It was a dark and stormy night last July when I visited Burn Brae Mansion in Glen Spey—seriously, that evening was one of the worst thunderstorms of the summer. But I considered myself lucky—after all, I came here to be scared, and I assumed that the severe rain and strong winds would only amplify things (and otherworldly beings) that go bump in the night.
When our edit staff heard about a haunted bed and breakfast in the region, we knew we had to check it out. Call me crazy, but I volunteered, even before knowing why the house was a hotspot for paranormal activity. I love Halloween and horror stories—but I’ve always been skeptical about the existence of ghosts. I hoped that an overnight at Burn Brae would show me the (eerie) light.
The manse was built in 1907 by Charles Elkin and Margaret Ross Mackenzie Elkin, daughter of George Ross Mackenzie, who was the third president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Over the decades, the property has been a private estate, a boarding house, a tearoom during prohibition, and for the last 13 years, a bed and breakfast.
Mike and Pat Fraysse, who purchased Burn Brae in 1993, were initially drawn to the home for its large size and proximity to the T-Town velodrome cycling track in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania. Mike, a prominent cycling coach and former president of the U.S. Cycling Federation, needed a place for his coaches and trainees to stay. Peaceful Glen Spey, with its winding roads and hills, was also an ideal place to train away from the official track. At the time, the home was subdivided into apartments with a few renters that kept their leases under the new ownership. To the Fraysse’s surprise, there were also a few more, well, permanent tenants.
As Mike recalls, they didn’t start to suspect that the house was haunted until most of the renters left. With fewer people living there, it was harder to explain the sounds of footsteps and children’s voices. “We’d have people stay over and say that they couldn’t sleep with the baby crying all night. Well, there weren’t any babies here,” he said.
While there’s no record of any murders or violent activity at Burn Brae, several members of the Elkin family are buried in nearby Glen Spey cemetery. Charles and Margaret Elkin’s four-year-old daughter Elsey passed away in 1893 before the house was built, and grandchild Levi died at birth in 1940. More recently, the Hapijs—an elderly couple who were among the renters allowed to stay when the Fraysses’ bought Burn Brae—died in their apartment in 2005 and 2006.
The owners, curious about the strange sounds themselves, called ghostbusters—aka South Jersey Ghost Research. After a three-day investigation using motion and heat sensors, cameras, voice recorders, and even a team member with alleged psychic abilities, the group recorded more than 180 photos and sounds of ghosts and confirmed that Burn Brae is, indeed, haunted.
While the news may have been unsettling to most homeowners, the Fraysse’s embraced it. In fact, their son-in-law Andy had been hosting murder mystery dinners at Burn Brae since before it was certified scary. The couple, who began running the property solely as a B&B in 2010, also began hosting annual haunted walks in the woods behind the house, complete with Halloween props. While the beauty of the area and 20-plus acres surrounding the home are both popular draws, most guests come for the possibility of meeting poltergeists. The proprietors also frequently welcome paranormal investigative groups, including crews from the TV shows “Ghost Adventures” and “Ghost Nation.”
Burn Brae is in rural Sullivan County. Getting there from my home in Kingston involved screenshotting Waze directions (for when the cell service cut out) and navigating a windy drive along the Hawk’s Nest above the Delaware River.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by Pat, who led me through a grand dining room and parlor decorated with antique furniture, sports memorabilia, and a lot of dolls. Then we went upstairs to my room: a small suite with a queen bed and bathroom. During the calm before the evening storm, the mansion looked light and airy—the lace curtains flowing in the breeze gave the interior an almost dreamy quality.
Although it’s officially a bed and breakfast, Mike and Pat also provide dinner for guests. We were joined by their daughter and son-in-law Susan and Andy Russ, who helped fill me in on the mansion’s history of hauntings. They told me about the time that guests looking at the house from the front yard claimed they could see a couple playing chess through the upstairs window. They also talked about a group of girls who were brought to Burn Brae to film the show “Psychic Kids,” who told Pat during dinner that they were looking forward to the cookies they smelled in the house earlier. Pat hadn’t made any cookies, but Mrs. Hapij used to bake all the time…
Other unexplained occurrences include doors opening and slamming shut, children’s voices and balls bouncing in the attic, animal sounds, and apparitions of a woman dressed in white and a man in turn-of-the-century dress.
