Late at night, alone in a dark building or on a lonely stretch of highway, it is not unusual to get the creeps and feel that someone or something is watching. Was that sound an animal or perhaps the spirit of someone long dead?
Legends of ghostly occurrences at many old homes and abandoned buildings get passed along during fireside chats and late-night get-togethers, especially as Halloween approaches. Some are unbelievable tales, designed only to make the hair rise on the back of a listener’s head. Other stories offer puzzles where simple explanations do not seem to exist. The best tales may be those that leave one marveling and wondering what the real story is.
New Hampshire’s ghost stories may not involve old mansions, zombies, or headless horsemen, but there are many tales of strange occurrences at old taverns and municipal buildings. It also seems that many libraries have some creepy tales associated with them, and there are several inns where more benevolent spirits are reputed to reside.
One such tale is associated with the Nutmeg Inn, on Pease Road, Meredith. Strange occurrences at the inn, built in 1763, have been attributed to a spirit the staff has named “Charlie” — his real identity remaining unknown.
Innkeeper Mark Koester, who reopened the lodging facility as a bed-and-breakfast just this past August, said he has been accumulating information on the inn’s history, which includes its reputation as having been a stop on the Underground Railway that helped runaway slaves flee to Canada. While Mark was renovating the inn, workers discovered an old bench in a sealed portion of the attic and they eventually located a hatch in the ceiling of a closet in the Clover Room that provided a narrow access to that cubicle, lending credence to the story.
The inn also once served as a boarding school that reputedly had been infiltrated by Hitler Youths. An old woman once stopped at the inn in later years and produced papers showing she had been a student there in the 1930s, and she confirmed that two youths had been expelled after the school learned that they were associated with Germany’s Nazi party.
But Mark also learned from the previous owner that there had been some unexplained phenomena attributed to Charlie. It ranged from mischievous acts such as removing the non-slip bath mats from the bathtubs to a man appearing as a faint image in a photograph taken of two cast members in a play during the years the inn had offered dinner-theatre packages.
Mark was aware of an Internet legend in which a woman had reported that she did not feel welcome in Room 4 but he noted that the inn has no Room 4; all rooms are named after spices. That said, he conceded that one room at the front of the inn tended to feel cold, which could be the basis for the claim; cold spots are associated with the spirit world. That front room is no longer used for lodging; instead it has exercise equipment.
The strangest stories, though, involve strange acts that have helped the innkeepers. According to Mark, the previous innkeeper had asked two electricians for quotes on adding electrical plugs in the Teaberry Room, at the far end of the inn. Both said the cost of extending new electrical lines to the room would be cost-prohibitive, so she abandoned the idea and closed the room for the winter season. When spring arrived and she reopened the room, there was a new, working outlet right where she had wanted one. Both electricians denied having installed it, and she never received a bill for the work.
When Mark was preparing to open the inn this year, he put in new wood paneling in the entryway, with cross-pieces that required routing out to fit properly. As opening day approached, he despaired of being able to complete the job in time because each piece required three separate cuts on his router. One day close to opening day, having tightened the clamps on the router for one of the pieces, he returned to the machine to find that the bit had been dramatically moved and reset in a different position. He double-checked all of the clamps and it was still tight, but it was not as he had left it. On a whim, he tried cutting a piece of wood at that setting and he discovered it did the job with one cut, rather than three, and he was able to finish the work that much more quickly.
Mark also told the story of the flowering bushes that the previous owner had planted in front of the garage. They were supposed to bloom every year, but they had never bloomed. On the day he signed papers to purchase the inn, the flowers bloomed.
Was that Charlie, too?
“I can’t say for sure, but good things seem to fall into our laps,” Mark said.
Don Brown of the Corner House Inn in Center Sandwich also has stories to tell of a mischievous but not malevolent ghost. In his case, he knows the identity of the ghost: Clarence Hutchins.
According to Don, Clarence Hutchins lived at the inn during the Victorian era, apparently married to Marion Hutchins who worked there. He died in the building and his spirit has manifested itself for more than 30 years, Don said, noting that he purchased the inn in 1981 and the previous staff had stories to pass along of unexplained incidents.
“I personally have never seen the spirit,” Don said, “but the previous staff supposedly saw him hovering at the top of the hall stairs, wearing a trench coat of the Victorian style with a stovepipe hat.”
He tells of incidents in which people in the sitting room would see their glasses slide sideways across the table and fling themselves four to five feet into the wall. He also said there have been several times when one of inn’s storytellers would sing a song involving a spirit and coins, and the audience would find a dime at their feet, or on the mantel behind them.
Most of the sightings of Clarence have been in the front hallway, which Don noted is particularly chilly. There used to be a bathroom there and, one day during lunch, one of the patrons wanting to use it had found it locked. After waiting some time for someone to come out, the person knocked on the door but no one answered. Concerned that someone might be in trouble, Don finally took the hinges off the door, which had been locked from the inside with a hook-and-eye latch. There was no one in bathroom, but it was covered with unrolled toilet paper.
