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Monday, July 16, 2007

Natural History of Anomalies

Wonders and Mysteries of the Natural World
By Joe Durwin

This week marks the final installment of These Mysterious Hills as a regular column. While Advocate readers may hear from me again, from time to time, as strange new developments occur, or the occasional obscure case from the past emerges from some dark and dusty hiding place, its time as a regular, reoccurring source of folklore and forteana has run its course.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is not an endless supply of haunted places and unexplained occurrences, at least not in any one locality. People are always telling me they don’t know how I have come up with so many topics to write about, month after month. Usually I just nod and smile- because I don’t either, not really. I have no idea how I’ve managed to keep this going as long as I have.

One thing is certain: these hills have far more than their fair share of mysteries. Few regions can boast such a rich landscape of eerie lore and inherent curiosity. Nonetheless, there is still some limited room to swing a dead cat without hitting a ghost, a UFO, or Sasquatch. Weirdness, though pervasive, is finite, and this column has always had an inevitable end.

What I’ve enjoyed most about revisiting these subjects again and again are the human dimensions involved. For the most part, these accounts of local legends, historical mysteries and haunted places are human stories, stories about people who lived here, what they did and what they saw and what happened to them. In this final chapter, though, I turn the spotlight off humanity and onto the hills themselves, to the beautiful and mysterious landscape of the place itself. This time, I will let nature tell its story.

Despite the picturesque views and romanticism of the changing seasons, bizarre and unpleasant weather has always been a perennial topic in this area. On occasion, the tendency toward severe elements goes right off the grid, and conditions allow for meteorological occurrences of a more inexplicable nature.

On August 23, 1892, a large number of Pittsfield residents witnessed a cloud formation behaving in a most uncanny way in the midst of a hailstorm. The cloud was moving fast, and very low to the ground, when suddenly it tore asunder, with two parts blowing off in different directions. The larger part passed across the tops of some tall poplar trees, cleanly shaving the tops right off, as though an airborne lawnmower had passed by.

Another curious hailstorm struck Bennington on June 17, 1950, pelting the town with metal. Around noon that day, a heavy hail storm swept through town, and as the hail melted local people were perplexed to find that it had left tiny pieces of metal behind everywhere. Word spread quickly, even garnering some national attention from Life magazine. Meteorologists in Boston and Albany for the most part scoffed, calling the phenomenon impossible.

Still, this is not the worst form of precipitation seen hereabouts. On March 27, 1960, Mrs. Larry Roche of Dalton heard what sounded like an explosion in her front yard. Running out to see about the commotion, she found a large hole containing three pieces of what had been a chunk of ice weighing over 30 pounds. There were no airplanes over the area at the time, and the ice bomb appeared to have fallen right out of a cloudless sky.

As if that was not enough, a hurricane of stones and mortar chunks hammered two buildings astride the border with Connecticut at Sage’s Ravine in 1802. For five days, stones struck from no identifiable source, destroying over 50 panes of glass but otherwise leaving the buildings largely unharmed. As similar bombardment occurred at the farm of Thomas Paddock in North Powna.l in 1879, where stones not only fell from the sky, but rolled upwards along the roof against gravity, and when picked up felt hot to the touch.

The local fauna has also been a dependable source of anomalous phenomena and bewildering behavior. Besides sightings of Bigfoot-style “wild men,” supposedly extinct catamounts, wolves, and even “demon dogs,” as described in past editions, there’ve also been a number of more documented oddities amongst known species.

One example is the two-headed calf born to A.J. Somers of Adams in September, 1896. Born alive, the calf also possessed six legs and two tails. The calf died a couple of days later, and it was said at the time that Somers intended to have it stuffed, but I do not know whether this taxidermy ever took place or not. Interestingly, the very same year, a kitten in North Adams was born with eight legs and two tails. All these appendages grew from one body, with only one head. The feline, quite alive, was briefly on display at Reeves’ Pool Room on Commercial Street.

