Haunted New England Oct 27, 2014 20:12:14 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 27, 2014 20:12:14 GMT -5
Haunted New England
People visit New England for its past. They go to Boston to follow the Freedom Trail past the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s house, to Plymouth to see where the Pilgrims set up house in a new land, to Lexington and Concord, where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. Yet in few corners of New England is the past more eerily present than in a place far from the usual tourist destinations, in the woods of northeastern Connecticut. Its unlikely name is Bara-Hack. The words are Welsh for “breaking of bread,” but there is nothing cozy or hospitable about what lies up an old path next to Mashomoquet Brook. Bara-Hack has been abandoned for more than a century and nothing is left of its houses but gaping dark cellar hoses. A low, fieldstone wall encloses a small graveyard (above), its tombstones weathered nearly blank and tipped this way and that by frost heave.
The town and the people who lived here are long dead, but Bara-hack is not quiet. The hauntings began when the town was still thriving, its small factory manufacturing looms and spinning wheels. It was early in the 19th century, before abolitionism swept New England and the factory owners kept slaves. The town had already had its first deaths and the slaves saw how the spirits of the dead would not rest, roosting instead at dusk in an elm tree near the cemetery and silently watching the bustle of village life. Since then the character of the haunting of Bara-Hack has changed and it is the village itself that will not slip silently into history. Over the years, numerous visitors have reported hearing sounds in the woods, sounds easy to mistake at first for the stirring of leaves, then clear and distinct – children playing, wagons rumbling along rough lanes, cattle lowing. Somewhere, just out of sight, Bara-Hack is still speaking and it has come to be known locally as the Village of Voices. Nowhere else in New England does an entire vanished village intrude from the past,* but the region as a whole harbors a ghostly throng. Ghosts, after all, are a kind of history that refuse to remain tranquilly in books and museums and New England is saturated with history. Waves of historical events have swept over the damp, rocky seacoasts, woodlands and stony fields and each wave has left a flotsam of unquiet spirits.
The Embittered Wigmaker. On the island of Nantucket, off the Massachusetts coast, a ghost cannot rest because, for 21 years, he was an object of scorn. By the end of the 18th century, local whaling captains were pouring their profits into Nantucket’s banks. One night in 1795, however, one bank’s coffers dwindled drastically as $21,000 in gold vanished. A wigmaker, William Coffin, was suspected of the crime, perhaps for no better reason than that he was ill-tempered, unsociable and a miser. Without evidence, he could not be tried, but the suspicions remained and whispers followed him wherever he went along the cobbled streets of the port. His ordeal ended 21 years later, when someone else confessed to the theft. But Coffin took his bitterness to the grave – and beyond. His house still stands and the old wigmaker has been seen sitting by the fireplace, rocking furiously, a fire blazing there even in middle of summer.
Emily’s Bridge. Sometimes history or local records leave little doubt about why a particular ghost cannot rest. Sometimes we can only surmise. This is the case with Emily, the spirit that haunts Gold Brook Bridge in Stowe, Vermont. No one knows just how she died, or if Emily is her true name. But the convulsive sorrow that keeps her shade from resting is obvious. The bridge she inhabits is a one-lane, covered structure from the early 19th century, its interior smelling pleasantly of dust and old pine. It is just 50 feet long and its interior is gloomy, but not pitch-black. Traffic, whether horse-drawn carriages or cars, has always had to negotiate it at a crawl. This allows plenty of time for the ghost to make herself known and dozens of people, locals and tourists alike, have noted her manifestations over the years. Strange, beseeching cries ring out from the interior of the bridge. Light flickers from dark crannies, sometimes taking the spectral form of a woman. One drizzly evening, a motorist was appalled to see hand prints on his foggy windshield as he emerged from the bridge, as if someone had pressed warm hands there while he was passing through the dark interior. Perhaps Emily had mistaken him for whom she had waited while she was a woman of flesh and blood. Though little is known of her story, the best guess is that she is the phantom of a Stowe girl who took her own life at the bridge in 1843. She had fallen in love with a young man whom her family rejected, so they decided to elope. She slipped away from her parents’ home one night and went to the bridge, where she and her beloved had agreed to meet. Perhaps the young man lost his nerve, or perhaps he had deceived her. In any case, he never appeared for their rendezvous and after a day and night of waiting in the shadows of the bridge, she hanged herself from the rafters.
Writers at The Mount. War and tragedy have left ghosts roaming New England’s stony landscape, but so has a different kind of history: the legions of writers who have distinguished the region. Some of the most famous congregate after death, as they did in life, at The Mount, a mansion built at the turn of the century in Lenox, Massachusetts, by the writer Edith Wharton. Wharton’s novel Ethan Frome tells a story of blighted hopes and poverty set in the hills of western Massachusetts, but the Mount, set on 100 acres of those same hills, was a place of gentility and wealth. Wharton, a daughter of New York society, spent six years at The Mount and made it a salon visited often by other literary lights such as Henry James. Those lights, it seems, have not entirely dimmed. For many years after Wharton sold the estate in 1908, the mansion housed a girls’ school. Today it serves as the headquarters of a theatrical troupe. Both the schoolgirls and actors were quick to realize the house’s first occupants have not completely decamped. Sometimes Edith Wharton appears alone, formidable in her high-collard dresses and upswept hair. Sometimes she is seen in tableaux with colleagues and family. Down the halls and in vacant rooms, she has been spotted talking to her secretary, a mutton-chop-whiskered gentleman with whom she is rumored to have had an affair; turning impatiently from her dim socialite husband, Teddy, whom she later divorced; or deep in conversation with a man whom witnesses have identified by his waistcoat and grave demeanor as Henry James. These are aloof spirits, pursing their own private affairs as though the house were still theirs. They sometimes fill empty rooms with their own spectral furniture – small ornate desks and a divan – and, in winter, drive off the drafts with gusts of warm air that dissipate as soon as the apparitions themselves fade. But those who see them feel privileged to have caught a glimpse of spectral footnotes in New England’s literary history.
