RISEUP was invited to investigate a location that many say is the most haunted site in Rhode Island - the
Governor Sprague Mansion in Cranston. The mansion has seen its share of paranormal investigations and has been
the focus of an episode of 'Ghost Hunters' on the SyFy network. Armed with a large dossier of the history of
Sprague Mansion and its significance to Rhode Islanders - both historically and paranormally - we embarked on one
of our most intriguing and rewarding investigations to date.
To read the Cranston Herald's account of the Sprague investigation of 9/23, click here.
RISEUP Investigators Present: Ken DeCosta
Geographical and Historical Data
Located in what was once Spragueville (also known as the Cranston Mill Village), the 200 year old, lovely
Sprague Mansion still stands as a tribute to RI ‘s textile history. It was from this house that the Sprague family
founded the Sprague Print Works in 1808. That company was the roots of what is today, the Cranston Print Works
(below), the only continuously operating textile printer in America.
The mill owners’ house, the mill, the church and the mill villages are still intact as reminders of who built the
United States - hard working men and women, many of them immigrants looking to build new lives in America. The
Sprague family ruled the cotton textile industry of New England. Three generations of the family lived in this
Mansion and controlled the lives of thousands of mill workers.
Born at the Sprague Mansion on September 12, 1830, William Sprague (above) went on to follow in his father’s
footsteps when he inherited the A. & W. Sprague Manufacturing Company in 1856 with his brother, Amasa
Sprague. The Sprague Company was the richest textile company in the United States at the time of Civil War, They
were operating five cotton mills supplying greige goods to the Cranston Print Works for calico printing. Before the
Civil War broke out, Governor Sprague was the first governor to offer his militia to President Lincoln for defense of
Washington DC against the rebels. For his foresight, he is known as the ‘first volunteer of the Civil War.” He is also
called “Lincoln’s War Governor”. Governor Sprague saw battle under fire at the first Battle of Bull Run with the
Rhode Island Volunteers. He voted with Senator Henry B. Anthony for the impeachment of President Andrew
Johnson against the wishes of presiding Chief Justice of the United State Supreme Court, Salmon P Chase, his
The Sprague family also saw their share of tragedy. Amasa Sprague was brutally murdered on his property on New
Year's Eve, 1843. He was discovered with a fractured skull as the result of two blows to the head and a gunshot
wound to his right wrist. Making the event even more ghastly was the fact that it was his wife's birthday as well as
their wedding anniversary. A local Irish immigrant named John Gordon was convicted of the murder as the result of
a sensational trial which for all intents and purposes was heavily weighted against him from the very start. Strong
hostilities existed between local settlers and Irish immigrants like Gordon and Sprague had gone so far as to
influence the city council to suspend Gordon's license as he thought little of his workers frequenting Gordon's
barroom. It was all but a foregone conclusion then that Gordon murdered Sprague out of revenge. Gordon was
convicted and hanged for his "offense" even though the evidence against him was purely circumstantial and his
innocence has since all but been established. As a result of this miscarriage of justice, the death penalty was
abolished in R.I. and Gordon remains to this day the last person ever condemned to death in the state of Rhode
Byron Sprague, son of William III, was s successful businessman and philanthropist who also met with a series
of misfortunes. Upon his retirement, he invested in a grand hotel at Rocky Point which burned down before it even
opened. Before that he was implicated in what was to be called the ‘Texas Affair’ – smuggling guns in exchange for
cotton. Weapons and machinery were cleared for foreign ports, but wound up in Texas where they were sold in
exchange for cotton to be shipped north. William said it was done to aid Union citizens in Texas and obtain
information for the government. Byron, ever the honest man, admitted it was simply to get the cotton out. He
was jailed briefly, but eventually pardoned and died two years after his release. His two children, William and Mary,
had previously died of illness three months apart at the ages of 3 and 10 respectively.
