Ghost stories and Halloween go hand in hand. Here are some spooky tales that take place right here in the Upper Valley.
Compiled by Laura Jean Whitcomb
Sure, everyone knows Halloween is the time for costumes and candy. But did you know that it’s also a time for honoring the dead? Halloween has roots in the Christian observances of All Hallows’ Eve (or All Saints’ Eve), three days dedicated to remembering the deceased. Although none of the ghosts in this article are martyrs or saints, the Upper Valley has quite a few of the faithfully departed still roaming the earth. If you’re in the mood for a spooky story, read on.
Topstone Mill in Claremont, N.H.
Topstone Mill (above), a former shoe and furniture manufacturing plant, was empty for years until new residents turned the bottom floors into an eatery in 2006. But people have been bitten by invisible teeth, had objects thrown at them, heard footsteps and seen apparitions through the windows.
The mill, built in 1901, was featured in season 8, episode 20 of Ghost Hunters in 2012. Titled “Fear Factory” the show says that “the owner claimed he was bitten and scratched by some type of entity and a ladder he uses tends to shake for no reason when he is on it. Employees have reported items being thrown to the ground, seeing shadow figures, hearing whispers in empty rooms, and hearing footsteps coming from the empty floors above. Finally, visitors have reported seeing ‘people’ standing in the windows of the upper floors of the factory….floors where nobody was supposed to be.” All of the show’s ghost hunters had experiences at the mill, but none could be explained.
Checking in with Nick Koloski, owner of the Escape Factory and Time-Out Americana Grille, there is “always something happening. We commonly are arguing with electronics and kindly asking thin air to please stop turning on the kitchen light,” he says. “Something knocked over an escape room prop in one of our new rooms that freaked out staff. We tried to replicate it, but can’t.”
The Haunted Railroad Bridge in Hartford, Vt.
The story goes that during a bitterly cold winter night in 1887, a fire occurred on the original railroad trestle that spans the White River and Route 14 in West Hartford, Vt. The Montreal Express, a train with passenger cars carrying 78 people, derailed and burned and 36 people were crushed, drowned or burned alive. To date, this was Vermont’s worst railroad disaster. “The disaster made railroad history as it caused the railroads to no longer put kerosene lights in the cars,” says Pat Stark, secretary of the Hartford Historical Society. “We have a booklet we sell that is reprints of the original articles and photos.”
Although the old wooden bridge has since been replaced with a steel structure on the original concrete footings, there have been numerous sightings of a little boy ghost. He is possibly 13-year-old Joe McCabe, who either died in the wreck with his father or, worse, watched his father die. His spirit returns to the bridge, where he can be seen in 19th century clothes, playing in the river or standing four feet above the water. Witnesses also claim to smell phantom smoke from the old bridge burning.
Camp Farnsworth in Thetford, Vt.
No one wants to believe that a summer camp is haunted, but Internet stories abound about Camp Farnsworth in Thetford. Located on 240 acres of beautiful, tranquil forest, meadows, fields and a 50-acre lake, the property includes playing fields, lake front, rec hall, health center, woodworking shop, pottery building, arts and crafts center, challenge course, climbing tower, a dining hall, and pool and bunkhouse.
It’s in Keushk, the camp’s theater and gathering hall, where witnesses have reported cold spots and feelings of uneasiness. People have also claimed that sounds from outside sound muted when in Keushk and that the doors don’t stay open.
There have also been reported sightings of a woman holding a kerosene lamp who walks slowly towards lone walkers between the living areas. The apparition has been dubbed “The Lady of the Lamp” and it is thought that she might be the camp’s matron, Madama Farnsworth.
The Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm in Quechee, Vt.
The website says: If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the whispers of history. And if you stay at the inn, you might be able to interact with history, too!
Built as a private home by Joseph Marsh IV in 1793, the historic inn and farm was purchased by John Porter in 1845. He and his wife Jane lived there until they passed, John in 1886 and Jane in 1900. Jane Porter’s ghost is said to reside in the inn.
In Rooms 1-6, which used to be Jane’s parlor and study, witnesses have heard noises and footsteps in these rooms when they are vacant. In Room 9, guests have reported footsteps walking on the floor above them, although there is only a storage area there. Her apparition has been seen coming from the dining room into the main hallway; her presence has been felt in the dining area as well.
A history of the inn on the website includes a recollection of hauntings, for example, the dining room staff is superstitious about keeping on the light above Jane’s portrait. “If it does not go on, it indicates to them that they are in for a very weird night. In fact, there have been so many odd little incidents which have transpired when Jane has been sitting in the dark that the policy is now to leave her light on at all times,” writes inn history author Deborah Doyle-Schechtman.
Inn at Clearwater Pond in Quechee, Vt.
Sometime in the early 1800s, Mr. Scott Tewksbury passed away in one of the inn’s guest rooms. He lived at the inn at the time, says Innkeeper/Owner Christina DeLuca, and there have been stories and rumors over the years that he took his own life.
“He lurks in our hallways, family room, backyard and guest rooms. I’ve seen him watching me through the upstairs windows and, for lack of knowing what else to do, I actually waved at him. He didn’t wave back and just stood there staring at me,” says DeLuca. “Guests have heard his footsteps, I have heard his footsteps on several occasions, my housekeeper has heard him several times, and the dogs have barked when they sense he is standing outside a guest room.”
The Norwich Inn in Norwich, Vt.
Located in Norwich, Vt., the inn was built in 1797 by Colonel Jasper Murdock. In 1920, Charles and Mary Walker purchased it. Though Prohibition had just begun, legend says that Mary, known as “Ma” Walker, quietly carried on the Norwich Inn’s tradition as a tavern by selling bootleg liquor from the basement.
After Mary passed away, her spirit was apparently seen gliding along the upper floors. Her spirit can sometimes be seen in the dining room, dressed in a black formal gown. The lady, wearing a long black skirt, is said to have been seen wandering through the building’s parlor, eventually disappearing into the adjoining library. She also seems to have a particular fixation on room 20 where many unexplained events take place. Toilets flush and water faucets turn on randomly, and empty rocking chairs sometimes rock by themselves.
Vampires on the Village Green in Woodstock, Vt.
A vampire’s heart burned on the Woodstock, Vt., village green? There is a well known legend — written about in Smithsonian magazine and discussed on Vermont Public Radio — that suggests a vampire heart was torched in the center of town.
According to Vermont Public Radio, during the 19th century, it wasn’t unusual for several members of the same family to die of consumption, now called tuberculosis. This deadly wasting illness gave rise to the vampire superstition. When a member of a family died of consumption and then others fell ill, the living sometimes blamed the deceased, thinking him or her a vampire who preyed on the living. In order to protect other family members, the deceased was exhumed and the heart burned.
In June 1830, six months after a son in the Corwin family of Woodstock died of consumption, another son fell ill. When a third son became ill, townspeople of Woodstock advised the Corwins to take precautions against a vampire. The family and townspeople reputedly went to the cemetery, disinterred the deceased, and checked to see if his heart contained fresh blood. They concluded that it did; they removed the heart, took it to the center of the Woodstock Green, and burned it.
The Corwin story comes from a newspaper article written 60 years after the fact. While various organizations, including the Woodstock History Center, have verified certain facts, the simple fact remains that no one can place the family or the death in the history books. But the tale lives on.