MANSFIELD -- The halls of Oak Hill Cottage echoed with laughter and conversation Saturday night, as volunteers in period costume held a Christmas open house for the public.
Each volunteer played the ghost of a former resident. The historic Mansfield mansion was privately owned by the members of two families from 1847 to the 1964.
The Richland County Historical Society has operated a house museum there since 1984.
The ghosts that converge on Oak Hill Cottage once a year aren’t frightening or spooky. In fact, they’re happy to tell visitors about their lives and the history of the Gothic mansion each one of them once called home.
“When we bought the house it was very plain,” recalled Francis Ida Jones, played by Kathleen Addlesperger. “I love the location up on a hill out in the country, it’s so peaceful.”
It was then that the original owner of the home, John Riley Robinson, wandered into the living room. Jones shot him a look.
“Unfortunately the former owner is now haunting it and having a fit about my decorating!” she exclaimed.
Unfettered by the indictment on his manners, Robinson continued to stroll through the parlor and into the dining room, faulting the gaudy red carpet and chandeliers.
“I built this house as a gothic cottage and she's turned it into this den of iniquity," bellowed Robinson, portrayed by Jeff Mandeville.
“This is too much light! When I was here we lived with candles.”
Robinson wasn't the only phantom with a sense of humor. His wife, portrayed by Sue Malaska, spent the evening in the Oak Hill attic.
“I had 11 children, this was a good place to hide," she explained.
Malaska and her husband have volunteered as docents at Oak Hill for nearly fifteen years. She said they continue to come because of the friends they've made and the fascinating history of the home.
"Every time you come here you'll learn something new. It's sort of like a big treasure hunt all the time, finding things," she said. "People will do their homework and find out this really belongs here, that belongs there."
The history of Oak Hill of particularly well-documented compared to other homes of its time. It was featured with interior and exterior photos in an 1896 county atlas and was the focal point of Louis Bromfield’s first novel, The Green Bay Tree.
Much of the original furniture, appliances and decorations remain at Oak Hill.
The mansion's final occupant, Leile Jones Barrett, moved back to her childhood home after the death of her husband in 1947. She sold the house and its contents to the Richland County Historical Society in 1965.
"They kept everything," said Susan Noble, who played the Joneses' youngest daughter on Saturday night.
While the ghosts of Oak Hill visit only once a year, the museum will continue to offer guided tours every Sunday in December (including the day after Christmas) from 2 to 5 p.m. or by appointment.
The museum will then be closed in January and February and re-open for tours in April. For more information, visit oakhillcottage.org.