‘Mystery on Morton Hill: A Ghostly Whodunnit’

Published 9:26 am Thursday, March 13, 2014

Last year’s Mystery Theater had a ‘Speak Easy’ theme. (Submitted photo)

Last year’s Mystery Theater had a ‘Speak Easy’ theme. (Submitted photo)

BENTON HARBOR — Perched on a hill just north of old downtown Benton Harbor, the home of the Mortons, one of the town’s three founding families, still stands. Built in 1849 by Eleazar Morton and his son Henry, the house lays claim to being the oldest building in town, preserved first by the Benton Harbor Federation of Women’s Clubs and later by the Morton House Museum Board.

While the museum is closed for the season until the end of April, guests who would like to take a peek inside the 165-year-old house will have a special opportunity to do so on March 22 and 23. On those days, the museum board will be presenting “Mystery on Morton Hill: A Ghostly Whodunnit.”

“This is actually our second mystery theater. We had a ‘speak easy’ theme last year,” said Debbi Hodgson Geib, a member of the board who has been involved with the museum for 20 years. “This year, the mystery is about a ghost hunter who comes to the house. The mystery is ‘Who killed the ghost hunter and why?’”

Joining the museum board in presenting the mystery will be costumed actors—Mike Nadolski, Meghan Pelkey, Tony Balbo, Joel Smiedendorf, Andy Stern, Sarah Spoonholtz and Patricia Gray.

“Several of them are with TORP, the improv group at The Citadel, and they were involved in last year’s Mystery on Morton Hill,” Geib said. “We are thrilled to have them back—it was such a wonderful experience last year!”

Guests will be invited to go on hour-long tours through the house between the hours of 5:30 and 8 p.m. on Saturday and between 1 and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Reservations, which can be made by calling (269) 876-7692 or (269) 325-5828, are strongly recommended as the event sold out last year.

“We’ll have the actors in various rooms, guests will cycle through, get clues in various rooms and submit their guess at the end. There will be a prize drawing for those who have guessed correctly,” Geib said. “After the tour is over, guests will be welcome to mingle and enjoy snacks and beverages.”

The board members have also invited a special guest to be on-hand for the weekend’s events: a ghost hunter from the Indiana Michigan Paranormal Society (IMPS).

“She will have some pictures, her equipment, and hopefully EVPs for them to listen to,” Geib said, referring to electronic voice phenomena.

This will not be the first time that ghost hunters have visited the Morton House.

“We’ve had ghost hunters come in the past, and they’ve gotten some amazing photographs and amazing EVPs,” Geib said. “We have residents—ghosts. From hearing the different voices, we think they are mainly Morton family members. There were also two Swedish sisters who were expecting to get the house, but they didn’t. They seem to hang out around the kitchen.”

A recently acquired portrait of Polly Klock is also rumored to be a source of some inexplicable experiences.

The Morton House’s reputation as being currently occupied by “residents” serves as a fine reason for holding a “ghostly whodunit,” the funds from which will benefit efforts to further preserve the home.

However, the house’s documented history and contents offer reason enough for lovers of history to visit the location at 501 Territorial Rd., whether they are believers in the paranormal, or not.

“Members of the Morton family first came over on the ‘Anne’ in the 1630s to Plymouth Plantation,” said Denise Reeves, president of the museum board.

The family continued living in New England until Eleazar eventually moved to Benton Harbor, building a log cabin among the Native Americans. The current house underwent several renovations over the decades that the family resided there.

“Four generations of the family lived here,” added Miriam Pede, another museum board member. “They occupied the home until 1937.”

The Mortons were instrumental in the development and growth of Benton Harbor. Not only did they own a 600-acre peach orchard, but family members were also responsible for digging the town’s shipping canal, enabling Benton Harbor to grow into a bustling harbor town in its heyday.

As partners in the Graham and Morton Transportation Company, the Mortons were responsible for much of the shipping that took place in the early years of the town. As Pede noted, they even maintained a Chicago office. One of their ships, “The Chicora,” is famous among Great Lakes shipwrecks.

Because of the family’s rich and varied exploits, visitors to the Morton House can learn about a wide range of historical topics.

More information about the house, which will be open on Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m., can be found at www.mortonhousemuseum.org. A Facebook page, Morton House Museum, is an additional resource for upcoming events.