September 15, 2019

Goody Cole: Old Tales of New Hampshire Witchcraft

As the days grow shorter my thoughts turn once again to old stories about witchcraft! Those of us in New England are lucky to live someplace blessed with an abundance of strange and spooky witch tales.

I am particularly fond of witchcraft accounts from the 17th century, back when the Puritans were establishing their settlements in a land much different from the one they left behind. Demons and monsters were thought to lurk in the woods, but even scarier things could be hidden inside the walls of a neighbor's home. The Puritan witchcraft stories read like horror films or dark fairy tales.

For example, here is some testimony from Abraham Perkins of Hampton, New Hampshire. One evening in November 1662 while he was walking by the home of Goodwife Eunice Cole he heard two voices in conversation. Goody Cole had been widowed earlier that year, so he was curious who was talking with her at night. He paused near her house and listened:
I heard a discoursing . . . and, harkening, I heard the voice of Eunice Cole and a great hollow voice answer her, and the said Eunice seemed to be discontented with something, finding fault, and the said hollow voice spake to her again in a strange and unworldly manner . . . as if one had spoken out of the earth or in some hollow vessel...
Perkins was disturbed by this, so he ran and brought two friends back to her house with him. The three men stood outside and heard more strange things:
We three went to her house and harkened, and heard the said Eunice Cole speak and the said strange voice answer her diverse times, and the said Eunice Cole went up and down in the house and clattered the door to and again, and spake as she went, and the said voice made her answer in a strange manner . . . and there was a shimmering of a red color in the chimney corner (quoted in John Demos, Entertaining Satan, 1982)
That testimony sounds like something from a horror novel or a very dark fairy tale. The great hollow voice is creepy enough, but the shimmering red  color is the perfect ending to Perkins's account. 

In addition to dealing with infernal forces, Goody Cole also supposedly had a penchant for stealing children. Well, at least she tried to steal children, but they always got away. Here is testimony from Sarah Clifford of Hampton, who claimed in 1673 that Goody Cole tried to steal away nine-year old Ann Smith:
... and then the child told her that there came an old woman into the garden with a blue coat and a blue cap and a blue apron and a white neck cloth and took this girl as she told us by the hand and carried her into the orchard and threw her under a pearmain tree, and she was asked to live with this old woman and she said if she would live with her she would give her a baby and some plums... (quoted in David Hall, Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England, 1991)
Young Ann Smith refused Goody Cole's offer. In response, Goody Cole threatened to kill her and then allegedly struck her on the head with a rock. The girl said that Goody Cole then turned into a dog, climbed a tree and flew off. 

Goody Cole was a childless elderly widow. Maybe she really did want the little girl to come live with her. Maybe the encounter did turn violent. But did she really turn into a dog and fly away? The testimony is a mix of the realistic and the fantastical, like "Hansel and Gretel" set in coastal New England. 

Cole was arrested and tried for witchcraft three times. She spent several years in jail but always avoided the gallows. Despite being whipped and serving time Goody Cole still filled the people of Hampton with fear.  Everything from minor household mishaps to major accidents were blamed on her. In 1657 eight people drowned when a small ship sank in the Hampton River. According to tradition Goody was to blame (although she was jailed at the time), and the incident was popularized in a poem by 19th century poet John Greenleaf Whittier:
"Fie on the witch!" cried a merry girl,
As they rounded the point where Goody Cole
Sat by her door with her wheel atwirl,
A bent and blear-eyed poor old soul.
"Oho!" she muttered, "ye're brave to-day!
But I hear the little waves laugh and say,
'The broth will be cold that waits at home;
For it's one to go, but another to come!" (John Greenleaf Whittier, "The Wreck of Rivermouth", 1864) 
Even after she died in 1680 the strange stories about Goody Cole continued. Legends say her body was buried at a crossroads. To keep her from causing mischief after death the citizens of Hampton drove an iron stake through her heart. Just to make sure the magic worked they also placed a horseshoe on top of her as well. But it's hard to kill a legend or a fairytale. In 1938, as Hampton celebrated its tricentennial, several people claimed to see Goody Cole's ghost walking through the oldest parts of town. The town posthumously pardoned her for being a witch that same year.

I know that fairy tales aren't true, and neither are these scary stories about Goodwife Eunice Cole. If anything, the real scary story is how an elderly woman was harassed and accused of demonic crimes by her neighbors for decades, simply because she was a curmudgeonly widow. But even if the stories aren't true I still get a thrill reading about hollow voices speaking from the earth and strange red lights shimmering by the chimney. 