It was also near North Adams, four years before, that a vast number of Hessian flies seem to have rained down from the sky. According to the Fall 1892 edition of the journal Insect Life, specimens of larvae were submitted by Professor S.F. Clark of Williams College, collected from the very surface of the snow immediately following a storm. Untold numbers of these insects were found living across acres of this snow. The scientific advisors of Insect Life presented this along with numerous other cases of flies and worms found on the snow’s surface that winter. Their explanation was that the larvae were tempted to the surface from their hibernation by a sudden warm day, only to be trapped by a sudden freeze or storm.

They admit that this will not suffice for many cases, which they attribute to air currents displacing these insect from more southern regions. This is the old Segregating Whirlwind Theory, trotted out as a last resort to explain (when simply ignoring will no longer suffice) the frequent rains of stones, frogs, fish, snails, snakes, or coins worldwide throughout history. The Segregating Whirlwind is that alleged atmospheric phenomenon in which a storm cloud manages to sweep up a large quantity of an animal or object all of a same type, without picking up any significant traces of any other kinds of fish, dirt, leaves, moss or other similarly light matter in the process. The Whirlwind then deposits these objects squarely –and often entirely unharmed, in the case of fish, frogs, etc— in an entirely different locale. Neat trick, that.

In 1806, a large insect ate its way out from deep within a grand wooden table in the home of Mr. P.S. Putnam of Williamstown. The table was made from an old apple tree cut down in 1786, when it was already 80 years old. In 1812, another ate its way out, and 1814, a third. This last one tunneled out from a spot 45 cortical layers into the table, meaning its egg originally was deposited in the wood more than 73 years before it hatched.

This last specimen measured an inch and a quarter. The owner had heard it chewing its way out for weeks before it emerged.

And there may be stranger creatures still. In April, 1890, a fisherman encountered a water snake said to have measured twenty-five feet long in one of the Twin Lakes. And just a few months ago, I received reports of an enormous unidentified animal in North Adams, a predatory beast able to fly but heavy enough to bend a metal railroad tie just standing on it.

These are just a few varied expressions of the often bizarre natural landscape of These Mysterious Hills. There are still more, here and in the back story of every city and town and county in America... so very many that it makes me wonder whether there is such a thing as ‘straight’ history at all…if that is not itself the mythical phenomenon.

But when you go to sleep tonight, remind yourself that it’s all ok. There’s no such thing as inexplicable forces, or impossible occurrences. Remind yourself that you don’t believe in that sort of thing. There are no ghosts, no ghouls, no monsters and no flying saucers, no matter how totally ubiquitous these things seem to be. No visions or miracles or meaningful coincidences. Everything is under control.

And remember, whatever cannot be properly observed, replicated, or explained or understood: just blame it on the weather.


Joe Durwin is a Pittsfield native on an extended sabbatical in the desert, from which he will soon be returning. Always, always, always, send tips on haunted places, unexplained sightings, weird stories, ghost photos, bizarre gossip, odd experiences, cursed artifacts, crackpot theories, pernicious rumors, and accounts of the strange to:

As a final note, I’d like to thank the Advocate editors who have all been so marvelous to me: Glenn Drohan, Lani Stack, and Rebecca Dravis. Not every free weekly is willing to devote so much space, year after year, to meandering explorations of a region’s skeleton-filled closets, no matter how vital a part of the local story it may be.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

"The Fosburgh Murder Mansion"

Back in 2005, I wrote about Greenwood, known more commonly as “the Old Britton Place,” one of Pittsfield’s most haunted houses of the 19th century. Greenwood burned down in 1890, but floating apparitions have been reported for more than 100 years all around the area of West Housatonic Street where it used to be. The Britton Place is not the only local haunted house to have slipped into the mists of local memory; a number of the old, empty structures that gave many of our forbearers restless chills as they passed by simply do not exist in the present day. Buildings burn, crumble into dereliction, or are demolished to make way for the more desired accommodations of the moment.

A local business stands on the spot where the Fosburgh house, one of Pittsfield’s most illustrious hauntings, once stood. Long before the old frame house on Tyler Street fell into abandonment and disrepair, becoming the subject of the muttered trepidation and the dares of neighborhood children, it was the site of one of the city’s most sensational murders. Indeed, the history of the entire house is wrapped up in one single mysterious night.

