April 24, 2019

Ghosts, Strange Graves and General Weirdness at Gilson Road Cemetery

I always like to read about a haunted location before we visit it. It helps me know what I should look for when I get there.

One of the first things I read about Gilson Road Cemetery really intrigued me. According to an urban legend, a ghost will appear if you leave the cemetery and shout "Betty Gilson, I have your baby!" The ghost appears as a woman in Colonial-era clothing, and is sometimes seen in the middle of Gilson Road. At other other times she hides behind the trees that line the road.

Who is Betty Gilson? Why is she so concerned about her baby? Unfortunately I didn't learn the answers to these questions when we visited Gilson Road Cemetery recently. Actually, I came away with even more questions.

Gilson Road Cemetery is located on a quiet rural street in Nashua, New Hampshire. The cemetery itself is quite small and doesn't have a lot of gravestones standing, but it's pretty obvious there used to be more than there are today. For example, a quick scan showed that there were several stone bases that used to support gravestones that are no longer there. I'm sure there are many more graves that are completely unmarked.

I couldn't find any historical records of this cemetery online. The oldest grave, that of Hannah Robbins, seems to date from the 1790s. Most of the graves are from the 1800s. Many of them are for members of the Gilson family, although the Fiskes, Searles and other families are buried here as well.

Lisa Rogak's 2004 edition of Stones and Bones of New England claims it had a reputation as New Hampshire's most haunted cemetery, and ghost hunter Fiona Broome has been investigating since 2008. Many, many people have seen ghosts there. Orbs, strange lights, apparitions and small ghostly children have all been sighted by visitors to Gilson Road. My Facebook friend Sandra has gone to many haunted locations and said that she saw strange faces in photos she took at Gilson Road Cemetery.

Did we see ghosts? No. Was Gilson Road Cemetery weird? Yes. Unlike Vale End, which I blogged about last week, Gilson Road does not feel well-maintained. It feels vaguely neglected. Neglect doesn't necessarily equal weird in my book, but Gilson Road Cemetery is also the site of a lot of human activity. That's what made it seem so strange.

Visitors to cemeteries will sometimes leave coins on the graves of famous or important people. I think that's common. But visitors to Gilson Road have left coins on many, many graves and no one famous is buried there. I think people are leaving coins to honor (or perhaps propitiate?) the restless spirits that are said to reside there.

The neglect and the coins make Gilson Road Cemetery feel weird, and so do all the child graves. And there are a lot of them. For example, there are three identical tiny gravestones for unnamed babies from the Gilson family. Coins have been left on all of them. Perhaps these graves marked "Baby Gilson" have given rise to the legend about Betty Gilson and her baby?

Here is another child's grave, this time with a stuffed Big Bird left at it. All the graves are all quite old, so it's very, very unlikely Big Bird was left by someone who knew the child while he was alive.

The most memorable grave is probably that of little Walter Gilson, who died in 1811 when he was just over three years old. Walter's gravestone has a round hole drilled all the way through it. I haven't found a definitive explanation for this and have never seen another grave like it anywhere else.

People have left a lot of items at Walter's grave, including Barbie dolls, a solar powered crucifix, toy cars, and a rubber space alien. I think the stuffed Scooby Doo is particularly appropriate. A ghost-hunting dog is probably the best toy for a haunted cemetery.

Finally, adding to the weirdness, we saw this object on the ground. Was it a charm of some kind? It definitely had a Blair Witch vibe to it, but I suppose it could just have been a broken dreamcatcher. Or maybe not. We just left it right where it was. I'm not messing around with somebody else's graveyard magic, thank you very much.

There are a few theories about why the cemetery is supposed to be so haunted. According to one it was the site of a bloody battle between two local Native American tribes. Another claims the cemetery was the site of not one, but two deadly house fires. I don't think there's any evidence to back up either theory so they may just be legends. Still, true or not, they reflect the eerie atmosphere of the cemetery.

I guess you can see why I came away from Gilson Road Cemetery with a lot of questions. It's one of the more interesting graveyards I've been to recently and I recommend visiting if you get the chance. Maybe you'll find more answers than I did! My usual caveats apply: don't go at night and don't damage anything. This is someone's final resting place so be respectful. 

April 17, 2019

Vale End Cemetery: A Blue Lady, Terrifying Encounters, and Pukwudgies

Recently we took a trip to New Hampshire. We met up with our old friend Pasha, and then we did what anyone does on a beautiful early spring day: we went to look at haunted cemeteries.

Our first stop was Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, New Hampshire. Wilton is a beautiful town but Vale End has acquired an ominous reputation, particularly in the last few years. Demons, malevolent ghosts and pukwudgies have all been reported at this historic cemetery. To be honest I was a little scared as we drove up to New Hampshire!


The oldest grave in the cemetery, that of Phebe Cram, dates from 1752. The cemetery is first mentioned in town records in 1772, when the town voted to "fence the burying ground." In 1780 the town voted to upgrade the fence to a stone wall and to build a road to the cemetery. Someone donated more land to the burying ground in 1869, and in 1871 it was named Vale End Cemetery. 

