New Hampshire Tidbits: More Ghostly Stories of Long Ago

The Ghost Story, by Frank French. From a wood engraving, 1886. Black ink on tissue paper. New Hampshire Historical Society. Used with permission.

In 1873 New Hampshire newspapers reported on a well-documented case of a haunting of a school house in Newburyport, Massachusetts. “The Haunted School-House, published by Loring of Boston, can be found at the book-stores in the city. It is a pamphlet descriptive of the ghostly puzzle at Newburyport and is illustrated throughout.” –Mirror and Farmer (Manchester NH) 29 March 1873, page 6

The Newburyport ghost refuses to be quieted. Mr. Moulton has been put in charge of the school, but the ghostly knockings are still heard; while the boy on whose evidence the report of the committee was made, has been sent to prison for 30 days for stealing–a fact which weakens his evidence materially. pictures. –Mirror and Farmer (Manchester NH) 15 March 1873, page

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WITCH Image from page 1176 of “St. Nicholas [serial], 1873, Mary Mapes Dodge. From the Internet Archive.

Concord [NH] and Vicinity. A Ghostly Story.
The Monitor is responsible for the following. It does not tell us where its sight-seeing informers spent their evening or in what condition they reached their homes: “Some gentlemen passing up Green street, on Tuesday night of last week, about 8 o’clock, during the heavy storm that was then raging, heard a loud noise like the clapping of hands high in air, which seemed to proceed from the tower of the Unitarian church. On looking up they saw a ball of fire, about as large as a man’s head, just in front of the little circular window, which is in the top of the tower, just under the spire. As they looked the noise gradually grew fainter, till there was no sound, and as the sound decreased, so did the size of the ball of fire diminish till there was no sight of it to be seen. Again and again did the gentlemen witness a repetition of the weird display and hear the strange clapping, but they had to go away unsatisfied as to the cause. It could not have been the work of imagination, for it was several times repeated and each time seen and heard by different people.” The explanation of the phenomena is that come covetously-inclined person had taken advantage of the storm to secure some of the doves that take refuge in the tower; the ball of fire: was the lantern which he carried, and the “clapping” was caused by the efforts of the doves to escape from the poacher. –New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord NH) 2 March 1882, page 8

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Image from page 264 of “The great sea horse” (1909) by Isabel Anderson, New York Public Library at the Internet Archive.

Bread Baking and Ghostly Warnings
It was in the days of our grandmothers, when there were brick ovens in the land, that Mr. Hubbard bought his house,–the haunted house of B—-, very much against his wife’s will. It was a lonely house. It was next to a graveyard, which, though long unused, was not very cheerful and it had the reputation of a ghost. However, Mr. Hubbard did not believe in ghosts, was too cheerful to be depressed by warnings, and never intended to be lonely.

“Mother Hubbard,” he said, when his wife shook her head over the purchase. “I got the house cheap, and its a good one. You’ll like it when you get there. If you don’t, why, then talk.”

So the house was bought, and into it the Hubbard family moved. There was scarcely a chance for a ghost to show his face in such a household of boys and girls. The rosy-faced master of the house and his little wife had ten of them. It was in view of the eternal cry of “mother,” that the jolly husband had dubbed his Martha Jane “Mother Hubbard,” using it in jest at first, and at last because of an old habit. Hearing it, the rest of B—- fell into the way of calling the motherly soul Mother Hubbard, so that it was more her name, by far, than her baptismal Martha Jane.

Having once expostulated and “spoken out her mind,” Mother Hubbard gave up the point. She scrubbed and scoured, tacked down carpets and put up curtains and owned that the place was pretty; and, as not a ghost appeared for a week, made up her mind that there was no such inhabitant, and even began not to mind the tombstones. So the house was got to rights at last, and baking day came about. In the press of business they had had a great deal of baker’s bread and were tired of it. Mrs. Hubbard had never enjoyed setting a batch of bread to rise as she did that which was to be eaten for the first time in the new house. “For I can’t get up an appetite for stuff that nobody knows who has had the making of,” said Mother Hubbard: “and all puffy and alumy besides.” So into the oven went the bread, and out it came at the proper time, even and brown and beautiful as loaves could be.

Mother Hubbard turned the loves up on their sides as she drew them forth, and they stood in the long bread tray, glorious proofs of her skill and of the excellence of the oven, when Tommy Hubbard bounded in. Tommy was four, and at that age one is prome to believe that anything will bear his weight. Tommy, therefore, anxious to inspect the new made bread, swung himself off his feet by catching the edge of the bread tray, and over it came, loaves and Tommy and all. All were dusted and in the tray again but one. That lay bottom upwards under the table.