It was after two a.m., August 20, 1900, when the fire alarm rang out from the direction box 41 in front of the old Baptist church. The sound could be heard as far away as Dalton and Lenox. From all directions, men came spilling out of nearby houses, some of them still pulling on shoes and shirts.

As veteran Pittsfield journalist Haydn Mason recalled:

“By the time I got organized and on the scene, a strange sight greeted eyes expecting to see the center of the city in flames. Horses hitched to the exercise wagons the Fire department used in those days, were chomping at their bits. Men were excitedly muttering to each other in low voices. Firearms were being hurried over from the Pierson Hardware Store and handed out to men crowding into the wagon. From somebody I heard the word ‘murder’ and I learned that men were going out to guard the roads leading from town.”

Word spread quickly from there: the beautiful young May Fosburgh, 19, had been shot in the heart. As her hysterical family told those who rushed to help, three men with masks over their heads had broken in, firing on May when she blocked their path. Police Chief John Nicholson ordered every man in the department into duty, and a steady stream of volunteers were outfitted with shotguns in front of the hardware store. Nicholson declared the city surrounded, and the following evening was still taking on volunteers for what was called the most sensational manhunt in Pittsfield’s history, which included more than five hundred armed men.

The Fosburghs were a wealthy socialite family from Buffalo, New York, having only arrived a few months previously. R.L. Fosburgh & Son were contractors working on the construction of new buildings for the rapidly expanding General Electric Company. They had taken up residence in the house on the northwest corner of Tyler and Woodlawn Streets in order to be close to their work.

On the night of May’s death, there were several people in the house: her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Fosburgh, her brothers Robert S. and James Fosburgh, along with Robert’s wife, Amy, 13- year old Beatrice Fosburgh, and 16-year-old Bertha Sheldon, a house guest. As Robert Sr. later told police, around one o’clock in the morning he was woken by his wife, who asked him to investigate a noise. At this point, he saw two masked burglars, and while he grappled with one, the other knocked him unconscious. When he awoke, he found his wife in the hall bent over May’s body.

Robert Jr. reported being woken by the sound of a struggle and following it to the room shared by Beatrice and May, only to see one of the masked men fire on May in the hallway. After lowering her to the floor, he pursued the man into an unoccupied room where he saw three men in masks, who he failed to stop from escaping down from the second story window.

Chief Nicholson was unhappy with the discrepancy between the number of burglars in the accounts of Robert Sr. and Jr. Then again, this could be written off to the darkness or all three men not being in the room when the father was attacked. But there were other oddities, as well.

Robert Jr. had said that the man had shot May from several feet away, but the gunpowder burns on her nightgown seemed to indicate a discharge closer to one foot away. Also, there were signs of a struggle in Robert Jr.’s room (where they found a nightgown of Amy’s ripped to shreds) of which neither men had said anything. Meanwhile, Beatrice said that she had not seen the burglars, or her brother laying down May, but Bertha Sheldon’s account began with Beatrice exclaiming to her, “Burglars have been here and shot May!”

Finally, James recalled hearing nothing until he’d heard Amy come into his room screaming, “Jim! Jim! Your father’s gone crazy!”

A significant amount of cash and several prominently displayed items of jewelry remained untouched throughout parts of the house where the burglars were said to have been. A .44 revolver was found under Robert Sr.’s bed, but no sign of the murder weapon, a .22, was ever found.

Nonetheless, weeks after May’s death her brother, Robert S. Fosburgh, was indicted for manslaughter. During the trial the following July, the prosecution advanced the theory that he had come home drunk, fought with his father, and ultimately drawn a gun. May, attempting to intervene, was fatally shot.

The trial was widely depicted as a circus. Even before it began, the city received more than 500 letters requesting seating at the proceedings. Local feeling highly favored the possibility that the family had covered up the circumstances of May’s death to avoid scandal. Throughout the rest of the country, however, where the case was a major news story, the trial is depicted as a farce orchestrated against an innocent man by incompetent police unable to find the culprits and prosecutors desperate to close the case. The Daily People, a paper of the Socialist Labor Party, expressed their opinion candidly: “From beginning to end, the testimony was an insult to understanding: it was contradictory, it was flimsy, it was irrelevant.”

