Was Robert P. Lamont Truly Haunted?

A now-decrepit mansion, with creaks and slamming shutters in the cold Wisconsin wind, was originally Robert P. Lamont's summer home in the 1920s. It's called Summerwind, and has more recently become legendary as a "haunted house." The traditions tell of a "ghost" or ghosts, often in the form of a corpse buried beneath the house, or under a closet in the house; or of such elements of a haunting as upstairs windows which were bolted or weighted down seen to be open again with no one to have opened them; and one story tells of two holes in the kitchen, where Lamont himself allegedly shot at a ghost or ghostly intruder.

Beth Scott and Michael Norman, in their book Haunted Heartland (New York: Warner, 1987. 409-417), attempt to unravel truth from fancy about admittedly eerie Summerwind. While at least one book has been written about the ex-mansion by a self-proclaimed subsequent owner of the house, proposing to "prove" Summerwind to be haunted, Scott and Norman show that there is no "incident" in the house's past which should give rise to such a ghost story. There have been no traumatic or sudden deaths, no hidden wills.

My research suggests that there may indeed have been no spiritual ghost, despite the creaks, groans and wind. But there may have been a "skeleton in the closet" of quite another sort.

Lamont was Secretary of Commerce (which is over the Census Bureau) during the administration of President Herbert Hoover. Hoover himself had been Lamont's predecessor at Commerce (and Census) during the Harding Administration and the "Teapot Dome" scandal (of which--and Hoover--it has been said "He must have known"*).

Did the American Protective League (APL), a vigilante organization now known as the Minutemen, supply Hoover and other Harding Administration personnel with parts or sections of the new 1920 census? Did it do this while ostensibly "helping" the FBI with its security work in Washington, DC on the day the Commerce building, which housed Census documents, caught fire in January, 1921? Was Hoover (as one of the founders of the International Statistical League a prime mover in the taking of the 1920 Census even before he became Commerce Secretary), then able to use these bits and pieces to rewrite the census to exclude some from voting by re-listing them as "illiterates"?** Did he thereby help Calvin Coolidge overcome the stigma of Teapot Dome and win election in 1924?

Was Lamont an assistant in these activities and their cover-up? Did he comment to guests in the drawing room that, while he had been satisfied with his tenure under Hoover at Commerce, he was occasionally, however, "haunted by the twice dead"? Were people falsely listed, not only as illiterate, but also as dead? Was all this done to encourage state and county governments to remove from voter registration lists, names of registered Democrats (taken from "radical" union offices in 1919 by combined FBI-APL "raids")?*** Did this perhaps help create the record low turnout election--and Coolidge victory--of 1924? Was Lamont's cryptic comment about the "twice dead" what started the "ghost story" atmosphere at Summerwind?

*See, for example, Richard Hoffstadter's reference in The American Political Tradition New York: Knopf, 1948. Chapter 6.

**from The Bureau of the Census by A. Ross Eckler. New York: Praeger, 1972. 15-22; 80; 165-168.

***See The Age of Surveillance by Frank J. Donner. New York: Knopf. 1980. 33-49.

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