April 03, 2011

Newburyport's School for Ghosts

Being a school teacher is a tough job. You need to deal with unruly kids, dissatisfied parents, and inadequate resources.

For Lucy Ann Perkins, Newburyport's school mistress in in the 1870s, the job was extra tough. In addition to the usual problems, she also had to deal with a school house that was haunted. It wasn't haunted in a gently spooky, "Oh! I saw a shadowy figure" type of way. Miss Perkins had to deal with full blown poltergeist activity.

Newburyport - quaint or haunted? You decide!

Here are a few of the things she had to face:

  • As the schoolboys recited their morning prayers, the one-room school house would be filled with deafening rapping sounds.
  • Someone could be heard pounding on the school's door, but when Miss Perkins answered no one was outside.
  • The lid of the wood stove would float in the air, only to come down with a loud rattle.
  • The hand bell on her desk would also float and ring by itself.
  • An eerie golden light would fill the building. Bystanders walking by would see it streaming out from the school's windows.
  • Howling winds would buffet the school, even on the calmest days.
  • A phantom boy appeared in the room, and as Miss Perkins reached for him "the form disappeared entirely, like the baseless fabric of a vision."

Miss Perkins tried to instruct her students as best she could, but the supernatural happenings wore her nerves down. She was not alone. The janitor refused to enter the building, and many of the students were often terrified. Word eventually spread about the strange activities, and many visitors came to the school house. They were often rewarded with mysterious noises and seeing objects move on their own.

Eventually, Miss Perkins was sent on a vacation, and her duties at the school house were permanently given to one Nathan Moulton. The hauntings stopped.

What caused all the activity? Was there a real ghost or spirit involved? After investigating, the school authorities claimed the haunting was a hoax by Amos Currier, a ten year old student. However, local newspapers and pamphlet publishers claimed the hauntings were caused by an actual ghost.

Shortly after this, the schoolhouse was shut down and eventually converted to a single family home. When Tony and I visited Newburyport we unsuccessfully to locate it.

Poltergeist or hoax? Personally, I can't decide. It's always good to be skeptical about things like this, but I do wonder how a ten year old boy could have fooled so many adults, and created a phantom that disappeared when touched. And what about that howling wind?

My two main sources for this were Holly Mascott Nadler's Ghosts of Boston Town and John James Currier's History of Newburyport, 1764-1905.

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