Located in upstate New York, the John Lawson House has been referred to as one of the creepiest destinations in the United States. The house earned this title in the early 2000s, when three mannequins mysteriously appeared on the front porch and remained there for over a decade.
The mannequins didn't just sit there, however; they were seen in different positions almost daily, and their clothes changed, too. Sometimes they would disappear from the porch in bad weather but would return with new clothes and wigs. Then one day, the mannequins disappeared, and the mystery surrounding them only intensified.
Below, we'll explore the history of the John Lawson House, the tragedies it saw, and how three store mannequins might have been trying to tell the story of the home's past.
John Lawson Built A Home In New Hamburg’s Main Street Historic District In 1845
Completed in 1845, the John Lawson house sits at 9A Main Street in New Hamburg, NY, near the Hudson River. Although no one is quite sure who John Lawson was, many believe he was a direct descendant of the original colonists of the Hudson River Valley. The house was later passed down to a descendant named Cornelius Lawson in the 1850s, who added several architectural details still present today.
In 1987, the house's owners at the time nominated it to be on the National Landmark of Historic Homes, describing it as a “center-hall house with central cross-gable, bracketed cornice, corbelled chimneys, and arched top windows." The John Lawson house is also considered one of the oldest homes in the area.
In 1871, A Horrific Train Accident Happened Near The John Lawson House
Two major tragedies took place near the John Lawson house in the 1870s, which in later years added to the mystery of the home.
The first event occurred on February 6, 1871, when a southbound train traveling through New Hamburg broke an axle, jumped the tracks, and collided with a northbound passenger train headed for Albany. The southbound train was a 25-car freight train carrying oil barrels, which ignited after the trains collided, and the ensuing fire killed 22 of the passengers aboard the northbound train.
This violent accident occurred just 200 feet from the John Lawson House.
In 1877, A Fire Destroyed Seven Structures Surrounding The House
The second tragedy seen by the John Lawson House happened only six years after the first. On May 3, 1877, a fire started in an alleyway near the house. One account later stated that the man who discovered the blaze “tried in vain to stamp out the fire, which had by then spread to the store. The kerosene room caught fire. Suddenly there was a violent explosion! Uncontrollable flames raced throughout the building. A general alarm was sounded.”
The fire rapidly grew and destroyed seven structures. The John Lawson House was one of the few to survive in the fire's aftermath. Some believed the fire was an accident, while others speculated it was intentional. The case remains unsolved.
No One Is Sure Who Owned The House When The Moving Mannequin Sightings Started
Despite all the attention paid to the moving mannequins, the owners of the house kept a low profile over the years. What is known is that the John Lawson house sold in January 2003 for $164,500.
Not long after, the mannequins appeared on the front porch, where they would remain for over a decade.
The Mannequins Changed Clothes And Held Various Props
After taking up residence on the front porch of the John Lawson House, locals and tourists noted that the mannequins' clothes would regularly change, as did their wigs. The clothes and hairstyles appeared to be from the early 20th century, particularly the 1920s and 1930s.
The mannequins were also seen over the years with a variety of props. Sometimes the mannequins would be posed to look as if they were reading books. Other times, they were simply holding different objects including a birdcage, toolbox, and empty milk jug to name a few.
Some People Believed The Mannequins Were Possessed By The Spirits Of Those Lost In The Local Tragedies
As locals and tourists tried to make sense of the mannequins, an urban legend of sorts developed around their meaning. Some have claimed the spirits of those who lost their lives in the 1871 train crash began inhabiting the mannequins, which also acted as an explanation as to why they would move around almost daily.
However, the meaning behind the mannequins could be less paranormal and more symbolic of the tragedies seen by the John Lawson House. Some have noted that two of the mannequins typically “looked” out towards the site of the train crash, while the other was positioned towards an abandoned building thought to be part of the 1877 fire. Like everything else about the dolls, their relationship to the tragic events that occurred in the area remains a mystery.