Podcast 336 – The Haunted Chase House

Built in 1762, the Chase House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was once an orphanage. Today the building is haunted by the ghost of a little girl.

In Episode 336 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger search for ghosts at the historic Chase House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Built in 1762 by Stephen Chase, it’s been a private residence, then an orphanage, a private home again, and now a museum. With so much history, it’s no surprise the building is haunted. But who is haunting it and why?

ME CULPA: We have since learned that two children died from diphtheria in the Chase Home for Children.

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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The historic Chase House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The historic Chase House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The Chase Home for Children orphanage circa 1903.

The Chase Home for Children orphanage circa 1903.

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

RAY: This isn’t our first trip to my old stomping ground in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Jeff.
JEFF: Nope, we’ve been here a few times before. This is where you went on your first ghost hunt, right?
RAY: I did! I was the morning guy on the local radio station and for Halloween we did a ghost hunt at the Portsmouth Music Hall. We even captured an EVP during our night there.
JEFF: That’s so cool! It turns out, Portsmouth has no shortage of haunts.
RAY: With so many historic buildings, I’m not surprised.
JEFF: Okay, our destination is just up ahead at the corner of Court and Washington Streets.
RAY: I see a stately yellow house right here on the corner. The front of the house touches the sidewalk. It’s three stories, the top story has a gambrel roof – or a barn-like roof. And it looks well-maintained.
JEFF: This is the Stephen Chase House. It dates all the way back to 1762. It’s been a private residence, and orphanage, a private residence again, and now an historic home and museum… we’re here because they say the Chase House… is haunted.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 336 of the New England Legends podcast. We’re on a mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re always on the lookout for haunts, monsters, aliens, roadside oddities, true crime, and the just plain weird. We get most of our story leads from you, so please reach out to us anytime through our Web site.
JEFF: We’ll go searching for the ghosts of the Chase House right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. The Chase house is old.
JEFF: It is! It’s so old we weren’t even America yet when it was built. We were still England.
RAY: It almost feels like a rule that when a house or building reaches a few centuries in age, that there’s a ghost or two knocking around inside.
JEFF: Yeah, not quite a rule, but sure, when a building has seen that much history, chances are a few memories are still floating inside. The Chase House is listed in many directories of haunted places in the Granite State. And just about every write-up mentions the house is haunted by one of the former orphans. A little girl who hanged herself in her room.
RAY: That’s awful!
JEFF: It is awful, and it may not be true. But still, with so much history here—over 260 years if you’re keeping score—I’m sure there was a death or two in the house. Probably a funeral as well. Which was customary for a long time. Bodies would be laid out for viewing and a wake in parlors.
RAY: Here’s a little more information on the Chase House. As we mentioned before, it was built in 1762 by Stephen Chase. Chase was a Harvard graduate who made his fortune as a merchant in Portsmouth. When Stephen died in 1805, his widow and two sons William and Theodore, continued to live here. William’s widow, Sarah Blunt Chase was the last Chase to live in this house. She died in 1881. After that, Theodore’s son bought the house and donated it as a home for orphans. A philanthropic legacy for the family. It was called the Chase Home for Children.
JEFF: And that’s when the story gets interesting. So let’s head back to 1893 and explore the Chase House.
RAY: It’s August of 1893 here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. President Grover Cleveland has just begun his second term in office a few months ago. He’s the first president in U.S. history to serve two non-consecutive terms. He was president from 1885 to 1889, then there was President Benjamin Harrison, and now Grover Cleveland once again. The economy is in rough shape. Unemployment is soaring, national debt is rising, and homelessness and hunger are on the rise.
JEFF: People are feeling it here in Portsmouth too. It’s been a rough winter, and folks are struggling to get on their feet. Like always, the poor have it the worst. And to make matters worse, here at the Chase Home for Children… an illness is plaguing the kids.
