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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The First Witch of Savoy, and the Tragedy of Tower Cemetery



How short the race our children ran
Cut down in all their bloom
The course but yesterday began
Now finished in the tomb.”
-Inscription at Tower Cemetery

Transactions with the 'shining ones,' since they are not always benign, require a certain skill or things might take an odd turn.” - Roger Davis

In the hills of Savoy, on a discontinued stretch of Bannis Road a mile south of Adams Road, at the edge of a rocky wind that's now more hiking trail than avenue, lies a little stone walled graveyard.

One of more than twenty small burial grounds speckled throughout the town, at first glance Tower Cemetery appears remarkable only as yet another reminder of the earlier people whose homes once dotted these lanes in the more densely populated days of the 19th century, when Savoy was a booming stagecoach stop boasting as many as three inns on its main drag.

A closer look at the ten stones that make up this one family plot suggests its more sorrowful history, the tale of one family that fared far worse than the average of their era. On a hushed winter day, the contemplative visitor may intuit much of the story of Orrin Tower and Florinda Granger and their vanquished line, a narrative whispered in etched stones and broken metal, an echo of long ago sadness that has given rise to a rich lore of prophetic visions and dark deeds.

For They Say that Florinda Granger was more than merely an unfortunate mother whose brood was cut down by illnesses and accidents; in the hands of Legend, she is the first witch of Savoy, whose forecasts of future events came at a terrible price.

Our most forthcoming source on this lore is none other than Roger Davis, himself the self-proclaimed “Witch of Savoy” these last decades, holding court at his Dragon House until his death two winters ago. Those unfamiliar with this intriguing local may consult my tribute to his life here, along with an investigation into the murky events surrounding his death and the hushed over arson at the Dragon House last year.

“From an early age she predicted future happenings,” Davis said of Granger in one of his rare surviving writings, “Her presence was all that was necessary to heal the sick. When she met Orrin, somehow, she caused him to believe that she was the most desirable woman he ever met.”

Granger married Tower in 1844, and they settled on land given by her father, Levi Granger, and Orrin ran a grain mill on the property.

It was said that she was born weak and consumptive, to a family thought to have long been secretly "of the craft."

According to the story, some of Florinda's visions and healings over the years were closely followed by tragedies within her own family.

From the headstones on Bannis Road, we know that the summer of 1851 was one of great strife, during which the Tower family lost first 3 year old daughter on July 28, and four year old twins Almina and Minerva on August 10, deaths that vital records of the time attribute to dysentery.

Three years later, on June 6, 1954, their two sons, 9 year old Elansford and 11 year old Wareham both drowned in their father's mill pond.

“It is supposed that he and his brother went in to bathe...” reads an inscription in the little cemetery.

Other oddities seem to have befallen the Tower family during their years on this Savoy hillside.  According to an item in a local paper from 1859, their home was struck by a bolt of lightning during a summer storm.  It reportedly rattled down the stove pipe and right into bed with another of the Tower's small children, setting the bed on fire, though no one was hurt.

Sinister rumors came to surround the misfortunes of the Tower children. Legend is rife with varied innuendo, some suggesting they were victims of some malevolent side effect of Florinda's powers, others implying a more direct villainy on the part of the father.

This was the version favored by Davis, whose account claims that in 1863, Florinda intercepted an attempt by Orrin and an anonymous drinking buddy to 'spirit away' then 13 year old daughter Lucy, after which things became eerily quiet in the Tower home. The latter day Witch of Savoy recalls:

“The waning moon that year coincided with Samhain, the end of the pagan year, Halloween. Both aspects aligning made it the optimum timing for endings of all things. All that day, Florinda was humming something under her breath, off and on. And that night she dropped a folded paper into the fire. As the flames consumed the paper, sending it up the chimney and its dancing sparks to the night above, a message was delivered.”

The next morning, the tale continues, the bodies of Orrin and his nameless cohort were found floating in the pond, fatalities written up to a drunken accident, though some suspected other forces at play.

According to local records, however, Orrin Tower passed on March 11, 1867. Tower appears to have served in the Civil War following a stint as one of the town's selectman. After his return, seven year old daughter Harriet succumbed to consumption in 1866, which is said to have struck both her parents the following year.  Florinda was declared dead two weeks after her husband, on March 24. She and Orrin were both 47 at the time of their death.

Two remaining scions of the Tower family survived a few years longer. Eldest daughter Lucy married Alfred Burnett, then fell to dysentery in 1871 at the age of 21; a final daughter Eunice died in 1875 at age 19, giving birth to a child who also died in the delivery.

