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Spirits abound at house in Appleton Several ghosts make their home in the mansion that is now the Winery at Marjim Manor

The words "house of spirits" certainly applies to the Winery at Marjim Manor, purveyor of fine fruit wines and home to several friendly ghosts, according to its proprietor, Margo Sue Bittner.

The world will get a glimpse of what Bittner means at 9 p.m. Oct. 15, when the 19th century mansion that houses the winery retail operation is featured on the popular reality show "Ghost Hunters," on the SciFi network.

"We got a call in May and the crew came out in June and they were all very nice," said Bittner, adding that she is not permitted to provide many more details before the show's airing.

She would, however, talk at length about the reasons the program was interested in her property in the first place.

Historically known as Appleton Hall, the 9,500-square-foot building at 7171 East Lake Road includes 25 rooms -- with another six in the basement -- featuring beautiful wine display and tasting rooms and an enormous enclosed porch on the first floor.

"We live upstairs here," she said of the grand home she shares with her husband, Jim, owner of Singer Farms. "I didn't know the whole history of the place before we bought it, but I knew it was haunted. We believe there are the ghosts of five humans and one canine here.

"I'm restoring the house to the way it was originally, and they [the ghosts] seem happy about that," she continued. "They're just letting us know that they're here. It's really more of a protectionist thing."

The house has a long and interesting history, dating back to 1834, when Shubal Merrit built it for his wife, Sofia. Less than a year later, legend has it that Shubal shot and killed his son, Lewis -- some say accidentally, while cleaning a gun -- while Lewis was standing in the doorway between the front hall and what was then the living room.

Bittner said Merrit then ordered the French doors framing that doorway permanently shut.

"But they kept bursting open," she said, "and they still open to this day and even close on occasions, which is odd for French doors."

According to legend, Lewis Merrit had been killed at 3 p.m. on a Thursday -- an important time that repeated itself frequently in the folklore surrounding the home. Shubal Merrit died in the house a few years later, also at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, Bittner said.

Bittner recounted how Merrit's daughter, Phoebe, and Phoebe's husband, Lucius Adams, then moved in and began renovating the house; Phoebe was said to have suddenly collapsed and died at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, after a glance toward the French doors.

Dr. Charles Ring, who was the first director of what was to become the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, subsequently purchased the property with his wife, Hannah, who died there in 1907. Dr. Ring is said to have later died there, as well, at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, leaving the estate to his fiancee, Estelle Morse, Bittner said.

The Sisters of St. Joseph purchased the property in 1933 and used it as a summer retreat for girls. One of the nuns had a dog named Duke, whose ghost, Bittner said, haunts the grounds.

The five human ghosts, she believes, are Shubal, Sophia and Lewis Merrit and Dr. Ring and his wife.

Bittner self-published the book "The Legend of Appleton Hall," and is currently working on "The Actual History of Appleton Hall."

"From 1895 on, I can verify things," she said. "The stuff before that has been more of a challenge, but it's getting easier."

"There have always been stories about that property and the ghosts that live there," said Newfane Historian Judith Dingeldey. "I've only been historian for three years, but our previous historian, Judson Heck, fielded a lot of questions about it and there have been books written on the subject. It's an ongoing thing. There are always ghost stories about this and the Van Horn Mansion [in Burt]."

The ghosts continue to be active in the old mansion, Bittner said.

"For example," she said, "we had a First Communion party here and the mother had lit candles in a candelabra and the candles went out and this heavy candelabra fell over. She set it up and lit the candles and, again, they went out and the candelabra fell over. When she set it up again, but didn't light the candles, it stayed up. I think they [the ghosts] just didn't like the idea of the lit candles with all of these children around."

Marjim Manor employee Deborah Johnson has collected some ghost stories of her own in the three years she has worked at the winery.

"I think the spirits are non-malevolent, just passing through," Johnson said. "We've had bottles of wine come off the shelf and spin on the floor and people report hearing voices in the distance. I remember once pouring wine for customers and talking about the 'Lady of the Manor' wine we make, named for Estelle Morse, who was a little controversial in her day.

"We call it a sweet wine for a not-very sweet lady," she continued. "And while I was telling the story, her picture flew off the wall on the porch and smashed. I apologized to Estelle, but those were the facts."

Marjim has linked a number of wines to the mansion's colorful history -- including the "Lord of the Manor" for Dr. Ring, and "Thursday Afternoon at Three" for obvious reasons. Other wines are named in honor of family members.

"This is a wonderful place to work," Johnson said. "Are these coincidences? I don't know. We can't explain them.

"Hopefully, 'Ghost Hunters' will give us some information."


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