Whatever you may feel regarding Ed & Lorraine Warren, you have to admit that the cases they’ve been involved in are good fodder for horror movies meant to rock your world and keep you up at night. It is no less true for the latest Warner Brothers movie, The Conjuring. Although the eldest daughter – Andrea Perron – has written a three-volume series House of Darkness, House of Light: The True Story on the experiences of her family over the ten year period they lived in the house, the movie playing in theatres is based on the investigation files of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The accuracy of the contents of the film can be debated as far as whether or not it deserves to have the tag “based on a true story” because not even Ms Perron will give a definitive answer as to what aspects of the film are true and what aren’t.
Having said this, my aim for this article is to piece together the various bits of the tale to convey a general story of what allegedly happened to this family. As always, I will let you decide the legitimacy of the story I present as well as what’s in the film.
Harrisville, Rhode Island is the setting for this true story. Harrisville is a small village in the town of Burrillville, in the northern part of the state, not far from the state line with Massachusetts. As of the 2010 US Census, the population was right around 1,600. According to Historic Harrisburg, the village began life as a mill village in 1820 and saw a surge in growth over the next 50 years as wool mills were sprang up along the Goose Brook.
The home itself is alleged to be one of the original plantations on land that was part of the land survey of Captain John Smith in 1680. However, Rhode Island itself is much farther north than Captain Smith’s explorations took him – and John Smith had died 50 years before – that part of the home’s story is questionable. The area might have been explored and subsequently settled by those who were part of the Providence Plantation settlement with Roger Williams. One website I found had a photo of the house from 1885 when it was part of the Arnold Estate.
The house built on the 200 acres allotted to the original settler was of a colonial style known as a saltbox house. These houses tended to have the appearance of two stories in the front, and only one in the rear with a lopsided roof covering both the higher front and lower rear of the house. Over the years various additions were made to the house, turning it into the large family house – full of history – which appealed to both Roger and Carolyn Perron in 1970.
It was the winter of 1970 when the Perrons bought and moved into the historical farmhouse with their five daughters. Soon after moving in, they started experiencing ghostly phenomena and spiritual possessions. Some of the spirits were harmless, others less so.
From the very first day the Perron family moved into the farmhouse the paranormal activity began. When the family first arrived at the house the old tenants were packing up the last of their things. As they did so a man stood in the corner watching them. Three of the five girls seen [sic] this man but the parents did not. It was an apparition. The family continued to see spirits some of which did not even notice the family were there, they were the quiet ones who lived peacefully at the farmhouse and did not bother the family. One of the girls made friends with a spirit whom she called Manny. He was a sympathetic soul whom the Perrons believed was the spirit of Johnny Arnold who had committed suicide in the house in the 1700’s. He would watch over the family. He would appear to the children but as soon as they made eye contact he would disappear. Many peaceful souls resided at the farmhouse but there was also dark forces. [sic] Every time the father was home machinery in the house began to breakdown that he would have to go and fix. All of this machinery was located in the cellar for example the boiler and the heating. When he would go to the cellar he would be approached by a spirit who seemed very attracted to him. She would touch him on the back of the neck and run her hands across his back. Over time he developed a kinship with this spirit and this was the spirit who caused most of the problems in the house.
Other activity included the girls’ beds shaking, disembodied voices telling them that soldiers’ bodies were “buried” in the walls. The spirit of a little girl around the age of 4 or 5 would wander through the house, crying for her mother. Her appearance would alternate between that of a healthy child and an emaciated one, wearing her burial gown.
The entity which approached Roger Perron whenever he visited the cellar is believed to have been that of Bathsheba Sherman who actually lived on the Sherman Farm which was next door to the Arnold Estate.
[Bathsheba] lost all of her children before [they reached] the age of four. When she was a young woman, Bathsheba had a young child in her care (it is uncertain if this was her child or if she was caring for the child for a friend) that died. Upon examination of the baby’s body it was found that a needle had been impaled into its skull and the baby had died from convulsions. Bathsheba was charged with manslaughter but due to lack of evidence the case was dropped. However, in the court of public opinion she was found guilty. She was a very beautiful woman whom men loved and women envied. Following the death of the baby rumours began to swirl that Bathsheba had sacrificed this baby as an offering to the devil for eternal beauty. Due to the belief of the locals that she was a witch she lived a life of solitude. Eventually she married and it is unsure if she lived all her days at the Arnold farm or the adjacent Sherman farm. She died in 1885 and the coroner made a note in his report stating that he had never seen anything like it that it was like her body had turned to stone.
She would consistently try to exert her dominance within the house, even over its living inhabitants. Her focus seemed to be to drive Carolyn Perron out of the house and become mistress of the house. The first of the spirit possessions came when Bathsheba tried to force Carolyn out from within. Although many of the spirits appeared in a recognisably human form, Andrea Perron (the eldest daughter) would later describe Bathsheba’s appearance differently:
…mostly appearing with a face similar to a desiccated bee hive covered in cobwebs with no real features other than crawling vermin, but there were other spirits she said who appeared unscathed by death who would appear with very distinct facial expressions.
After Cindy Perron, second to youngest of the five girls, tried to banish the spirits with a friend, things got worse. The friend was injured and the spirits began to attack Cindy on a regular basis.
Approximately four years into their decade-long stay in the house, a friend decided to intervene and call upon the services of well-known demonologists/paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. Unfortunately, the presence of the Warrens only seemed to make matters worse.
And that’s where the story pretty much ends. There are no details of how the Warrens managed to make the hauntings worse. There’s nothing indicating what started happening after the couple were summarily tossed out the house by Roger Perron, only that “things got worse” and the Warrens stated that this was the worst case they’d ever been involved in. There is also mention of a confrontation of a powerful demonic force, yet the nearest anyone comes to mentioning possession is with Bathsheba attempting to throw Carolyn Perron out of the house “from within.” I would take that to mean Bathsheba would attempt to possess Mrs Perron, then manipulate her body in some fashion to leave the house.
One possibility is that the alleged hauntings at the house the Perrons lived in overwhelmed Lorraine Warren who is said to be a psychic (or clairvoyant, depending on who’s talking) in her own right. I managed to find the second volume of the epic tale that is House of Darkness, House of Light: The True Story by Andrea Perron on Google Books and Perron believes it was Lorraine’s psychic energy and Ed’s clear compassion for the children that stirred up the activity within the house.
It is alleged that paranormal activity continues in the house, though there is no way to prove it since the current owners/occupants of the house have not come forward to share in the Perron Family lime light. Apparently people who lived in the house prior to the Perron’s purchase of the house and property experienced things as well. Considering, though, that there were apparently 8 generations of the same family who lived in the house over the span of many decades, it could be family ghosts that they experienced of the less-than-paranormal variety – just like most people have skeletons in our closet, yet no bones reside there.
I would also like to note that for those of you who have seen or plan to see the film, the presence of the haunted doll known as Annabelle is not part of the Perron Family haunting. It’s quite separate, though the Warrens were involved in that incident as well.
The Conjuring True Story
The Harrisville Haunting
The Story behind “The Conjuring”
One family’s true ghost stories