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Benjamin Farrow

Copied Direct from Field Journal


I’ve been denied book permissions by the estate’s executor, Jane Madigan, for the time being, but I think I can talk her around after I’m all finished up here. So for now I’m just going to move forward and write up everything. Worst case scenario, I’ll have a really detailed diary to show my grandkids in thirty years.


Tomorrow morning I’ll be making my first foray onto the grounds of the Madigan Estate. I am beyond excited to be the first person to set foot there since it was closed more than a decade ago. I had to call in every favor I’ve ever earned, but for two weeks, I have the estate to myself. Every parlor, every bedroom, every corner of the gardens and grounds.


I hope it’s extremely haunted. Of course, about fifty people died there so I would be unlucky if there weren’t at least a few ghosts drifting around. Material ghosts, document ghosts, maybe some bones here or there, buried in the gardens. All history is full of ghosts, but the history of a tragedy is crawling with them.


As far as I’m concerned, the tragedy of the Madigan Estate is one of the country’s biggest unsolved mysteries. On January 6th, 1918, about forty years after Crowley John Madigan first moved his sizable family into the still-unfinished house north of White Oak, all communication between the estate and the outside world utterly ceased.


Three months later, an out-of-state lumber company took a back road onto the estate, bypassing the main gates, and arrived at the house with their delivery to find everyone inside was dead. The Madigan Estate had a considerable population of servants and house professionals living and working on the grounds and in the house itself, and while there may have been survivors who escaped before its three-month shutdown who simply did not come forward, it’s generally assumed that everyone employed by the estate died on its grounds.


So: exact causes, unknown. Theories swing pretty wildly between plausible and hilariously unlikely, but there are two frontrunners as to what exactly occurred on the Madigan Estate in 1918. The first is that the estate and its inhabitants became casualties of the 1918 influenza pandemic, and that the closure of the estate was a voluntary quarantine. The timing certainly lines up, but as far as the records show, no medical equipment or improvised hospital wards were found on the grounds. This seems to render that theory unlikely, but it’s definitely the most mundane, plausible explanation (at least, at face value).


The other popular theory is some sort of mass poisoning or suicide. A lot of the details on exactly how the bodies were found and recovered from the estate are hazy, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of violence or bloodshed, or anything that suggests, for example, that someone snapped and tore through the house with an axe.


It’s kind of a macabre puzzle-box. Like opening the fridge to a bad smell and trying to figure out what went rotten. In the forties there were a few overtures at a thorough investigation, but then World War II broke out, and by the time it was over, the last remainder of the Madigan family had seized legal control of the estate.

So: why did the Madigan Estate close on that day in 1918? What made it go dark? What killed the inhabitants? And what happened in those three months of silence before the bodies were discovered?

There is one other baffling addition to this mystery: of the bodies recovered from the estate in April 1918, I can find neither an exact count nor any mention of the resident Madigan family themselves. As far as I can tell, no member of the Madigan family was among the recovered dead. Details on exactly which Madigans were living on the estate at the time are hazy, because they were a large family with property and investments spread all over the eastern United States. They traveled a lot, married (and divorced) frequently, and, unfortunately for me and our project, were infamously bad at record-keeping.

It’s time for me to go digging.

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