Andy said he’s had encounters with a spirit named Ellie (who Susan believes is Elsey Elkin). One time, when a group of ghost-hunters who stayed at Burn Brae were using dowsing rods to contact suspected spirits, Andy joined. Dowsing rods are held in each hand and can be used to ask yes or no questions in a similar fashion to a Ouija board—they’ll move left for yes, right for no. Although the rods signaled strongly after each question, Andy wasn’t convinced. So he asked Ellie to move an attic toy if she was indeed communicating with them. A trip upstairs was all the evidence he needed—a single Smurf figurine was separated from the group and sitting across the room.
I could sense the hundreds of sets of doll and toy figurines eyes following my every move.
I tried to prepare myself for all these possibilities. After a dinner of pork française, Susan and Andy took me to the “attic of curiosities.” On the way up, we stopped for a look into a closet jam-packed with dolls (which was much scarier than any attic, in my opinion). Burn Brae has dolls scattered throughout the rooms to amp up the eeriness, but this closet was beyond creepy. Some were new, several were cracked, and many were missing body parts. While the Fraysses have purchased dolls over the years, a lot of them are gifts from guests who are happy to add to the collection.
By 9:30 p.m., I was left alone in the great room downstairs. The Fraysses had retired to their apartment on the south end of the house, and Susan and Andy returned to the horse stables-turned-motel on the property, where they were staying. I had the privilege (if you could consider it that) of being the only guest at the inn and was given free rein to explore. But before I got started, a loud crack of thunder and a bright lightning strike shook me and the house. If a storm could put me on edge, I knew I had a long night ahead of me. I don’t know what I was more worried about—seeing or hearing a ghost, or not experiencing anything supernatural at all.
Earlier, Andy showed me the “ghost-hunting” equipment that they keep onsite—an electromagnetic field reader, a surface temperature gauge (to look for cool spots, an alleged indicator of ghosts), and dowsing rods. All guests are welcome to use the tools, so I took the gear upstairs with me.
First, I spent some time sitting in each of the six bedrooms, waiting for something to happen and scanning entries from the guest logs on the night tables. I read that a week before my visit, a couple who stayed in the Hapij’s old bedroom (now called the Mackenzie Suite) reported hearing a chair scratch along the wood floor. “We were not sure if our imagination got the best of us, but then, the chair moved toward the bed. We both saw it,” wrote a couple that was “too scared to leave names” in the book.
Other notes detailed more common occurrences, like a cat mewling, children giggling, and footsteps up and down the hallways in the middle of the night. One review from 2007 haunted me: “I experienced the most sense of fear while just lying there, almost like I was being watched,” said a former guest who stayed in the room across the hall from mine.
I steeled myself to investigate the attic once more. The room looks like an overstuffed antiques store, packed to the rafters with toys, knick-knacks, and even movie props. While perusing the shelves, I felt like I had company, which I chalked up to two possibilities: one, there was a presence in the attic, or two, I could sense the hundreds of sets of doll and toy figurine eyes following my every move.
I eventually made my way back to my room—by now, it was after 11 p.m. and the storm was gaining strength. After several deafening cracks of thunder, the power went out. I was so grateful to be back in my room—if I had been in the attic, I am sure I would have screamed. I quickly closed and locked my bedroom door. (I realize that a locked door wouldn’t deter a spirit, but it made me feel better.) The wind started whipping, and then I heard three doors down the hall from me slamming shut in quick succession, followed by more thunder. I was startled, but then I remembered that the windows in most of the bedrooms had been left open since the daytime, so I wasn’t surprised. I got into bed and hoped I would fall asleep fast.
When I woke up around 7 a.m., I was honestly a bit disappointed that I hadn’t seen or heard any apparitions. But when I left my room, I noticed that every door in my hallway—the ones I heard slam shut the night before—was wide open. Someone opened those doors—but it wasn’t the Fraysses, who were still asleep on the other side of the house, and it wasn’t me…
Breakfast was served promptly at 9 a.m., and despite the power outage, Mike was able to whip up great pancakes on the gas stove. I soon said my goodbyes and was on my way back to my own ghost-free home. I chalked up my experience with the doors as more than enough to mark the stay as a success.