“My favorite story I have come across,” Don said, “was 8-10 years ago, when I was pouring water at a table in our upstairs dining room and pub, which used be a guest room. Two ladies were sitting there and one of them asked whether I have a ghost here. When I told her about Clarence, she said to her friend, ‘I told you so.’”
It seems that, a number of years back, the woman and a lady friend had stayed in that room, which had two beds. She lay down in one bed while her friend was lying in the other bed, reading. She fell asleep, later awaking when someone climbed into her bed and settled into the sheets. She assumed her friend had been frightened by a nightmare or something, and fell back asleep. When she awoke in morning, she saw her friend in the other bed. Asking why she had gotten out of bed in the night, her friend said she’d been in the bed all night long. Had it been Clarence who got into bed with her?
“In many ways, he’s a fun-loving, free spirit,” Don said, “not malicious in any way. He’s just an innocent, kind of mischievous ghost.”
The Corner House Inn holds storytelling dinners during the winter season and it kicks off the series on Oct. 24 with a Halloween Gala featuring six storytellers. One of the storytellers will be Ed Fayle, who has made a special point of trying to connect with Clarence and he has been collecting stories about the resident spirit which he will share.
The Coe House in Center Harbor also has a story of a haunting in which the spirit of a French artist who had created the old wallpaper in the 1800s at first objected to a restoration effort but later came to appreciate the work. As posted on winnipesaukee.com, the Coe House was being refurbished in 1999 and an artist was brought in to restore the wallpaper in the President’s Room. Because of the work being done during the day, she preferred to work at night, but she said an angry, ghostly figure appeared to her, night after night, as she worked. After a few weeks, his tone softened, almost as though he approved of her work. “I was saying to myself, ‘Yuh, right,’ until I googled him up and he appeared exactly as she described him,” said the poster. “To this day, she takes no credit for the beautiful restoration job that she did, but gives credit to the artist that guided her through the job.”
The former King’s Grant Inn in Gilford also has stories associated with it and posted on winnipesaukee.com. A group of people doing a walk-through when the inn was being offered for sale was commenting on how nice the booths were, and how the front of house was still in fairly good condition, despite needing a bit of cleaning up. “We went into the kitchen, which was large — but it had stock pots of stuff still on the counters with souring food, like someone left in a hurry. We quickly exited the way we came in and — only moments after having walked through the very same room — saw all the tables neatly set for service!”
Other places that have reputations for being haunted include Wolfeboro’s Tuc Me Inn where there reportedly have been voices and footsteps heard, with doors closing and the piano playing by itself. It is said to be haunted by a man, although a child also has been heard there.
The Temperance Tavern in Gilmanton has reports of doors locking and unlocking by themselves, things disappearing, books being pulled off shelves, and plants being knocked over.
Among the more famous hauntings is that at the 1875 Inn in Tilton, where a girl named Laura died in a fire. Many claim she still comes around.
At Steele Hill Resort in Sanbornton, there have been reports of a man wandering the halls, whistling around the corporate offices, and opening doors and windows.
Many libraries also have tales of possible hauntings, including the Hall Memorial Library in Northfield where a former librarian may be causing cold spots in the basement, and the Franklin Public Library where a former director claims to have had a ghostly encounter.
“I assure you that this library is not haunted,” said the current director, Rob Sargent, of the Franklin Public Library. “I have been here for 12 years, and I have yet to encounter anything that goes bump in the night other than an old-fashioned radiator or two.”
Randy Brough, a former library director in Franklin and the current director of the Laconia Public Library, also said he has not encountered anything paranormal, although several investigators have brought in equipment in an effort to detect spirits at the Laconia facility.
“Any old building, particularly a library, will have a story of ghosts,” said Randy. “If you’ve ever been in here after hours, at night, it feels a little spooky, with the books and old portraits on the walls. But we’ve had four investigators setting up cameras and meters in different places, and no one ever turned up anything.”
Other public buildings in the area that have ghost stories associated with them include the Alton Town Hall where there have been reports of heavy footsteps walking around, furniture moving on its own, doors opening mysteriously, and voices being heard when no one is in the building.
Then there are the restaurants and tourist attractions that make the list of haunted places. Winnipesaukee Marketplace at Weirs Beach has a reputation for cold spots, and on the full moon, people have reported seeing a hanged man in the middle window of the top floor.
At Nothin’ Fancy, a woman’s voice has been heard in the kitchen and dining area, and a figure has appeared in second-floor hallway.
If there are doubts about many of the reputedly haunted buildings, that is not the case with the Hathaway House in Laconia where reports have filtered down through many generations of a spirit in residence. When the Hathaway House Restaurant was in operation, workers claimed to have seen an elderly woman dressed in 1890’s attire roaming the house after hours, as well as lights going on and off at will. Speculation was that she is the spirit of Samuel C. Clark’s wife, Clarissa, or his daughter, Claribel.
Charlie St. Clair, whose parents owned the building from the 1960s into the late 1970s and operated a women’s clothing boutique there, recalls that his mother spoke of “Clara” being the spirit residing there.
“I know that, when my parents were there, my mother told me on several occasions, she would hear things going on upstairs, really only in one bedroom. When she went up to investigate, she never found anything. When she mentioned it to others, people told her about the spirit. My mom just respected it and pretty much stayed away,” he said, adding, “You never caught me upstairs at night.”