“A bothering child, to give me so much trouble,” she said as she crawled under the table.

“Ah! oh! oh! dear, dear dear! oh, my!” And there on the floor sat Mother Hubbard screaming, wringing her hands, and shaking her head. The children screamed also in earnest. Mr. Hubbard rushed in from the garden, where he was at work.

“What is the matter, mother?” he gasped. Mrs. Hubbard pointed to the botto of the loaf lying in her lap. “Look there, and ask me!” she said. “It’s a warning. William, I’m going to be taken from ’em all.” And as Mr. Hubbard looked, he saw on the loaf a “death’s head and cross-bones,” as plainly engraven as they possibly could be.

“Its accident,” said Mr. Hubbard. “Such queer cracks do come, you know. Don’t fret.” But Mother Hubbard was in a troubled state of mind. “The stories about the haunted house were true,” she said; “and the spirits have marked the loaf. I’m afraid it is a warning.” And the loaf was put aside, for even Mr. Hubbard did not dare to eat any of it.

Mrs. Hubbard got over her fright at last, but the news of the awful marked loaf spread through B—–, and people came to the Hubbard’s all the week to look at it. It was a death’s head and cross-bones certainly; every one saw that at a glance; but as to the meaning, people differed. Some believed that it was a warning of approaching death; some that the spirits “wanted to frighten the Hubbards away.” This latter supposition inspired Mrs. Hubbard with courage. Finally she leaned to this belief, and when another baking day arrived, put her loaves in the oven once more, prepared for cross-bones, and not to be frightened by them. The loaves baked as before. They came out brown and crusty. Mother Hubbard turned each in her hands. There were no cross-bones visible; but on the last were sundry characters or letters; what, no one could tell, until there dropped in for a chat, a certain printer of the neighborhood, accustomed to reading things backwards.

“Halloo!” said he; “that’s curious! That is curious– R-c-s-u-r-g-a-m–(I shall rise again): that’s what’s on the loaf–Resurgam” “It’s what they put on the tombs, aint it?” asked Mother Hubbard, faintly. “Well, yes,” said Mr. Hubbard: “but it aint so bad as cross-bones and skulls.”

Mother Hubbard shook her had. “It’s even solemner,” said the little woman, who was not as good a linguist as break maer. “I feel confident, William that I shall soon be ‘resurgamed,’ and what will those dear children do then?”

And now that the second loaf was before her eyes, marked awfully as was the first, Mother Hubbard really grew thin and pale and lost all of her cheerfulness. “I have a presentiment,” she said, over and over again “that the third baking will decide who the warning points to. I believe it’s meant for me, and time will show. Don’t you see how thin I’m getting?” And though Mr. Hubbard laughed, he also began to be troubled.

The third baking day was one of gloom. Solemnly, as to a funeral, the family assembled to assist in the drawing. Five loaves came out with mark; but one remained. Mother Hubbard’s hand trembled, but she drew it forth; she laid it in the tray; she turned it softly about; at last she exposed the lower surface. On it were letters printed backwards, plain enough to read this time arranged thus.
“Died April 2d
Lamented by
Her large family.”

“It’s me,” cried Mrs. Hubbard, “I’m to go to-morrow. This is the first. I do feel faint. Yes, I do. It’s awful, and so sudden,” and Mother Hubbard fainted away in the arms of the most terrified of husbands. The children screamed, the cat mewed, the dog barked. The eldest boy ran for the doctor. People flocked to the Hubbard’s. The loaf was examined. Yes, there was Mother Hubbard’s “warning,” her call to quit this world.

She lay in her bed bidding good-bye to her family and friends, her strength going fast. She read her Bible and tried not to grieve too much. The doctor shook his head. The clergyman prayed with her; nobody doubted that her end was at hand, for people were very superstitious in those days. They had been up all night with good little Mother Hubbard, and dawn was breaking, and with it she felt sure that she must go, when clatter over the road and up to the door came a horse and on the horse a man. He alighted. He rattled the knocker. He rushed in. There was no stopping him. Up stairs he went to Mother Hubbard’s room, and bolted in. Every one stared at him. He took off his hat. “Parding,” said he, “heered Mrs. Hubbard was a dyin’. That she’s had warnin’s on her baking. I came over to explain. You see I was secton o’ the church here two years ago, and I know all about it. You need’t die o’ skeer just yit, Miss Hubbard, for there’s niether spirits or devils about, nor yet warnings. What marks the loaves is old Mrs. Finkle’s tombstone. I took it for an oven bottom seein’ thar war no survivors and brick war dear. The last folks before you didn’t have ’em printed off, cos they made pan loaves. But we was used to ’em ourselves, cross-bones and skulls in the gingerbread we didn’t mind, and I never thought o’ caring for the resurgam. So you see how it is, Miss Hubbard, and I’m sorry you were skeered. I’d orter a mentioned it when I sold the property.”