RAY: Two of the children have been complaining about a sore throat. They’re coughing. At first, the staff think maybe it’s a summer flu, or maybe strep throat. But soon, more kids are coming down with the same symptoms.
JEFF: Two sick kids becomes four, then five, then six. That’s when a local doctor comes to examine the children.
RAY: Okay the doctor is looking at the throat of one of the children. (LOOKING) Hmmm Look at that, there’s this gray film over the kid’s throat and tonsils.
JEFF: Ugh. That’s a bad sign. Other sick orphans in the house have some of the same symptoms. That gray film tells the doctor what he’s dealing with… diphtheria.
RAY: Diphtheria is a highly contagious bacteria that’s especially dangerous in children. What starts as a cough and sore throat moves to fever, chills, then difficulty breathing, swollen skin, and for some it can cause death.
JEFF: It’s a frightening time here at the Chase Home for Children. By the third week in August, nine kids are now sick with diphtheria. One little girl, seems the worst of all of them. She’s weak and frail…
JEFF: Sadly, the young girl succumbs to the illness and passes away.
RAY: There’s nothing worse than the death of a child.
JEFF: The children and staff of the house are devastated. Thankfully, the other eight kids recover.
RAY: The economy of Portsmouth is doing a little better than a lot of the country because work here is mostly tied to fishing and shipping. There isn’t much manufacturing. But shipping and fishing are both dangerous businesses. Ships hit bad weather, and there are accidents, leaving some kids orphaned.
JEFF: The Chase Home for Children is a busy place. Sadly, there’s no shortage of orphans. By 1916, the house here at the corner of Court and Washington Streets is out of room. So the Chase House moves to Middle Road in town on a 26-acre lot where a much larger building is constructed to support the needs of the community. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: The Chase House in its new location is still in operation serving children and families in need in the Portsmouth area.
RAY: I did a quick search online about the haunting of the Chase House, and you’re right. It’s listed in a ton of places and usually says a young girl hanged herself in a bedroom there.
JEFF: We can’t rule out that event. I’m just saying I found no record of it. But… I did find an August 24, 1893 Boston Globe article – a tiny little write up – saying nine cases of diphtheria at the Chase Home for Children, and a young girl with the last name Carr passed away on the 24th. I couldn’t find any follow ups on the story. That may be all the ink the young orphan got.
RAY: So we can confirm a young girl died here.
JEFF: We can.
RAY: But not necessarily the way everyone says it happened.
JEFF: Right.
RAY: But aren’t suicides often left out of the newspapers? I’ve seen obituaries of young people where it only says they died on a specific date. If they died from cancer or an accident, it usually says that. But if no cause is listed, we’re left to speculate the worst.
JEFF: That’s true too. But a century ago, suicides were often in the headlines. Maybe because there were more illnesses around back then like diphtheria, like tuberculosis, that editors didn’t want their readers to worry that some new plague was in town.
RAY: We’ve learned a lot about suicide in more modern times. It turns out it IS contagious. Among peer groups, the elderly. No one is immune from dark thoughts. So please, if you’re struggling, reach out for help. The suicide hotline is always available. Jeff and I need you around.
JEFF: That we do. And good point. So a diphtheria vaccine was first developed in the 1920s, but it didn’t get wide use until the 1930s and 1940s when it became part of the standard vaccines offered to kids. And now, thanks to that effort, diphtheria isn’t the problem it once was.
RAY: The Chase House today is a throwback. It’s now managed by the Strawberry Banke Museum who open it up for public tours. They made the year of interpretation 1818, so you can see what it looks like back when it was still the Chase Home.
JEFF: With so many layers of history it can be a challenge to identify everything that bumps in the night. If someone spots the ghost of a little girl, it’s easy to try and connect her to any children who died here. As we said before, the death of any child is a tragedy, but it’s human nature that if a ghost is going to haunt a place… we at least want to try and figure out why.
RAY: And that takes us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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If you’ve got a strange tale of ghosts, monsters, aliens, roadside oddities, eccentrics, or general weirdness you think we should check out, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. Also, we need you in our Legendary Army! Please help spread the word about what we do. You can do that by sharing our episodes on your social media, by posting a review for us, or telling a friend about us. That’s how we grow.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.

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