Heritage House harbors hidden secrets: scary stories retold by Sr. Judi Keehnen

In the spirit of Halloween, The McNicholas Milestone decided to search for spooky stories from around McNick, and arrived at Sister Judi Keehnen, McNick’s resident Sister of St. Joseph and ghost-believer. Sr. Judi, who graduated from McNick in 1959, is a known figure at McNicholas, and has been featured in the Milestone before. The place around McNick with the most paranormal activity, according to Sr. Judi, is the Heritage House, located away from the main school building near the neighboring Presbyterian Church. She believes that the place is inhabited by spirits. “I’m not afraid because I know they’re good spirits. They have not scared me at all,” she said.

The Heritage House was purchased by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1893, containing only the front four rooms. It was originally built as a single-room house, which is now the dining room. It has gone through a number of renovations, remodeling, and additions to stand how it does now. It’s been used as a house for the Sisters and other times as a boys’ locker room and equipment storage. This Heritage House is the setting for the following stories, all retold by Keehnen.

The Clinking Lock

When the nuns lived in the Heritage House early on in its history, the doors were always locked using large brass locks on the inside. During one night, a particular nun woke up to use the bathroom. As she returned back to her bed, she clearly heard the loud clicking of the brass lock, as if someone was unlocking it and about to enter. She checked the door, but there was no sign of anyone.

Preventing Rumors of Cannibalistic Nuns

This story is less of a spooky story and more so a foundation for what could have become a spooky story. Around 1975, the nuns allowed the Jaycees of Mt. Washington to transform the Heritage House into a Halloween haunted house for the Mt. Washington community. They painted cryptic messages on the brick walls, including “legs and thighs – 19¢ a dozen” and “hands and eyeballs – 30¢ a dozen.” The messages were left there after Halloween, planned to be removed later, but never were. The original brick walls were eventually covered with drywall because of crumbling. If the walls were uncovered, Sr. Judi worried a rumor would spread of the nuns practicing cannibalism, so she wrote a note explaining the purpose of the messages and stuck it behind the drywall.

The White Figures

Sr. Judi lived in the Heritage House in 1978, after completing remodeling work that fixed damages from its time as a locker room. One night, although she wasn’t particularly tired, she prepared for bed. She tossed and turned for some time and, upon opening her eyes, looked at the walls of her room. The walls were wallpapered, showing a pattern of great big diamonds with swishes in the center. However, she knew that her walls were not wallpapered. She shrugged it off though, and closed her eyes again. Reopening them, she looked at the closet she had left open across the room and saw white figures going in and out of it. She rubbed her eyes, thinking she was just seeing things. She turned her back to the closet and went back to sleep, but awoke to the feeling of two hands pressing against her back. After that, she slept through the night. She believes the spirits were telling her she did a good job restoring the house.

Sliding Out of Bed

On another night, Sr. Judi was awoken by a strange feeling, as if she was sliding out of bed. She described it as if someone was lifting the bed up from one side, forcing her to slide out. At the time, another Sister of St. Joseph, Margie, lived with her in the house, but she wasn’t a believer in the ghost occurrences as Sr. Judi was. In the morning, Sr. Judi told Sr. Margie of her experience. Sr. Margie said she had felt the exact same thing that night, and became a believer after that.

The Secret Staircase

One feature of the Heritage House went unknown until its remodeling. During the renovations, Sr. Judi recalls finding a secret staircase. It started three feet off the ground, and rose seven or eight steps up to a small second floor. There were two theories to explain the second floor at the time. The first proposed that it was a place to hide escaped slaves during the underground railroad. However, there is no historical proof of this. The second explanation claims the second floor was a place to hide children from Native American raids. However, the house wasn’t built until after all Native Americans were out of the region. Without any facts, the purpose of this space remains a mystery.

The Secret Room

After the renovations at the Heritage House, the Sisters held an open house to show off the updates to the Mt. Washington community. On the last day of the open house, a medium walked in and said he felt the presence of a secret room. The sisters informed him of the secret staircase, but he denied it, claiming there was another room unknown to the sisters. He asked to see the basement, which had not been renovated, and Sr. Judi led him there. Once in the basement, he pointed to the area where the original staircase had descended into the basement, claiming that the secret room was there. The next day, Sr. Judi and Jane Bogenschutz, then volleyball coach and wife to Larry Bogenschutz, went to investigate. They dug a small hole in the area the medium point out, just large enough to fit a finger in. The stone walls were normally incredibly thick, however, when the sisters stuck a coat hanger into the hole, they never hit any material, suggesting that there was a secret room on the other side of the wall. The only explanation offered was that it was some sort of cellar that had been walled off. The walls were so thick that the secret room was left alone and investigated no more.

Swishing Wind

The most modern of these stories comes from this year, September 2017. Sr. Judi has again moved into the Heritage House, and has, on two separate occasions, heard a strange, although not scary, sound coming down the stairs. She described the sound as a “big wind swish,” and believes that it’s one of the spirits descending the steps.

heritage house
The oldest building on the McNicholas property is the Heritage House, located between the main school building and the neighboring Presbyterian Church. The house was purchased in 1893 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the founders of McNicholas. It is now rumored to house ghosts and spirits.

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