A haunted mansion in New York built by the founder of the F.W. Woolworth’s retail chain was gutted this week by a mysterious fire – nearly 100 years after it was built to replace a previous mansion also destroyed by a mysterious fire. Did the ghost of the founder’s daughter have anything to do with it?
Before there was Sam Walton and Walmart, there was Frank Winfield “F.W.” Woolworth and the “Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store,” one of the first retail stores to sell household goods. Started in 1878 in Utica, New York, it became one of the world’s largest retail chains before competitors like Walmart forced it out of business in 1997.
Little is written about the mysterious fire that destroyed Woolworth’s first mansion. To replace it, he spent nine million dollars (in today’s money) on Winfield Hall in the exclusive Glen Cove neighborhood on Long Island, finishing it in 1916. Besides being opulent, the house was mysteriously riddled with secret passages and hidden chambers. Unfortunately, the house also seemed to bring a curse on the Woolworth family.
The dementia suffered by his wife, Jennie Creighton, worsened there. On the night of May 2, 1917, F.W. Woolworth hosted a party at the mansion during a thunderstorm. As the story goes, a bolt of lightning struck a marble fireplace, cracking the family coat of arms above the mantle right through the face of Edna Woolworth Hutton, their second of three daughters. The next morning, Edna was found by her 5-year-old daughter Barbara, dead by self-poisoning.
After that, an apparition of a young woman was often seen wandering in the halls and gardens of Winfield Hall, organ music was heard playing and there were at least 30 reports of crying coming from the "Marie Antoinette" room where Edna allegedly took her life – a room that locked after her death and never again opened. There were rumors that the secret passages were used for practicing the black arts. F.W. Woolworth died less than a year after Edna at the age of 66. Barbara Hutton eventually inherited the family fortune and squandered it during her own troubled life.
Winfield Hall eventually left the Woolworth family and is now owned by Martin Carey, the brother of former New York Governor Hugh Carey. The fire began in a first floor bedroom and spread quickly until 150 firefighters eventually. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Was this Edna’s final act of closing the book on the Woolworth story?