After eight days, Judge William B. Stevens ended the proceedings, instructing the jury to acquit Fosburgh. The family finished its work in Pittsfield and departed, never to return.

The house itself seems to have had a strange lingering effect on the minds of some Pittsfielders. No one lived long in the place after that, it would seem. Following the murder and indictment, it was briefly inhabited by owner Mrs. Castle, who put it on the market within months of the end of the trial.

Within its walls, it was rumored, May’s ghost wandered endlessly. Some said they felt a horrid presence just walking past. In its last occupation, it served as apartment housing. When Sun Oil proposed to demolish it in 1950 to put up a gas station, not a single voice objected. Indeed, the memory of the Fosburgh murder was still vivid fifty years after, and there was great enthusiasm for the proposal.

“I certainly am not one to vote in new gasoline stations,” said city councilman Leland C. Talbot, but I’ll certainly go along with this one if it means the city can get rid of that awful place.” The others unanimously echoed this sentiment.

So the run-down house was razed, a filling station put in its place, adjacent to what was then the Church of the Gospel (itself demolished in recent years). Today, the spot belongs to a chain windshield repair company.

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there have been no particular incidents of strangeness on the property in a half century or more. Unlike Greenwood, any ghosts that may have inhabited the “Fosburgh Murder Mansion” seem not to have outlived their original dwelling. For all the anxiety that the Fosburgh house may once have engendered, the corner is remarkably mundane today.

Except, of course, for the human mayhem spilling out from the bar across the street. But that’s another story entirely.

Joe Durwin is a Pittsfield native currently on sabbatical in the desert. Send unexplained sightings, ghost stories, crackpot theories, bizarre gossip and accounts of the strange to

Thursday, March 15, 2007


This story, originally appearing in 2007 in the Advocate Weekly newspaper, has been updated in places and enhanced with photos by Amanda Rae Busch.  It has also enjoyed some very worthwhile input in the comment sections from many knowledgeable persons, including students who lived there and relatives and descendants of Searles and others involved in its origins which I recommend also reading.  -JD, 10/18/12

By Joe Durwin
Photos by Amanda Rae Busch
I have always had a soft spot for the many fine manor houses that dot the Berkshires, those opulent and gargantuan self-memorials that the uber-rich, with surreal modesty, called cottages. Though constructed in a range of different styles and gradients of grandeur, they all somehow bear the very distinct mark of the Gilded Age in which they were midwifed into existence.

Throughout that mythic era of vast fortunes, stretching for all practical purposes from the post-Civil War Reconstruction to the dawn of modern income taxes with the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, wealthy socialites and industrials descended on the Berkshires in waves. For a variety of factors, ranging from the area's established cultural pedigree and natural beauty, to the large-scale availability of fine marble and other crucial building materials, they raced to snatch up local land for their summer estates.

While the lion's share of these estates went up in Lenox and Stockbridge, it is Great Barrington that can boast possession of what is perhaps the most colorful and interesting of these palatial domains. In fact, it is one of the most frequent questions asked by travelers on their first visit to the town: "What's the deal with that castle?"


Kellogg Terrace, aka Barrington House, aka Searles' Castle, of late the John Dewey Academy campus, has been enshrouded in legend virtually since the time of its construction. Rumors of scandal, infidelity, fraud, and murder, have all at one point weaved their way into the castle's legacy, along with whispers of hidden staircases, secret tunnels and restless ghosts.

The castle's story revolves around Mary Hopkins Searles, born Mary Frances Sherwood in Great Barrington in 1826. As a girl, Mary attended the Kellogg School run by her aunts on the very land where the present mansion now stands. In 1854 she married Mark Hopkins, her first cousin and great grandson of Samuel Hopkins, the first Congregational minister in Great Barrington. Known for his skill at turning a profit, Mark became one of the "Big Four" founding owners of the Central Pacific Railroad.

