July 13, 2019

The Demon Dog and Ghostly Boy of Hell's Half Acre

For over one-hundred years people in Bristol, Vermont have said that South Mountain is haunted by ghosts. One ghost is a large dog; the other is a little boy. Although the ghosts are still said to haunt the  mountain (you can hear them on a quiet night if you listen) the explanation for how they got there has changed over time. 

The story of the ghosts begins way back in 1800. That was the year a Spanish man named DeGrau appeared in Bristol. DeGrau told anyone who would listen that as boy he had come to South Mountain with his father and a party of Spanish prospectors. They had found a rich vein of silver on the mountain and smelted in down into silver bars. And when DeGrau said rich vein he meant rich! They had more silver than they could carry out with them, so they buried the majority of it on the mountain. DeGrau's father and the others planned to come back at a future date to recover their treasure but they never did. 

An alternate version of the story claims that DeGrau was actually a Spanish pirate, and that he and his crew had been carrying their loot from the coast towards Canada when they were attacked by an Indian war-party. Most of the the pirates were killed in the battle but not before they buried their treasure. Only DeGrau had escaped alive.

And now poor DeGrau, whether vicious pirate or son of a prospector, decades later could not find the exact spot where the silver bars had been buried. The landscape had been altered by the earthquake of 1755. He dug around futilely on the mountainside for a while and then wandered off. He never returned but the rumor of the lost treasure remained. People in Bristol would sometimes try to find the treasure but like DeGrau never succeeded. They did find old mining implements which led them to think there was truth to the legend, as did the discovery of a Spanish doubloon.

Things changed in the middle of the 19th century when large group of Canadian prospectors arrived. Led by a man named Uncle Sim Corserer, this group was better organized and more determined than the dilettantes who had preceded them. For more than a decade they ran a serious mining operation on South Mountain. They dug multiple pits and tunnels into solid rock, determined to find the silver.

Corserer and his crew were guided by a spiritualist medium who told them where to dig. However, the medium also warned them that the treasure was guarded by two evil spirits. One of them was a savage dog, which the Spaniards had sacrificed near the treasure. Its ghost now wandered the mountain howling and threatening anyone who got close to finding the silver. The other ghost was a small boy, who also had been sacrificed to create a guardian spirit. He wandered the woods and slopes with a red-hot iron bar and bore the wound that ended his life: a bloody gash across his throat. 

Although some locals were skeptical the Canadian prospectors swore they had heard and seen these angry spirits. The area where they dug earned the nickname Hell's Half Acre and people began to avoid it, partially from fear of the ghosts but also because it was dangerous: the Canadians had excavated multiple half-hidden shafts and pits into which a person could easily plummet. Eventually Sim Corserer and his crew departed empty-handed. Maybe the ghosts had prevented them from finding the treasure? 

People say the ghosts still haunt Hell's Half Acre but the story about them has changed. According to the new story, many years ago a boy decided to explore the prospector's abandoned excavations on South Mountain. He brought his faithful dog with him. He never returned home and although his family searched for him they were unable to find any sign of their child or his canine companion.

Years later a hiker stumbled upon a dog's skeleton in the dense woods. It was lying next to a deep pit. At the bottom of the pit was the skeleton of a small boy. The hiker deduced that the boy had stumbled into one of the area's hidden pits and died. His faithful dog was unwilling to leave its master and stayed at the top of the pit until it too passed away.

It is said that if you listen on a quiet night you can hear the boy's cries and the howling of the spectral dog. Are they the tragic ghosts of recent legend or the more sinister demonic guardians the prospectors warned of? Either way, you explore Hell's Half Acre at great risk. The terrain is treacherous and riddled with pits and tunnels hidden in the undergrowth. You don't want to become the third ghost haunting the mountain.


I got a lot of my information for this post from Joseph Citro's book Weird New England and also from online sources like this one. Treasure hunting was a popular pastime in 19th century New England and the area is full of legends similar to this one. See for example this legend from Ipswich, Massachusetts. Sim Corserer was not the only person who wasted years digging for treasure under the direction of a psychic. Hiram Marble did something similar in Lynn, Massachusetts and his tunnel still remains. 

1 comment:

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post Peter! Another reason to love New England - all the buried treasure stories!