He continued, “My mother wasn’t a very superstitious person, but she never doubted it; she knew there was something going on up there. It wasn’t like it happened every night, but it would be just at night. And it wasn’t like my mother had to dig hard for that information; she just mentioned it and found out about Clara from others.”
Samuel C. Clark built the Hathaway House in 1870-71. He was a prominent attorney for 40 years, with offices on Elm Street in Lakeport, and he was in the NH State Legislature, as well as serving as a clerk of court in Belknap County for a number of years. Serving as a director of the Laconia National Bank from the time of its organization, he was one of the original promoters and directors of the Laconia and Lakeport Horse Railroad, according to Laconia historian Warren D. Huse.
Clark’s daughter, Claribel, never married and she continued to reside there after her parents’ deaths around the turn of the century, until approximately 1950. She often stayed there during the summer months only, traveling a great deal during the rest of the year. All members of the Clark family are buried in Bayside Cemetery.
The house changed owners several times and, under Richard St. Clair, it first took the name of the Hathaway House, a women’s clothing boutique. Later it was a restaurant of the same name. It also has housed offices for real estate broker Florence Cummins and others. Another restaurant, Summerfield’s, occupied an attached barn that burned in 1991.
In 2003, a company purchasing the property announced plans to raze the structure and erect a two-story retail building. News of Cafua’s plans spurred the reactivation of the city’s heritage commission to preserve what could be salvaged before demolition; and, in 2008, a coalition of residents and the Lakeport Community Association worked to prevent the razing of the historic structure. Cafua offered the home to anyone who agreed to move it from the site, but there were no takers. Finally, Dunkin’ Donuts acquired the property and built a new restaurant adjacent to the home, promising to rehabilitate the exterior and maintain the building.
That has not happened, prompting a writer on winnipesaukee.com to post, “If this ghostly being is still in residence, perhaps once the new Dunkin’ Donuts opens, she will wander over for a cruller some morning and put their feet to the fire on the matter of painting her house. What an interesting customer she would be, but I guess she would have no need for such sustenance.”
Other haunted places in Laconia include the Colonial Theater, where footsteps have been heard, lights go on and off, and doors open and close when no one is around. Visitors have reported a strange feeling that they should leave as soon as possible, and some have seen the figure of a man.
At Old Streetcar Place, a manufacturing building that used to make streetcars, workers at night would report hearing voices and other noises on the second floor.
And the Weirs Beach General Store has another sort of phantom: the ghost of Crazy Moe, a feral cat that became a mascot at the store until its death. Buried on the premises, the cat’s meows still come from the areas where Crazy Moe used to roam.
When the Gilford Playhouse was in operation, the crew and cast members would often find a wheelchair in odd locations.
There are a lot of stories associated with the now-closed Kimball Castle in Gilford, with reports of doors locking and unlocking by themselves, things disappearing, books being pulled off shelves, and plants being knocked over. Witnesses have reported a strong feeling of a presence or seeing a ghost in the kitchen of the carriage house, while the caretaker reported that he would leave the heavy mahogany door open for light and all of a sudden the door was shut. He also said the light in Mrs. Kimball’s sewing room would mysteriously go on and off. The grave of a prized thoroughbred horse that was buried on the grounds supposedly is haunting the premises, and strange apparitions have been seen in that area, disappearing when approached.
Speaking of graves, Conway’s Stark Road Graveyard is said to glow, with two red eyes following people as they pass by.
In his book, Haunted New Hampshire, author Thomas D’Agostino tells the story of Center Conway’s Raccoon Mountain Road where, in the 1830s, Adam Brown, who owned a gristmill, was ambushed, robbed, and killed. His horse panicked and ran, falling into a ravine where it was badly hurt and eventually starved to death. Since then, visitors to the area have reported seeing a phantom horse that looks so real, they have tried to pet it, only to have their hands pass through the animal as it vanishes into thin air.
On Toll Hill in Eaton Center, an old farmhouse reportedly is haunted by the ghost of a horse that sought shelter in the abandoned building during a blizzard and became trapped and died. Eaton Center also has Beach Woods, also known as “Uncle Milt’s Place”, a former scout camp with lots of cellar holes. There reportedly is a demon dog that gives chase to those who happen by.
Haunted by hungry nuns? That seems to be the case at Webster Place in Franklin, the former retreat for the Sisters of Holy Cross. There are reports of people hearing the swish of the nuns’ habits and footsteps going into the dining hall at 3 a.m. where the clattering of dishes follows.
Webster Place also was an orphanage at one time and children’s ghosts are said to inhabit what now serves as a rehab building on the site.
On Bow Lake in Strafford, there have been reports of screams, moans, cries for help, and the calling of people’s names. Visitors have witnessed bright lights coming from the woods, strange objects and shadows, and sunshine in the middle of the night.
We end with a story from winnipesaukee.com of a young girl, who was four or five at the time, being told that her grandmother, who had been living with the family, had died and gone to heaven. The child’s response was that Grammy had not gone to heaven; she was sitting in her chair as usual at that moment — and the girl pointed to the empty chair.