Haunted Lighthouses. In Long Island Sound, between New London, Connecticut, and the eastern end of Long Island, sits a most unusual lighthouse. This is no simple tower with barber-pole stripe. In a fit of extravagance just before the First World War, marine authorities built it to look like a three-story mansion that has floated out to sea with the light perched incongruously on the roof. But the New London Ledge Lighthouse also has a less obvious quirk: It is manned by a ghost. True, the light and foghorn are automated, as at every other lighthouse in Long Island Sound, but the keepers who vacated the New London Light in 1987 knew they did not have to rely entirely on machines to keep it running smoothly. After all, Ernie – the ghost’s affectionate nickname – had “lived” there for almost 50 years, a rambunctious but generally friendly companion to the keepers. As they tended the light at night and sounded the foghorn on days of fog and drizzle, he played the usual spooky tricks, hiding coffee cups, turning radios and television sets on and off and stomping about in empty rooms. When the weather was fine and the keepers had time on their hands, Ernie became more mischievous, blasting the foghorn on crystal-clear afternoons and untying the boats of visiting fishermen.
All in all, Ernie seemed to understand the life of a lighthouse keeper, perhaps because in life he was one himself. In 1939, the New London Ledge Light was the scene of a tragedy when a keeper killed himself after his wife ran off with a ferryboat captain. Certainly the gruesome manner of his death seemed likely to produce an unquiet spirit: leaning from a window on the top floor, the distraught keeper cut his own throat with a butcher knife, spilling blood down the side of the lighthouse. Then he plunged out the window into the cold waters of Long Island Sound. Although Ernie generally is taken to be the result of the suicide, but no one knows for certain. Nor does anyone know how Ernie is faring now that the gulls and mindless machinery are his only companions.
The same poignant question hovers about the Penfield Reef Light down the coast at Fairfield, Connecticut. It, too, is known to be haunted by the spirit of a lighthouse keeper, one who drowned in heavy seas as he was rowing to shore to visit his family at Christmas. His ghost, a more sober spirit than Ernie, is said to haunt the lighthouse’s log room, keeping the weather and tide readings in order. Now the readings, like the light itself, are automated, and another lighthouse ghost may be at loose ends.
Witch Hollow Farm. One of the cruelest episodes of New England’s past, the Salem witch trials, left a ghostly legacy not far from the old seaport in a colonial farmhouse called Witch Hollow Farm in Boxford, Massachusetts. A foursquare clapboard-sided colonial house erected in 1666, it was the childhood home of Mary Tyler. After her marriage, Mary moved 15 miles to Salem, where she was accused of witchcraft in 1692. She escaped the gallows by confessing and repenting. Though little is known of her life afterwards, it seems safe to assume it was blighted by the false accusations. What is clear is that her spirit still searches for peace at the place where she spent happier days as a girl. A young woman in somber dress sometimes can be seen walking in the gardens at Witch Hollow Farm in the light of the full moon.
Ghost of Goose River Bridge. Like Mary Tyler’s spirit, ghosts often roam because of some wrong they suffered during life. But others, it seems, seek out the living because they are simply too sociable for the rarefied society of the dead. A Maine fisherman named William Richardson became such a ghost when he died during the American Revolution. Richardson would have been remembered just for helping his neighbors in the fishing village of Goose River – now Rockport, Maine – when boats and men were lost at sea. But the war gave him an opportunity for heroism.
Burning houses and destroying crops, the British had been harassing the citizens of Goose River in an effort to break support for the rebels. Richardson was eager to help and one day in 1779 when word came that, out beyond the rocky headlands, a British warship was pursuing a privateer, he set out to sea in his fishing boat where he met the privateer, led it on a course around islands and through hidden channels and eventually eluded the warship. Four years later, when the war ended and a new nation was born, Richardson threw a party. As the ale flowed, he went from house to house, a pitcher in his hand, urging the stay-at-homes to join the celebration. But as he crossed the Goose River, he met three horsemen who took a dim view of the celebration. They were Tories, still loyal to the crown. When Richardson offered them a drink, they struck a last blow for the Empire by clubbing him to death. The pitcher dropped from his hand and the ale ran into the river as Richardson fell.
Two hundred years later, he is still searching for company. Couples parked at night on the quiet lanes near the river have reported seeing a strange apparition through the fogged car windows: a smiling man in 18th-century clothing steps from the woods carrying a pewter pitcher, shining in the moonlight and brimming with ale.
Sources: Michael Castagna and Tim Appenzeller, Discovery Travel, and The Best New England Haunts.
*Not true. Dudleytown, another abandoned village in Connecticut, has a similar reputation.