Nobody said a word. The minister shut his hymn book. The doctor walked to the window. There was a deathlike silence. Mother Hubbard broke it.

“Father,” she said, “the first thing you do, get a new bottom to that oven.” And the tone assured the assemblage of friends, that Mother Hubbard was not going to die just then. Indeed, she sat up the very next day, and as soon as the oven was re-bottomed, invited everybody to a tea-drinking, at which no one discovered awful warnings on the bread, or ghostly printing on the ginger cake. –New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, NH) 29 October 1874, page 1

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The home of the Eddy brothers, near Rutland, has for some time past been the scene of strange and weird manifestations, the report of which has filled the land with the fame of ghostly appearances and transactions. Not only do the familiar knockings and tippings of the spiritualistic circle occur, and furniture caper about, but the visible presence of departed spirits has been vouchsafed, who make sweet music, dance with ethereal grace and occasionally allow their spirit hands to stroke the face of the astonished spectator. Sometimes friends or relatives of those present appear and greet them in tones that strike memory’s chords with the familiar sounds of voices that have been hushed in death. Even the irreverent newspaper reporter has been admitted to the ghostly revels, and the spirit of a beautiful Indian named Ifonto delighted the reporter of the New York Sun by performing a sort of can-can dance, making a most generous display of her lower limbs. The New York Graphic, too, has given liberal space in its valuable columns to copiously illustrated descriptions of these strange doings, and a surpassing notoriety has been given to the Eddy brothers, through whose medium-ship these wonderful manifestations are made. We are told that their powers are involuntary; that they cannot rid themselves of their friends, and that they were children of a strict Methodist, who found in the manifestations of their medium-ship evidences of diabolical possession, and vainly endeavored to exorcise the devil by sound flagellations. The fame of their performances has drawn thither hundreds of inquiring people, among them Dr. George M. Beard of New York, who is now said to be preparing a detailed account of his examinations, which he says will fully explain all the manifestation. Whether he will lay the ghosts remains to be seen. –Mirror and Farmer (Manchester NH) 21 November 1874, page 3

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The Drummer Boy.
This was one of Rufe Parker’s stories, inherited from his grandfather’s time, but common property in Fairport. Every Fairport boy knew the story of the drummer-boy’s melancholy ghost; but Rufe always told it well.

“No, don’t let’s have that; its a ghost story,” said little Sam Snowman, glancing around the gloomy picture with a scared look. “Oh! bother the ghost,” said Ben. “I’ve heard it lost of times. Heave ahead, Rufe. Who’s afeard?”

As Ben was the hero of two rescues from drowning, he was allowed to have his way, and Rufe then told his tale. “It was a wild and gloomy night in the month of March–“

“No, no,” broke in Jem Conner. “It was a tempest-tossed and weeping night in month of March. That’s the way it goes. I’ve heard it lots of times.” “Taint, either, replied Rufe, angrily. “And I just want to know who’s telling the story,–you or I?”

“O! shut up, Jem,” said several of the boys; and Rufe, somewhat heated by this interruption, went on: “It was a wild and gloomy night in the month of March” (with a withering glance at Jem), “when the British abandoned Fort George, situated on the heights of Fairport. They went away in such haste that they forgot a little drummer-boy, aged fifteen, who was in prison in the dungeon,–the which you may now see in the ruins in the lower left hand corner of the fort, as you go in from the side towards town; but the roof’s fallen in, so you can’t see all of the dungeon, but you can see where it was, and us fellars have been in there many a time, and know it’s so.”

Taking a long breath, Rufe proceeded: “Well, this poor little drummer-boy, aged fifteen, when he heard the soldiers marching away in a hurry, jumped up and beat ‘The Retreat’ on his drum, which he happened to have with him; but in vain. Though he beat his drum with uncommon energy, and made a deuce of a row, he couldn’t attract the attention of his departing comrades, who marched off in double quick time, for the Americans were after ’em–and so left their unfortunate drummer-boy shut up in the dungeon–aged fifteen.”

