An important part of the Family History is the story of a little girl who was abandoned at a New York foundling home with a note saying "Her Name is Victoria. I can no longer take care of her". Because it was in the winter months, she was given the last of name of Winters. She was never adopted and spent her childhood in the orphanage, developing a great need to discover her family background.
The orphanage occasionally received an anonymous donation in her name, postmarked from Bangor, Maine. On her twentieth birthday, she received an offer of employment from Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, of Collinsport, Maine. The family needed a governess for her nine-year old nephew, David Collins. Victoria had received her teaching credentials, and being intrigued by Mrs. Stoddard's offer to go to this Maine locale, she accepted the offer and boards a train headed for Collinsport.
Upon her arrival, the townspeople warn her against any involvement with the Collins family. Burke Devlin, a businessman who was on the train with her, advises her to catch the next train back to New York. Maggie Evans, a waitress in the local diner, calls her a "jerk" for accepting the job. Victoria pays no attention to the well-meant advise, and is soon at Collinwood and up to her neck in mysteries.
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is an eccentric recluse who has not left the Collins property since the disappearance of her husband, Paul Stoddard, eighteen years earlier.
Roger Collins, her brother, seems less interested in his son David than he does in drinking and in the governesses.
Young David is simply a terror. He has driven away a number of governesses with his "pranks" (i.e. locking them inside deserted houses). David also has a morbid interest in the occult, and ghosts seem drawn to him -- in particular, the ghost of Josette DuPres, an 18th century suicide who haunts the Old House.
Carolyn Stoddard, Elizabeth's teenage daughter, is a typical young girl out for all the fun in life she can find. She easily falls in love with anyone (or anything) that crosses her path .... from the man-made monster Adam to a werewolf to a Leviathan.
Collinsport is a small fishing villge on the stormy coast of Maine. Collinwood, the family's ancestral home, is a forty-room mansion (not counting the secret rooms and passages) built in the 1700s. The family lives in the main frame of the house, with the east and west wings closed off. Also on the estate is the Old House, the original family home, which dates back to the 1600s.
In the town of Collinsport, Maggie Evans lives with her father, Sam Evans, an alcoholic artist. Joe Haskell, a Collins Cannery employee, is Carolyn's boyfriend at the beginning of the series, but changes over to Maggie.
Meanwhile, Vicki is trying to discover whether anyone in the Collins family has any knowledge of her past background. She tells Mrs. Stoddard about the money from Bangor, but Elizabeth assures her that she had never heard of Victoria berfore and says she was chosen based solely on her qualifications.
Vicki's relationship with Burke Devlin takes off, and in spite of Elizabeth's disapproval, they become quite close. Burke is wealthy and has returned to Collinsport after being away ten years (spending part of that time in prison). His return was prompted by one reason: to get revent against Roger Collins, who had framed Burke for a hit-and-run accident. Burke tells Vicki that Roger was driving the car that night, and that he (Burke) was only a passenger. Roger lied in court, and being a Collins carried weight with the judge and jury. Maggie becomes upset when she learns that her father might have perjured himself in this case, knowing that Burke was innocent, but testifying on behalf of Roger.
Bill Malloy, a family friend, gets involved and sets up a meeting between Roger, Burke and Sam. Malloy never arrives, and his body is found the next day at the bottom of Widow's Hill. The case is closed as an "accidental drowning", but Burke is convinced that Roger killed Malloy.
One night , David lures Vicki into an unused room and locks her in. Bordering hysteria, Vicki sees an apparition. It's the ghost of Bill Malloy who tells her that he was murdered, and then vanishes into thin air. A short time later, Roger rescues Vicki.
Vick is involved in a series of accidents two days later. (1) She is nearly the victim of a hit-and-run driver and (2) she barely escapes a falling rock. Malloys murderer turns out to be Matthew Morgan, the Collinwood caretaker. Believing that the ghost of Malloy revealed the name of the murderer to Vicki, he kidnaps her -- placing her in a secret room behind the bookcase in the Old House. Just as he is about to kill her, the ghost of Josette appears, and Matthew (now understandably terrified) dies from a heart attack.
Roger's estranged wife, Laura Murdoch Collins, returns to Collinwood. Roger finally agrees to let her see David. At first, this pleases David; but he begins having nightmares about his mother and begins to believe that she isn't really his mother.
