A Haunting in Montana, Part 2: An Interview with Kelly Parks

Last month, we published Part 1 of A Haunting in Montana, a story about The Gibson House, a historic Victorian mansion in Great Falls, Montana, once belonged to Paris Gibson, Great Falls’ founder and first mayor. With rumors that it’s one of the most haunted locations in town, The Gibson House will be featured this Fall on The Travel Channel’s new series “Dead Files.”

The current owner of The Gibson House is Great Falls realtor, Kelly Parks. Ms. Parks bought the house, located at 400 4th Avenue North, in early 2009. Last year, she received a Historic Preservation Award from the city for her work in restoring the historic mansion.

Photo above of Paris Gibson, his son, grandson and granddaughter in front of the Gibson House - courtesy of Kelly Parks.

Photo above of Paris Gibson, his son, grandson and granddaughter in front of the Gibson House - courtesy of Kelly Parks.

In spite of her busy schedule, Kelly was kind enough to agree to an interview with Reel-Scout. We’re very excited to share it with you here.


An Interview With Kelly Parks on The Gibson House

Hi Kelly! Thanks again for letting us interview you for our readers. Would you share how you first found out about The Gibson House? 

My friend owned the Gibson House and he wanted to sell it because it was a 9-plex and then a 4-plex and he had trouble keeping it rented.  He said he heard a rumor that Paris Gibson died in the upstairs bedroom.  Gibson was the town’s founder and I could hardly believe that he would be anywhere close to this old, rundown place. Then I did some research and discovered it was the founder’s house, which had been “missing” for about 90 years. Very curious. I am amazed it wasn’t torn down. For some reason, it is still standing, just diguised. I have started to write a book. 

What about the house that drew you to buy and renovate it? 

My friend’s hired man who lived in the house said “she must have been a grand old lady in her time.”  I almost fell over when he said that and so then I had to go look at it.

We’d love to learn more about the history of the house. Would you be able to share what you know about it? 

It was built by William Roberts for Paris Gibson in 1890, and designed by a Minnesota architect whom Gibson’s wife selected.  It’s a true Victorian home. The tower was removed around 1910 to make the house look less Victorian and more modern as the styles were changing and Mrs. Gibson was gone. It was stuccoed and ugly when I bought it.

We heard rumors that there’s a mystery surrounding the death of Paris Gibson’s wife, Valeria. Have you found anything on it in your research on the house? 

Newspaper accounts indicate that Mrs Gibson fell off the park hotel in August 1900. They called it an accident. I believe the truth is quite different. It is like she didn’t exist.

Would you describe the house for us?

The house has a main floor, a second level and a third level which was where the tower was. The tower room now no longer exists  since the tower was removed for some reason. There’s a banister that goes to the second floor and the finial was missing when I bought the house. I put it back up in December, days before we moved in. All the (other) finials were intact which is weird because there were so many tenants, but they all treated this old lady with respect. Also every room had a gas stove/oven. I am completely perplexed as to why the whole place never burnt down but has been preserved - which is very uncommon. The house was just lost for 100 years. The plaque at Gibson Park even says that the former founder, Mayor and Senator lived on the north side but fails to note which house was his. How odd is that?

How’s the renovation project going?

Very well, it just takes a lot of time to get things right and bring it all back. The renovation has been ongoing since June 10, 2009 and as I researched more about it, I figured out what to do to get it back as close to original condition as possible.  Once I found the secret staircase and opened it back up the house internal temperature cooled off significantly, which made me believe that it was extremely well designed for air flow and hot dry summers.  I have a greater appreciation for high ceilings and architecture than I did before.  I can’t imagine the cost to duplicate this old mansion.  It is a great place to live and has a happy, light and airy feeling about it.

A secret staircase! You must feel like Nancy Drew when you discovered it! Can you tell us a bit about the “secret staircase”?

I loved Nancy Drew books as a child (and three days ago I was telling my daughter aout them) and funny I never thought of it that way. The secret staircase was the servant’s staircase back in the day.  I didn’t know it existed when I bought the house.  The top was framed in and there was a bathroom over it.  The bottom was a door that when opened looked like a pantry. One day I looked at the bathroom and something told me to tear it out so I did.  I found the staircase intact.  Just hidden for 90 years.  The previous owner didn’t even know it existed. You really couldn’t tell from the second floor it was well concealed - a whole wall had to come down (must have been added in the 30’s after Theo lost the house in foreclosure and ended up in the mental institution - like his older brother). Once opened up, the original configuration was plain as day and the house dropped about 20 degrees in temperature.  The house was well designed so it doesn’t really need air conditioning. 

Are you living there now? 

We reside in the Gibson mansion and we love the place.  It is not for everyone though.  Some are not comfortable here. There have been reports of previous owners going mad.

Having lived in the house yourself, do you think it’s haunted? 

It is rumored to be the most haunted house in Great Falls and I had no idea when I bought it.  People come up to me almost daily with stories.  Very odd isn’t it?

Have you seen or felt any ghostly apparitions at the house? 

I don’t know what they found or what they were doing really, I am waiting to see the show.

About the blurry photo you sent us ...

I think that was taken in February by my daughter. She is only 6. It is of me and Spot the dog, but then I started looking at it and noticed there was a figure in the window of the dining room. 

How did the Travel Channel hear about The Gibson House?

I just got a call one day.

How did they approach you about filming at The Gibson House? 

By telephone, we have that in Great Falls now, although we are still at the end of the earth.

What was it like having a film crew working in your own home? 
They were just part of the family.

Would you describe a typical day of filming? 
I did my things and they did theirs.  Have no idea what they did.

How disruptive was it for you and your family to have filming going on in your own home? 

Everyone just goes with the flow, they were like family.

Did they change the house much for the filming? 

No changes.

How did your neighbors feel about having a filming taking place nearby? 

Neighbors were terribly excited.

If there’s anything else you’d like to share about your experience working with a film crew in the house, we’d love to hear about it. 
The people in the film industry are very courteous and respectful when on location and that is very nice. They just sort of do their thing and we just did ours and it was like they weren’t really here at all. no different than having guests, really. I think you can make a big deal out of it but if you just do your thing and let them do theirs it works out pretty well.

We heard you mentioned in an interview that you plan on giving tours of your house to the public. How would you run the tours? 
That is a very good question and because of security we are trying to figure that out.

You also talked about writing a book. Can you tell us what the subject is?
The book is about the house and the the going-ons that happened here. This house has a story to tell and it is quite shocking.

Thank you so much Kelly! We look forward to reading your book. We’ll also tune in to The Travel Channel this fall for “Dead Files” to learn more about The Gibson House. We’re all curious to find out whether it truly is haunted, as the rumor goes.