The Old Arnold Estate

The Old Arnold Estate, Harrisville, Rhode Island.

The old Arnold estate, a historic home in Harrisville, Rhode Island, became world famous after the release of the well-known horror movie “The Conjuring.” The real Perron family experienced several strange occurrences while living in the house during the 1970s. These occurrences then became the basis on which the scriptwriters, Chad and Carey Hayes, created a fascinating and dark story. The movie is a work of fiction, but the real history of the old Arnold estate is almost just as fascinating…

History of the Old Arnold Estate

the old arnold estate

This old farmhouse is located in Harrisville, Rhode Island. It was built in 1736 and was originally owned by a family called the Richardson. A few years later the Arnold family bought it and moved in. The house was then passed down to various owners, each leaving their own mark on the property. In 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron purchased it and that’s when things started to heat up.

The Old Arnold Estate from 1736, was originally a small two-story structure. Over time, it was expanded and renovated by subsequent owners. And in the second half of the 20th century, it got its present look. Today, the house has five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and dining- and living rooms. It is 110 feet long, has two stories, and a basement, and it is situated on over 200 acres of land.

The Perron family and their experiences in the house

So, this was the house in 1971, when Roger and Carolyn Perron purchased the house. They wanted to raise their five daughters in this large but unmodern house, in a peaceful, rural neighborhood. They wanted to just enjoy the beautiful nature and create their own haven. However, already on the day of moving in, the family started experiencing strange occurrences. They heard noises, witnessed objects moving on their own, and encountered ghostly apparitions. And they heard voices crying out… Sometimes a woman, sometimes a man, but most often they were children calling:

– Mama… Mama! Ma..!

On some occasions, the voices said:

– There are seven dead soldiers in the wall..!

A few examples of what they saw, according to Andrea Perron.

The real Conjuring house

Andrea Perron, one of Roger’s and Carolyn’s daughters, has written a book called House of Darkness, House of Light, about her experiences in the house. It was released in 2011, two years before “The Conjuring” came out. Here are a few of the events described by Andrea in the novel.

  • Already on the day of the move, two of the girls saw a man standing in the dining room. They saluted him thinking it was a neighbor or something. Later they learned that there was nobody there. The neighbor who had promised to help out didn’t show up until later.
  • The dog wouldn’t come in from the lawn in front of the house. They had to drag him in.
  • Most of the hauntings happened around Carolyn Perron. She seemed to be the one the entities focused on. Supposedly, the entity coming after Carolyn had a broken neck, possibly a victim of hanging, self-inflicted or not. This ghost was later interèpreted as Bathsheba Sherman.
  • A seance/Exorcism was carried out, during which at a certain point Carolyn was lifted off of her chair and violently thrown 20 feet across the room.
  • There were multiple events of poltergeist phenomena. Things moved around, were lost, and then found in strange places, doors opening and then violently slamming shut. But the family also witnessed chairs, furniture, bedlinen, and whole matrasses levitating and flying from one end of the room to the other.

III. The Story of “The Conjuring”

The story about the Perron family

“The Conjuring” is a 2013 horror film directed by James Wan and based on the story of the Perron family’s experience in the Old Arnold Estate. The movie to some extent follows the events chronicled in Andrea Perron’s book, but more so it was based on the witness accounts of Ed and Lorraine Warren. These were two self-declared paranormal investigators. More about them further on.

The movie “The Conjuring” follows the Perron family as they move into the Old Arnold Estate in 1971. Shortly after moving in, the family begins experiencing supernatural occurrences, including unexplained noises, ghostly apparitions, and objects moving on their own. They seek the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who uncover the dark history of the property and attempt to rid the family of the malevolent spirits haunting the house.

Does “The Conjuring” refer to what actually happened?

Although “The Conjuring” is supposedly based on the true story of the Perron family, the film does take quite a few creative liberties. Small things like in the movie the Perron family has only five members, while in reality, there were actually six. The film also portrays the haunting as caused by a single malevolent spirit, while the Perron family reported experiencing multiple entities.

