September 25, 2019

Abducted to the Witches' Sabbath: Joseph Ring and A Devilish Debt

The Devil must have really wanted Joseph Ring to become a witch. Over the course of two years poor Joseph was spirited away to the Witches' Sabbath against his will dozens of times. It often happened at night while he was asleep but also happened during the day. Some neighbors even claimed to have seen him walking down the road and then vanish in broad daylight. 

Joseph Ring was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts in 1664. There isn't much known about his early years, but when he was twenty-six he enlisted in a military expedition to Casco, Maine. The English settlement at Casco had been besieged by French troops and their Indian allies and the Puritans sent four ships to relieve the settlers. The expedition was in vain. When the ships arrived they found that Casco had been burned to the ground and most of the inhabitants slaughtered. 

This was probably a traumatic thing for Joseph to see. There was a lot of anxiety and trauma about the war with the French and Indians in New England in general at that time. Everyone knew a story about a burned village, a massacre, or some other atrocity. 


But surprisingly Joseph claimed that seeing the burning settlement was not the most frightening thing about the expedition. No, the most frightening thing was that he made a bet with Thomas Hardy. 

On this way to Maine Joseph had stopped at a tavern on New Hampshire's Great Island. While he was there he met Thomas Hardy who invited him to play shuffleboard, a game of chance played by sliding a coin down a table. Joseph was young and didn't have any money, but Hardy loaned him some money to play. Joseph lost the game and left the tavern owing him two pounds. 

After the expedition Hardy frequently asked Joseph for the money he was owed. But was he just interested in money or something more? He was quite insistent and appeared to Joseph at odd times and in almost unnatural circumstances. For example, Joseph once encountered him on an isolated road where Hardy was riding on horseback with a strange group of men and women. Joseph later stumbled upon Hardy drinking cider with two women in the middle of dense woods. The woods were dangerous, full of wild animals and angry Indians, but Hardy and his companions seemed unconcerned. 

Each time they met Hardy asked Joseph for the money he was owed. Joseph didn't have two pounds and was unable to repay the debt. Hardy was sympathetic and suggested instead that if Joseph simply signed his name in a black book his debt would be forgiven. In fact, signing the book might even bring good things into his life. Wouldn't he like to sign his name?

Something about the book made Joseph uneasy and he refused to sign. Other things made him even uneasier. Once after leaving Hardy and his strange companions in the woods Joseph thought they had turned into black pigs and run off into the trees. At other times Hardy and his friends had appeared as flaming balls of fire. 


Joseph realized that Hardy was a witch, and while Joseph owed him two pounds he didn't want to repay the debt with his soul.

The situation went from bad to worse. He refused to sign the book but Joseph began to be abducted to the Witches' Sabbath, being taken bodily to the eerie gathering where the witches celebrated their service to the Devil. The abductions happened frequently and in the same manner each time. Strange figures would appear and carry him away through the air. Joseph would suddenly find himself at the Sabbath and then feel a painful blow upon his back that immobilized him. He was unable to move and could only watch the witches feast and celebrate. Someone would present him with a book to sign, which he always refused. The scene would dissolve into terrifying noise and chaos, and Joseph would find himself back in the normal world.

Although neighbors allegedly saw him vanish he was not able to tell them what was happening. Thomas Hardy and the other witches had enchanted Joseph so he was unable to talk about the Sabbath and his unwilling sojourns there. In August of 1691 the spell upon him worsened and he became unable to speak at all. 

The spell was finally broken in April of 1692 when Susannah Martin, a widow who lived nearby, appeared in Joseph's bedroom while he slept. Joseph had seen her before with Thomas Hardy and knew she was a witch. As he lay immobile in bed she viciously pinched his feet. She vanished from his room, but for some reason her attack had released him from the spell that silenced him. He could speak again. 

The name "Susannah Martin" may be familiar to you from the Salem Witch trials. She was one of the nineteen people hanged for witchcraft, and Joseph Ring's testimony helped seal her fate. He told the magistrates about his abductions, the debt he owed Thomas Hardy, and about Susannah Martin's friendship with him. Joseph's brother Jarvis also testified against Martin, claiming that she had appeared in his bedroom and lain upon his immobilized body.

Joseph and his brother were only two of many people who testified against Susannah Martin, but their statements helped convict her. She was executed on July 19, 1692 on Salem's Gallows Hill. Thomas Hardy was not convicted of any crimes, despite Joseph's insistence that he was a witch of the most devilish kind. 

Joseph Ring's story gives me a lot to think about. Some historians think his intense fear and fantasies about Thomas Hardy were misplaced traumas actually caused by what he saw at Casco, Maine or by stories he heard about Indian attacks. Psychologically that makes a lot of sense to me. His mind focused on the minor issue of a two pound debt rather than process the horror he saw in Maine. 

As someone who likes weird stories I'm also intrigued by his account of being abducted by witches, which echo accounts of people abducted by fairies or even UFOs. The phenomenon remains constant but the explanation changes over time and across cultures. 

I'm also saddened that his testimony contributed to the death of Susannah Martin. Joseph clearly believed Thomas Hardy was the witch most responsible for tormenting him, but in 17th century Massachusetts women were much more likely than men to be convicted of witchcraft. Something psychological was clearly happening to Joseph but it was not Susannah Martin's fault.

It probably wasn't Thomas Hardy's either. I do wonder if Joseph continued to live in fear of Hardy and the debt he owed even after the Salem witch trials concluded. Sadly Joseph Ring died only twelve years after the Salem witch trials ended. In 1704 he was captured by Indians in a raid and burned alive. Ironically, Joseph Ring's life ended right back where his trauma began. 


Information about Joseph Ring can be found in the Salem witch trial transcripts and in documents from that time by Cotton Mather and Robert Calef. There is also some good information online. Marilynne Roach's The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege was also incredibly helpful.

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.