By Dena A. Edwards
Photographs of the Stone Lion Inn in Guthrie show a beautiful Victorian mansion, worthy of any Main Street, America. A house that should be nestled in between pristine Queen Anne homes, patriotic bunting lining their welcoming porches. Instead, this century-old bed and breakfast dominates a street filled with small cottage houses that have peeling paint and overgrown lawns – the perfect setting for a haunted house.
Back in the early 1900s, a large family once lived and played in the 8,000-square-foot mansion … many believe some of those family members still do. The infamous B&B is reputed to be haunted, and has been featured on the national scene on both Today.com Travel, as well as SciFi Channel’s “Ghost Hunters.”
Built in 1907 when Guthrie was the capital of our brand new state, the three-story (with full basement) white painted home was at the time the most expensive house in the state, with construction costs at $11,900 (most houses averaged $800 to $1,200 at that time). The owner, F.E. Houghton – who came to Oklahoma Territory during the Land Run of 1889 – was the founder of Cotton Oil Company and the owner of the first car dealership in Oklahoma. The Houghton family had outgrown the small house in which they lived, so he commissioned a large home next door – their dream home.
The most prominent feature on the home is the deep covered porch that wraps around the front and sides of the residence. A covered drive on one side once provided shelter for loading and unloading passengers from horse-drawn buggies. A half dozen steps, flanked by a pair of stone lions, lead up to the front door. Classical columns and a spindle balustrade decorate the porch edge. Matching balustrades line both the second and third floor roof lines, as well as form a square on the peak of the house. These white spindle “fences” were not original to the home, but add a graceful touch and sense of hominess to the structure.
The two-story round bow window on the front corner gives the appearance of a typical Queen Anne tower, minus the pointed rooftop, and the centered second-story bay window simulates an oriel window – another Queen Anne characteristic. Undoubtedly, the most unique features on the stately inn are the third-story Dutch gables that are centered on each side of the home for a crowning touch. The black trim delineates their graceful broken pediment shapes.
With the small concrete obelisk “Trolley Stop” marker on the front lawn, the overall appearance of the Stone Lion Inn is one of old-fashioned graceful grandeur. Then you walk through the carved wooden front door, which still has a large remnant of the original stained glass preserved between clear panes, and into another dimension.
The original Victorian architecture of England in the 1800s was in response to the new ability to mass produce. Furniture which up to that point in time had only been available to the wealthy was suddenly available to the masses. Common people felt that the more furniture they could display, the wealthier they would seem, so they crammed furniture and accompanying accessories into every available nook and cranny. Stone Lion Inn owner Rebecca Luker kept this style when decorating her inn and filled it with turn-of-the-century furnishings, some antiques and replicas – like the Egyptian sarcophagus that dominates the narrow foyer. Although King Tut’s tomb wasn’t discovered until 1922, which began the frenzy of Egyptian design motifs in homes, it wasn’t uncommon for Egyptian pieces to be found in Victorian homes. And with the haunted reputation of Stone Lion Inn, the piece adds to the ambiance.
Sharing the foyer, and usually topped with refreshments for guests, is a large, unique white ceramic table. This table has been in the house since it was leased to the Smith family in the 1920s. For about eight years, the family converted the house into a funeral home, and the table was in the kitchen … used to embalm the dead.
True to Victorian design, the interior of the inn has a myriad of small cozy rooms, with low ceilings and dark woodwork, much of which is carved or decorated with dentil molding. With a little cleaning, the doors, trim, baseboards and floor of the lower level were revealed to be golden oak. On the second story, the wood was all white pine, as no company was allowed beyond the main level back in the early 1900s, Luker explained. So, they used the best wood below, and lesser in the family areas.
Those family areas were extensive, as the Houghton family had a dozen children. Or they would have, had one of their young daughters not tragically died before moving into their dream house. Eight-year-old Irene contracted whooping cough, and her maid gave her too much cough medicine. At that time, medicine contained opium, and the girl overdosed. She was never able to enjoy the third floor, which the family converted into a playroom with a large toy closet. It now sits empty, unused by anyone but possibly Irene, whose footsteps can often be heard creaking up the back staircase deep in the night, followed by the opening and closing of the toy closet door.
Oriental rugs soften the floor and separate functional spaces throughout the home. Floral wallpaper covers the walls, and lacy curtains frame not only the windows, but many of the doorways. Currently, the large inn has two dining rooms, a large living room, kitchen, powder bath and guest room with bath downstairs; and five guest rooms and baths, as well as three sitting rooms on the second level. Many of these small bathrooms were originally walk-in closets, a feature nearly unheard of in 1907. One of the downstairs dining areas was a gentleman’s smoking parlor, and Luker said the original heavy draperies that covered the doorway kept the smoke from the main living area. This living area still has the original built-in glass-fronted bookcase, and a lovely carved wood piano fills the bow window niche.
The second floor is filled with cozy guest rooms and spaces. When Luker first moved into the house in 1986, she did so with her two young sons, her mother and a full framing crew of seven men to help add bathrooms for future guests. She and her sons lived on the third story, but with that many people living in the house, the footsteps up to her door in the middle of the night didn’t faze her. But when it was just Luker and her sons, it did. A few calls to the police during the night turned up nothing, and Luker began to wonder who or what shared her home with her. Then her 7-year-old son had the housekeeper, Michelle, make extra treats for his third-story guest – the little girl who lived in the toy closet.
“He was very matter-of-fact about it,” said Luker, who began to research the house. She and her sons moved out in 1996, but she returns to host guests for her murder mystery weekends. The overnight dinner adventures are not based upon the house history, but do take place in the first half of the 20th century, and guests experience and solve a murder during the event.
Claiming herself a skeptic, Luker nonetheless often heard laughter, voices, footsteps, and opening and shutting of doors in empty rooms. Michelle has twice been locked in the basement with the sliding deadlbolt lock, although no one else was home. And she has seen the ghost of an older man in an old-fashioned gray suit and bowler hat – a man several others have seen as well, whom Christy Clark, director of Oklahoma Paranormal Research and Investigation, calls “Edward.”
Clark, who has spent many hours investigating the house and who has witnessed several unexplained experiences in the Stone Lion Inn, believes Edward to be from the time when the inn was a funeral home. “He is a prankster. One day, I was sitting at the table reading my notes, and he popped over my shoulder and actually said, ‘Boo!’ He tries to scare me.”
Another time, Clark saw Irene take a doll out of the guest suite with the attached nursery, walk across the room, smile, giggle and then disappear. Many guests have claimed to be awakened in the middle of the night by a child patting their cheek or playing with their hair – only to wake and find their hair in mysterious braids. At a family reunion Luker hosted, one of her adult cousins awakened during the night and saw Edward peering over her shoulder in the bathroom mirror.
Luker said no one has ever felt physically threatened by her ghosts, but many are spooked, some even leaving in the middle of the night. During the past year, the house seems to have been excited when people return for the weekend, Luker said. On Friday afternoons, all the doors on the empty second floor will slam shut in sequence, like a sort of greeting, she said.
OKPRI is inviting people to attend one of their late night investigations of Stone Lion Inn on Sunday, October 9. Of course, the murder mystery weekends offer the curious a chance to experience for themselves a night in the haunted Stone Lion Inn. For more information, go to www.stonelioninn.com or call 282-0012.
Voice recordings, photographs, temperature readings, visual manifestations – all are evidence to the existence of ghosts in the Victorian mansion. So is the Stone Lion Inn really haunted?
“Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt,” Clark said. “I believe that 100%, no question.”