Born in 1871, Julia Comstock Stout is said to have died of complications from Scarlet Fever in 1888 at the age of 17. But the urban legends that surround her passing have made this everyday 19th-century teenager synonymous with one of Bloomfield College and Essex County’s most iconic locations, turning her into a fascinating paranormal resident of historic Westminster Arts Center known as the “Westminster Ghost”.
Located at the corner of Franklin Street and Fremont Street, Julia’s family – most notably her father, Gideon Lee Stout – played a major role in the founding of the Westminster Presbyterian Church (the building’s original title).
The Byzantine-Romanesque building was purchased by Bloomfield College in 1966 and subsequently converted into the Westminster Arts Center, headlined by a venue that now plays host to some of Essex County’s best theatrical performances, the Van Fossan Theatre. Since the purchase, the building has also become the home of the institution’s award-winning Creative Arts and Technology Program, and houses computer labs, classrooms and art studios.
But as students and instructors began to utilize the storied local staple, tales of strange occurrences – even sightings of the spirit dubbed “Blue Lucy” for its colorful appearance – began to circulate around the 11-acre campus. The rise of rumored spiritual activity even drew the interest of nationally prominent paranormal investigators Edward and Lorraine Warren (of “Amityville Horror” fame), prompting a visit from the famous duo. The pair deemed the building haunted in their 1970’s investigation, citing the spirit of Julia as the guest.
“When I first started here, I heard countless stories of how Julia had passed away, typical urban legends,” Arts Center Managing Director Gregory Allen said of his ghostly inhabitant. “Everything from her passing away in the church, to her taking her own life in the building’s bell tower because she was pregnant out of wedlock. While how she died hasn’t been confirmed, I can tell you that, whether it’s her or not, someone is definitely residing in our building.”
Through the years, the various stories of Julia’s passing have subsided, though current staff and students maintain Julia’s stay in the storied structure hasn’t.
“It appeared as though Julia didn’t like when I started working at the Arts Center, as we would have issues with our equipment failing early on as more and more people began to enter the building,” Allen said.
“There are still times where I am watching a rehearsal, and I can feel a presence behind me. We have people who have seen our piano move across the floor, or have heard things in the building when nobody else is there. I do think, though, that Julia has come to welcome the activity and the 6,000 patrons that enter the building each year. We enjoy having our very own urban legend right here at the Westminster Arts Center.”
For more information on the Westminster Arts Center, visit bloomfield.edu/westminster-arts