Is Hill-Physick House Haunted?

Hill-Physick House

This famous surgeon’s mansion may be haunted by the good doctor’s troubled personal life

Paranormal Activity at
Hill-Physick House

  • A woman’s apparition is seen knocking at the front door and peering in windows
  • Phantom weeping is heard in and around the house
  • Ghostly figures reportedly appear in the house’s mirrors
  • A sorrowful apparition has been seen lingering in the home’s garden
  • Phantom footsteps are heard in the home’s halls
  • Dark figures have been seen in the house’s bathroom

Hill-Physick House:
Cornerstone of Medical History

On the slim stretch of 4th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a home has got to be more than just old to stand out. The only standalone home amongst blocks of row houses, the Hill-Physick House and its expansive enclosed garden offer an enticing glimpse into historical wealth and into the lives of its namesakes.

Originally built for a wealthy wine importer, the federal style brick mansion later became the home of one of the United States’ earliest surgeons.

Now a historic museum, Hill-Physick House has hosted the most famous names and infamous troubles of its era. And some say specters of those troubles still haunt the historic mansion.

Timeline of Hill-Physick House's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Hill-Physick House through the years


The Hill-Physick House was originally the project of Henry Hill, a wealthy importer and Revolutionary War veteran who had the home built in 1786. He had made a fortune before the war, skirting British tariffs on wine by importing Madeira, a fortified wine, instead. This allowed him to spare no expense in building his new home. The new mansion also included a private garden, setting it apart from the neighborhood row houses both literally and figuratively. Hill lived in the home until he died in 1798 of Yellow Fever.


After remaining in the Hill family for some years, Abigail Physick bought the mansion in 1815. But, Dr. Phillip Syng Physick came to own the home sometime after 1815, following a bitter separation from his wife. Though divorce was rarely heard of at the time, Physick legally separated from his wife after 15 years of marriage and moved into the mansion on 4th street with their kids. In another move unheard of at the time, Physick permanently banned his ex-wife from stepping foot on his property.


Shortly after moving in, Physick renovated parts of the home for his medical offices. He went on to treat such famous names of the era as Dolley Madison, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, and Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. In his time, Physick became known as the father of American surgery and worked out of the home until his death in 1837. After the death of Dr. Physick, the Hill-Physick House would remain in his family for 58 more years, until it was sold to Elise and Charles Keith in 1895.


The Keiths maintained the mansion as their private residence until their deaths, with Elise passing in 1938 and Charles in 1940. After the Keiths died, the house saw use as a hospitality center for troops during World War II and a dance hall and studio after that. But eventually, the home was abandoned, and by the early 1960s, it was in a dilapidated and vandalized state of disrepair. Luckily, local publisher Walter Annenberg bought the home and restored it, donating it to the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks.


The Hill-Physick House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and has been greeting tourists as a historic museum for five decades now. In that time, countless visitors have learned about life in the early 1800s and the work of Dr. Physick in those early eras of medicine. Some of those visitors have even reported interesting, perhaps paranormal, encounters around the house. These encounters have led some to suggest Dr. Physick’s family and his patients may remain in the mansion as ghosts.

Door Knocking Phantoms of Hill-Physick House

As strange as it may seem, the biggest and most well-known ghost story swirling around the Hill-Physick House isn’t about any resident of the house at all. The ghost of Dr. Physick’s ex-wife, Elizabeth, is the specter reported most often around the home.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, she isn’t often seen inside it. Instead, Elizabeth’s misty figure is often seen standing on the front step, knocking on the door, likely in hopes Dr. Physick will speak with her.

Hill-Physick House’s Lovelorn Ghost

Going along with her penchant for door knocking, Elizabeth’s figure has been seen scouting the perimeter of the home on the sidewalk and peering into first floor windows. Whenever approached though, her ghost disappears.

She has also been spotted lingering in one particular area of the home’s garden, where her favorite tree once stood before it was down shortly before her death. Those who have seen her lingering around the spot say she appears sorrowful, as if mourning the loss of the tree.

Ghostly Cries from Hill-Physick House

Though she was never allowed inside the house, Elizabeth’s specter has been reported within the home at times. One ghostly claim in the house that is attributed to Elizabeth is the sound of phantom crying.

Both inside and outside the home, ghostly weeping has been heard at all hours of the day, as if Elizabeth is still there weeping for her lost family.

Most often though, she appears as a mysterious, spectral reflection in mirrors rather than a full-fledged apparition.

But, there is some debate as to whether it’s truly Elizabeth appearing there. Others believe it may be Elisa Keith, using her phantom reflection to check in on the place she called home throughout the early 1900s.

Do Spectral Patients Haunt
Dr. Physick’s House?

But though the spirits of old residents and family members are the most well-known around the Hill-Physick House, other activity reported around the house has less certain origin. One idea often floated is that these additional, unknown entities are former patients of Dr. Physick, perhaps those who died during early surgical procedures.

These unknown entities are reportedly responsible for the appearance of a dark, shadowy man in the home’s bathroom as well as the sounds of footsteps moving up and down empty halls.

Hill-Physick House’s Haunted Lore

While the Hill-Physick House is understandably more focused on history than hauntings, the paranormal encounters at the home are undeniable. Interest in the home’s ghostly reports was heightened after the museum’s appearance on an episode of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters in the mid-2010s.

You can’t book a ghost tour or investigation today, but the Hill-Physick House remains open for much of the year for historical tours.

And while you’re on your tour, you may just spot something spooky if you look in the right mirror.