The Roff House is a gorgeously restored Italian-style mansion in the rural town of Watseka, Illinois.
Its owner, John Whitman, has laboriously restored it to its original grandeur after years of neglect.
Today, the house has breathed new life into the surrounding community’s economy, attracting about 700 people each year to tour the home or even stay in it overnight. It is available for booking on the Airbnb website for $89 a night.
But it’s not just the beautiful architecture that attracts visitors. The Roff House has a colorful and unique history. Many believe that this historic home is haunted.
Once you read more about the history of the Roff House, you may be inclined to agree that some supernatural presence must lurk within its walls. Yet the house is not a typical haunted house. There is so much more to it than that.
Here are all the reasons why the Roff House is much more than a typical haunted house.
The Story of Mary Roff
The eerie story of the Roff House begins with the tale of Mary Roff, the only daughter of Asa and Dorothy Roff, the home’s original owners. Unfortunately, poor Mary suffered from terrible cataleptic fits.
These fits started when she was a baby and worsened as she got older. Mary believed these fits allowed her to communicate with the spirit world.
Things got even weirder as Mary entered her teen years. She began getting fits every few days, and her doctors could not figure out how to treat her.
They prescribed leeches, but this did nothing to help. Mary’s behavior became more erratic. After one episode, when she deliberately used a knife to cut open her arm, she slept on and off for the next day or two and woke up with strange abilities.
Suddenly, she found herself unable to use her senses physically. Mary had lost her sight, hearing, and even her sense of touch. Yet strangely, when wearing a blindfold, she could see just fine. She could read things like letters or an encyclopedia without even looking inside them.
Mary also began speaking in voices that were not hers, even in other languages that she had never learned.
In desperation, Mary’s parents sent her to an insane asylum. Unfortunately, she died soon after, probably due (at least in part) to the inhumane treatment she received as an asylum inmate, which included a cruel “water cure.”
Mary was only 19 years old when her troubled life ended. However, this was not the end of the story but only the beginning.
The Story of Mary Lurancy Vennum
Eleven years later, a 12-year-old neighbor named Mary Lurancy Vennum began to suffer fits similar to Mary Roff’s. According to Mary Vennum, spirits frequently visited her at night.
They touched her face and spoke to her. Sometimes she saw the spirits floating above her. Unfortunately, these visitations were accompanied by stomach pains and convulsions. These convulsions caused her body to contort in strange ways so that her feet would touch her head.
Mary Vennum began to experience strange trances almost constantly. Her cataleptic fits came on her several times a day and sometimes left her incapacitated for many hours or days. She claimed that these fits gave her the power to communicate with spirits.
Like the Roffs before them, the Vennums were at their wits’ end about what to do for their daughter. They contemplated sending her to an insane asylum.
However, when the Roffs heard what was happening, they visited the family and begged them not to send their daughter down the road, which had ended so tragically for their own.
Vennum told her parents that Mary Roff visited her during one of these trances and asked for permission to possess her body.
Once this happened, Vennum began to talk and act just like Mary Roff. She asked her parents if she could go and live at the Roff House with Mary Roff’s parents. She often seemed to know details about Mary Roff that only Mary herself could have known.
Ten months after moving into the Roff House, Vennum announced that Mary Roff was planning to leave her body the next day. Vennum then returned home to live with her parents.
Once she was home, Vennum’s parents noticed a change. Their daughter seemed quieter, well-behaved, intelligent, and polite. They attributed this change to the possession by Mary Roff’s spirit.
Mary Vennum went on to live a normal life after these events. She became a mother and lived to the age of 88.
Is the Roff House Haunted?
Despite its eerie reputation, there is some debate as to whether or not the Roff House truly is haunted.
Children who grew up in the neighborhood before the house was purchased and restored remember some grisly rumors about the house, which had fallen into disrepair at that time.
A young woman named Cassie Fortin wrote an article in the Chicago Tribune explaining the stories.
It was believed that someone had murdered an entire family there, and there were stories of a woman driven to suicide when she was possessed by an evil spirit.
However, records show that young Mary Roff was the only person to die in the house. And despite the intriguing tales of spirit possession surrounding her life and death, there is no record of any paranormal presence from the next few successive owners.
In recent years, though, some visitors feel that an otherworldly presence still lurks in the Roff House. In fact, back in 2021, the house was featured on the reality TV show Ghost Hunters.
The TV show documents how a team of paranormal investigators encountered much more in the house than they had bargained for. On another show, Paranormal Generation, investigator Carl Strutz documented some of his own strange experiences in the house.
If you visit the Roff House today expecting to encounter paranormal activity, you may be disappointed. Or…you may not. Either way, you’ll be intrigued by the historic beauty of the place and the strange stories that seem to give the Roff House a life of its own.