‘The Money Pit’ — the Johnstown edition

Olde Knox Mansion said to be haunted
The Knox Mansion in Johnstown
The Knox Mansion in Johnstown

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It’s only mid-September, but horror film character Michael Myers is already hanging out behind a potted fern on the porch at Johnstown’s Olde Knox Mansion.

Beside the front door, two skeletons, seated at a wicker table, appear to be socializing, oblivious to his presence.

It’s a little too early for Halloween decorations, but those porch-haunters look like they belong there. Maybe that’s because the mansion, built for Knox Gelatine Company founder Charles Knox and his wife, Rose, is said to be haunted.

Present owners Martin and Fawn Quinn are working to restore the mansion, funding much of the work with events that highlight the home’s history and reported hauntings.

“You know the movie The Money Pit?” asked Martin Quinn, during a recent tour of the home. “I’m living it. You do one thing, there’s another one to fix. You do another thing and there’s even more to fix. It’s definitely a challenge. It seems like I go to work, come home, and then I really work.”

Read more stories from Fall Home 2018.Quinn works nights as a machine operator at FAGE USA Dairy Industry in Johnstown, while his wife works days at the Home of the Good Shepherd in Saratoga Springs. In their spare time, they offer house tours, care for their kids and chip away at endless home restoration projects.

Their 42-room Victorian neo-classical mansion cost $1.2M to build. Upon its completion in 1898, it boasted modern amenities coveted at that time, including indoor plumbing and a central vacuum system.

Rose Knox, the home’s original mistress, died in 1950, outliving her husband by 42 years. After her death, the mansion changed owners several times, and eventually fell into the hands of antique dealers who, according to Quinn, stripped the place and sold off everything from chandeliers to porch railings.

Quinn purchased the home in 1993 for $179,000. At that time, it was completely empty and had fallen into disrepair. The roof was leaking, paint was peeling and ceilings had collapsed. But hints of the home’s original splendor remained, and today are among its most stunning features.

Bill Trojan/For the Daily Gazette
A large fireplace made of molded lava ash at Olde Knox Mansion in Johnstown on 9/14.An enormous, ornate, gray fireplace surround made of molded lava ash dominates one wall in the 43-foot-long living room. It was reportedly obtained from a castle in Italy, at a cost of $200,000. The living room ceiling is supported by 15 exposed black walnut beams that have hand-carved phoenixes at each end. Oak flooring and original black walnut paneling also remain. Leaded glass panes still grace certain windows, and the front porch ceiling is decorated with 50 original ornamental rosettes. A wreath design, a symbol of the Knox family’s unity, can be found on most of the home’s doors. (Photo by Bill Trojan/For the Daily Gazette: A large fireplace made of molded lava ash at Olde Knox Mansion in Johnstown, Sept. 14, 2018.)

Over the years, walls have been resurfaced and repainted, plumbing and electrical systems updated and gold leaf reapplied to the ceiling in the parlor and master suite. Upcoming projects include replacing the boiler and repairing storm windows.

The Quinns have decorated the mansion with antiques obtained from estate sales and through donations. In the library, a glass case displays Knox Gelatine Company memorabilia. A living room cabinet holds beakers and vials once used in the Knox laboratory. Portraits of Charles and Rose Knox hang in the main stairwell.

Although much is known about its history, the mansion still holds mysteries. On the third floor is a three-foot-high door that leads to a skinny storage space that runs along the rafters. The cramped, unlit area can be traversed only on hands and knees. After about 20 feet, it doglegs left, and butts up against rafters from another section of the house. A secret room was discovered there, when tarpaper stretched across the rafters was pushed aside. The vast, windowless space, which Quinn said was unknown to the previous owner, has a hardwood floor and a brick chimney rising through its center. A straight-back wooden chair, placed there by Quinn, is the only furnishing. Quinn said radio station WFLY 92.3 did a live radio broadcast from the space, which he has dubbed “the dark room.” Paranormal investigators have spent time inside it as well. Visitors say they have heard voices there, have been touched by unseen hands and have glimpsed the specter of a small girl.

The house has become a go-to destination for paranormal teams, and for a fee, spectators can tag along while the pros search for ghosts. Rumor has it there is no shortage of them in the mansion. In addition to the otherworldly little girl, guests have reported catching sight of Rose Knox, the Knox family’s gardener, and a doctor who purchased the home after Rose Knox’s death.

The mansion has drawn the interest of local psychics and has been featured in publications including New York State Ghosts, by David J. Pitkin. In 2008, it was added to the state and national Registers of Historic Places. It has also been awarded museum status.
The home’s first floor is open to the public year ’round. Thrill seekers are invited for spooky Halloween tours, which occur each October and are staffed by more than 40 costumed volunteers. This year’s tours will take place on Halloween night and throughout the two weekends prior.

The Quinns began decorating for the Halloween tours in early September. Their efforts have gone well beyond the creepy porch ghouls. There’s a two-headed zombie baby next to the guest book on the entryway table, and a gnarled, undead butler standing at attention in the parlor. Skulls sit beneath a sparkling chandelier in the library and a skeleton reclines in an easy chair near the living room pellet stove.

The expansive attic is still teeming with assorted ghouls and bags of faux spider web.

“We’re way behind schedule,” Quinn lamented, surveying the jumble of mummies, witches and creepy clowns.

Despite the daunting decorating and renovating to-do list, Quinn says he won’t put a “for sale” sign in front of the mansion any time soon.

“My wife sometimes has an issue,” he admitted. “She’s like, ‘Don’t you want to sell it and live a normal life?’ It definitely would be easier, but I love it. It’s never a dull moment. There’s always something going on.”

Kelly de la Rocha is a former Gazette reporter and Glenville resident. She now lives in Farmington, CT. Reach her at [email protected]


Olde Knox Mansion

WHEN: Scary tours: 7 – 9 p.m. Oct. 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28
     Kid-friendly tours: 7 – 9 p.m. Oct. 31
WHERE: 104 West Second Ave., Johnstown
COST: Scary tours: $10
    10/31 kid-friendly tours: $5
MORE INFORMATION: email [email protected]

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