Marjim Manor's Ghost Stories Have Historical Roots

Throughout its history, the large, two-story Marjim Manor has seen its share of tragedy and heartache.

Since buying the property in 2003, Margo Sue Bittner has looked through old newspaper articles and historical records, piecing together the history of the house.

The ghost stories associated with the home all have their roots in that history, she said.

“I love this house as much as (the ghosts) do,” she said. “I’m restoring it back to what it was, and they seem to really like that. They seem to really like the fact that I’m (interested in) the actual history.”

The story begins with Shubal Scudder Merritt, who bought the land in 1834 and began building a home, which he called Appleton Hall.

Shubal’s wife, Sophia, was with relatives in New York City when the home was being built. She visited the building site once, then returned to New York City, where she died before the building was completed.

Shubal moved into Appleton Hall with his daughters, Phoebe Sophia and Cordelia, and his son, Lewis.

Lewis is said to have had a rock garden on the property, centered around a 500-pound rock called the “Morgan Stone.” The stone was said to have been tied to a man named William Morgan when he was thrown into the Niagara River after he threatened to reveal the secrets of the Masons.

As the legend goes, William Morgan walks the grounds, searching for his stone, Bittner said.

Lewis was the first to die in the home, the victim of an accidental shooting.

One Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m., Shubal was cleaning his gun in the living room when Lewis walked through the French doors. His father turned around to face him, and the gun discharged, killing Lewis.

Bittner said Shubal ordered the doors to be shut for good. Every day at 3 p.m., Shubal would walk through the house calling for his son — and on Thursdays at 3 p.m., the French doors would mysteriously swing open.

There are differing accounts of Shubal’s own death, Bittner said, but one fact is always constant: Shubal also died on a Thursday at 3 p.m.

Phoebe Sophia Merritt, moved into the house with her husband, Lucius Adams. The couple completed many renovations on the property.

One day, she was in the living room when the French doors burst open, startling her.

“She looked up, gasped and fell down dead,” Bittner said.

Again, it was a Thursday, at 3 p.m.

The Adams family moved out, and the home fell into disrepair. Years passed, and it was rented to a man named John Morley, whom Bittner said was very lonely in the house.

On May 26, 1867, Morley scratched a poem on the wall near a window: “It is lonely here for me/When evening is coming on/My friends never know my loss/Till I am dead and gone.”

Morley died that night, and Bittner said his body was found the following Thursday, at 3 p.m.

In 1895, the house was bought by Dr. Charles Ring, who was the director of the Buffalo Home for the Insane. Ring and his wife, Hannah, created the first peach orchard in the county.

Hannah died in 1907, and Ring became engaged to E. Estelle Morse, who was a “shrewd businesswoman,” Bittner said. Morse convinced Ring to revise his will so she would inherit the house upon his death.

The following year, on a Thursday, at 3 p.m., servants heard a thud from Ring’s bedroom. They broke down the door and found him dead at his desk.

Morse then married John Whitwell, the caretaker from the house next door, and they remained there for several years until Morse’s death.

In 1933, the Sisters of St. Joseph bought the property and added a two-story enclosed porch. The home was used as a summer camp for girls and a training place for the students of St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Batavia.

One nun, Sister Christina, had a dog named Duke, who loved to lie in front of the fireplace in the dining room, which is now the winery’s main tasting room.

“Duke loved that room,” Bittner said. “Like any dog, he wanted the handouts.”

One Thursday at 3 p.m., Duke stood up, barked at the doors, then lay down and died — the final Thursday death recorded in the house.

The Sisters had many other ghost stories to tell, which lends them credibility, Bittner said.

“If you can't believe Sisters, who can you believe?” she said.

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