At the time of his death in 1878, he left Mary with a fortune valued at around forty million dollars, equivalent to over 830 million in today's money. Following his death, Mary kept herself busy overseeing the completion of their mansion atop Nob Hill in San Francisco, begun in 1875 (destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel is built on the spot it occupied).

In 1881, her last remaining Kellogg aunt died, leaving her the Great Barrington property. The widow Hopkins quickly set about preparations for the palatial chateau seen today, engaging the help of decorator Edward F. Searles, who had worked for her on the Nob Hill home. In the course of the four year, multi-million dollar construction of Kellogg Terrace, Mrs. Hopkins and Searles found themselves more and more in each other's company, and in 1887 they married.

He was 46, a comparatively modest decorator with a known taste for massive estate houses. She was 68, and the wealthiest woman in America at the time.

Naturally, people talked.

One of the most amusing stories that circulated was that Searles had in fact been pursuing the marital mother lode for some time, but continued to be gently rebuffed by the Mrs. Hopkins (it was even rumored that the widow favored a different suitor entirely). Finally, while seeing her off for the train to New York, he slung an arm around her waist and kissed her full on the mouth. The widow found herself faced with scandal, with half of Stockbridge society looking on. Without missing a beat, so the story goes, she loudly introduced her nearest companions to her fiancé, Edward Searles.

Such stories earned Searles the nickname "the Napoleon of love."

As for the house itself, it has been called the finest example of the French chateau period in America. The exterior was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead & White, and built from blue dolomite quarried on the property. The final structure measured 180 feet across and 100 deep, varying from four to six stories in height, with a total of 68,000 square feet.

The interior, with its many rooms and halls, was overseen by Searles, and outfitted lavishly in a dizzying variety of styles. Coming through the huge, German-made bronze doors that used to adorn the front entry, the early visitor came through the vestibule and into the great hall, paneled in English oak. This opens into the atrium, a vivid example of Greek Ionic architecture recreating the Erechtheum in Athens. The atrium is surrounded by 16 matched marble columns, with walls of rose ivory marble quarried in the Atlas Mountains of Africa.

According to legend, the eccentric Searles also oversaw the construction of a network of secret passageways and staircases throughout the mansion. In one version of the legend which appeared in a recent collection of folklore, Searles used one of these staircases to carry on an affair with one of the servants while Mrs. Searles, then sickly, remained bed-ridden in the master bedroom. In this version, Edward eventually poisoned the ailing Mrs. Hopkins Searles, but within weeks of her death both the maid and Searles died of accidents in the house.

It almost goes without saying that "all three are said to haunt the manor to this day."

In fact, rumors of foul play surrounded the death of Mrs. Searles almost from the moment it occurred. The newlyweds took up residence at the castle (which Searles had renamed Barrington House) in 1887, and from the beginning their life together was shrouded in mystery. Only a very limited number of guests were invited to the few parties which took place there, a strange thing for such a significant estate. On the streets, Mrs. Hopkins Searles was always seen with a black parasol, and holding a black fan which obscured her face. And years later, former servants told of Edward's habit of constantly moving furniture and making loud noises throughout the house at night, something they believed he'd done to scare her.

According to her obituary, Mary Frances died on July 26, 1891 of complications with "dropsy" (edema) following a long bout with "the grip" (influenza), at Edward's Pine Lodge estate in Methuen Massachusetts. Her funeral was a small invitation-only affair held in the Methuen house, with no one admitted to the burial at a mausoleum constructed elsewhere on the grounds. In Great Barrington, rumors abounded that she'd actually been buried at night, on the grounds of the castle, with no one but servants present.

Whatever the circumstances of her death, the reading of her will was a very real bombshell. It awarded virtually everything, amounting to more than 50 million dollars and including a substantial part of Central Pacific Railroad, to Searles, specifically disinheriting her adopted son Timothy Hopkins. This lead to a lengthy and heavily publicized legal battle, as Timothy and a variety of other vague relations challenged the nature of her marriage to Searles.
Searles spent three full days testifying on the stand. With a candid eloquence that would have made Anna Nicole blush, he declared that he had married for love and for money, but love was the stronger motive. Later, he quietly settled with Timothy for a few million.

