Some Real American Ghosts

Ghosts in Connecticut

by Joseph Lewis French


(N.Y. Sun, Sept. 1, 1885)

  "There is as much superstition in New-England to-day as there was in those old times when they slashed Quakers and built bonfires for witches." It was a New York man who gave expression to this rather startling statement. He has been summering in Connecticut, and he avers that his talk about native superstition is founded on close observation. Perhaps it is; anyhow he regaled the Times's correspondent with some entertaining incidents which he claims establish the truth of his somewhat astonishing theories. Old Stratford, the whitewashed town between this place and Bridgeport, made famous by mysterious "rappings" many years ago, and more recently celebrated as the scene of poor Rose Clark Ambler's strange murder, is much concerned over a house which the almost universal verdict pronounces "haunted." The family of Elihu Osborn lives in this house, and ghosts have been clambering through it lately in a wonderfully promiscuous fashion. Two or three families were compelled to vacate the premises before the Osborns, proud and skeptical, took possession of them. Now the Osborns are hunting for a new home. Children of the family have been awakened at midnight by visitors which persisted in shaking them out of bed; Mrs. Osborn has been confronted with ghostly spectacles, and through the halls and vacant rooms strange footsteps are frequently heard when all the family are trying to sleep; sounds loud enough to arouse every member of the household. Then the manifestations sometimes change to moanings and groanings sufficiently vehement and pitiful to distract all who hear them. Once upon a time, perhaps a dozen years ago, Jonathan Riggs lived in this house, and as the local gossips assert, Riggs caused the death of his wife by his brutal conduct and then swallowed poison to end his own life. The anniversary of the murderous month in the Riggs family has arrived and the manifestations are so frequent and so lively that "the like has never been seen before," as is affirmed by a veteran Stratford citizen. There is no shadow of doubt in Stratford that the spirits of the Riggses are spryly cavorting around their former abode.

  Over at the Thimble Islands, off Stony Creek, is an acre or two of soil piled high on a lot of rocks. The natives call it Frisbie Island. Not more than a hundred yards off shore it contains a big bleak looking house which was built about twenty years ago to serve as a Summer hotel when Connecticut capitalists were deep in schemes to tempt New Yorkers to this part of the Sound shore to spend their Summers. New Yorkers declined to be tempted, and the old house is rapidly approaching decay. It has recently assumed a peculiar interest for the residents of Stony Creek. Midnight lights have suddenly appeared in all its windows at frequent intervals, fitfully flashing up and down like the blaze in the Long Island lighthouses. Ghosts! This is the universal verdict. Nobody disputes it. Once or twice a hardy crew of local sailors have volunteered to go out and investigate the mystery, but when the time for the test has arrived, there somehow have always been reasons for postponing the excursion. Cynical people profess to believe that practical jokers are at the root of the manifestations, but such a profane view is not widely entertained among the good people who have their homes at Stony Creek.

  Over near Middletown is a farmer named Edgar G. Stokes, a gentleman who is said to have graduated with honor in a New England college more than a quarter of a century ago. He enjoys, perhaps, the most notable bit of superstition to be found anywhere in this country, in or out of Connecticut. He owns the farm on which he lives, and it is valuable; not quite so valuable though as it once was, for Mr. Stokes's eccentric disposition has somewhat changed the usual tactics that farmers pursue when they own fertile acres. The average man clears his soil of stones; Mr. Stokes has been piling rocks all over his land. Little by little the weakness—or philosophy—has grown upon him; and not only from every part of Middlesex County, but from every part of this State he has been accumulating wagonloads of pebbles and rocks. He seeks for no peculiar stone either in shape, color, or quality. If they are stones that is sufficient. And his theory is that stones have souls—souls, too, that are not so sordid and earthly as the souls that animate humanity. They are souls purified and exalted. In the rocks are the spirits of the greatest men who have lived in past ages, developed by some divinity until they have become worthy of their new abode. Napoleon Bonaparte's soul inhabits a stone, so does Hannibal's, so does Cæsar's, but poor plebeian John Smith and William Jenkins, they never attained such immortality.

  Farmer Stokes has dumped his rocks with more or less reverence all along his fields, and this by one name and that by another he knows and hails them all. A choice galaxy of the distinguished lights of the old days are in his possession, and just between the burly bits of granite at the very threshold of his home is a smooth-faced crystal from the Rocky Mountains. This stone has no soul yet. The rough, jagged rock on its left is George Washington. The granite spar on the right is glorified with the spirit of good Queen Bess. The smooth-faced crystal one of these days is to know the bliss of swallowing up the spirit of good Farmer Edgar Garton Stokes. It was not until recently that mystified neighbors obtained the secret of the vast accumulation of rough stones on the Stokes farm. Mr. Stokes has a family. They all seem to be intelligent, practical business people. There may be a will contested in Middletown one of these days.