In the A&E studios, network crews filmed stories Bonnie Hays, Historic Palmyra executive director, telling the tale of her first ghostly encounter with the Breeden children in the Historic Museum in 1996.


The show, by production company Mark Phillips Philms and Telephision, featuring Hays will air some time in the near future, a network representative said.

As smoke and flames filled the small bungalow they called home, Ruth Anna Breeden huddled over four of her children in a corner of the basement protecting them as best she could, offering what little comfort she could and fretting over where her other two children could be as the smoke finally overtook them all.

Seven people, six of them children, were dead and 11 others were homeless. It was six days before Christmas.

Firefighters were called to one of the three bungalows at 132 Market St. in Palmyra around 2 a.m. Dec. 20, 1964. The small two-story homes were rental properties, one of which was inhabited by the Breeden family from Tennessee. Paul Breeden brought his wife, Ruth Anna, and their six children, Marion “Eddy” Edward, Dennis, Sharon, Susan, Mitchell and Samuel, to the small town of Palmyra. Very little was known about the family, although reports at the time called the children well behaved and well mannered. Ruth Anna was but 25 years old, her oldest son, Marion, 8, and her youngest, Samuel, only 2, when they met such a terrible fate a community would never forget them.

Paul Breeden was said to be out of town, working in Chicago, when the flash fire tore through the home and took his family that cold winter’s morning. All three bungalows were lost in the fire. When the flames were doused, only a chimney was left standing. Ruth Anna’s two missing children weren’t found until the next afternoon among the ashes.

As it happened, Paul Breeden was not out of town at the time of the incident and in searching for his family, he learned the terrible news and had to be sedated. He later took his entire family back to Tennessee to be buried.

“That’s how the lot became available for the Historic Museum to be moved from William Street,” Historic Palmyra Executive Director Bonnie Hays said. “It’s still considered the worst fire in Wayne County.”

This past Monday marked the 46th anniversary of the family’s tragic death. Paul Breeden died just this past March 23 in West Virginia.
The Breeden family may be gone, but they are hardly forgotten. Hays said the playful antics of all six children has been observed by many who have passed through the Historic Museum’s doors. The Breeden children have been known to hide things, make noise, move museum items and even hold the hand of lady visitors. Occasionally, even their young voices can be heard echoing in the old building and at night the smell of smoke can be detected.

“You never see them straight on, only out of the corner of your eye,” Hays said. “You just know they’re there.”

Hays has been fascinated by the Breeden family’s story — much of which is still a mystery to this day. Since becoming executive director for Historic Palmyra, Hays has become familiar with the paranormal and, to the organization’s benefit, she has promoted the museums’ unique guests, drawing people from all over to learn about Palmyra’s history and perhaps share a supernatural experience.

This past Memorial Day weekend, Hays found herself at Central Terminal in Buffalo where TAPS, the ghosthunting crew made popular on SciFi, were hosting a fundraising event for the train station. While there, Hays met a mother and daughter from California who were enthralled by Hays’s own ghostly tales. So enthralled that when they returned home they shared her story. Hays was surprised by a phone call shortly before Halloween from the producer of “My Ghost Story” seen on the Biography channel, an affiliate to A&E. At the production company’s request, Hays sent in three audition films and numerous videos and EVP recordings, and by November was on a flight with her husband, Steve, to California to share her story.

It was like Hollywood.

“I had to go makeup and they told me what to wear,” Hays said. “They put false eyelashes on me. How fun is that!”

In the A&E studios, network crews filmed the Hays’s stories. Bonnie told the tale of her first ghostly encounter with the Breeden children in the Historic Museum in 1996. Then, this past Friday, Dec. 17, a camera crew spent 7 1/2 hours filming on site at the museums.

“They got the story, now they’re putting me in the place where it happened,” Hays said.

The show, by production company Mark Phillips Philms and Telephision, featuring Hays will air some time in the near future, a network representative said.

In the meantime, Hays remembers the family nobody knew, talks to them when their presence is clear and bids them goodnight before leaving each evening.

“I put stockings up for the little ones,” she said. “We made them last year.”

Their lives may have been short and tragic, but Hays sees a silver lining.

“We’re still remembering this family today, even though back then nobody knew anything about them,” she said. “That really says something...This is their legacy.”