My first law office was located in Hartford Connecticut's historic Munsil-Borden Mansion. Built in 1893, the stately home was a bygone reminder to Hartford's gilded past. The home was once owned by a heiress to the Borden milk fortune. The home featured a dumb waiter, a billard room and a beautiful handcarved staircase that was silhouetted by stained glass windows. The windows contained images of the previous Victorian owners forever entombed in stained glass. Their ghostly visages stared down intently at anyone who dared to traverse the halls. The building was actually a popular jaunt for ghost hunters. I couldn't blame their interest. The milk heiress was a distant relative of suspected infamous axe murderer Lizzie Borden. When the moon shone through the stain glass windows, I could feel the previous owner watching me as I prepared legal briefs and made copies. The house was full of creaks and hisses. Naturally, I made an effort to get out of there at sundown. No one was going to get me with 40 whacks with an axe. At the time, I only had my law degree for a few months. I still had the will to live. After 15 years of practice, I might welcome a visit from Lizzie. But I digress.
Of course, the Munsil-Borden mansion was not the only place of interest for ghost hunters. One of Connecticut's most unique courthouses can be found in Derby, Connecticut. Located on Elizabeth Street, Derby Superior Court is directly adjacent to the elegant Sterling Opera House. Visitors to the court can stop for a bite in one of the area restaurants or take a stroll at the nice little park across the street. But don't be fooled by the nice landscaping, the quaint park benches and the friendly court staff. Locals warn that the courthouse is attached to a haunted opera.
Opened in 1889, the 1200 seat Sterling Opera house was once the premiere entertainment venue in the lower Naugatuck Valley. It has hosted the likes of comedian Red Skelton, academy award winning actor Lionel Barrymore (great uncle of Drew Barrymore), escape artist Harry Houdini, tuba aficionado John Phillip Sousa and boxer John Sullivan. It is said that D.W. Griffith premiered his controversial film "Birth of A Nation" here. Even Amelia Earnhart once graced the Opera House halls when she spoke to a local women's group. The Sterling Opera House was the gem of Derby. Unfortunately, the gem lost it's luster and the Opera House closed it's doors in 1945. For the next 20 years, it served as a police substation until finally shuttering it's doors in the 1960s. The property would remain neglected and abandoned until the good people of Derby decided to bring it back. In addition to ongoing renovations at the opera house, the adjacent courthouse recently got an upgrade.
The author with paranormal investigator Bill Murray
Paranormal investigators claim the Opera House is haunted. Local residents have shared stories of seeing spirit like mists and orbs. They have seen a Victorian woman with a child and have heard the voices of children. They have reported hand prints of a child in several locations. Many believe it to be the spirit of a young boy named Andy. Visitors have even left toys around the opera house for him to play with. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it was enough for the television program Ghost Hunters to investigate. The space was featured in an episode of the popular show. Yet, the question remains. Have the spirits traveled into the adjacent court house? Is the Derby Court House haunted as well? Could the spirit of Houdini help your client escape jail time?
The author with paranormal investigator Dan Akroyd
Ghost hunting aside, if you would like to contribute to the restoration of this once grand structure, I encourage you to visit www.saveoursterling.org