But there are also bigger differences… In the movie, the mother of the family, Carolyn, is possessed by Bathsheba, the witch, and tries to kill half of her family. The 10 years are also heavily compressed into just a few weeks to fit the film medium.

The label “based on” is ambiguous. The story could have been based on the Perron family’s own 10 years in the house, but instead, it’s almost completely taken from Ed and Lorraine Warren’s case files.

The old Arnold Estate
Andrea & Cindy Perron Courtesy of Gage Skidmore under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

The film “The Conjuring” was a huge commercial success, grossing over $300 million worldwide on a budget of around $20 million. It then spawned a franchise of sequels and spin-offs worth many hundreds of millions. It was praised for its storytelling and photo. But it was also very appreciated for the intense performances, particularly from Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. It received a mindblowing 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it went ahead to win and be nominated for a long line of minor awards and accolades.

The Possibility of Supernatural Activity

So how can we decide if the events were the result of real supernatural activity, or that they were just the result of natural phenomena, or simply a hoax?

The first thing to do is of course to go to the Arnold Estate and investigate. And here we find the first difficulties. The house was owned until 1980 by the Perrons, then by the Schwarts family. From 1987 til 2019 the property was owned by Norma Sutcliffe.

In all those years, no “significant paranormal” activity was reported, and as the house was private, no paranormal investigations were made.

The court case between the owner of Arnold Estate and Warner Bros.

After the release of the film in 2013, hoards of YouTubers, self-proclaimed ghost hunters, and all kinds of thrill-seekers have invaded the premises. It was so invasive that Mrs. Sutcliffe sued Warner Bros. and other producers in 2015. She claimed her property was being vandalized constantly and trespassers continued to show up, even at night. All as a consequence of the film.

Something interesting that came out of the court proceedings was that neither Sutcliff nor Gerald Helfrich, who lived there before her, had ever noticed anything out of the ordinary… Ever.

The real Conjuring house

That could have been a somewhat tactical testimony, though. Something to say to try to get rid of the uninvited visitors. In an interview from 2013 before the release of the film, Norma Sutcliffe admitted that she and her family have had experiences, though not very dramatic. Footsteps, a door opening, and such.

Notcliff sold the house in 2019, and since then it has developed into a tourist attraction. The Conjuring House is now available for visits. You just buy the ticket. It is even possible to participate in all kinds of ghostly activity, from full immersion night tours with paranormal experts to Content Creator Investigation tours targeted especially to YouTubers who want good footage for their channel. If you like, you can check out YouTube for the many semi-professional ghost hunters who have investigated or stayed the night in the house. These are, almost without exemption, from this year or last year.

Under similar circumstances, I would say, unbiased investigations are difficult to obtain.

What the experts say about the Arnold Estate.

The Ghost hunters visited The Arnold Estate in the seventh episode of the second season, titled “Two Houses,” from 2005, well before the film. The conclusion is much like most other episodes, nothing conclusive but a lot of scraping audio registrations, sudden cold spots, and strange noises.

The New England Society for Psychic Research (NESPR) has investigated the house, and they found all kinds of paranormal phenomena. But NESPR was founded by Ed & Lorraine Warren, so that doesn’t really count… Or does it?

Ed and Lorraine Warren – The self-proclaimed Paranormal investigators.

Famous Paranormal investigatore
Ed and Lorraine Warren

Let’s take a look at the Warrens who helped the Perrons to shed some light on the phenomena, and who also assisted the filmmakers when shooting The Conjuring.

It has been said that they were called to the old Arnold Estate by the Perrons. The truth is, though, that they simply showed up one day. Obviously, they had heard about the hauntings and wanted to check it out.

In 1952, the couple founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. It was a success. Well, maybe success would be an understatement. Their efforts created mountains of documentation and they gathered hundreds of supposedly haunted objects. These objects would later be displayed in the Warrens’ own Occult Museum at their residence. In 1979 the first movie based on their investigations came out: The Amityville Horror. Many films based on their paranormal investigations would follow.