Sam Evans paints a portrait of Laura surrounded by fire. David shows it to her. Laura is staying in the caretaker's cottage, and while David is sleeping over one night, Josette's ghost. On another visit, David finds Laura staring into the fire. She tells him that she can see pictures in the flames and says she will teach him how to do this.
Word arrives from Phoenix, Arizona, that a woman identified as Laura died in a hotel fire. The body had disappeared from the morgue. Elizabeth asks Laura to leave town. Shortly after this, Elizabeth faints and slips into a coma.
Dr. Peter Guthrie, a specialist in ESP, is brought in to investigate these events. He advises Vicki to keep David away from Laura, and then holds a seance to contact Josette's spirit. Laura decides that she, too, wants to be a part of the seance. Vicki goes into a trance and begins speaking French, then in English she screams that she is burning and collapses. That night, Laura appears in Vicki's room, warns her to leave Collinwood and then vanishes.
Research into Laura's background reveals that two of her anestors, Laura Stockbridge Collins and Laura Murdoch Radcliffe, died in fires in the years 1767 and 1867. Laura Radcliffe's son, David, also died in the fire, not even trying to escape the flames.
Dr. Guthrie tests Laura by trying to put out the fire in the fireplace. Her violent reaction causes him to accuse her of receiving power from the flame and of being one of the undead. Guthrie decides to hold a second seance (this one at the Old House) and persuades Sam to join them. Before it begins, Sam falls toward the fireplace. Josette's ghost appears and warns David of what has happened, and David saves Sam from the flames.
Driving to the seance at the Old House, Dr. Guthrie is struck by a blinding light. At that exact moment at Collinwood, Laura stares into the flames. Guthrie loses control of the car, crashes and burns.
At the Blue Whale, Joe and Burke hear of the accident and go to the Old House to tell Vicki and Sam. They are determined to go ahead with the seance. This time, David join them, and he goes into a trance. David Radcliffe speaks through him, telling about his mother and remembering the fire.
The next day is the 100th anniversary of David Radcliffe's death. Burke invites David on a fishing trip to keep him away from Laura. But Laura persuades David to pretend he is sick to get out of the trip. But the 100th Anniversary has been miscalculated by one day. On the actual anniversary, Laura brings David to a fishing shack by the sea. She gives him a lantern; but his hands are cold and he can not hold it. When a fire breaks out, Laura insists he stay there, and she tells him the story of the Phoenix.
Josette's ghost directs Vicki to the shack. Laura urges David to walk through the flames to eternal life. Vicki screams for David to not go with his mother. As flames consume Laura, David runs out to Vicki.
Back in the hospital, Eliabeth regains consciousness. Returning to Collinwood, she mysteriously checks a basement room to make sure nothing has been disturbed.
Not long afterwards, Jason McGuire comes to town and begins asking questions about the Collins family. Elizabeth is shocked when he shows up at Collinwood. Roger is suspicious when Jason somehow persuades Elizabeth to allow him to stay there. Later, Jason discusses blackmail plans with his accomplice, a drifter named Willie Loomis.
Around this same time, Maggie remembers that years ago, Roger Collins bought several paintings from Sam for a large amount of money. She confronts Sam about this. He confesses that this money had bought his silence in the trial after he witnessed Roger behind the wheel of the car involved in the hit-and-run.
When Sam confesses this to Burke, the two of them confront Roger. Roger denies their accusations. Burke agrees to drop it, if Roger will give him a written confession. Elizabeth forgives Roger, assuring him that most people have things in their past that they regret all of their lives.
When Elizabeth finds Jason McGuire snooping around the basement room, she orders him out of town. He reminds her that he knows she killed her husband eighteen years before, and that she has his body buried in the locked room. He informs her that his friend Willie Loomis will be moving into Collinwood. When Willie arrives, he behaves obnoxiously to Carolyn, Vicki and Maggie.
Willie becomes fascinated by the portrait of one of the Collins ancestor, Barnabas Collins. David told Willie of the legendary Collins jewels, supposedly buried with Naomi Collins in Eagle Hill Cemetery. Willie decides to go grave-robbing.
But he finds no jewels. Instead, he finds a chained coffin in a secret room of the mausoleum. When he opens the lid, a hand reaches out and grabs him by the throat.
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