“But he was aged fifteen once before,” interposed Tommy Collins, whose eyes were as big as saucers. “Oh, cork up, youngster!” said Ben Dennet. “Heave ahead, Rufe.” “A great many months, mayhap years passed before the dungeon in the old Fort George was visited by anybody. The war–“Oh! I forgot to say, in the right place, that this was in the Revolutionary War. The war was over, and some people thought they would explore the dungeon to see, mayhap, they might find some curiosities, and, mayhap, some stores of gold and silver. But there, in a dark and dismal corner, their tin lantern–for they had one of those tin lanterns from Rowell’s store–their tin lantern showed them a heap of skeleton bones bent over a rust, dusty drum. It was the little drummer-boy, aged fifteen!”

Proceeding in a ghostly whisper, and glancing around on his terrified audience, so as to mark the effect, Rufe went on: “When Fort George was evacuated, it was the fifteenth of March, Seventeen Hundred and Something or other; and now on the fifteenth of March, every year, his ghost comes to the old dungeon and beats his ghostly drum. People don’t remember it, sometimes: but when it is another wild and gloomy night in the month of March, they hear from the old fort the hollow rolling of the drum. Then they say, “Its the fifteenth of March,” and so it is. And last March, me and Bill Williams hid behind Oliver Bridges’ house, and we heard the drum, just as sure as a gun. It was an uncommon wild and gloomy night, just like this.” (the stars were shining thickly in the sky while Rufe was talking (: “and, if we’d waited, we would have seen the ghost of the little British drummer-boy, aged fifteen.” –New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord NH) 8 April 1874 page 4

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What Cured Her.
Modern Healer–“I understand that you were unable to walk without crutches for years, and now you can walk as well as ever.”
Old Lady–“Yes.”
“Which one of our Christian science healers cured you?
“Oh, I didn’t have a healer. You see, I went into a dark, gloomy room one moonlight night, and I saw a white ghostly form right before me, and I was so startled that I dropped my crutches, and the unexpected noise of them falling on the floor so nearly crazed me that I sprang to the door and ran for my life.”
“Oh! Then it was some kindly spirit from the summer land that came to make you whole.”
“No. It was a white dust cloth over a broom-stick.” –New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord NH) 14 November 1889, page 6

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FRIGHTENED OFF.
Forty years ago in a village near Philadelphia, arrangements were made for a wedding. The guests were invited and the bride awaited the groom, who never came. The girl, crazed by grief, became a harmless lunatic, and wanders through the rooms of her home arrayed in her bridal finery buoyed up with the hope that her lover will yet return. Burglars entered her home lately, and her quick ear detecting their steps, she stepped out on the staircase and greeted the thieves with the words: I have been waiting all these years; I am ready; come on.” The men looked at the ghostly figure in its faded robes standing with arms outstretched, and fled from the house. –Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) 4 August 1882, page 1

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Harrisville [NH]. The principal topics of conversation for the past week have been the condition of our stricken President [Garfield] and the remarkable appearance of the atmosphere on Tuesday night….Tuesday last will long be remembered, it reminded us of what we read years ago in our school books of the dark day May 19, 1780. The brassy complexion of the sky gave everything a weird and ghostly look, and we have heard of some persons who were frightened, fearing that the end of all things had arrived.”  –New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene NH) Thursday, 15 September 1881, page 2

[Evidence shows that a similar phenomenon also occurred in 1881, when the haze from fires in Ontario and Michigan reduced sunlight in New England by as much as 90 percent.]

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Before she died, six months ago in a suburb of Newburg, N.Y., Mrs. Sarah M. Williams threatened to return and haunt her husband. She kept her word, making her first ghostly demonstration soon after the funeral. Noises resembling the rattling of many bottles were heard, increasing to an unendurable racket, and finally the bed of Mr. Williams was turned bottom up, and the invalid old man so frightened that he died in a few days. Since then the house has been vacant, a son of Mr. Williams being compelled to move from it by the antics of the departed Sarah. The citizens faithfully investigate in the daytime, but can find no clue to indicate a mortal original of the disturbance. –New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene NH) 20 February 1879, page 2

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MORE GHOSTLY READING:

Ghostly, Spine-Chilling Halloween Tales and Yarns from New Hampshire (2016)

A 2015 New Hampshire Halloween – Halloween poetry et al

Ghastly and Ghostly Halloween Stories Gleaned from Old New Hampshire Newspapers (2015)

New Hampshire’s Haunted Halloween History
New Hampshire Customs and Games for Halloween in 1916

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3 Responses to New Hampshire Tidbits: More Ghostly Stories of Long Ago

  1. These are such fun stories! Thanks for seeking them out and sharing them with us! I particularly like, “making a most generous display of her lower limbs.” I just love 19th century turns of phrase.

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