Thornewood Castle is a Haunted manor house and bed-and breakfast in Lakewood, Washington. Thornewood Castle was used as the setting for the Stephen King made-for television films, Rose Red and The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer.
Thornewood was built by Chester Thorne, a prominent businessman in Tacoma, Washington. Thorne was born in 1863 in Thornedale, New York, of an English lineage that had been in America since before the Revolutionary War. He graduated from Yale University in 1884 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and went to work as an engineer for the Pacific Railway Company. In 1886, he married Anna Hoxie of Des Moines, Iowa. In 1890, the Thornes moved west to Tacoma, where Chester rose in business, becoming director of the National Bank of Commerce. He was one of the founders of the port of Tacoma and helped to found Mount Ranier National Park. He played a major role in a building boom and, when depression later hit Tacoma, he helped the city weather it.
Thorne was a Quaker and was renowned for his generosity. During Tacoma’s depression in 1893, he quietly helped many people with financial assistance, expecting nothing in return.
Thorne initiated construction of the manor house in 1908, building it on a tract of 100 acres on the shore of American Lake in Lakewood, south of Tacoma. (The house is called a castle because of a parapet on one side.) Construction took three years and cost about $1 million (the equivalent of about $30 million today). Thorne hired a prominent architect, Kirtland Kelsey Cutter, to design his vision of a grand Tudor/Gothic residence. Many materials were imported from England and Wales. Massive oak doors were acquired for Thornewood’s front doors, the grand entrance into the Grand Room. Stained-glass pieces dating from the 14th to 18th centuries were bought from a castle in England and placed throughout the house. Red-brick facing from Wales was used on the exterior. A fine oak staircase from an English castle became Thornewood’s central staircase. Thorne purchased fine art dating from the 15th to 17th centuries that had been collected by an English duke. All of these items had to be shipped around the African Horn at tremendous cost.
When it was finished, Thornewood was more than 27,000 square feet with 40 rooms and 18-inch-thick exterior walls. Thirty-five acres were turned into elegant English gardens, including a sunken garden with a pool. Over time the manor house was expanded to 54 rooms, including 28 bedrooms and 22 baths.
Thornewood was the scene of elegant living and entertaining. Thorne loved his home and worded his will to protect its integrity. He died in 1954 and left his estate to his daughter, Anna Stone. His will specified that the property was never to be divided and sold in pieces and the manor house was never to be altered into apartments. In 1959, Stone sold the property to a developer, Harold St. John, who immediately took legal measures to break the will. St. John divided the land into lots and sold them and remodeled the house into apartments. The house deteriorated over time and was sold to other owners. Eventually it was turned into a bed-and-breakfast. In 1982, Thornewood was placed on the National Historic Register.
In 2000, Thornewood was purchased by Deanna and Wayne Robinson. At the same time, ABC/Disney was searching for a house to serve as the setting for Rose Red, about an evil, intelligent house that kills people to feed off their lifeforce. Dozens of properties in the United States and Canada were considered. Producers were immediately interested in Thornewood, which closely resembled the house described by King in his script.
ABC/Disney contracted to use Thornewood, agreeing to make renovations to restore the house to its 1911 condition. Small rooms and apartments were eliminated, and ceilings, walls, light fixtures, and floors were restored. The gardens were improved. The total cost of the renovation was between $500,000 and $600,000. Filming was done on site in 2000, and the film aired on television in 2002. The success of Rose Red led to a prequel film, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, to explain the history behind the haunting. The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer also was filmed at Thornewood. Many of the scenes in both films show the real house, but sets were also created in Hollywood of other rooms that do not exist at Thornewood.
The Robinsons run Thornewood as a luxury bed-andbreakfast. Bedrooms are named and each has a unique decor. The Robinsons added their own furniture and extensive fine art collection. They do not live on the premises, but reside in a smaller and more modern house adjacent to Thornewood.
Thornewood had ghost activity prior to the films, but haunting activity has increased since 2002, with many guests coming to Thornewood in anticipation of experiencing something paranormal.
According to Deanna Robinson, phenomena manifested shortly after she and her husband moved into Thornewood, though no one expected anything unusual to happen. The first phenomenon was a lightbulb repeatedly found unscrewed from a lamp in the smoking room, located off to the side of the Grand Room. Robinson would put the bulb back in, only to find it out of the lamp again the following day. This went on for two weeks. Robinson thought it might be a sign from Chester Thorne, and she asked him to stop. The activity did, but since then it happens periodically, apparently when Thorne or another ghostly resident wants Robinson’s attention.
Other early phenomena were:
• sounds of glass and china breaking, though no actual broken objects were found
• old light globes found shattered
• movements and displacements of small objects
• cold breezes
• music, whispering voices, and footsteps
• sensations of being touched, especially on the shoulder from behind
• strange shoots of light
• apparitions of men and women dressed in Elizabethan garb and sometimes smelling of oiled leather coming through the huge oak doors into the Grand Room
• ghostly forms in the gardens, along with the sensation of the presence of Angels and Fairies.
