Although the historic residence now operates as a museum, it is unnerving how much it feels like a home – and that’s because it is one.
The entire main floor echoes of a family who shared meals in the dining room, hosted dinner parties, played music, made cookies in the kitchen, gathered around the Christmas tree and did just about everything else a typical family would do.
It is the place that Preston Boyd Moss built in 1903 for his family – wife, Mattie (and her parents) and children (from oldest to youngest) Woodson Jackson, Kula, Melville Hollingsworth, Preston Boyd Moss, Jr., David Hickman Moss III and Virginia.
The Moss family has often been placed upon a pedestal throughout Billings history and by many residents. The mansion stands tall in the heart of our beloved city – a center stage for portraits, public events and weddings. To some degree, the family became dehumanized by the lure of grandeur and tales of the home being haunted by its adored residents.
P.B. and Mattie; Virginia and Melville; and Mattie’s parents, George and Iantha Woodson all died in the house.
Melville was the middle child of six and lived in the home her entire life until she died at 88 years old. According to Jennette Rasch, curator at the Moss Mansion, Melville was as generous and loving as her parents.
One account tells of a group of boys ringing the doorbell and running away. Upon the second or third time, one boy saw the double bass sitting in the French Parlor. When his friends ran off, Melville opened the door and the boy stood, shocked that he was left behind. He told Melville he was admiring the instrument and wanted to learn to play it. She took the young man on as a student and taught him to play, free of charge. That boy grew to be an exceptional musician in New York.
Melville Moss with her harp.
Courtesy of the Moss Mansion
Virginia died suddenly from diphtheria in the home at age 5. Her death was quick and shocking. According to her 1908 death announcement, “Virginia was in unusually good health until Sunday evening, when she complained of a slight indisposition. Monday morning she appeared to be feeling better and seemed to improve until yesterday noon, when her condition changed for the worse. Dr. J. H. Rinehart was hastily summoned to the bedside of the little girl, and with Mr. Moss he hurried to the Moss residence.”
Virginia died from diphtheria in her room, on the second floor of the mansion, surrounded by her family. Her mother, Mattie, also contracted diphtheria, but overcame the disease.
Initially, staff weren’t to speak of paranormal activity in the home. Believed to be bad publicity or subject to other reactions, it was kept mum until recent years.
Virginia is believed to be the most commonly heard, seen and felt spirit in the mansion.
Rasch, along with Marlene McCave, event manager at the Moss, approach the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism and add that the mansion is usually quiet. Still, both believe they have had paranormal encounters.
Recently, Rasch heard voices conversing back and forth, as well as a young girl giggling.
“Sounds can carry from outside into the mansion, so we are always very aware of that. But this was different. I checked outside, no one was there. But then, I heard the voices again – this time, I knew they were coming from inside and I was alone in the house,” said Rasch.
Rasch set the security system before leaving that evening. If someone were in the house, the alarm would go off when they tried to leave. The alarm was not triggered.
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