By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
By 1970, Carolyn Perron had had her fill of life in the suburbs. Longing for a simpler life in the country for herself, her husband Roger, and their five girls, she found what she hoped would be the perfect place to raise her young family in June of 1970. In the words of their eldest daughter Andrea, Roger and Carolyn Perron “moved mountains” to purchase the property known as the old Arnold Estate. Located on 200 acres of land in Harrisville, Rhode Island, the secluded, Colonial-era farmhouse seemed the answer to Carolyn Perron’s prayers. At last, the Perrons moved into the old Arnold Estate in early 1971. The only hint of the hellish events to come came in a cryptic admonition from the previous owner warning Roger Perron to “leave the lights on at night.”
During their ten years in the home, the Perrons experienced a plethora of ghostly activity ranging from the benign to the utterly terrifying. From unexplained noises and moving objects to the stench of rotting flesh and the horrifying apparition of a woman with a crooked neck who promised “death and gloom,” the haunting transformed the Perrons’ dream house into a veritable hellscape. The paranormal phenomenon reached a dangerous crescendo in 1973 with an ill-fated seance conducted by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren during which Carolyn Perron was apparently possessed by a malevolent entity which levitated her and spoke through her in an unknown language before casting her to the floor. Relying on her alleged abilities as a spiritual medium, Lorraine Warren would declare the source of the activity as the spirit of a long-dead witch and suspected child murderer named Bathsheba Sherman.
Although James Wan‘s 2013 horror hit The Conjuring purports to tell the true story of the haunting that plagued the Perrons, the film takes quite a bit of creative license with the facts. Nearly a decade after the movie’s release, BATHSHEBA: SEARCH FOR EVIL, a two-part documentary premiering on October 11 as part of T+E’s annual Creep Week, seeks to reexamine the story behind the film within a historical context and set the record straight on one of the world’s most notorious haunted houses.
Among the experts interviewed in BATHSHEBA: SEARCH FOR EVIL is Andrea Perron who, along with her family, faced the horrors and, perhaps most surprisingly, the joys of life in the house on Round Top Hill. Perron, who has authored three volumes about the events her family experienced at the old Arnold Estate titled House of Darkness House of Light, recently took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her haunted life with Rue Morgue.
Ms. Perron, thank you so much for speaking with me today. How has the haunting that you and your family experienced shaped your life and career?
It has in every conceivable way. I can’t imagine life without having had those experiences. The thing that I’m most excited about regarding BATHSHEBA: SEARCH FOR EVIL is that it is made with great intellect and sensitivity. I worked with a fantastic group of producers, and I know that our real story got out there. I have worked diligently to bring the truth to light because The Conjuring is about 90-plus percent fiction. They used a lot of method and formula–that’s why I call it “Hollyweird.” But, for your readers, I want everybody to hop into Creep Week on T+E which is the place in Canada for paranormal everything. This is going to be a real event. Anybody that’s fascinated with our story and hasn’t read my trilogy of books, House of Darkness House of Light, you’re going to get a preview of the truth in this documentary. I’m thrilled about it, and it airs Monday, October 11, at 9pm Eastern Time. I hope everybody tunes in and watches it and reaches out to me to let me know what they thought, and I’ll convey those messages to the producers and the whole production team of women that I worked so intimately with over the last four months putting this project together. It truly represents my family’s voice.
In answer to your question, I was so significantly and profoundly impacted by the experiences living at the farmhouse that it literally created my foundation academically and philosophically. I ended up getting a degree not only in English Literature but also Philosophy because I was searching for answers. I was reading the transcendentalists; I was reading at a very young age Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne, Poe and expanding my universe intellectually to try to process what I was experiencing emotionally at the farmhouse. I wouldn’t trade those ten years for anything even though I spent more than 30 years not sharing it with anyone outside my family. After we left the farmhouse in 1980, I had learned my lesson well and was threatened, as a straight “A” student in the top ten percent of my class, with expulsion for talking about ghosts at school. So I just backed right off that subject and went forward with my life and into college. As soon as I graduated college, we left the farm. My parents sold it–much to my dismay! We ended up moving to Georgia as a family, but our family never lived all together under the same roof again after that.My sister Nancy was so upset that she offered to stay on as the caretaker at the farmhouse in our absence for the Massachusetts landowners my parents sold the property to. She stayed on so long that by the time she joined us in Georgia, we were all dispersed. We were adults. We were out in the world doing our own thing and living in different places. So the farmhouse was our last family home.
What inspired you to begin speaking about your experiences in the house?
In 2007, a bell went off in my head that was screaming at me, “It’s time. It’s time.” I didn’t tell anybody in my family that I started writing a book that turned into three because I was so afraid they would discourage me from doing it. So I used a vacation week from my job to get a recipe box and index cards and I started writing down my recollections of having lived at the farm, and then I began including other people’s recollections, other members of the family. One by one, I started telling them that I was writing all of this stuff down now. It was time and the universe told me that people are ready for the truth. They’re ready for this.
