Kent residence provided killer inspiration

Amanda Garrett

Elgin house source of ‘Psycho’ set design

The Elgin House once belonged to biology professor Harry A. Cunningham and has played host to rumors inciting Psycho enthusiasts to visit the old house.

Credit: Beth Rankin

It is surrounded by trees and shrouded in legend.

For years, rumors have swirled about the big green house on the hill in Kent.

Locals and Kent State students have gossiped about hauntings at 233 Columbus St., and the home’s connection to the 1960 film Psycho.

The Elgin House, as it is known in historical circles, does have a connection to the Alfred Hitchcock horror classic, said Mildred Bumphrey, who lived in the Elgin House as a child.

During the 1940s, biology professor Harry A. Cunningham owned the Elgin house and rented rooms. One of the renters, who may have been Cunningham’s nephew, later worked on the film Psycho, Bumphrey said. He told Bumphrey the home’s Victorian architecture inspired him to create the dilapidated mansion of murderous mama’s boy Norman Bates.

“He remembered the high ceilings and the circular staircase and how the house set way up on a hill,” said Bumphrey, who was unable to remember the name of the Psycho crew member.

Many false stories about the Elgin House sprang up after the May 4th shootings, Kent Historical Society Executive Director Guy Pernetti said.

Kent was inundated with national journalists, including famous author James Michener. who wrote a book about Kent. Michener’s book falsely stated that Robert Bloch, who wrote the novel Psycho, lived in the Elgin House, Pernetti said.

When asked about the truth of the rumors Bloch denied ever having visited Kent, and added that he based his book on a series of murders in his native Wisconsin.

The current owners of the Elgin House, John and Pam Vanags, are used to film fanatics making pilgrimages to see their home.

“When I was younger there were always people coming up to the house,” said the Vanags’ daughter Katrina. “People would always ask, ‘Aren’t you afraid to use the shower?’ We were getting kind of sick of it after awhile.”

Bumphrey, who will be 100 years old on Tuesday, remembers her childhood home as a happy place. She was born at the Elgin house, which her grandfather built in 1867.

“My Grandfather Freeman Underwood was one of the founding citizens of Brimfield,” she said. “He wanted a big house on a hill, so he went out and bought himself one.”

Bumphrey lived in the house while she majored in music and art at Kent State.

“My best memories of the house are that it was always filled with music,” said Bumphrey, who worked at the Daily Kent Stater. “My father built a conservatory for me to practice the violin. I also loved the beautiful circular stairway and the library filled with books.”

Katrina Vanags said she has an easy answer for the teasing of some of her schoolmates.

“My mother told me to tell people that the murders occurred at the Bate’s Motel, and not at Norman Bates’ house.”

Contact on-campus reporter Amanda Garrett at [email protected].