Searles spent less and less time in Great Barrington following Mary's death. In Windham, New Hampshire, he built a medieval castle based on Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire. The majority of the best furniture and treasures from the Barrington House were spirited away to his Methuen estate, or to their Fifth Avenue home in New York. Searles died in Methuen in 1920, sparking off another wave of legal claims from potential Hopkins heirs as the fortune changed hands again, the Great Barrington castle going to a business associate of Edward's named Arthur T. Walker.
In modern times, the existence of such truly excessive monument estates as single family homes –and seasonal ones at that- has become untenable, to some even unthinkable. One by one throughout the 20th century, the vast cottages of the Berkshires became resorts, schools, yoga centers. Barrington House was no exception. In the 1920s it was sold to Barrington School, and once again the Kellogg grounds became host to a girls' school. Through the fifties, the castle was owned by the Home Insurance Company and became a storage place for records they didn't want to lose in the event of a nuclear holocaust in New York.

One modern legend has it that in the late 1970s, a boy snuck into yet another secret tunnel, this one running from the basement out beneath the pond behind the castle. The tunnel caved in, killing him and flooding the basement. The tunnel was cemented shut, and the boy became yet another resident ghost.

Since 1984, the estate has been home to the John Dewey Academy, a preparatory school for troubled teens. After more than two decades there, the school has faced some struggles with operating out of castle, and the possibility of relocation has hovered for some years.  In recent years, the academy has sought to find a buyer for the property, valued in 2006 at 4.5 million dollars (about 2% of its cost to construct, in adjusted dollars). That's a whole other story, one which, as Thomas Bratter, founder and headmaster at the Academy, once told me, in itself "borders on insanity."

John Dewey Academy from Keith Forman on Vimeo.

With the future of the castle uncertain, what are we to make of the past? Did Edward Searles marry his wife for her money, and then kill her for it? Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps us common folk just can't help but be suspicious of what goes on with the people who live up in the castle.

ADDENDUM: I again toured the castle in 2009 with Amanda Rae Busch, a former editor of Berkshire Living magazine, and one of the truly great travel journalists of my generation.  Her report on this adventure can be found here.


A History of Searles Castle in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, by Lila Parrish (1985)
Homes of the Berkshires 1870-1930, by Richard Jackson (2006)

Weird New England, by Joseph A. Citro (2005)

Berkshire Cottages: A Vanishing Era, by Carole Owens. (1984)

New York Times July 26, 1891

The Berkshire Eagle: July 7, 1962; November 21- 22, 1977

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mystery, Murder, and Mayhem Surround Area's Oldest Inn
By Joe Durwin

New Boston Inn, at the junction of routes 8 and 57 West in Sandisfield, is the oldest and longest-running Inn in the Berkshires. The Inn’s history begins about 270 years ago, when Daniel Brown, one of Sandisfield’s first settlers, built his home there in 1737. In 1760 it became a functioning tavern and respite for travelers passing through western Massachusetts. A few years later, it served as a meeting place and hospice for soldiers during the Revolution.

In the twentieth century, it played host to a number of notables: Ann Lindbergh stayed there while writing her memoirs, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were frequently spotted in the tavern, and Bing Crosby is known to have popped his head in on occasion. During the tenure of Russell and Rosalind Chapin, who owned the place from the mid 1940s to the late ‘50’s, New Boston gained a reputation for exquisite food. Rosalind’s recipes were frequently raved about in the nationally syndicated column by culinary writer Gaynor Maddox.

Several interesting architectural features were built into the inn. Walls within were built at such an angle that doors would close on their own, and a slanted wall leaning out from the floor of the dining room helped ensure that snow would not build up at the windows. The tavern is walled with twenty-two inch planks of Kings Wood, so named because the oak they were cut from was illegally retained by colonists after being marked by royal deputies for export to England. The upstairs ballroom, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling, was originally suspended from chains, so the floor would give when filled with dancers.