September 11, 2019

The Ghost Who Falls Forever: A Haunted Providence Hotel

A couple weeks ago I posted about H.P. Lovecraft's ghost appearing at a house in Providence. Some Lovecraft fans responded to me that it was unlikely Lovecraft would appear as a ghost since he was a materialist who didn't believe in the afterlife. I jokingly replied that as a skeptic Lovecraft would just think himself back into non-existence if he came back as ghost.

All of this made me think a little bit about ghosts. If they do exist, what exactly are they? How does being a ghost work? It seems like three main types of ghosts are encountered:

1. Some ghosts are supposedly the souls of people who continue on after death. Although they are aware they are dead they maintain the personalities they had while they were living and are interested in the mortal life they left behind. These are often the ghosts that have unfinished business, or watch over a house or business they were attached to. Some of these ghosts are benevolent, acting like guardian angels for their loved ones who are still alive, and some are the exact  opposite, acting maliciously towards living people who "trespass" on property they still view as theirs.

Providence's Graduate Hotel, which is said to be haunted.
2. On the other hand, some ghosts are said to be the souls of people who don't know they're dead. They often died such sudden or violent deaths they didn't to realize they were dying. As a result their souls remain here in a confused and often very emotional state. These ghosts might be the souls of small children, murder victims, or the victims of sudden accidents. These are the ghosts that are supposedly seen sobbing, wailing, or wandering around in a confused state. Psychic mediums and other spiritual practitioners will often try to help these spirits move on to the afterlife.

3. Finally, some ghosts aren't quite the souls of people at all. Instead, they are simply spectral records of a traumatic act that happened in the past. For example, battle fields are often said to be haunted by phantom armies that replay old battles over and over. Sites of massacres or accidents that claim many lives are also supposedly haunted in similar ways. The smell of burning buildings and the cries of battlefield victims float through the air, but there is no soul, either intelligent or confused, behind these phenomena. They are simply like films that loop for eternity.

Well, at least that's what people say. Which brings me to the subject of this week's post: a ghost that supposedly haunts the Graduate Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. The Graduate was built in 1922 and was originally called the Biltmore Hotel. The iconic "Biltmore" sign still remains on its roof.

Like most old hotels the Graduate is allegedly haunted. According to legend, on October 28, 1929 a wealthy businessman checked into the hotel and had a grand old time. He ate, drank and danced like he didn't have a problem in the world. The economy was good and he was making money hand over fist.

Everything changed the next day. The stock market crashed, precipitating the Great Depression. October 29, 1929 became known as Black Thursday. It certainly was a dark day for the businessman staying at the hotel. When he heard the news he realized he had lost everything in the crash. It was more than he could take and threw himself out the window of his 14th floor room. He died instantly when he hit the sidewalk.

His ghost supposedly still haunts that room on the 14th floor and he re-enacts his death repeatedly, over and over and over. Some guests who stay at the hotel have reported seeing someone falling past their window, but when they look outside there is nothing there. All of these guests have stayed in one of the rooms the businessman fell past as he plummeted to his doom. The businessman keeps throwing himself out the window, possibly forever.

So what type of ghost is this, if it exists? Personally, I think it would be type 3, a recording of a traumatic event that replays repeatedly. At least that's what I hope. It's depressing to think that someone is so traumatized that they keep trying to kill themselves over and over. That almost sounds like something that could be true and not just a fun legend. 


My source for this week's post is Rory Raven's excellent book Haunted Providence

September 02, 2019

Some Good News: Bigfoot Delays Bridge Construction?

There is a lot of bad news out there right now. A category 5 hurricane (one of the strongest on record) just hit the Bahamas and will probably hit the U.S. mainland this week. There was a mass shooting in Texas, and a boat fire off the coast of California may have killed more than 20 people. There are protests in Hong Kong, and the political situations in the United States and Britain aren't so great either. 

Do you need a break? I know I do. So here's some news from the small town of Bradford, Vermont: Sasquatch may (or may not) have caused delays on a bridge's construction. 

Residents of Bradford (of which there are about 2,800) were surprised last week to find flyer at the town post office addressing rumors that the closure of the Creamery Bridge (which crosses the Waits River) had been caused by the activities of one or more Sasquatch. A photo of the flyer is below:

Photo: Seven Days Vermont.
The flyer caused surprise because this was the first time anyone had heard anything about Bigfoot causing the closure. Rather than quelling the Bigfoot rumor the flyer actually started it. Which was probably the the point...

