The way Christine Morris looks at it, you can think about history in a couple different ways: as the irretrievable past, or as a living story emblazoned on a special place.
As the executive director at the Conrad Mansion Museum, Morris’ perspective on this issue matters, especially this time of year, because the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and imaginations are starting to probe dark corners and spooky scenarios.
In short, it’s the perfect time for the mansion’s ever-popular Ghost Tours, which will take place Oct. 20 and 21.
Though she’s only been onboard with the mansion since August and thus hasn’t had the time to really have a ghostly encounter of her own, Morris said she understands the mansion’s magnetic appeal this time of year.
“It doesn’t surprise me that walking through this gem of a mansion that people would have experiences,” Morris said. “The house holds a story, and that story is just strongly preserved.”
The Conrad Mansion was completed in 1895, and the 13,000-square-foot home has held court on Kalispell’s Woodland Avenue ever since. Charles E. Conrad — considered one of Kalispell’s founding fathers — and his family were known for their epic holiday parties, especially during Halloween.
One party was apparently divided into three sections of the house: the upper floor was Heaven, the ground floor was Earth, and the basement was Hell, all complete with elaborate decorations.
The home’s spooky reputation followed it into the 1970s, when the mansion fell into disrepair, with boarded-up windows and overgrown vegetation. Such dilapidation gave the massive house a sense of mystery for many of the valley’s younger residents, Morris said.
“It was, I think, the most popular place for the teenagers to play and look for an adventure,” Morris said, laughing.
Many of those teenagers are adults who still live in the valley and could appreciate the Ghost Tours, she said. Led by a guide and lit by only a candle, the tours wander from room to room, reliving paranormal occurrences that the guides and other mansion visitors and staff have experienced.
Those willing to suspend disbelief will find themselves enraptured in tales of visions of past inhabitants wearing clothes or using items that still exist in the mansion today. About 90 percent of the furnishings are original, and Morris believes there’s a certain energy to the house because of these items.
“Every human story makes an imprint and every place has a story,” she said. “When you walk through this house, it’s easy to feel something beyond the present moment.”
Morris believes history can come alive in this way, that people living in present times can get a sense of the past by seriously considering the items other people left behind. What was important, what was a treat, what was the norm — all of those items, handled by the family for years, are distinctly Conrad.
Of all the tales of visions or sounds or ghosts at the mansion, none have been reported as malicious or scary outside of the person experiencing it being surprised. The mansion was a place of fun, family and community for the Conrads, and museum staff believe that if anyone is coming back to pay a visit, it’s because they like the place so much.
The tours are extremely popular and tickets sell out every year. Tours last an hour and leave every 15 minutes between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Oct. 20 and Oct. 21. Tickets are $17, or $15 for museum members, and are available ahead of time at the museum or by calling (406) 755-2166.
After two days of spooky tales and goosebumps, the mansion will begin its transition into the holiday season, with Christmas decorations expected to go up the second week of November and Christmas at the Mansion holiday tours starting Nov. 24.
But that’s in the winter; the autumn belongs to history and things that might just go bump in the night.
“This is a fun Halloween way of making history more alive,” Morris said. “I’d love to see something (ghostly). I’m waiting for my turn.”
For more information, visit www.conradmansion.com.