With Halloween quickly approaching in the Granite State, many thoughts turn to ghouls,
ghost, skeletons, and everything haunted or creepy. This need to scare ourselves silly is not a modern day occurrence. In looking back to the ancient newspapers, reporting strange happenings were probably more prevalent–evidence of the early “sensationalism” of the press to increase subscriptions.
In a prior year I wrote about Haunted Houses in New Hampshire and nearby places. I have also written about strange hauntings, body snatchings, haunted New Hampshire history, and really bad poetry. Here is a link to a recap of them all. Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy the strange, and sometimes gruesome humor in the following real stories gleaned from New Hampshire newspapers.
The Visible Ghost. (1810)
Last week, while two men were employed in the interior of a family vault, about seven miles from Leeds, a meager figure, black from head to foot, glided into the sepulchral mansion; the man whose eye first caught the spectre became instantly petrified with horror, his speech forsook him, and it was only by a vigorous effort that he could jog the elbow of his fellow, and point to the object of alarm. Like the shock from the electric spark, the terror was communicated by the touch; but the symptoms were not to strong in the second as in the first subject; taking courage, he addressed the ghost in a faltering accent, and said, “In the name of God, what is your errand to this world?”
— “I have no errand; I was going past and I thought I would just look in.” These grateful sounds instantly dispelled the allusion and the workmen recognized in them the well known voice of a neighboring chimney sweeper. [from Tuesday, July 24, 1810, Farmer’s Cabinet, Amherst, New Hampshire, page 4]
A Ghost. (1842)
A foolish fellow went to the parson of the parish with a long face, and told him that he had seen a ghost as he was passing the grave yard, moving along against the side of the wall.
“In what shape did it appear?”
“In the shape of an ass.”
“Go home and hold your tongue about it,” said the pastor, “you have been frightened by your own shadow.” [from Wednesday, October 26, 1842, New Hampshire Sentinel, Keene, New Hampshire, page 4]
Miscellaneous. A Ghost Story (1847)
Guilt or remorse for injuries inflicted upon those whose forgiveness cannot be known, and whose power of retaliation in their new condition cannot be estimated, is the prolific mother of spectral annoyances. Whomsoever we have injured, however despicable and weak while living, becomes formidable by death. I have noticed in our thrifty, money-loving community, that there is a very common notion that the disposal of an estate contrary to the well known wishes of the testator is the most potent spell of all others for raising a Yankee ghost. Among the many anecdotes which corroborate this opinion, I must content myself with citing one, the scene of which happens to be in an adjoining town.
Some years ago an elderly woman familiarly known as “Aunt Morse,” died, leaving a handsome little property. No will was found, although it was understood before her decease that such a document was in the hands of Squire S., one of the neighbors. One cold winter evening, some weeks after her departure, Squire S. sat in his parlor looking over his papers, when, hearing some one cough in a familiar way, he looked up, and saw before him a little crooked, old woman in an oil-nut colored woolen frock, blue and white tow and linen apron, and striped blanket, leaving her sharp pinched face on one hand, while the other supported a short black tobacco pipe, at which she was puffing in the most vehement and spiteful manner conceivable.
The Squire was a man of some nerve; but his first thought was to attempt an escape, from which he was deterred only by the consideration that any effort to that effect would necessarily bring him nearer to his unwelcome visitor.
“Aunt Morse,” he said at length, “for the Lord’s sake, get right back to the burying ground! What on earth are you here for?” The apparition took her pipe deliberately from her mouth, and informed him that she came to see justice done with her will; and that nobody need think of cheating her, dead or alive. Concluding her remark with a shrill emphasis, she replaced her pipe, and puffed away with renewed vigor. The Squire had reasons for retaining the document at issue, which he had supposed conclusive, but he had not reckoned upon the interference of the testator in the matter. Aunt Morse, when living, he had always regarded as a very shrew of a woman; and he now began to suspect that her recent change of condition had improved her, like Sheridan’s ghost, “the wrong way.” He saw nothing better to be done under the circumstances, than to promise to see the matter set right that evening.
The Ghost nodded her head approvingly, and, knocking the ashes out of her pipe against the chimney, proceeded to fill it anew with a handful of tobacco from her side pocket. “And now, Squire,” she said, “if you will just light my pipe for me, I’ll be a-going.”
The Squire was no coward; he had been out during the war in a Merrimack privateer, and had seen sharp work off Fayal, but as he said afterwards, “It was no touch to lighting Aunt Morse’s pipe.” No slave of a pipe-bearer ever handled the chibouque to the Grand Turk with more care and reverence, than the Squire manifested on this occasion. Aunt Morse drew two or three long preliminary whiffs, to see that all was right, pulled her blanket over her head and slowly hobbled out at the door. The Squire being true to his promise was never again disturbed.