Gov. William Sprague had married "The Belle of Washington", Kate Chase (above), daughter of Salmon Chase
who was Secretary of the Treasury and later Chief Justice of the US. She was a brilliant woman who was a driving
force in the building of their home, Canonchet on Naragansett Pier at a total cost of $1,000,000. It was a stormy
relationship that ended in divorce. Jealousies were involved and Kate fled to Jamaica with their three children as
divorce proceedings began. Sprague lost his fortune in the financial panic of 1873. He died in Paris, broke and
desolate in 1915.
William Sprague Sr. also died in a tragic manner as he died in surgery after choking on a bone during breakfast
one morning at the mansion.
William Sprague V, the only son of William and Kate, lost his job, became despondent and committed suicide in
Washington state in 1890.
The spirit of what is assumed to be Amasa Sprague has been reported walking down the main stairway leading
to the upper floors of the mansion (below). This apparition has also been seen and felt in the basement wine cellar,
sometimes in the form of an icy cold blast of air inside the otherwise sealed room.
A 'lady in black' has been spotted in the mansion's cupola from the street (below).
Ethel L. Duckworth, the wife of Cranston Print Works manager Harry Duckworth reported the first recorded
‘incident’ in 1928. She had been alone in the wine cellar when she felt someone brush by her arm.
In October of 2008, the president of the Cranston Historical Society reported hearing her name very loud and
clearly inside the mansion when she was alone inside.
In June of 2009, the vice-president of the Cranston Historical Society went outside for the mail and heard
footsteps coming up the front stairs after he re-entered the mansion. The footsteps were then heard on the second
floor. He found this encounter quite disturbing.
The reflection of Kate Chase has been seen in the mirror that once was mounted in the Grand Ballroom.
The spirit of a man simply known as 'Charlie the Butler' is said to roam the mansion. In 1968, a caretaker at
the house held a séance in which a gentleman named Charlie was contacted. Charlie claimed to have had a
daughter whom he hoped would someday marry a Sprague. When this did not happen, he became extremely
agitated at the loss of a potential fortune. During the session, the words "my land...my land" were spelled out
Bedding has been pulled off while guests were asleep in their rooms.
Inside the 'Doll Room' (since removed), lights have been known to flicker on and off, footsteps have been heard
and many feel a strange presence inside with them. One anonymous member who passed away some time ago
saw what he described as a “filmy white thing” in a tiny enclosed room. He saw this vision in 1968 as CHS
members were painting and restoring the mansion to ready it for public viewing.
One of the more intriguing claims that has never been widely reported concerns an antique display that hangs from
a second floor bedroom wall. It contains snippets of hair from the Sprague children and is mounted over a dressing
table, also from that era. The table (pictured below) has a marble top on which a ceramic bowl containing some
personal items rests. We were informed that one day, the vice-president heard a loud crash from upstairs. Alone in
the mansion, he apprehensively dashed up the stairs to survey any potential damage. To his astonishment, he
found the display face down on the floor in front of the table. Oddly, neither piece displayed any damage
whatsoever and by all appearances it seemed the display had completely missed hitting the table at all! Looking at
this picture it is difficult to fathom how this could have happened without any contact between the two antique
items. Yet nothing - even the relatively heavy display with a glass cover - exhibited even the slightest scratch mark
on it. The floors are wooden oak and the fall would cover about about 4 feet.
We arrived at 6 pm at the mansion and our base was set up in the Grand Ballroom and our investigators were
disbursed throughout the mansion on each floor as well as the basement where we would spend a great deal of
time in the wine cellar. 8 IR static cameras were placed throughout the home, focusing on the areas most reported
to be the centers of activity. We met with representatives of the Cranston Historical Society who were encouraged
to join us as we conducted our investigation.
On this particular evening, we were participating in a live radio broadcast wherein the host would check in with
us from time to time to discuss the progress of our investigation. The broadcast was to take place in an isolated
section of the mansion so as not to interfere with our own endeavors.
The following clip is a video summary of the investigation. Individual clips are posted below in the case
Shayna and Emily were in a second floor bedroom conducting an EVP session. The focus of their efforts was on a
young girl who passed away in the mansion. It's believed this might be Mary Waterman Sprague, daughter of
Byron Sprague who passed away at the age of 10 in 1850.
