August 23, 2021

Kimball Tavern: Ghosts for Sale

How many haunted taverns are there in New England? A lot, I guess, because this is my second post about a haunted tavern this summer.

Today's tavern in question is the Kimball Tavern in my hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts. The tavern sits near Bradford Common on the south side of the Merrimack River, and was built around 1690 by Benjamin Kimball. Seven generations of the Kimball lived in it for the next two centuries.

The tavern played an important part in local history, because it was here that a group of local landowners met to create Bradford Academy (later Bradford College) in 1803. In 1921 the building was sold to the Marble family, who operated an antique store there, and it was later bought by Bradford College. 

Sadly, Bradford College shut down in 2000, and Kimball Tavern was then sold to the Wood family, who ran an antiques store from it. The Woods shut down their store a few years ago, and the building is once again for sale. The asking price is $599,000.

In addition to getting a 300+ year old building with six bedrooms and three baths, the buyer may also get some ghosts. According to Roxie Zwicker's Haunted Pubs of New England (2007), a former Bradford College student named Tom experienced strange phenomena in the tavern. 

Your author in front of the tavern.

For example, once when making a presentation the projector became mysteriously unplugged, and photos taken of him during the presentation seem to show a shadowy figure standing between him and the camera. In fact, Tom could not be seen in the photos at all.

Tom also claimed that many people glimpsed shadowy figures through the windows when the building was unoccupied. Tom and a friend visited the tavern one night to take photos, and saw a group of figures looking at them from an attic window. These figures also appeared in the photos. Tom believed they were the spirits of the Kimball family.

Many local children also thought the building was haunted, and according to Christopher and Nancy Obert's Legendary Locals of Haverhill, Massachusetts (2011), people have claimed to hear the sound of a young girl inside, as well as see the shadow of a dog and hear footsteps in empty rooms. So there you go. If you buy this building you might get some ghosts. 

Sadly, I don't have an extra $600K lying around, so I won't get the chance to own this beautiful old (and possibly haunted) building. Hopefully whoever buys it will run it as a business of some kind, or even a museum, so I will get a chance to see the inside. Hopefully the ghosts will stick around as well.


I'll be a guest on Midnight FM this Thursday, 8/25/21, to discuss my book Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts. I'm excited to talk with host Tim Weisberg about New England's weird and wonderful folklore. The show airs at 10:00 pm Eastern time!

August 14, 2021

The Sweet Milk of Satan: A Cape Cod Witch Story

Tony and I were down in Truro on Cape Cod recently, and we found a gravestone I've wanted to see for a long time. It belongs to Sylvanus Rich, who was born in 1720 and died on July 3rd, 1755. There's an interesting legend about Rich and a local witch. It goes something like this. 


Sylvanus Rich was a sea captain. Not much is known about him, but something strange happened to him once during a routine sea voyage carrying carrying corn from North Carolina to Boston. As his ship was sailing north along Truro's Atlantic coast he told his crew to drop anchor. He had seen a small hut nestled among the dunes.

"I want some fresh milk," Rich told his men. "I'm tired of brackish water and rum. I bet whoever lives there has a cow that that gives milk." The crew watched as he rowed himself to shore (alone) and made his way to the hut. When he rowed back to the ship he had a jug of milk with him. "I was right," he said. "The old woman there had some milk for me. But she was the ugliest hag I've ever seen!" Rich retired to his cabin with the creamy beverage, but as soon as he did a fierce gale arose that shredded the ship's sails. The crewmen pounded on his cabin door for guidance, but he did not emerge until the next morning.

Sylvanus Rich's grave in North Truro Cemetery

"What's that?" Sylvanus Rich said groggily to his crew. "The sails are shredded and we're drifting? That's not my concern... Last night the hideous hag came to my cabin. She threw a magic bridle over my head and rode me like a horse up and down the Cape until sunrise. See?" He lifted his shirt, and his crew gasped at the red marks on his torso. They looked like they were made by a woman's shoe. 

"She will come again tonight," Captain Rich said. "I must prepare for her." His crew wasn't sure if he grimaced or smiled as he returned to his cabin and locked the door. 