It is right in conclusion to say that there was strong suspicions at the time that the ghost was in reality in flesh and blood; in short one of the living heirs of Aunt Morse, and not the old lady herself [from Thursday, May 6, 1847, New Hampshire Sentinel, Keene, New Hampshire, page 1]
A Vampire. (1855)
A German paper related the following curious instances of the belief of the peasantry of Hungary, Croatia, Poland and Turkey in Vampires, who, according to the popular superstition, descent into their graves with their eyes open, and rise at dead of night to suck the blood of their victims, leaving no trace behind except a little spot on the neck or throat of their victim.
A young and beautiful girl, the daughter of a wealthy peasant, had numerous suitors, from among whom she selected one of her own station of life. The betrothal was celebrated by a grand feast, given by the brides father. Toward midnight the girl and her mother retired to their chamber, leaving the guests at the table. All at once the two women were heart to shriek dreadfully, and a moment after, the mother, pale and haggard, tottered into the room, carrying her daughter senseless in her arms, and crying in a voice of indescribable agony, “A vampire! a vampire! My daughter is dead!” The village doctor happened to be among the guests, and believing that the girl had only fainted, administered a cordial which speedily restored her to consciousness. On being questioned, she stated that while undressing, a pale spectre, dressed in a shroud glided in by the window, and rushed upon her, biting her throat. She added she recognized him as one Keyonewsky, a rejected suitor, who died a fortnight since. The doctor in vain attempted to persuade her she was laboring under some delusion. The next day the body of Keyonewsny was disinterred, and twenty guns were fired at his skull, which, being shattered to fragments, was amidst yells and dances, burnt to ashes.
The girl, however, died within the fortnight, persisting to the last that she had been bitten by a vampire, though she would not suffer the wound to be examined. After her death the doctor took off the bandages from her neck and discovered a small wound which had the appearance of having been made by a harness-maker’s awl, and poisoned. The doctor then learned that one of the poor girl’s rejected suitors was a harness-maker in an adjacent village, and he did not doubt that it was he who stabbed the hapless bride. He gave information to the authorities, but the young man, hearing that he was to be arrested, fled into the mountains and committed suicide by plunging into a cataract. Nothing like an incredulous doctor for converting a spirit into flesh and blood. [from Tuesday, November 27, 1855, Weekly Union, Manchester, New Hampshire, page 1]
How Ghosts Are Made. (1863)
As the ghost manifestations at the theatres are attracting a considerable share of attention just ow, the following description from the American Journal of Photography for August, will be interesting to our readers:
On the raising of the curtain for the ghost scene, the lights of the theatre were mostly extinguished, the foot-lights entirely, while the stage was dimly lighted from above and at the sides. A murderer starts up out of a troubled dream full of ugly, fearful sights, rends the passions to tatters, a la Bowery, when ghost No. 1 appears. This ghost is simply a skeleton which the murderer takes to be Death claiming him for a victim, and of course the murderer begs to be excused, &c. Death disappears, and shortly the ghost of a lady deceased in a previous act of the play, fully arrayed in crinoline and jewels, comes on the scene. This ghost No.2 talks, of course, in the manner of ghosts. Ghost No. 3 takes the place of Ghost No. 2, in the form of the old minister who had been lately murdered, and displayed his gaping wounds. Finally the three ghosts appear at the same time, the climax is reached, and the curtain falls on the harrowing scene. The ladies of the audience are all in terror, the gentlemen raise a loud encore, but the curtain refuses to move.
We proceed to give a more accurate description. The ghosts are of the normal size of humanity, and their position on the stage is definitely seen. In size, form, color, and action, they are nearly like mortals. That that are not human is, however, evident from the fact that they appear and disappear without moving from the spot where they stand. Moreover, their bodies are impalpable, and sometimes objects behind them are seen through them; the murderer attacks them with his “trusty steel,” cleaving them from head to heel without disturbing them i the least. Our magic lantern and concave mirror theories melted away before the facts we saw. The absence of a screen, the life size brilliantly illuminated, the natural movements of the lips, eyes and hands, were quite inconsistent with such explanations.
We went away the first night quite mystified; here were things which had not been dreamed of in our philosophy. We began to feel a sympathy with those who said they smelt sulfur and believed they had seen a genuine ghost. Spirit-rappings and table-tippings are only an awkward and distant approximation to the genuine ghost phenomena.
Yet the manner of raising the ghost is ridiculously simple; a little judicious reflection and the thing is accomplished. Thus: at the front of the stage there is erected a large sheet of plate glass inclined toward the audience, at an angle of about forty-five degrees with the floor. This glass is invisible to the audience, and it does not obstruct the view of objects behind it. In front of the glass and under its inclination is an opening in the floor of the stage, at which the person who acts the ghost is placed. Now when the light is turned on this actor, the image of him is seen by reflection from the glass; the plate glass acts like a looking glass. Nothing is visible to the spectators but the image, and by varying the position of the actor, the image or ghost is brought to any spot desired, is made to advance, receded, etc, and by varying the intensity, color and position of the light, other interesting effects are obtained.