Perhaps the most frequently discussed bit of historical background, and certainly the most relevant for the purpose of this column, is an obscure but sensational event said to have taken place in the summer of 1805. A young woman named Harriet, so the story goes, was preparing for her wedding at the Inn when a jealous suitor burst in with a gun, fatally wounding her. Ever since, some believe, the inn has been haunted by the memory of that tragic event. It is said that the shade of young Harriet, dressed in the bridal black typical of the day, wanders the halls and rooms, and that it is she who is responsible for the many strange occurrences reported there.

Strange voices and the sounds of footsteps are frequently reported, along with doors that refuse to open and music boxes that begin playing on their own are among the many disturbances cited. An even stranger account was given to me by current owner Barbara Colorio. During the summer of 2005, two hundred years after Harriet’s dreadful demise, another wedding was being held at New Boston Inn. Suddenly, all the fire alarms began going off, and could not be stopped. Even after disconnecting the system from the power and back up batteries, the blaring continued.

Considering how well known the story of Harriet’s murder has become, it is curious that so little in the way of specific information about the incident can be found. Though mentioned in various local histories, no further details are offered than those given here; Harriet’s last name, the name of her killer, and the exact date of the slaying are all among the facts shrouded in the fog of historical obscurity. The inn even offers a free night in the haunted ballroom for anyone who can supply these particulars; according to Local History librarian Ann-Marie Harris, the Berkshire Athenaeum fields several inquiries a year about this tantalizing mystery.

As if to make up for the lack of historical data surrounding Harriet’s death, New Boston Inn is one of the most heavily investigated of any haunted place in the county. A plethora of prominent ghost-hunting groups and paranormal researchers have visited this Sandisfield landmark, hoping to shed light on its spooky enigmas.

In 2004, the Inn was investigated by the O.R.I.O.N. Paranormal group, headed by Michael Sinclair. The O.R.I.O.N. group’s website features photos they believe indicate paranormal phenomena in the Inn, and Sinclair was so intrigued by the amount of activity there that he organized a second investigation, this time with the help of the team from The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), stars of the popular television show Ghost-Hunters.

This subsequent exploration appeared on an episode of the show which aired on the Sci-Fi channel in December 2004. In it, the investigation by the TAPS team comes up with mixed results. They conclude that most of the photos of “orbs” or “ectoplasm” taken by the O.R.I.O.N. group could be attributed to bits of particulate matter from insulation blowing out from the ceiling, but are unable to posit viable explanations for other occurrences reported by witnesses. As a test, they place a pen in a certain location in a room which is then shut and locked, only to find that it has moved slightly when they return to that room.
Paranormal investigator and author Jeff Messenger also shared with me his experiences doing research on the inn. Last January he explored the place with Phantasm Psychic Research group, headed by David Considine. They monitored the interior for several hours with high tech equipment, but captured only one brief anomaly on film, “a twisting line of light that floated to the back of the room and faded away.”

Trying a more low-key approach for a second investigation, Messenger returned to the Inn in May without the rest of the team. Keeping an all-night vigil from room 7, he found the building much more active this second time. Though it was not windy that night, he heard repeated knocking sounds on the walls and ceiling. He even tried a “white noise” experiment in an attempt to snare some samples of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). This is a method by which paranormal investigators attempt to make recordings of spectral voices not ordinarily audible by capturing them against a background of white noise, such as from a detuned radio receiver. At one point in the night, he got a recording of a very faint female voice coming through the static, whispering “…I’m here.”

“None of this was proof positive of a haunting,” Messenger remarks, “but it certainly piqued my interest even more in the New Boston Inn.”

With a murky past, any number of reports of strange activity, and an owner who is very approachable on the subject New Boston Inn is a fertile ground for research, both scientific and historical. It remains a cornucopia of tantalizing secrets, just waiting for the right combination of luck and persistence to uncover them. On top of the thrill of discovering those secrets, there’s still the standing offer of a free night in the haunted ballroom, for anyone who can supply any more information about the ill-fated Harriet, or her jealous suitor…