The bridge is only 100 feet long but has been closed for over a year with no construction work yet done. People in Bradford have been puzzled and annoyed. Alexander Chee, a Dartmouth College professor and Bradford resident, had the following to say:

"Bigfoot is actually the most plausible reason, because I feel like you could build several new bridges in the time that that bridge has been closed," Chee said with a laugh. "And if you can't, what's wrong with you? Really, what is going on?!" (from Seven Days Vermont)

A Vermont transportation official also addressed the rumor:

J.B. McCarthy, the Vermont Agency of Transportation project manager for the Bradford bridge, said the work is simple enough, but errors in design drawings have delayed it. Sasquatch hasn't played a part, he said: "I wish I could blame it on that!" (from Seven Days Vermont)

According to The Boston Globe, additional copies of the flyer have appeared around Bradford on bulletin boards and outside businesses. Most people in town are just accepting the Sasquatch rumor as a hoax and a form of protest against the delayed construction.  

“The only Sasquatch I’ve seen is my boyfriend,” said Sherry Brown, who was working the counter at Village Eclectics near Main Street. 
Amy Cook, a local veterinarian, said, “I have not treated Sasquatch” — but added that she might not be able to say even if she had, given HIPAA restrictions. (from The Boston Globe)

Still, there's a very, very slight chance that Sasquatch may indeed be lurking near town, at least according to Pearl Sullivan, who lives next to the Waits River:

“About a month ago,” she says, “my husband and my daughter and a couple of her friends swam a little ways down the river. There’s a part where the water gets really shallow, and I saw these huge footprints in the water. They just seemed way too big to be ours.” 
She shrugs. 
“And then this comes along.” (from The Boston Globe)

Sasquatch or not, I'm just going to enjoy this weird little story before I get back to reading all the bad news out there. 

August 28, 2019

H.P. Lovecraft's Ghost Appeared at This House

In 1971 the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft appeared to a Brown University undergraduate living in an apartment at 10 Barnes Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Lovecraft, a well-known author of horror and weird fiction, lived in this building from 1926 until 1933. He died in 1937 from intestinal cancer exacerbated by malnutrition.

The appearance of Lovecraft's ghost is briefly mentioned, as if it were no big deal, on page 441 of L. Sprague de Camp's H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975). No big deal?! It's the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft!

10 Barnes Street, Providence, Rhode Island.
I'm assuming that de Camp didn't believe the story, and probably no one else did since it doesn't appear in many places. Lovecraft himself was a staunch materialist and didn't believe in the human soul so he wouldn't believe this story either. But let's suppose for a moment this story is true and that Lovecraft's ghost really did manifest to a Brown student in 1971. Why would he appear at 10 Barnes Street and in that particular year?

Ghosts allegedly appear in places to which they have strong emotional connections. We've all heard stories about ghosts appearing in the places where they were murdered, but ghosts also appear at locations where they had positive emotional experiences. That might be the case here. Lovecraft spent his most productive and successful years as a writer at 10 Barnes Street. While living there he wrote some of his most famous stories, including "Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror," and "At The Mountains of Madness." Perhaps his spirit had fond memories and didn't want to leave.

Ghosts are also said to appear when they have unfinished business. They show up when they want someone to bury their undiscovered body or send a message to their surviving loved ones. I don't think Lovecraft's ghost appeared in 1971 to reveal any dark secrets, but he probably had a lot of unresolved issues. His childhood and adolescence were like something from a Gothic novel: both parents dying in an insane asylum, the slow dissipation of his family's wealth, his mother telling him he was too hideous to be seen publicly, and a nervous breakdown in his teenage years.

A statue of Lovecraft at the Providence Art Club.
His adult life was also quite complicated and full of contradctions. Here a few examples:

  • Lovecraft was a racist and an anti-Semite, yet he married the Jewish immigrant Sonia Greene and was best friends with Samuel Loveman, a gay Jewish poet to whom he dedicated the homo-erotic short story "Hypnos."
  • Lovecraft seemed to have little interest in sex but his stories are full of bestiality, incest and intercourse with monsters.
  • Lovecraft lived most of his life in poverty but thought full-time work was beneath him. Towards the end of his life he survived on a near-starvation diet but spent his meager income on postage answering letters from anyone who wrote to him. According to one estimate he wrote up to 100,000 letters.
  • Lovecraft didn't believe in the supernatural, but based many of his stories on dreams and nightmares so vivid that some occultists are convinced he really had access to occult secrets. 

