Local lore: spirits, witches and mysteries galore

Something wicked this way comes, rattling the skeletal trees as All Hallows’ Eve draws closer. The superstitious are preparing with protective rings of salt. Those less concerned with inexplicable events will find themselves more anxious than usual by a thump in the night. Before children were sent out in costumes to track down their sugary treats, Halloween was celebrated as something much more unsettling.

Historians traced Halloween’s origin to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain. Two thousand years ago the Celts celebrated their new year on Nov. 1 and believed that the day before (Oct. 31) the boundaries between the spirit realm and the human world were blurred, allowing ghosts to walk the earth. In recognition of Samhain the Celts had bonfires where they offered food and animal sacrifices while dressed as animals.

In honor of Samhain, here are some local stories about when the veil between the living and the dead was lifted.

The wicked witch of Monroe

Legend has it that more than 150 years ago Hannah Hovey, also known as Hannah Cranna, was a witch and that she somehow caused her husband’s death.

Hannah’s husband, Captain Joseph Hovey, died while taking a walk one night that ended with him toppling off a cliff. After his death, locals blamed Hannah for his gruesome end, claiming she had bewitched him and caused him to be in a daze that resulted in his death.

After her husband’s death, the town turned against Hannah and stories cropped up about how she placed curses on those who she felt wronged her.

One account claims that after a woman refused to give Hannah a pie, she cursed the woman so she could never bake again. Another story alleges that she cursed a man who was trespassing on her property after she caught him fishing in her brook. Legend has it the man never caught another fish.

However, it might be the story of her death that local children are most likely to whisper about. Hannah’s rooster, Old Boreas, was believed to be her witch’s familiar — a spirit or demon that did her bidding — and on the morning her rooster died she told a neighbor that she too would die soon. It is said that Hannah told her neighbor that her coffin had to be carried to the graveyard by pallbearers and that her body was not to be buried before sun down. Within a day of giving her burial instructions, Hannah died.

Initially locals chose to ignore Hannah’s burial instructions due to the snowy weather. Her coffin was placed on a sled to be dragged to the cemetery. However each time they tried to leave, the coffin would slide off the sled and land at Hannah’s front door. Eventually the locals gave up and carried the coffin to the cemetery and buried her just after sunset.

After the burial, Hannah’s home burst into flames — which some took as a confirmation of her witchery.

The story goes that on dreary days along Spring Hill Road, a woman will suddenly appear in the middle of the street, not far from her gravestone.

A haunting in Weston

As Weston is a town with a long history, many have attributed strange or unexplainable events to spirits, or ghosts, that are still with us. After the film The Haunting in Connecticut came out in 2009, it was hard to say if the town had been touched by the supernatural, or if the film was just Hollywood hogwash. But if you listen well, it isn’t hard to find real stories of the unexplainable and paranormal in Weston.

One of the town’s oldest houses, the former Banks Tavern, has been the source of many supernatural occurrences over the years. Currently inhabited by famous musician and songwriter José Feliciano and his family — who have lived there since 1990 — the house has great historical significance. Before it became a family home in the 1860s it was a local tavern for more than 80 years, and during the stages leading up to the American Revolution, the building’s attic provided a home to many Revolutionary soldiers.

Once the family was situated, they began to experience strange phenomena happening throughout the house. In the morning, they would notice the phantom scent of baking bread when there was nothing in the oven. Doors would open by themselves and unaccounted footsteps could be heard in the rooms upstairs.

Susan Feliciano was slightly skeptical of these occurrences until she saw something that she could not dispel with logic or reason. “A woman passed in the upstairs hallway and looked down at me with quiet, penetrating eyes,” she said. “She looked solid, very pale and was wearing a brown dress. When I ran upstairs, I found that she had gone right through the wall.”

José Feliciano has also had ghostly encounters of his own while living in the house. “Once I was having dinner with my recording engineer, and it felt like someone was putting their hands on my shoulder,” José said. “My son also reports that he once saw my rocking chair scoot across the room all by itself.”

Although the Felicianos live in what some would consider to be a haunted house, they don’t see it that way.

“The spirits have never scared me,” Susan said. “They are benevolent and this is their home too.”

The trial of Goody Bassett

In 1651, the mysteries of life were stronger in the wilderness here than they had been at home in England. Perhaps they could be explained as the work of witches and warlocks.

The Holy Bible, brought from England by Reverend Blakeman to Stratford’s First Congregational Church, said “Thou shalt not suffer a withch to live.”

In 1642 the General Court passed a law that said, “Yf any man or women be a witch hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death.”

Who could the witch who brought the spells and sickness to Stratford be?

