The Frick House: Exemplary Art and a Haunted Past

Flickr/ Joseph

Nestled in Pittsburgh’s East End, just North the of the Homewood Cemetery, sits The Frick Art Historical Center. Spanning two blocks on Reynolds Street, the estate includes a museum, a cafe, a greenhouse and the Clayton Mansion, a structure which is home to world renowned art and a haunted history.

The original 11 room mansion became the home of Henry Clay Frick and his wife in 1882. At $25,000 the estate included an acre and a half of land which would eventually become home to one of Pittsburgh’s most important historical artifacts.

Henry Frick and his wife Adelaide Howard Childs collected major works of art throughout the course of their lives. Henry’s first known purchase was a wooded landscape by local artist George Hetzel. But Henry Frick first rose to prominence due to his success in the small Mennonite town, West Overton, PA. The company he formed turned coal into coke, a fuel needed by the then booming Pittsburgh steel industry. By the age of 30, Henry was a millionaire and was able to begin a life of art collecting in Pittsburgh, PA.

Flickr/ Jay Cross Henry Clay Frick and Adelaide Howard Childs
Flickr/ Jay Cross
Henry Clay Frick and Adelaide Howard Childs

But the Frick’s idealistic lifestyle would eventually be met with gloom. Two of four children born to Adelaide between 1883 and 1892 died before the age of 7. Less than eight years later, the family moved to New York City with their two surviving children. The home, though still the property of the Frick’s, went uninhabited for nearly a century.

Their youngest daughter, Helen, became an avid art collector just like her father. In 1970 she opened The Frick Art Museum to house the cumulative collected works her and her father had garnered over the years. Helen moved back to the family home in 1981 and remained there until her death three years later.

Helen Frick never married but instead lived her life as a philanthropist and a fervent student of art history. Before her death, Helen created an art library at the University of Pittsburgh and left provisions for her childhood home to be restored and made open to the public.

Although there has never been a formal investigation, some of the estate’s visitors believe that Helen haunts the Clayton mansion. Employees and visitors alike have reported hearing footsteps on the third floor of the empty home as well as finding depressions in the bed of Adelaide Frick.

Since 1990, The Frick Art & Historical Center has been serving as an invitation into the life of the Frick family, their extensive art collection and a sometimes eerie glimpse of the realities of living in the late nineteenth century.