So, I think it's very likely that Lovecraft's ghost (if it exists) has some unfinished business.

Ghosts may also be vengeful, appearing because they are angry at the living. But why would Lovecraft be angry at a Brown undergrad? Maybe because Lovecraft always wanted to attend Brown University and study astronomy but couldn't even finish high school due to his fragile mental state. Perhaps after death his ghost appeared to berate whichever poor Brown student was living at 10 Barnes Street in 1971. I can also imagine that a student at that time could be a long-haired hippie, something that might also anger the conservative author. 

Of course this is all just speculation on my part. Lovecraft's ghost probably didn't even appear at Barnes Street. However, if you want to find out, you can rent an apartment there. Nothing is available right now, but it looks like they rent for around $1,200/month.  Maybe the next time one comes on the market someone will find out for sure if the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft is still lingering around Providence. 

I was inspired to write this because this past weekend was I attending NecronomiCon 2019, the bi-annual H.P. Lovecraft convention in Providence. I was browsing through Rory Raven's Haunted Providence: Strange Tales From The Smallest State (2008) to prepare for my trip and read the story about 10 Barnes Street. Raven's book directed me back to the original source, de Camp's biography of Lovecraft. 

August 21, 2019

Dining at A Haunted Restaurant

A few years ago we were in Provincetown for the annual Tennessee Williams Festival. We met a group of friends for brunch at Local 186 and, since it was a sunny September day, decided to eat outside. Little did we know what that brunch would bring...

One of my friends ordered a Belgian waffle, and when it arrived it came topped with a mountain of whipped cream and an enormous dusting of powdered sugar. It looked very tasty, but just as we were about to eat a gusty breeze blew in from the harbor. The powdered sugar blew off the waffle and all over the person who ordered it. To make matters worse he was wearing a black shirt.

He wiped off the sugar, ordered another Bloody Mary, and moved on. We all assumed the mishap was just caused by a random seaside breeze - but we may have been wrong. Local 186 is supposed to be haunted. Perhaps a ghost had caused the sugar incident?

Many restaurants, hotels and guest houses are allegedly haunted these days. I think in the more superstitious past people would be afraid to patronize a haunted establishment but now having a resident ghost is considered an extra attraction for a business. An establishment needs good food, attentive service, and preferably an undead entity. Owners publicize their ghosts in an attempt to entice customers. Modern capitalism can absorb everything, even the restless dead.

The ghost who supposedly haunts Local 186 was a businesswoman herself so she may not mind. Her name is Esther Chamberlain, and for many years she ran the restaurant and the guest house above it when it was called Esther's Inn. She was a formidable and driven entrepreneur, and even after death she is said to be interested in how the business is run. 

For example, several staff have said the ghost has rearranged silverware when they weren't looking. Here's a quote about Esther's ghost from Sam Baltrusis's book Paranormal Provincetown:
Jeffrey Doucette, a veteran ghost tour guide, said he's heard stories of table settings being rearranged and objects moving at Local 186 if guests or employees don't adhere to basic rules of etiquette. "I ran into one woman while I was giving the tour and she confirmed that the restaurant and inn's namesake was a bit of a stickler... The spirit seems to be interested in table manners..."
Esther's ghost is apparently polite and there aren't any particularly horrific stories about her. She doesn't sound sinister, just stern. 

We had dinner at Local 186 just a couple weeks ago. Our meal passed without incident (and was quite tasty) but I noticed the Ouija board that had been in the bar on past visits was gone. Paranormal investigator Joni Mayhan told Baltrusis that sometimes people playing with Ouija boards can accidentally summon sinister entities. I think that would be doubly the case for drunk folks at a bar. Maybe the ghost haunting Local 186 isn't really Esther at all? 

Perhaps the owner removed the Ouija board for psychic safety but there may be another reason. Baltrusis notes in Paranormal Provincetown that the website Building Provincetown claimed Local 186 was reputedly haunted. That has been taken down since Baltrusis's book was published in 2016 and there's no mention of it. I wonder if the new owner is downplaying the ghost angle? If so maybe that's why they removed the Ouija board as well. 

It's their business and they can market it however they please. But if Esther's ghost really does haunt Local 186 I am sure she will stick around to make sure patrons use the right fork and place their napkins in their laps.