For several days the ship drifted aimlessly off the Truro coast. Each night the dune-dwelling old witch came and used the captain as her steed, riding him up and down the Cape. Sylvanus Rich was under her spell and helpless to resist her. He spent his days and nights locked in his cabin. 

The crew was feeling desperate (and thinking mutinous thoughts), when they saw another ship approaching from the distance. By a strange coincidence, it was captained by Sylvanus Rich's son. When the crew told him his father was bewitched, Sylvanus's son went down to his cabin. The crew could hear the two men talking inside but were unable to make out what was said. 

Finally, Sylvanus Rich emerged onto the deck. "What are you all looking at?" he said. "My son's ship has materials to repair our sails. Get to work! We need to bring this grain to Boston."

The sails were repaired, and the ship finally arrived in Boston. The merchant waiting for the shipment of corn asked why it was so late. Sylvanus Rich simply said, "Blame it on the sweet milk of Satan."

That's the end of the legend. His gravestone is in Old North Truro Cemetery, but I couldn't find much information about Sylvanus Rich's life. He was born in Eastham, Massachusetts in 1720, and had at least two children with his wife Mary. His son Isaiah was born in 1744, and would only have been 11 years old when Sylvanus died. It seems unlikely that Isaiah was captaining a ship at the age of eleven, so I'm not sure how much of this legend is based on fact. 

There are a lot of New England legends about witches using magic bridles to ride men like horses. There are at least two others from Cape Cod specifically about witches riding sailors! I guess it was an occupational hazard of the time, like scurvy or getting seasick. New England witch stories aren't usually erotic, but I think the sexual undertones in these witch bridle stories are pretty obvious. Milk, usually associated with motherhood and sustenance, has a more sinister and unwholesome role in this tale. 

We never learn what transpired in the witch's hut, or what Sylvanus's son says to him that finally breaks the spell. I like that mystery. I also like that the witch is not killed or harmed at the end of this story. Instead, she is free to seduce and torment more sailors with the SWEET MILK OF SATAN. 

I included this story in my new book, Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts, which is available now for pre-ordering and will mail on September 1. You can purchase it all your favorite online book vendors. 


My main source for this story was Elizabeth Renard's book The Narrow Land (1934), and she got the story from Shebnah Rich's Truro, Cape Cod, or Landmarks and Seamarks (1884), with additional details from oral tradition.  

August 03, 2021

Bottomless Ponds of New England: Monsters, Witches, and Dead Horses

I read a lot of books about local legends and folklore, and have discovered some weird things. I recently learned there are several bottomless lakes and ponds here in New England. Yes, you read that correctly. There are several bodies of water here that are immeasurably deep. And some have monsters in them...

One of these bottomless bodies of water is Hall's Pond in Brookline. Hall's Pond is located just off Beacon Street, one of the Boston area's busiest thoroughfares, and you can even take the Green Line trolley to it. Very convenient!

The pond is now part of Amory Park, and there is a nice boardwalk that leads you around it. The last time I visited it was teeming with fish, turtles, and birds. Hall's Pond used to be much larger and swampier, and is actually the remains of an ancient cedar swamp. The soil is quite peaty, and creates an oily sheen on the water. 

Hall's Pond in Brookline

The January 28, 1902 proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society, include the following information about the development of Amory Park:

The town's purchase was about eight acres, which includes a part of Hall's Pond, the dreaded hole and terror of youngsters, which was believed to be bottomless.

The 1954 - 1955 proceedings of the Society include the following reminiscence from one Mrs. Luquer:

The story goes that, in my childhood, one dark night, a man with his horse and buggy went down what he thought was Essex Street straight down to Beacon Street right down into Hall's Pond where there was quicksand and he was never seen again. I remember I often skated on the Pond and always wondered whether I was over the horse and buggy.

It's a grim story, but not as terrifying as the stories told about Dublin Lake in Dublin, New Hampshire. According to a July 26, 2017 issue of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, in the early 20th century people thought the lake was bottomless. More contemporary legends say it is the home of hideous monsters who live in underwater caves:

Lore surrounding the lake monster dates back to the 1980s, when a free-diver allegedly went missing after a routine dive. The diver was found a number of days later, naked and incoherently babbling about monsters. 

