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Dynamite, Spankings + Nuns: The Crazy Past of Betty Francis' New Manse

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stimson-house-betty-francis.jpg
One big difference in Betty Francis' new life on season 5 of Mad Men, besides her love affair with Bugles, is the spooky old house she and new husband Henry Francis have moved into. On the show, the house is meant to be in the New York City suburb of  Rye. In real life, it's located in the Los Angeles area of West Adams, known for its Victorian mansions and growing gay scene . The house also has a cuckoo-crazy back story. According to its Wikipedia page, which says it was built in 1891 by lumber and banking millionaire Thomas Stimson, lots of very strange incidents have occurred there. Below, some of our favorite weird historical highlights from the Stimson House, which features a dynamite explosion, homoerotic fraternity hazing and nuns.  

Thomas Douglas Stimson was dynamite!
Perhaps the most explosive (pun intended) event in Stimson house history occurred in February 1896 when a stick of dynamite blew a hole through the side of the house. A private detective, who had been hired a month before the explosion to accompany Stimson's son to Mexico, warned the millionaire that a dangerous Mexican criminal was after him and his family. He subsequently offered his services as protection. It later became clear that the dynamite, and other staged "attacks" on the Stimson family (including the poisoning of their dog!) were part of a blackmailing scheme targeting Stimson. The private detective was eventually arrested and served 5 years in prison.

Thank you sir, may I have another?:
The house changed hands a couple times after Stimson's death before it was sold in 1940 to nearby USC's Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. The first year of the brotherhood's occupancy was marred by a scandal so homoerotic even Salvatore Romano would blush. In retaliation for a prank, the members of PKA kidnapped two male UCLA students, stripped them naked, covered them in black paint, drew an "S" and "C" on their chests and shaved their heads. In keeping with normal heterosexual male behavior, the boys of good ol' Pi Kappa Alpha also spanked their captives bare bottoms until the victims couldn't sit down. The poor boys were found by police, "guarded in their cell by more than 100 husky Trojans." Nope, not gay at all.

Sister Act:
The rowdy fraternity eventually moved out and was replaced by the lovely ladies of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, a convent, in 1948. They're still living there.

Stimson House on TV:

Matthew Weiner and co. aren't the only ones who thought the Stimson house's spookiness would make a nice, grim backdrop. After appearing on an episode of the Bionic Woman that was filmed in the house, Vincent Price allegedly decided it would make a good place to record dramatic readings of ghost stories. It was also featured as a mortuary on an episode of Pushing Daisies. (Maybe Salon's Robyn Sayers, who is deeply convinced Pete Campbell is going to die this season, is on to something with her Morticia/mortician connection after all....)





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