I think that it’s an insult to people’s intelligence to withhold the truth. I think The Conjuring is one of the few films in history that muted the actual truth. James Wan and everyone associated with that film read my books. James Wan said, verbatim, “Oh, hell no! No. . . This will run people out of the theater.” Well, I don’t think of it that way. I don’t think of our true story as a horror story. It’s really much more of a love story with a wicked supernatural twist that’s fascinating and probably the most well-documented haunting in human history or one of them, certainly. But I’m grateful for The Conjuring because, if [the film] had not existed, my books would be languishing in obscurity just like a billion others because no feature film was made about them. That’s the nature of our society. Film being such a powerful medium, it impales your mind with imagery. It has enticed a lot of people to dig deeper to exhume the real story. So they Google my name and they find the books and they delve in deeply and when they come up for air at the end of them, they’re different. They’ve been changed. They won’t ever think about anything the same way again because we lived in a portal that was cleverly disguised as a farmhouse.
From the research that’s presented in BATHSHEBA: SEARCH FOR EVIL, it seems pretty clear that the entity that attacked your family was not Bathsheba Sherman. Do you feel that The Conjuring has done an injustice to the real Bathsheba?
My honest answer is yes. She was vilified and it wasn’t her fault. I’m not saying she didn’t do what she was accused of. . . I have no way of knowing. I will go to my grave being her advocate and her great defender because I have no proof that she murdered her baby in that house. There’s no proof of that anywhere, and the woman is buried in hallowed ground. I think that the apparition with the broken neck that appeared to my mother that was so threatening to her was long dead before Bathsheba was ever born. She spoke with a thick brogue, almost like a Scottish brogue, according to my mother. I heard her once, as well. That wasn’t Bathsheba’s voice. I heard Bathsheba, as well, but she was not part of the Richardson or the Arnold family.
She never even lived at the farm, but she was accused of an infant dying in her care at the farm, and she was absolved of that in an inquest. But in the court of public opinion, she was tried and convicted and lived a long, miserable life. She lost three of her four children before the age of four. They’re all buried beside her in the Riverside Cemetery. Life was hard back then. You think life is hard now? Go back a couple of hundred years and you’ll know what hard living is. Nobody even named their babies before they were a year old because it was considered bad luck–that’s how high the infant mortality rate was. It was a sad state of affairs in terms of just getting through a harsh winter up there in Rhode Island.
I feel like The Conjuring did Bathsheba an injustice but only because they relied on the casefiles of Ed and Lorraine Warren. My mother had no idea who they were when they showed up at our door. Somebody else had told them that we were having a problem at our house and gave them the address. They showed up the night before Halloween in 1973. Lorraine walked into the house, and, to her credit, she sensed something because she went over to our old black stove, put her hand on the corner, and covered her eyes and she said, “I sense a malignant presence in this house. Her name is Bathsheba.” But, from that point on, once she gained my mother’s trust to speak with her about our experiences, and we were well into our second year and approaching our third year so a lot had happened, she blamed everything on Bathsheba because that was her sense of things. That’s what she perceived. That it was this woman who was attached to the house even though she was not related to the family that built it or lived in it. She was a neighbor.
None of the spirits ever self-identified except for one, the little boy that interacted with my sister April told her his name had been Oliver Richardson. Speculation and presumption and the history of the house leads my parents and my sisters to believe it was more likely Mrs. John Arnold who was attacking my mother. She died in 1797 at the age of 93 by suicide. She hanged herself in the barn. Her body was taken down. She was moved into the house so that she could be buried in hallowed ground. That came from the town historian. Suicide was so frowned upon at that time in the 1700s that it was presumed that you would just burn in hell for eternity. . Taking your own life was the sin of all sins. It’s a very sad story. There’s a lot about the farm that’s sad, but there was joy in our lives there, too. Real joy.
Believe me, when we moved in, ghosts were not on the menu. My parents bought that house because it was an original Colonial estate built 40 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It had real historical significance and value. My parents bought it so that their kids could grow up in a place in the country. Ghosts were the old sheets that you cut holes in for Halloween and you pick which kid is going to be a ghost this year. That was it! (laughs) I wouldn’t say we got a rude awakening, but the day we moved in, I saw my first full-body apparition. I didn’t know it was an apparition. He appeared perfectly flesh and blood to me, but one of my sisters saw him disappear a few minutes later. . . That was our introduction to the supernatural world, and it persists to this day. Once that door is opened to spirit, it never really closes.
