As the year turns late, the leaves change color, the winds grow colder and the nights lengthen, people often tell stories of ghosts and goblins to fill the darkness. You don’t need to look far for such tales of terror, for even a small state like Connecticut has more than a few resident ghosts in its long history.
In his book “Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State,” the late David Phillips, former English professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, collected some of the most iconic tales of the state’s supernatural history.
One such haunting is the story of Midnight Mary of New Haven, “Connecticut’s liveliest supernatural legend tradition.”
In life she was Mary Hart, seamstress, corset maker and posthumously attributed to being a witch. In the mid-1800’s she was “struck down by a rare disease… which gave its ultimate victims only the appearance of death.”
Her grief-stricken family called for a hasty burial, leading to shoddy work by the mortician and a premature internment. After a terrifying dream by an aunt, Mary’s body was exhumed, revealing that “it was plainly evident from the grotesque position of the body cramped in the agony of struggle, that her death had been hard—and very recent,” Phillips said.
Midnight Mary now haunts the grave that bears a curse for those who disturb it—when else?—at midnight. New Haven residents tell tales of those who tested the spirit and faced terrible accidents soon after. Phillips wrote that one such daredevil was found at the gravesite, face frozen in fear “literally scared to death.”
Connecticut even has its own version of the ghost made famous in Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow,” though Canton’s Headless Horseman is said to be a French paymaster, not a Hessian soldier, by Phillips.
The horseman was said to have been ambushed at a tavern in 1777 while carrying the pay for soldier in the War for Independence, Phillips wrote. . His skeleton was found without a head years later when the tavern burned down.
The first sighting of the ghost was by a farmer who reported seeing a “ghastly phantom of a headless horseman ride out of the mists of the Farming River valley… his cape flowing out behind him and his horse’s eyes ablaze with a strange light,” according to Phillips.
Even in modern times, there have been reports of drivers on Canton’s rural roads having to swerve to avoid the spectral rider.
Modern ghost hunters have no lack of work in the state. Christine Peers, director of the Connecticut Paranormal Research Team said that there are many paranormally active areas around the state.
She said that the Pauchaug State Forest in Voluntown is used as a training ground for their new members and is haunted by settlers killed and scalped by local Native American tribes.
“Supposedly you can still here the screams of people being scalped in the woods,” Peers said.
Peers also said that the Norwich State Hospital is also haunted. Night guards will often see movement on closed circuit television cameras around the facility that they attribute to paranormal activity.
“They can’t keep guards on at night,” she said. “The guards just end up quitting.”
Even our own University of Connecticut is not free of hauntings. The Mansfield Mansion, once part of the Mansfield Training School, was featured on an episode of the SyFy show Paranormal Witness.
The school served as an institution for the mentally disabled from 1860 to 1993, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
In the show, Amy Moore bought the house as a “fixer-upper.” When she toured the house, she found artifacts of unknown origin and the bones of many small animals littered the upper floors. The episode said Moore heard footsteps and noises throughout the house and doors would mysterious open.
SyFy reports a history of abuse and terror in the asylum, but no such information was found with town historians.
Whether these tales are true or if they are just attempts to understand the unexplained, they certainly add a touch of terror to a long Halloween night.
Nicholas Shigo is associate news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.