I found that information in 1888's History of the Town of Wilton, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire by A.A. Livermore and Sewell Putnam. The authors don't mention anything about ghosts, demons or troll-like creatures at all. Not many town histories do but I was hoping to find some mention of Vale End's most famous ghost, the Blue Lady.

According to legends the Blue Lady has haunted Vale End cemetery for generations, but some of Wilton's older residents (and members of Wilton's historical society) say the story only dates to the 1970s. The Blue Lady is said to be the ghost of Mary Ritter Spaulding, who died at age 35 and was buried in the cemetery in 1808. Mary was the first wife of Captain Isaac Spaulding and shares a grave with his second wife, also named Mary Spaulding.

Mary Ritter Spaulding's grave
By all accounts Mary Ritter Spaulding was a kind and loving wife and good mother to her seven children. Some people even say that Mary worked as a healer in Wilton and cured illness with herbal remedies.  Her benign nature while alive is reflected in her activities as a ghost. The Blue Lady manifests primarily as a column of blue light above her grave and more infrequently as a woman in old-fashioned attire wandering through the cemetery. Does she have unfinished business? Is she watching over the loved ones buried around her? Most people who see the Blue Lady say the encounter is spooky and odd but not terrifying.

I do find the Blue Lady interesting. The column of light is so impersonal but also feels almost religious somehow. Her title, the Blue Lady, reminds me of the many times people have seen the Virgin Mary as an apparition in blue. I'm not saying that the Virgin Mary is appearing in this cemetery, but maybe people's experiences of paranormal phenomena are colored by pre-existing cultural patterns. Maybe the first person who reported seeing the Blue Lady at Vale End made an an unconscious connection between two kind, loving mothers named Mary.


Up until the early 2000s legends about Vale End focused on the Blue Lady. That changed and the cemetery has since acquired a more sinister reputation. The change seems to date back to November 1999, when paranormal investigator Fiona Broome and some associates were investigating hauntings at Nashua's Gilson Road Cemetery. Broome's photographer Nancy had brought her teenage daughter along, but the daughter became frightened during the investigation. Nancy and her daughter left and decided to visit a friendlier cemetery: Vale End in Wilton. After all, the Blue Lady was quite benign compared to the restless spirits at Gilson Road.

Nancy and her daughter drove to Vale End that same night. Unfortunately their experience there was terrifying. As they walked towards the Blue Lady's grave they saw something dark rise up from a nearby grave. They ran back to the car in terror and drove off so quickly one mirror was knocked off as they swiped a tree.


Later that night the daughter called Fiona Broome. She was scared, and wondered if anything ever follows people home from graveyards. Fiona assured her nothing does.

Five days later Nancy the photographer was found dead in her car in a Wilton parking lot. A coroner claimed it was a sudden heart attack. Nancy wasn't known to have any heart disease, though, and Fiona Broome and other paranormal investigators wondered if something sinister really had followed her home from Vale End.

In the spring of 2000 Fiona and some colleagues decided to investigate Vale End at night. As they made their way towards the Blue Lady's grave Fiona saw a three-foot tall hairy red humanoid. She said the creature reminded her of a muppet like Elmo or Grover. As she walked towards it she slammed into what felt like an invisible force field - and an unmistakably evil presence. Dozens more of the small humanoids began to appear and she and her colleagues fled the cemetery, but not before taking photos. Only when she was ten miles away did the feeling of evil fade.

When Fiona developed the photos they were completely black and showed nothing, except for one with a vaguely humanoid red blob. Was it one of the small humanoids? Perhaps, but when one of Fiona's friends turned the image around she thought it looked like a classic image of Satan.


You can read Fiona Broome's full account on her website. She discourages anyone from visiting Vale End, particularly at night, but her story of demons and small humanoids has of course had the opposite effect. A lot of people have a hunger for the supernatural, and what better place to feed that hunger than a cemetery possibly haunted by demons?

Some people have recently speculated that those small humanoids she saw were actually pukwudgies, one of the names for New England's local magical little people. If you read the comments on this page, you'll see that someone even claimed to have successfully photographed one at Vale End.

Many cultures make connections between fairies and the dead, so I suppose it's not surprising that someone would see pukwudgies at a cemetery. I have written about them before, and hearing that people have seen them at Vale End was one reason I wanted to visit. So I don't know whether I am disappointed or relieved that we didn't see any when we were there. Probably relieved!

As I wrote earlier, I was a little scared on the way to Vale End, but nothing unusual or bad happened to us. The weather was beautiful and we all found the cemetery to be quite peaceful. There are a lot of interesting stones to see, like that of Samuel Greele, who was "suddenly killed by the fall of a tree on the 25th of September, 1798", or the marker for Edward Herrick which has this rhyming epitaph:

Afflictions sore longtime I bore
Physicians were in vain
Till God did please, and death did seize
To ease me of my pain

We of course also visited the grave of Mary Ritter Spaulding. Her gravestone is easy to find since it has been dramatically broken. We did not see a column of blue light but we noticed that people leave coins on her grave, probably as a way to honor the cemetery's resident ghost.