A new family, the Bassetts, had moved to town from the New Haven Colony. Goodwife Bassett was a strong-willed woman, quick to criticize New Haven for refusing non-church members the right to vote and for fining her husband for refusing to keep a ladder at their home, as the law required.

She made few friends among the settled residents.

It was only since the Bassetts moved into town that the people had been overcome by this scourge of sickness, hallucination and death. Since their arrival, the winter has been cold and bitter; since then the familiars masquerading as a pack of wolves have become more bold. Goody Bassett must be a witch. Goody Bassett must be put to death.

The Colonial Records for May 15, 1651, state explicitly, “The Gouernor, Mr. Cullick and Mr. Clarke are desired to goe downe to Stratford to keepe Courte uppon the tryall of Goody Bassett for her life, and if the Gouernor cannot goe, then Mr. Wells is to goe in his roome”.

And in a New Haven Colony witchcraft trial in 1651, a witness mentioned a Goodwife Bassett who had been condemned at Stratford, and another referred to her confession.

Her trial would have been convened at the meetinghouse at Sandy Hallow. Governor John Hayes would have presided, and magistrates Cullick and Clark sat on the bench with him. Stratford’s deputies to the General Court, Thomas Thornton and Philip Groves, were there.

The record does not say who testified, but neighbor women and girls told of curses placed upon them, of mysterious things seen flying in the night, of aches and pains attributed to the witch, and of the beings they may have seen her consorting with.

The judges then admonished the unlucky woman to tell the truth, to admit her link with the Devil. They may have had her examined by another woman for witch marks on her body, or they may have used the water test, where, tied and bound, she was immersed in water, If she sank, she was innocent, but if she floated, she was guilty.

The sentence was to hang. Outside the village palisade, through the northwest gate they took her to Gallows Brook. Then, fitting a noose around her neck, they asked her once again to recant and to name her accomplices, for the benefit of her soul.

Where she was buried is unknown.

Today all vestige of this tragedy is gone. The brook and Gallows Bridge across it disappeared in 1848, when the railroad was graded through the town. Witch’s Rock was buried underneath the turnpike in 1958.

Today all evidence of the Stratford witchcraft trial has disappeared.

Mystery of the Melon Heads

Legend has it there is a group of people known as the Melon Heads, who live on the fringe of society, have been sighted in Shelton, Trumbull and Milford. The Melon Heads, aptly called so due to their abnormally shaped craniums, have a few different stories. Some say there was an insane asylum that burned to the ground many years ago and the Melon Heads are the descendents of the few patients who survived the fire and lived in the woods. Others claim that they are the offspring of campers who turned to cannibalism to survive a long winters. There is a third version of the story that claims a family of colonists were cast out of the settlement after being accused of witchcraft and that led them to retreat to the woods. All three stories assert that the heads were deformed from inbreeding within the Melon Head society. Legend has it that the cannibalistic Melon Heads will prey on those who wander into their territory, which allegedly includes Saw Mill City Road in Shelton, Velvet Street in Trumbull and Zion Hill Road in Milford.

Easton’s White Lady

Union Cemetery, located on the corner of Route 59 and Route 136 in Easton, is home to the White Lady. The origins of this spirit are unclear, but all of the sightings of her describe her as a woman in a white nightgown or wedding dress with long, dark hair.

Some believe that she is the spirit of a woman who was murdered in the 1940s after she killed her husband. Others claim she was murdered and dropped in a sinkhole near the cemetery. Then there are some who think she is the ghost of a woman searching for her lost child. According to local lore, the White Lady is known to appear in the middle of the road, surprising drivers and causing them to swerve out of her way or hit her. If unfortunate drivers do hit the White Lady, when they get out of the car to help her, she has disappeared.

The White Lady is not the only spectre residing in Union Cemetery, there are accounts of people seeing glowing red eyes among the tombstones.

In addition to Union Cemetery, Easton has also had reports of ghostly happenings at the Bradley-Hubbell Homestead. The Easton Historical Society has even allowed paranormal experts and ghost hunters to search the building for spirits in recent years.  

Spectre in the lighthouse

Not every ghost sighting involves a malevolent spirit, some simply want to do their job. Legend has it that the Penfield Reef Lighthouse in Fairfield is haunted by an employee who died on the job. Fred A. Jordan died in 1916 while rowing away from the lighthouse to visit his family for Christmas. Jordan’s boat capsized and his remains were found three months after his death. While Jordan technically died at sea, he has been seen around the lighthouse coming from his former room. Witnesses claim to have heard his footsteps wandering through the building, while others said they’ve heard him speaking. There have been reports of a man helping troubled sailors, one story claims that a man appeared along the rocks and aided children in a capsized canoe and that he mysteriously vanished once the children were safe.