Looking back, do you believe that your mother Carolyn’s seemingly impulsive decision to buy the house was, in fact, the beginning of the haunting? That perhaps something was specifically calling out to her?
AP: I’ll go back farther than that. I think it was the day that my father brought a puppy home in 1969, and my mother swept her up in her arms, and she said, “This dog is a special dog, and she needs a special name.” And she closed her eyes and cocked her head to the heavens and she came back with, “Bathsheba.” That’s how my dog got named. Bathsheba is an unusual name. We were all little kids. We didn’t know the biblical relevance of the name. We didn’t know where that name came from. None of us had ever heard it before. So we immediately abbreviated our dog’s name to Sheba. After she died, everything changed.
Part of the reason that we moved to the farm was because we lived in a suburb of Providence, and I was out walking my dog, and she pulled away from me, ran into traffic and was killed. I had a nervous breakdown as a ten year-old–a complete nervous breakdown. I changed. I was so devastated. She died in my care. And mother said, “That’s it. I want away from the traffic. I want away from the chaos. I want away from the neighbors. I want out of here.” She’s the one who found the farm. My father kept saying, “Carolyn, we’ve only lived here six years. We don’t even have any equity in this house yet. What are you talking about?” And she found the farm or the farm found her.
And then, my mother took me to a flute lesson up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, one afternoon and grabbed a local Woonsocket Call newspaper. That night, when she could finally settle down and all of us were in bed, she made a cup of coffee and started reading the paper. The advertisement for that farmhouse leapt off the page. We found out later that it was the first day that it had been listed. My mother and father found out at the closing that no one else had called on that ad–just my mother.
So do I think there was some kind of cosmic convergence of events? Absolutely. We were supposed to live there and tell the story.
Given Lorraine Warren’s extensive experience as a medium, why do you think she was so convinced that Bathsheba Sherman was the entity behind the haunting? Do you believe that this was a mistake on her part that left her ill-prepared for the seance that nearly cost your mother her life?
Yes. Yes, it left her ill-prepared for the seance. When I saw her a couple of months before The Conjuring opened– she and I were invited for a private screening at Warner Brothers Studios–she told me, during that weekend that we spent together, that she and Ed were in over their heads the moment they crossed the threshold, and they just didn’t know it. Of course, in her case files, who would expect that it would be documented that she and Ed had made a couple of tragic errors in judgment.
The seance that they initiated in our house almost cost my mother her life. To see it treated the way that it was in The Conjuring was a bit of a shock to me. First of all, Ed was the only layman on the planet that had worked with exorcists from the Vatican and was trained to assist in an exorcism. His devotion to the church and his respect for the exorcists would have precluded him from ever initiating [an exorcism] on his own. So The Conjuring was literally conjured in the minds of two very creative screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes who know how to write. They really struck a chord with people.
I think, in the grand scheme of things, The Conjuring did get it right. In the moral arc, it did cover all the bases because it leaves people with the impressions that good conquers evil, love conquers fear, and the Perron family experienced an extreme haunting that they all survived. All of those things are true.
The film also has a number of cosmic kisses in it–things that [the writers] could not have known about that ended up in the movie including the dog dying practically as soon as we moved into the house. I didn’t even mention that our dog Schultz had been killed in a very tragic accident within ten days of moving to the farm. I thought it would be too morose to put that in the books. . . There were so many people involved in making the movie and we were all connected in consciousness. There are so many instances in the film where they make references to things they could not know about. The prime example is a scene where the camera rounds the bedroom into what is supposed to be my bedroom and there’s a folk art picture of a white cat on the mantle board. I have that very picture sitting right here in my office. It was given to me by my mother’s friend when we lived at the farm in 1972! I don’t know what made the set designer gravitate to this exact image and place it on the mantle board in my bedroom. Of all the wallpaper patterns they could have chosen, they chose the one that was inside the farmhouse that we re-papered the walls with. They couldn’t have known because they never saw any inside photographs of the house. I don’t know. It’s universal; it’s cosmic; it’s spiritual. It’s beautiful and horrible. It’s everything all wrapped up in one thing.
No. The Conjuring is not an accurate portrayal of what happened. BATHSHEBA: SEARCH FOR EVIL is. I have been involved in I don’t know how many documentaries over all these years. BATHSHEBA: SEARCH FOR EVIL hits the nail on the head. [The producers] worked so closely with our family to make sure that the truth came out. Their entire approach to this was so filled with integrity and honesty. I’m honored to have worked with them on this documentary. I think it’s going to blow people away.
BATHSHEBA: SEARCH FOR EVIL premieres October 11 at 9PM ET/PT as part of T+E’s fifth annual Creep Week broadcast event. The special will reair in the lead up to Halloween on Sunday, October 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, Saturday, October 30 at 3 p.m. ET and Saturday, October 31 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on T+E.