Here’s a list of their occult discoveries and the films based on them:

  • Annabelle. In 1968, they found the Raggedy Ann doll, possessed by the spirit of a young girl named Annabelle Higgins. Annabelle was turned into three films from 2014 til 2019 with a total gross revenue of $800 million on a budget of around $50 million.
  • The Arnold Estate from 1971… And here are the Conjuring films.
  • Amityville. George and Kathy Lutz were driven out of their house by an evil, demonic presence. The Warrens’ notes and documentation were made into no less than 27 films, many of which only have the name in common with the original Lutz family. The first and original movie grossed $80 million on a budget of about $5 million.
  • Enfield poltergeist. In 1977, the couple investigated a family in Enfield, North of London. That became the second film in the Conjuring series, This film together with Conjuring 3, and the spin-off sequel, The Nun, grossed a mindblowing $900 million on a budget of $100 million.
  • Arne Johnson, who killed his landlord and at the trial, attempted to plead Not Guilty by Reason of Demonic Possession. This case was the base for the third film in the Conjuring series called The Devil Made Me Do It.

As we can see, there are truckloads of money in this business, and whenever there’s money to be made, morality and honesty become negotiable.

Andrea Perron and Norma Sutcliffe before the release of “The Conjuring”.

More doubts about the hauntings of the old Arnold Estate…

Some of the claims made by Andrea Perron have been disclaimed.

When Carolyn Perron participated in the seance and she was thrown 20 feet across the room, some witnesses to the event say that she wasn’t thrown. It was more like she tipped over backward and dropped to the floor.

At that time, Roger, Carolyn’s husband was very skeptical and didn’t want all these people in the house. When his wife fell off the chair, Ed Warren rushed to her together with Roger, There was some sort of scuffle during which Roger punched Ed in the face.

The witch that was haunting the house according to Andrea Perron was called Bathsheba Sherman. In the middle of the 19th century, she lived in the house. She was supposed to have killed her own daughter as a sacrifice to the devil. She then hung herself. The apparition of a woman with a broken neck would be the proof.

Bathsheba Sherman – the witch.

The true Bathsheba Sherman, for all we know, was just a normal churchgoing wife and mother who died of a heart attack in 1885. And she never lived in the Arnold Estate. The first proposed name of the witch seemed to have been Laura Sherman, though. The Perron family had a dog at the time called Bathsheba, shortened Sheba.

After the release of The Conjuring, Bathsheba Sherman’s gravestone at Harrisville Cemetery has been repeatedly vandalized and was gone completely for four years. This has made even Andrea Perron come out and plead to paranormal enthusiasts to leave gravestones, other historical monuments, and houses in peace. Maybe as close to admitting that ghosts are not entirely a part of our reality, as a writer of horror novels can get.

Norma Sutcliffe after the release of “The Conjuring”.

So, what can we say? Is Arnold Estate haunted?

I do believe that the family’s experiences could have been true. Their testimonies seem credible, and I, as an outsider, cannot determine what really happened in the Arnold Estate between 1970 and 1981. But an experienced ghost isn’t proof of a ghost. There can be a multitude of explanations for doors closing, undefined noises, and feelings of unease.

So, considering everything and following the evidence where they lead us, it is hard to see any substance in all these stories. First of all, as stated before, when money is involved, the objective truth can be significantly bent to fit a profitable outcome.

Second, I always try to figure myself in their shoes, the people who have seen and heard the illuding entities. What would I do if I found myself in a house where invisible voices told me that:

– The next time we meet, we will both be dead.

One thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt. If that happened to me, I would be out of there faster than someone could say “Based on a true story…”.

I certainly wouldn’t stay in the house for more than ten years, living my everyday life, eating breakfast, molding the lawn, watching TV, and sleeping, while demons and dead witches roamed the premises. But I’m not used to hauntings, and I don’t personally know any ghosts… Or maybe I’m just not as courageous as the Perron family.

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Compared to the number of claims and supposed paranormal activity on the old Arnold Estate, what comes out, in the end, is not very impressive. Still, The Perrons’ own words hold some intriguing vibration, some underlying darkness. I don’t know…