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The Real-Life Haunted Mansion

The Story of the Heck-Andrews House

The Heck-Andrews House as I remember it from childhood.
Image by Michael Zirkle Photography, copyright Raleigh Historic Development Commission

I’m in love with a building. It started when I was a child growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. Every time we’d drive through downtown, there was a certain house I couldn’t get enough of, craning my neck to see it as long as possible as we drove by. I didn’t know the house’s name or history then, but I knew that it was gorgeous and captivating: a stately Second Empire mansion with a dramatic tower and swooping roof, all in a state of tragic disrepair, with peeling pale yellow paint, boarded windows, and withered trees. The Haunted Mansion at Disney World was fun, but to me, this was the real thing. The house was more than just physically beautiful. It emanated a magnetic sorrow; it overflowed with secrets.

Image courtesy of Preservation North Carolina Historic Architecture Slide Collection

Years passed. I grew up, I moved away, I came back. And one day when walking downtown, just down the block from the Governor’s Mansion, I stopped short: there was the house. But the outside had been restored, with repaired carpentry and fresh paint. I decided to do some digging into the history of the house.

Photograph by Ian F.G. Dunn

Construction of the Heck-Andrews House began in 1869 for Jonathan McGee Heck, who made his fortune on bayonets in the Civil War, and his wife Mattie. In 1921, the attorney A.B. Andrews Jr. (who grew up in the neighboring Andrews-Duncan House) bought the house for his wife, but she died before taking up residence, and Andrews lived there alone until his own death.

The Andrews-Duncan House
Photo by J. Schwaller, Capital City Camera Club

Then in 1948, Julia Russell bought the house, where she lived with her daughter, Gladys Perry. She made few updates to it, which means a remarkable number of its original historical features are preserved, including the hodge-podge of gas, coal, and electric power mechanisms extant in the structure—there’s even a stockpile of coal still in the basement.

Photograph by Ian F.G. Dunn

It also means that the house fell into a continually deeper state of disrepair. In the 1960s, many of the gorgeous Victorian homes on Blount Street were razed for parking lots. A massive concrete public building went up directly behind the house. But the Heck-Andrews House remained unchanged. When Julia died in the 70s, Gladys remained as the home’s sole occupant.

Photograph by Ian F.G. Dunn

Gladys was known to have been a popular girl in her youth, who often went to dances and had numerous suitors. But she never married, and she lived out her years in the Heck-Andrews House alone. She became a figure of legend in the area, known to roam the streets (literally—the streets, not the sidewalks), digging through trash bins, wearing a black overcoat, dark wig, gash of red lipstick, and thick white pancake makeup that she hoped would get people to leave her alone if they thought she was a ghost.

Photograph by Ian F.G. Dunn

She hoarded the trash she collected inside her home, and locals recall foul odors coming from the house. A neighbor remembers that “Although she was certainly immersed in a strange twilight world of her own, we nevertheless had no sense that she was unhappy. On the contrary, she seemed gloriously cantankerous and strangely content.”

Photograph by Ian F.G. Dunn

The state wanted to buy the house, as it had with most of the others on the street. They made an offer in 1977, but Gladys and her brother, the co-owner, refused. When they offered again in 1984, the brother agreed to sell his share. But Gladys still held out, declining two further offers. Finally, in 1986, the city took the house by force. They condemned it, citing its derelict condition as a fire hazard due to the chemical labs they had built next door, and took ownership.

Photograph by Ian F.G. Dunn

When police entered the home in January of 1987, they found Gladys’s things piled chest-high throughout the massive house, with narrow pathways carved through. They made their way upstairs through decades of her belongings and the trash she had collected—old books, calendars, glittered dancing shoes—to find her in bed, hidden behind more trash heaps. The house was freezing since she didn’t pay for heat, and despite being immobile and visibly sick, she refused to let them take her to the hospital. Eventually, though, she gave in, and had to have several toes amputated due to gangrene from frostbite. The state moved her into a small apartment, and not long after, she died.

Photograph by Ian F.G. Dunn

After taking possession of the home, the state cleaned it of Gladys’s untold belongings by tossing everything into an industrial dumpster and carting it off. A local tells of a single box he managed to snatch from the trash. Inside were ephemera from the 1920s on, including Gladys’s handwritten poems and love letters, a souvenir from the 1939 World’s Fair, and an instructional air raid pamphlet from WWII. If all this was in just one box, it hurts to think of what other “trash” was discarded from inside the massive house without a glance.

The Heck-Andrews House in the 19th century
Image courtesy of North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), UNC-Chapel Hill

In the decades since the state acquired the house, preservationists have voiced concern at the new owners’ slow progress. They spent $1.2 million on exterior renovations beginning in 1999, but couldn’t afford to restore the interior. So the house continued to sit empty, falling apart, nearing a condition which would put it beyond repair.

After exterior renovations
Image by Michael Zirkle Photography, copyright Raleigh Historic Development Commission

In 2016, the house found its new savior. The state sold it to the N.C. Association of Realtors, which is currently undertaking renovations, with plans to use the building for offices and event space. They’re taking pains to preserve the history of the house in their restorations, and documenting the process on Instagram for those interested.

Image via Ethan Hyman, News & Observer

I don’t know if I believe in ghosts. But I do know that Gladys didn’t leave her house without a fight in life, and if she’s still here, I’m certain she wouldn’t have left it after death. There have been tales of ghost sightings at the house over the years, and a construction worker assigned to it reported feeling eerily cold inside the building—in summer, in North Carolina, with no air-conditioning. Gladys will be imprinted on her house forever, if only in our memories.

Image via visitraleigh.com

Comments about the house online are a testament to the strange and powerful hold it’s had on locals’ imaginations for decades. I’m okay with not being the Heck-Andrews House’s only lover. A house with this much beauty and history should be appreciated by as many as possible. While there was a wonderful morbid glamour about the pre-restoration Heck-Andrews House, I’m thrilled to see that it’s now in the hands of owners who care about preserving it and have the funds to do so. I wonder what Gladys would think of the restoration if she could see it—perhaps she can.

Check out these sources for more detail:

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article224919680.html

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/wake-county/article29750152.html

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/wake-county/article59916286.html

https://files.nc.gov/ncdcr/nr/WA0020.pdf

https://www.instagram.com/heckandrewshouse/

https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=keYwv7mzP4h (3D tour of interior)

https://raleighhistoric.org/items/show/67

https://rhdc.org/andrews-duncan-house

2 Responses to “The Real-Life Haunted Mansion”

  1. Peter says:

    Somehow I’m afraid the realtors may become the most gruesome thing ever to happen to this house—may they never succeed in renovating its soul. Just as any place you go in the summer when you are a child is magical, and the best place in the world, any Second Empire house with turrets that you see teetering dizzily up, craning your neck to keep it in view from the back seat of a moving car driven by your parents, must always be a center of pleasurable dread. Those tubs alone look ominous.

    • sabooks says:

      I do have mixed feelings about the realtors’ association taking over the house–and about the house now having an Instagram account! I think the best case scenario would have been for a private family to buy it and use it as a family home; a family with the means and the will to restore the house with historical accuracy. But the undertaking is just so expensive that that didn’t happen. To me, this is the second best outcome. It’s better than the house getting demolished or bought by someone who completely updates it. The realtors do seem to care about preserving the house’s historical character, so I’ll take this as a win. But a part of me will always remember it in all its decrepit glory.

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