This explanation will probably be sufficient to enable any of our readers, if so disposed, to get up a ghost for their private use. Conning down Broadway now, every day, we see the ghosts of houses, stages and people, in all the store windows. [from Saturday, September 12, 1863, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, page 1]Ghost Laid.– (1870)
Ever since August the door bell of a house on one of the principal streets of Great Falls, has been persistently rung, and other tricks played. No human agency could be discovered, not even a boy pulling on a cord fastened to the door knob, so it has been attributed to a ghost or something of an unearthly nature. On the evening of the 8th this idea was exploded by the occupant of the house catching a women running from the door just after a vicious series of yanks on the bell. The woman proved to be a spiritualist, who has been foremost in favoring the ghostly theory. Less dreams will be of a troubled nature in Great Falls now that the ghost has been found not of an ethereal habit. [from Wednesday, November 23, 1870, New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, Concord, New Hampshire, page 1]
The Devil-Fish. (1870)
The devil-fish of Victor Hugo’s fiction has its counterpart. A crab caught in Yokobama Bay weight about 40 pounds, had legs over five feet in length, and its mouth contained two large teeth. When in the water its strength was such that is could have quite overpowered a man. This horrible ghoul, as if attracted by that appalling calamity, was found clinging to the masthead of the recently sunken steamer Oneida. A taxidermist in San Francisco is preparing the dead monster for exhibition. [Thursday, April 14, 1870, The New Hampshire Sentinel, Keene, New Hampshire, page 2]
Looking For A Ghost (1873)
A sensational story was circulated a few days ago to the effect that on the 10th of each month, at midnight, the ghost of an engineer, Nichols, who was killed at the Morris and Essex Railroad depot some years ago, is to be seen coming out of the engine house on his engine. Last night, at the appointed time, a crowd of about six hundred superstitious persons assembled about the depot and awaited the apparition, but in vain. At last one of the engineers, a practical joker, stole into the engine house, and, finding a little steam in the boiler of one of the engines, he pulled the throttle valve, causing an unearthly shriek, which created a sensation, and the crowd was kept in a perfect ferment. No ghost appeared, whoever, and at last the steam was exhausted, and the whistle was heard no more. The crowd soon after began to dwindle away, feeling that they had been the victims of a sell. Some, however, lingered around the depot until long after 1 o’clock this morning.–Newark Advertiser [from New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, Concord NH, Feb 26, 1873, page 4]
A Skeleton Exhumed (1874)
On Monday morning, as workmen were excavating for a cellar on Market Street, Lynn [Massachusetts], a skeleton apparently that of a white man, lying in a horizontal position, with the face upward, was discovered about a foot and a half below the surface of the ground. The land on which the skeleton was exhumed is made land and the remains could not have rested in the spot in which they were found more than four years. There is a mystery about the affair, which the city authorities propose to investigate [Wednesday, August 26, 1874, New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, Concord, New Hampshire, page 2]
A Skeleton in Every House (1878)
The original of the above is briefly this. A young student of Naples believing himself dying, and fearing the news of his death would break the heart of his widowed mother, who passionately loved him–after much reflection, adopted the following device:–He wrote to his mother, telling her he was ill, and that a soothsayer had foretold that he could not recover, until he wore a shirt made by a woman who had no trouble–in fact, who was perfectly happy and contented. She with her simplicity, thought that attaining such a garment was an easy task; but after making inquiries from her friends, found that each had a secret care. At least she heard from several sources, of a lady surrounded by every comfort, and possessing a husband who seemed to think of nothing but making her happy. The old lady hastened to her, and make known her wish; the lady made no reply, but took her visitor into an adjoining closet, where she was horror-struck at beholding a skeleton suspended from a beam. “For twenty years I have bee married,” said the lady. “I was forced to marry my husband while loving another; shortly after our wedding, my former lover came to me one evening to bid me farewell forever, my husband surprised us while together and instantly stabbed him who he unjustly suspected, to the heart; he then caused his skeleton to be preserved, and makes me visit it.” The widow concluded that no one was without trouble, and as her son had desired, she became reconciled to the idea of his loss. Every one has his troubles–there is a skeleton in every house. [from Tuesday, May 21, 1878, Farmer’s Cabinet, Amherst, New Hampshire, page 1]
I Saw A Very Ugly Ghost (1883)
A very charming young lady of Brooklyn was relating some of the troubles she had had in the night. The ghost which walked into her room looked something like a lobster and something like a scare-crow. She remembered that she had enjoyed a good supper of lobster salad. When asked how it was that she was able to be out of her bed in the morning, she remarked that she always kept a bottle of PERRY DAVIS’S PAIN KILLER in her room, and that two moderate doses of this most efficient remedy had driven the ghost way. [from Thursday, July 26, 1883, New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, Concord, New Hampshire, page 6]