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Medfield owners are touched by house’s past, ghostly or not

Rob Gregg, at the vintage South Street house he shares with his wife, Ginny. Rob Gregg, at the vintage South Street house he shares with his wife, Ginny. (George Rizer for The Boston Globe)
By James O’Brien
Globe Correspondent / October 27, 2011

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This is what a “haunted’’ house really looks like.

It is no creaky old manse on a hill, but a charming red two-story in the woodsy town of Medfield, an unassuming Greek Revival adorned with a simple wooden sign on its exterior. The sign says that a Medfield carriage maker built this place in 1845. The people who live there now say it may be home to ghosts.

Rob Gregg and his wife, Ginny, live at 52 South St. He purchased the home back in 1973, and has lived there since.

All of the things that accumulate in a homeowner’s history in one house, when one stays put for more than three decades, are part of Rob’s story: children, renovations, change of careers, divorce, remarriage.

In 1997, however, something strange started to happen upstairs. And since then, as well, Rob has discovered he is connected to its history in ways he could never have known when he bought it.

It began right after Ginny Gregg, a physical therapist, married Rob and moved in. By then, his two children by his first marriage had grown up and moved out.

Once a minister, then a high-tech professional, by 1997 he had converted his son’s bedroom, at the top of the central stairs, into a workroom for his home business.

Rob’s business is the hand-weaving of seats and backs on antique and specialty chairs, and when he works he sits before his project for the day in just such a chair - a ladder-back from the 1960s - turning the furniture that he outfits upon a metal pedestal. The wisps of fiber shush underfoot when one walks in.

The Greggs’ computer workstation is on the left as one enters, and at times, as recently as a couple of weeks ago at about 7 p.m., it happens.

“That chair, that rush-seated chair in the back is where the activity takes place,’’ Rob said. “It is, literally, a creaking sound.’’

“A loud creaking sound,’’ said Ginny.

“As if someone is sitting on the chair,’’ said Rob.

Sometimes, Ginny said, if she’s working in the room at night and the rush-seated chair groans and pops, she’ll say “good evening.’’ Sometimes she just clears out of the room.

“There’s just a feeling that someone’s in the room with you,’’ she said. “The hair just stands up on the back of your neck and I say, no, I don’t want to deal with this right now. I just leave the room. It all depends . . . it’s very . . . it’s weird.’’

“Weird’’ might not be sufficient to describe what happened to Ginny downstairs in the dining room in 2009, one night a little after 9 p.m.

“I was sitting here, writing, one night at the table, at the dining room table, and somebody walked behind me and took their hand and brushed it all the way across my shoulders,’’ said Ginny. “It was definitely a hand. It was a very reassuring touch, like, ‘Things are OK.’

“It wasn’t like somebody was being nasty or anything,’’ she continued. “But of course I froze, and the hairs stood up on my head, and I just didn’t know what to do.’’

What she did was hurry upstairs and tell Rob. Since then, Ginny said: “I frequently see something or someone going by, out of my peripheral vision. I can see that anywhere in the house, but mostly downstairs.’’

For the Greggs, it’s not like the movies. They haven’t hired a psychic, or a paranormal investigator. They don’t dabble in parlor tricks with what they think shares the house; they’ve never let anyone try a Ouija board after dinner.

Rob has learned a lot about the house. There are details of its history that are not only reasonable to consider in light of what the two say they have heard and felt in its walls, but what he has discovered would stand out as an uncanny story - even if there had never been a single creaking chair or phantom fingertip to speak of.

In 1973, when he paid approximately $30,000 for the house - a figure that may seem supernatural, itself, in 2011 - he knew only the names of its most recent owners: James and Nancy Bright.

It wasn’t until much later that he began to dig into its history.

The first residents of the place that Gregg has been able to identify were members of the Marshall family, who moved in around 1850. The patriarch was Jacob Marshall, a blacksmith who moved to Medfield from Natick.

That first December, the Marshalls’ 18-year-old daughter, Mary Jane, died of consumption, probably in an upstairs bedroom. In March 1851, 21-year-old Harriet Morse Marshall, died of the same thing, probably also in the house.

Jacob moved out of the house shortly after that, according to Gregg, and then the Turners moved in, in 1852.

Charles Turner, a descendant of town founder John Turner, similarly found bad luck under the eaves of 52 South St. He lost two young children to illness between December 1852 and the beginning of January 1853.

Records show that, later, Marion Minerva Turner, 15, died of consumption in the house, in 1879.

In 1894, Eliza, the Turner matriarch, died at the age of 70. The entire family is buried in Vine Lake Cemetery, not too far from the house.

Gregg’s fascination with town history preceded and was then augmented by his experience starting the Vine Lake Preservation Trust, in about 2009 - long after the strange noises had started upstairs.

What he discovered was that, through the second wife of John Turner, he was related to the house’s owner, Charles, as a sixth cousin, four times removed.

Not only is he related to the Turners, he is similarly connected to the Marshalls - a fourth cousin 10 times removed from Jacob, the patriarch who first lost his two children, probably in those upstairs rooms.

It was a discovery that came to frame what are to him otherwise unexplained phenomena.

That is, Gregg said, he believes that it is a previous resident upstairs, “a previous resident who, by the way, happens to be a relative,’’ he said.

“Having a blood connection to relatives who lived in this house over a period of a number of years is an emotional connection to that expression of family history,’’ said Rob. “I gather a lot of currency from that, and value it, and cherish it, and celebrate it.’’

As for Ginny, she said she is not frightened by what she said she has experienced, relatives or not, since moving in.

“I do believe that it does exist,’’ she said of whatever makes the chair creak, and whatever brushed against her downstairs.

“I think I’m open to it. It does not scare me. It makes me a little uncomfortable, but it doesn’t make me want to run out of the house. It’s not a bad situation . . . for whatever reason, they just have not left.’’