Haunted Labor at Slater Mill

On the banks of the Blackstone River in 1793, American industry was born. Samuel Slater, following British design, erected the first textile mill in the new world, using the waters of the Blackstone to power his machinery. An offspring of Slater’s conception, the Wilkinson mill was built just yards away in 1810. An eight-ton wheel under the newer factory also used the energy of the river’s flow as its driving force. Both paved the way for thriving industry in the new world. Presently, they sit on a five-acre plot in Pawtucket Rhode Island, two-thirds of the Slater Mill Historic Site. In the 1960s, the city of Pawtucket moved a tiny dwelling to the site, completing the industrial triad. The house, built in 1758, was owned by Sylvanus Brown, a man instrumental in the success of both mills. Presently, all three buildings serve as a living museum, alluring the public with a taste of the rich history of the Ocean State.

It’s also said to be extremely haunted.

There is a dark history associated with the factories, one that literally haunts the area to this day. Child labor was popular in those days and young children were employed in the mills to help run the heavy machinery. When the machines jammed or the threads snapped, the children were the only ones small enough to fit underneath them to fix the problem. Time and precision were vital. If the children were unable to retreat quickly enough, they would likely pay with limb or life. Today, child-like apparitions and voices are reported throughout both Slater and Wilkinson Mills by visitors and staff alike. Adding to the legends, the nearby Sylvanus Brown house also has its reports of unexplainable sightings of a little girl apparition inside the house. Her laughter and footsteps can be heard often, despite the fact that no children are in the house. The tiny energies are frequent and intense throughout the entire site, drawing in the masses more than 200 years later.

It was a balmy night in late April when I stepped into Slater Mill for the first time. In all honesty, I didn’t know much about the history of any of the buildings that I was about to investigate, only that they were reportedly haunted. Being a paranormal investigator in southern New England, I had been introduced to many areas and structures that had paranormal legends attached, but not one of them would have the lasting effect that Slater Mill had on me that night. It was a public event and I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived. I was more than blown away by the time I got home.

Slater Mill

Area 1 (Slater Mill):

My night began in Slater Mill proper, in the darkened shadows of the silent factory. We were encouraged to explore on our own, wandering through the ambient light. I slipped around one of the looms and came face-to-face with a wax figure dressed in period clothes. Startled by it’s eerie life-like qualities, I flinched but quickly recovered. I shook my head and turned away, intent on exploring more of the mill, but a sudden wave of fear washed over me, pushing me out of the corner and into the middle of the room. I was drawn toward an opening in the floor in front of me but before I could reach it, a painting on a nearby wall stole my attention. Someone was speaking to the group but I couldn’t understand the words. My last moments of normal were slipping away from me. The room was getting darker. Something was happening to me that I couldn’t explain then and still can’t explain to this day.

The next few moments can only be described as cartoon-like in nature. If I weren’t there to experience it, I would have never believed it. My reality was quickly dissolving before my eyes and, oddly enough, I had no idea. My memory from that point on would be sporadic, only enabling me to recall the moments of a paranormal nature. To this day, much of that experience is permanently lost to a situation-specific amnesia that has no plausible reasoning.

My body felt like it was shrinking to the size of a small child. The floor beneath my feet began to swirl out of control like a wooden whirlpool, threatening to rip me into an unknown oblivion. Terror seized me by the throat. I wanted to scream but I had no voice. I stumbled backwards, falling away from the dark and consuming energy until the fear lost its grip. The floor stopped swirling and I began to regain my ground. Fighting to justify those moments, I tried again to join the group in the middle of the room. One step forward threw me back into the raging and crippling fear, as the darkness enveloped me. Desperate, I backed away from it until the feeling again abated. My persistence and the energy fought each other, using my body as a pawn, pushing me further and further backwards through the mill. The ancient machinery was still operational and as the looms sprang to life in demonstration, the terror literally paralyzed me. Again, I was wracked with the urge to scream and again I was denied a voice. As the machines finally died down and the mill once again became silent, I found myself with my back pressed against the door. I was soaked with sweat and shaking like a leaf. I had to get out of there.