Another version of the story states a diver was using a diving bell when exploring the lake’s bottom, but the tether was not long enough as he descended. 

After heading down deeper to find the caverns, the diver disappeared. A group of hikers found the diver in the woods naked days later, with the diver once again was babbling about monsters. ("The search for the Dublin Lake Monster," Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, July 26, 2017)

I think the whole "naked diver babbling insanely about monsters" is pretty creepy. Perhaps those monsters are from another planet, because another legend claims there is a spaceship or UFO at the bottom of the lake. 

Dinglehole, a small pond in Millis, Massachusetts, is also believed to be bottomless. Much like Hall's Pond, Dinglehole was once larger and swampier. In the 18th and 19th century, legends said it was haunted by a headless ghost who misled travelers. People also heard the ringing of a mysterious bell near the pond, giving it the name Dinglehole. (The bell went "dingle dingle dingle.")

Hall's Pond in Brookline

A headless ghost and mysterious bell are bad enough, but the the Devil and his witches would gather near Dinglehole to celebrate the Witches Sabbath. The witches arrived in the shape of weasels, raccoons, and other small woodland animals. 

One evening, a local hunter was walking home when he noticed a large raccoon watching him from a tree. Unable to resist such an easy target, the hunter shot the raccoon and hit it squarely in the chest. Nothing happened to the raccoon. It sat there unharmed. Did the hunter notice a slight smirk on its face? He fired several more shots, each time hitting the raccoon, which continued to ignore the bullets.

Finally, it dawned on the hunter that this was no ordinary animal. He plucked a branch from a nearby witch hazel shrub, a plant known for its magical powers, and fired it from his rifle like a small harpoon. It hit the raccoon in the face. The animal then vanished. Several days later, the hunter learned that Murky Mullen, a local woman suspected of witchcraft, had an unexplained injury on her face. Clearly, she (or her spirit) had been wandering the woods in the shape of a raccoon. (That story appears in Ephraim Orcutt Jameson and George James La Croix's 1886 book The History of Medway, Mass. 1713-1885.)

Hall's Pond, Dublin Lake and Dinglehole are just three bottomless bodies of water I learned about while researching other things. I assume there are probably others out there in New England. Of course, modern science says a bottomless pond or lake is an impossibility. After all, the center of our planet is hot and molten. If a lake reached all the way down to Earth's molten core it would probably be some kind of volcano, not a nice body of water you can swim in or skate on. 

I suspect the idea of a bottomless lake reflects an older view of the world, one in which the universe was filled with water. We now know that our planet is a sphere floating in the void of outer space. Many earlier civilizations believed the world was a flat disc that floated in an infinite abyss of water. For example, in the Babylonian creation myth, the only two beings that exist at the beginning of time are Apsu, the primal god of fresh water, and Tiamat, the dragon goddess of the sea. There is no land. It only appears after Apsu and Tiamat are slain and the god Marduk divides the waters using Tiamat's corpse. 

A similar situation is seen in the Biblical Book of Genesis, where God separates the waters from the waters during the creation of the world. There is water above the world, and water below the world.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

So in a traditional Biblical view, the world looks something like this:

The Earth is surrounded by water, both above and below. This is alluded to in the Flood story, where not only are the "windows of heaven" opened to make it rain, but "all the fountains of the great deep broken up" as well. God is letting all the primal waters back in, returning the world to its primal state of chaos. 

I think local legends about bottomless bodies of water might reflect this older cosmology, even if accidentally. The ponds and lakes in these stories are not only immeasurably deep, but they are also associated with terrifying things. Dead men and dead horses, lost in the middle of the night. Monsters so hideous they cause insanity. Witches, ghosts, and even the Devil himself. The forces of chaos are lurking just below the surface, ready to drag the unwary down into the fathomless waters. These things are probably just lurking in our subconscious, not in the water, but I'd still be careful. You don't want to wander too far from shore and get in over your head. Who knows what you might find there?


I wanted to give you an update on my new book, Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts. I got my author's copies the other day, and they look great. I'm really excited for people to read this one. 

It's currently available for pre-order on, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Amazon, and most other places you buy books. It will be available on September 1, just in time for the fall and spooky season.