intention of selling the house, and neither do I.