Area 2 (Wilkinson Mill):

I was separated from my group when I escaped Slater Mill for an unknown amount of time. I think I was just aware of the sudden wave of movement of the guests and followed it. I followed a group into the Wilkinson mill, though I can’t say for sure that I belonged with them. At that point, I couldn’t say anything for sure. Wilkinson mill was physically silent, though the energy was buzzing through me as I walked through the door. I was drawn to the back of the mill and found myself standing at the top of the basement stairs. I could see an energy, a man, waiting for me to follow him down the stairs. Suddenly, I was at the bottom of the stairs and I wasn’t sure how I got there. I was there to chastise someone, but nobody was there. Seconds later, I was again upstairs in one corner of the workshop. In the next moment, I was on the other side of the room, standing in front of a rocking chair. The words, “rock the chair” rang in my ears and I was forced to sit. I was suddenly filled with a sadness that ripped my heart from my chest. My only thought was that my baby was gone and I wanted to cry. My breath caught in my throat and the tears well up in my eyes. Just before they could fall, however, the feeling suddenly lifted and the words “that’s enough” rang in my ears. I was able to stand and walk away. My only other memory was the energy that sparked the granite walls. It reached high above us, throughout each level of the historic factory. The next thing I knew, I was standing in the wheel room of the Wilkinson Mill.


Area 3 (Wilkinson Mill Wheel Room):

My time in the wheel room is a haze. My movements were trance-like as I walked through the intense energy. I stayed near the edges of the room and only turned away from the wall for a mere moment and in that moment, a burning sensation moved across my back. It is suggested that phantom scratches have this very characteristic and I was worried that I had gotten attacked. I stepped out of the wheel room and instantly found myself in the bathroom back inside Slater Mill. I ripped off my t-shirt and sweatshirt and threw them on the floor. Standing half-naked in the middle of the room, I desperately tried to look at my back but the red mist that surrounded me made it impossible.

Maybe that moment should have been an alert that something was frightfully wrong. There were a few moments through the night where I did find a fleeting grasp on reality, wondering where I was and what was happening to me but those moments were quickly replaced with blackouts and trances that nobody noticed. I was lost, trapped inside my own body and I had no idea. Nobody did. My next clear memory came in the Sylvanus Brown house. How I got there still remains a mystery.


Area 4 (The Sylvanus Brown House):

We walked through the tiny rooms on the first floor, lead to the sitting room. The little girl apparition acquainted with the house had been named Becca by the staff of the site. She had not only been seen gazing through the windows, her laughter and footsteps could be heard throughout the house and sometimes, people even reported being touched.

“…And if you reach out,” our tour guide was saying, “you might feel her take your hand.”

At that moment, I was drained, still fighting whatever had the violent hold over me. My head buzzed and my heartbeat fluctuated dangerously. I backed against the wall behind everyone and slowly slid down to a crouching position. I held my head in one hand and, as suggested, held the other hand out, palm up, waiting for the touch.

In a moment of pure peace and tranquility, a warming love washed over me. Tiny, icy cold fingers wrapped around mine, grasping with as much might as they could. Stunned, I looked up at my extended hand but nobody was there but, still, the tiny grip remained. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of people in the room and I wanted to hide behind my mommy. I was experiencing her feelings. My first and only thought was to give this child the same peace that she had given me. I wanted to protect her. In a rare moment of clarity, I gathered all I could to be sure that little Becca felt safe. Before I could say a word about any of my experience, however, a Medium in my group spoke up.

“She’s overwhelmed by all the people in the room.”

To suggest that this moment was the most profound moment that I had ever experienced with the paranormal would be an understatement. It was the last clear memory I would have of the investigation and one that I still carry with me as it still ranks as the most intense and complex experience I have ever had.

As the investigation came to an end and we regrouped in Slater Mill, I have only a few other clear memories. I later found two photographs on my phone that I do not remember taking. In the first picture, I can clearly remember the pose, but I do not remember the picture being taken or asking anyone to take it. The second photo I do not remember asking for or posing. I remember seeing the back of my phone and the Red Sox logo on my phone case because that was the only thing that I could see and I remember looking down at my hand and wondering if it was actually my hand. Still, I had no idea that anything was wrong.

I was on my way home and I remember confusion as I tried to find the highway. I drove under a bridge and then pulled into my driveway. The frightening part of it was that I live about twenty miles away from the Slater Mill Historic Site- as the crow flies. Time-wise, it’s a forty-minute drive. I remember less than five of those minutes.

I went into Slater Mill as a die-hard skeptic. I left, well, I don’t remember leaving to this day so I can’t say how I actually left the area. I can’t explain what happened to me. I can’t explain the persistent amnesia and I can’t explain why I was unable to ask for help. I should probably be scared to death to step foot in Slater Mill again, but I’m not. I look forward to facing that darkness once again and this time I will triumph.

Photography by Trig Photography. Frank C. Grace.

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