Whispers at Gallows Hill

In 1778, while America was fighting for its independence a troop of soldiers were camped out in Redding. General Israel Putnam and his men were camping out there during the winter when he began to worry that there were enemy spies in his camp. This concern led to the courts-martial of two soldiers, Edward Jones and John Smith, who were executed as traitors. General Putnam had the two men executed, choosing to hang Jones and have Smith face a firing squad on what is now known as Gallows Hill Road. In the years since their executions people have reported hearing whispers and seeing orbs of light coming from the area.

Ghosts in Greenwich

According to local legend, a young Irish girl worked in Belle Haven fell madly in love with a handsome piper and that they would meet near the Bruce Mansion. When her love disappeared under mysterious circumstances she returned to Ireland, only to die from tuberculosis. Since her death, people have reported seeing the ghostly couple near the Bruce Museum in Greenwich at night. Witnesses said they heard voices calling for the ghosts to enter the museum so the piper could play for them, but the ghostly duo refuses to enter the museum, believing they will be trapped in the museum for eternity.

Witchcraft in Wilton

In Wilton’s early days, bizarre occurrences were often attributed to witches and witchcraft. 

Among those believed to have possessed supernatural abilities was a man known as “Uncle Bill” and his wife, “Aunt Syb.”

In 1884, Hurlbutt family descendant Samuel M. Main wrote down stories his grandmother, Ruth Gilbert, had related told him about some of their “strange doings” in the late 1700s.

According to Main, Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb “greatly annoyed” his great-grandfather, Capt. Daniel Hurlbutt, who lived in a farmhouse at present-day 175 Hurlbutt Street in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb were constantly demanding favors of the Hurlbutts and mischief would result if they were refused, according to Main.

For example, he wrote, if a request for butter or milk was denied, cows would come down with disease, “give bloody milk” or milk would sometimes “lopper in an hour.”

Pans of milk would be overturned with the milk remaining in them until a Hurlbutt family member would go to turn them right-side-up, wrote Main, whose ancestors also believed Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb would bewitch their cream so that it would not turn into butter.

According to Main, after the Hurlbutts refused to give pork to Aunt Syb, she bewitched their hog — causing it to squeal, run and butt its head “against any wall or other obstruction.”

The hog “immediately recovered” after the Hurlbutts cropped off one of its ears, according to Main, after which Aunt Syb suddenly took to wearing a muffler around her ears. According to Main, it was believed that her ear had been cut off simultaneously because ”she had entered into the swine.”

One another occassion, Main wrote, the day after Uncle Bill was denied some favor by the Hurlbutts, Capt. Hurlbutt discovered three hogs “on the great girt of his barn” and called his neighbor to get them down.

When Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb were refused wool, six sheep went missing and were not found until the following spring, when they were found under a pile of wood with “a great log lying across their necks,” according to Main.

The Hurlbutt family resorted to “anti-witchcraft devices” to stop Old Bill and Aunt Syb. The Hurlbutts threw a broom on the threshold of a door because it was believed a witch could not cross it. They also nailed a horseshoe, with the toe calks up, over their door to keep them out.

A horse of Josiah Marvin, who lived in present-day Cannondale, went missing after he refused to loan it to Uncle Bill, according to Main. Three to four weeks later, Marvin found his horse crunching hay in the backside of his barn.

“He had eaten a space in the solid haymow, large enough to turn around in. Yet, between the horse and the barn floor … were six or eight feet of haymow. No signs could be found of the removing of the boards, and so no other explanation could be found but that Uncle Bill had bewitched the horse and put him there.”

Main said this story was told to him by Capt. Nathan Gilbert, who helped get Marvin’s horse out of the hiding place.

There was also a woman named Patty Bedient who claimed Uncle Bill and Aunt Syb would “come through a keyhole and bewitch her, turning her into a large white horse that would make long [journeys],” according to writings by late town historian G. Evans Hubbard.

Sharp Hill Witch

Another witch-related Wilton legend is that of the “Sharp Hill Witch.”

Around the turn of the century many residents believed that a house at 186 Sharp Hill Road was haunted by a witch. The legend originated from the 1857 death of 87-year-old Esther Abbott Betts, who was found dead in front of a fireplace in the red-shingled home.

The belief in the witch was so strong at times that children in the neighborhood dared not venture close to the property and the old house remained uninhabited until 1948.

 

Staff members from The Wilton Bulletin, Stratford Star and Weston Forum contributed to this story.

About author
TinaMarie Craven is the Arts & Leisure editor. She previously worked as the editor of the Monroe Courier and the Lewisboro Ledger. She graduated from Ithaca College with a BA in Journalism and Politics in 2015.

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