Both women were just settling in for their audio session when, unbeknownst to them, we were recording one of
the most fascinating and exciting EVPs we would ever obtain. At 0:09 we hear the voice of a young child under that
of Shayna. There certainly were no children present and this remains one of our most compelling audio recordings
"Mommy, mommy, mommy..."
Ryan and Ken were in the same second floor bedroom (below) a couple of hours later when Ryan - who was
sitting on the floor propped against a bed - stated he clearly felt what he was certain was a hand running down the
back of his head. There was no fabric dangling nor anything else that could have been mistaken for this. Ryan's
head level was above mattress level at the time.
While our groups were down in the wine cellar, we neither documented nor experienced anything unusual there
whatsoever. The same was true of the cupola. In fact, with a number of items stored up there related to ongoing
renovations, including brooms leaned up against walls, it stands to reason that any number of these could be
misidentified as the figure of a person from street level outside.
One particularly rousing personal experience also took place on the second floor and involved co-founder Dave
DeCosta. Dave was heading up there sometime toward the end of our investigation and saw movement in one of
the bedrooms. Thinking it was a member of our group, he ventured inside the room to check in but found no one
there. Glancing to his left, he saw a defined shadow in the small vestibule that opened to an adjacent bedroom
(pictured below). Dave walked toward the shadow, but it quickly vanished again, pulling back around a corner.
Dave continued his pursuit out to the second floor hallway, but whatever he had seen simply vanished from sight.
During the night, we did manage to capture two more anomalous voices on digital recorder. The first tests our
resolve a bit as we wished it could be a bit clearer. Many times one's anticipation for a positive response to a
question can lead to misidentification of a sound as being a word, especially in "yes" or "no"-type circumstances.
With that said, after analyzing the clip through our sound program, we remain convinced we indeed hear a positive
response of “it is not” at 0:04 that is not the voice of an investigator or something ambient in nature. The listener
may arrive at their own conclusion.
“Is this a member of the Sprague family?”
The authenticity of the second clip requires a bit of background knowledge about the Spragues, particularly
William and Kate. They once owned a summer home called 'Canonchet' (left) located in Narragansett, R.I. The
backdrop was Scarborough Beach and Kate decided to build the "largest, finest, and showiest" house in Rhode
Island. At the time William Sprague was one of the wealthiest men in the United States and could easily afford the
reputed cost of $600,000 (about $8 million in 2011 dollars) to fulfill his wife's dream. The Sprague mansion
predated the Newport mansions by several years. This was a most beloved sanctuary for the Spragues until their
bitter divorce and a subsequent fire in 1909 that all but destroyed the home. (southcountymuseum.org)
Canonchet Farm during the Sprague ownership and as it looks today
Our clip features Ryan inquiring about the origins of whomever may still remain in Sprague Mansion and if they
could come and go as they pleased. The response we got at 0:04 makes little sense until you dig a bit deeper into
the background of this enigmatic family.
For those interested or active in paranormal investigation, particularly in Rhode Island, the Sprague Mansion
has always been a mysterious and wondrous place where history intersects the supernatural. Quite often these
types of 'marriages of convenience' never quite live up to the hyperbole, but in this particular instance, we can
conclude that indeed something very odd is happening in this little corner of the world.
We were welcomed with open arms by the Cranston Historical Society and allowed a rare in-depth look at not
only a physical treasure, but a deeper glimpse into the lives of the family responsible for its very existence. Both
triumphs and tragedies.
We left Sprague Mansion with little to no doubt that some claims of paranormal activity there have a basis in
fact and that what has been reported by guests and staff alike signal an existing presence of its former inhabitants
to this day. While it is sometimes difficult to distinguish truth from legend in such places, our personal experiences
speak clearly that something indeed is highly unusual and beguiling about the Sprague Mansion.
Our fondest hope is to return for another night and further our exploration into one of Rhode Island's most
treasured and intriguing locations.