Vale End Cemetery is open during daylight hours only, not at night, which decreases your chances of encountering a malevolent entity. The Wilton Police patrol the cemetery and will remove you from the cemetery if they find you there after dark. You may not see a pukwudgie but you will see a patrol car! If you visit obey the rules and please don't disturb any of the stones. And you might want to leave a coin for the Blue Lady.

April 07, 2019

Ann Hibbins, The Wealthy Witch of Boston

I think most people are familiar with the Salem witch trials. They may not know every fact and date, but people know the Puritans executed a group of people for witchcraft in Salem. I suspect people are less familiar with the other witch trials that happened earlier than 1692, though.

Surprisingly, more than one hundred people were accused of witchcraft in New England before the Salem witch trials ever happened. Many of these accusations were made informally, but many made it all the way to the court system. That's quite a few accusations considering New England was only settled in the early 1600s. Shockingly, fifteen people were executed for witchcraft in New England between 1648 and 1692.

One of those executed was Ann Hibbins of Boston. If you've read Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter you may remember Ann Hibbins. Hawthorne portrays her as an aged but wealthy woman who has sold her soul to the Devil. She futilely encourages heroine Hester Prynne to join her in the woods for the witches Sabbath, and even suggests that minister Arthur Dimmesdale might like an introduction to Satan:

“So, reverend Sir, you have made a visit into the forest,” observed the witch-lady, nodding her high head-dress at him. “The next time, I pray you to allow me only a fair warning, and I shall be proud to bear you company. Without taking overmuch upon myself, my good word will go far towards gaining any strange gentleman a fair reception from yonder potentate you wot of!”

Hawthorne is having a little authorial fun here with a historical figure. In his novel Ann Hibbins is an actual witch practicing dark magic, but he uses her mainly as a contrast to the fictional Hester Prynne, who although adulterous is not evil. When The Scarlet Letter was made into a Demi Moore movie in 1996 the screenwriter took even more liberties with the character: she was portrayed as a goddess-worshipping Wiccan.

Joan Plowright as Mistress Hibbins in The Scarlet Letter
The real Ann Hibbins was neither an evil witch or a Wiccan, but was a wealthy Puritan woman who emigrated to Boston in the 1630s with her husband William. They were well-connected politically since William was related through a previous marriage to the colony's governor Richard Bellingham. A year after settling in Boston William's connections got him appointed a deputy to the General Court, the legislative body of Massachusetts. He achieved the higher title of Assistant in 1654. Both Ann and William also became members of Boston's prestigious First Church.

Not everything was perfect in the New World. They had some financial problems in Boston, including losing a significant amount of gold in a trade deal that went bad. Still, the Hibbinses were wealthier than most Bostonians, and William was even allotted three hundred acres of land in the Boston village called Muddy River (now the town of Brookline). Known as Stanford Farm, it was one of the largest allotments in the village. William also acquired several other pieces of land in Muddy River.

Map from Brookline Historical Society. 
They didn't really need to worry about money, but ultimately it was money that led to Ann being accused of witchcraft. Ann had hired a carpenter named John Crabtree to work on their house in Boston but was unhappy with the completed work. She refused to pay him the amount he wanted and complained to neighbors and friends about him. Her husband tried to mollify her by asking another carpenter, John Davis, to provide an unbiased estimate of a fair price. However, Ann was also unhappy with the estimate Davis provided and proceeded to slander him along with Crabtree.

Ann's behavior was considered inappropriate for someone of her status, and particularly for a member of the prestigious First Church. The church's leaders felt she should have behaved more moderately. They also thought she was being disobedient to her husband. After several hearings with Ann (who remained unrepentant) the First Church excommunicated her. This was a very strong rebuke, particularly since Boston was practically a Puritan theocracy at the time. 

William remained a member of First Church, though, and his influence was able to protect Ann from any further repercussions. But when he died in 1654 Ann suddenly found herself in a vulnerable position, and in 1655 she was brought to trial for witchcraft. Interestingly, historians have not found any of the testimony given against her. We don't really know the specifics of the accusations against her, but they probably didn't really matter for the trial's outcome. She was an unpopular older woman with a bad reputation. The jury found her guilty and condemned her to death. 

The verdict was refused by the colony's magistrates, and the case was sent to the General Court itself, the ruling body that William had served on. Surprisingly the General Court also found her guilty and sentenced her to die by hanging. It has been speculated that they returned the guilty verdict to defuse public outrage. She was executed on June 19, 1656.

Although she was unpopular and cantankerous, it seems that many people at the time felt her execution was unjust. For example, the Reverend William Hubbard wrote in the 1670s that:
Vox populi went sore against her, and was the chiefest part of the evidence against her, as some thought.... Many times persons of hard favor and turbulent passions are apt to be condemned by the common people for witches, upon very slight grounds. 
Stories about witches are scary. Accounts of demons, black magic and Sabbaths in the woods are good spooky stories to tell at night. But I think historical accounts of witch-hunts are even scarier, particularly in the clear light of day.