Robinson feels Thornewood enjoys spiritual protection, and that it helps to impart a healing and restorative energy to people who stay there—a complete opposite of the evil image portrayed in Rose Red. Native American laborers who worked on the original construction planted wishbone stick charms around the property to protect the land against evil spirits; some of these charms have been found. Ghostly activity is most pronounced at dawn and especially dusk, when the place takes on what Robinson describes as a Brigadoonlike atmosphere.
Diaries left in the bedrooms for guests to comment contain numerous accounts of apparent ghostly encounters, most of them since 2002. The most common phenomena are flickering lights, objects being moved about, mysterious footsteps, rattling doors and windows, vague voices, malfunctions of electronic equipment such as cameras, tape recorders, cellphones, and pagers, and the sense of being watched by unseen presences. Ironically, the bedroom known as the Rose Red Room, decorated especially for the film, is one of the least active.
Thorne’s ghost haunts the house and grounds. His ghost is seen walking across the lawn; he is wearing his favourite brown riding suit and boots and is carrying a riding whip. His bedroom on the second level is the second most active room in the house. Thorne died there. His ghost comes through the door, walks past the bed, and disappears in the bathroom. Guests have found objects in the bathroom rearranged and the toilet seat left up. The bedroom is known as the Money Room. Thornewood lore holds that if people who have financial trouble sleep in his room, Thorne’s ghost will come to their aid and help bring a turnaround in their luck.
The ghost of daughter Anna haunts her large bedroom down the hall from Thorne’s room. Anna’s Room is popular with brides and wedding parties, and it is the most active room in the house. Anna contracted scarlet fever at age 16 and lost some of her hearing. She had to wear a hearing aid that was noticeably large. A shy girl, she was embarrassed by it, and did not participate in many of Thornewood’s social events. Instead, she would sit on the settee of her bedroom bay window, watching lawn parties below. Guests in the bedroom catch a glimpse of a ghostly girl sitting looking out the window; her demeanor is sad and wistful. Dark shadows also have been glimpsed by the bay window.
According to one diary entry, guests staying in Anna’s Room heard the piano downstairs in the Grand Room play in the early morning hours, as well as the sounds of someone pacing in the upstairs all evening and into the early morning hours.
If Anna’s Room is not occupied, guests in other rooms sometimes hear noises emanating from it at night: male and female voices talking, doors opening and closing, and the sounds of heavy furniture being moved about. Everything is in place if the room is inspected, although drawers on the armoire have been found pulled open.
Directly across the hall from Anna’s Room is the Grandview Room, the site of frequent activity. A woman’s voice hums a song, soap disappears from the bathroom, and a candle mysteriously falls from its holder. Guests’ alarm clocks have gone off in the middle of the night. Most strange is a ghostly servant who once organized a guest’s shoes and folded his socks over them.
A male ghost associated with Anna haunts the downstairs in the Grand Room. The apparition has been reported for at least 50 years, making it perhaps the oldest ghost on the property. Beneath the grand staircase is a bathroom and linen closet. A ghostly man in a brown suit comes out of the bathroom, crosses the Grand Room, goes into the dining room, and disappears out the glass doors to the patio. Anna, married twice, endured an unhappy and tragic first marriage. She caught her first husband in the bathroom linen closet molesting their daughter. Enraged, she got a gun and shot him in the eye. The shot did not kill him. They were divorced. However, the ghost is believed to be Anna’s second husband, based on eyewitness descriptions matched to old photographs.
Another of the older ghosts at Thornewood is based on lore that a child drowned in the lake, witnessed by the mother from the window of one of the rooms. Ghostly screams are reported heard.
On the third floor, the Gold Room has haunting activity, including a smell of lavender and Poltergeist movements of toiletries, especially women’s articles. Apparitions of men and women have been seen, in particular the ghost of a sad-looking woman who wears her hair up on her head. According to Robinson, the room is one of the most spiritually protected rooms in the house and has the presence of angels and fairies.
Down the hall from the Gold Room is a billiard room. Footsteps have been heard coming up the staircase and entering the billiard room, followed by the sounds of someone playing billiards. Upon inspection, the room is found to be empty and the pool cues are laying on the billiard table.
Some of the film crew from both productions, especially The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, reported mysterious phenomena as well.
Deanna Robinson allowed the Washington State Ghost Society to conduct an investigation at Thornewood. The group did not witness any visual apparitions but did capture Electronic Voice Phenomena of a man singing in the kitchen.
- Belanger, Jeff. The World’s Most Haunted Places. Franklin Lakes, N.J.: New Page Books, 2004.