Burnett, Lucy's husband, inherited the Tower house, which burned to the ground in 1915, leaving only the scant remains of a cellar hole just opposite the tiny cemetery.

A metal monument now stands in the center of the tiny burial plot, added sometime later than the graves, some of which have broken and otherwise become difficult to read. Where the names and vital dates of family members have been preserved on the hollow headstone-like structure, the plate containing the name of Orrin Tower has been conspicuously smashed out. It has been in this condition for at least twenty years.

In the etchings of stones slowly receding into nature is scattered sundry verses of poetic lament, such as this:

“Sweet children adieu a long adieu
Till we shall meet above
Then may we join the song with you
And sing redeeming love.”

A curious place, this quiet and secluded lot nestled in the trees, just down the road from the pond where the two boys met their doom, and less than a half mile from the hill where the town's more well known, modern witch set his humble and mysterious woodland cabin. Sheltered in forest shadows on this lower ridge of Borden Mountain, this cluster of artifacts mutters an underlying story of private suffering and unanswered questions... the sum tale of a family come and entirely gone from the world in less than 25 years.



Sources

Davis, Roger.  "Legends and Tales of the Berkshire Hills." Hoosac Trails V. 6, #4 [Dec.1993]
Miller, H. Elmer.  History of the Town of Savoy [1879]
Phinney, Jane B. Taking the High Road: Two Hundred Year History of a Hilltown [1997]
Sample, Stephen.  Berkshire Burial Grounds Within the State Forests. [1995]
Town of Savoy, Vital Records.  1840-1870
Berkshire County Eagle, July 15, 1859


Monday, December 17, 2012

A Crime Free Golden Age in the Berkshires

D.A. Capeless at arraignment for triple
homicice- photo J.Durwin iBerskhires
Perhaps the local legend I have heard told most often is that times have surely changed, that things are quite different now from a previous, more peaceful golden era where folks brought up their kids right and crime was less an issue- at least serious, ghastly crimes such as those in recent years. Despite years of historical research, I have been unable to locate precisely when this harmonic time period occurred, but I have managed to eliminate some time frames from the search. The following is a sliver sampling of the dates I have been able to eliminate as I continue to search for exactly when this epoch took place.

May 11, 1753- Two men shot and chopped up a Mahican native at Stockbridge following an argument.

April 15, 1755- Multiple men shot and stabbed William Race to death in his Sheffield home.

Feb 20, 1806- Ephraim Wheeler is hanged in Lenox for the rape of his 13 year old daughter. Prior to this, rape of one's own child was typically handled locally as a misdemeanor, and cases can be found in local court records on a monthly basis.

Nov 22, 1826- Samuel Charles becomes the fifth man hung in Lenox in the early1800s, for the murder of a man in Richmond.

July 29, 1861- Henry Pratt cuts the throat of his 17 year old wife/niece and then his own at New Ashford. [Full story]

Sep 7, 1862- Mrs. Emily Jones and her two children brutally murdered while picking berries one day in Otis, by Thomas and James Callendar.  Their bodies were concealed and only located after an extensive search.

July 29, 1877- Herbert Blanchard shoots two Savoy men in the middle of church on Sunday after being confronted about attempting to seduce a preteen girl.

Jan 10, 1882- Oscar Beckwith kills his business partner Simon Vandercook at Alford. Vandercook's remains are found chopped up, some burned in the woodstove while others were found in a brine barrel. Beckwith was suspected by some of cannibalism, and eventually hung at Hudson 6 years later.

August 6, 1897- Henry and Blanche Reed are bludgeoned to death in their North Adams home. While listed as unsolved, over the next 3 years, 3 individuals involved in the case, including two investigating officers, commit suicide. The case remains shrouded in mystery.

Aug 8, 1898- Fred Webster, who had recently been paroled from a murder in Egremont 20 years earlier, shot his brother and himself at the dinner table. The N.A. Transcript called it “yet another murder to the long list of crimes in Berkshire County” at that time.

Aug 20, 1900- May Fosburgh is shot dead in the middle of the night in her Tyler Street, Pittsfield home, either by her brother (tried & acquitted) or by alleged robbers (never identified). [Full story]

Oct 26, 1908- 24 defendants arraigned in Pittsfield for crimes over the weekend, and the extradition of serial killer Elroy Kent from Pittsfield to Vermont, while fire fighters were meanwhile battling acts of arson that had set the hills ablaze across the Berkshires for the past week. [More info]

Dec 12, 1915- beloved Civil War vet Lafayette Battelle is robbed and bludgeoned to death in his Monterey home [Full story]

Dec 17 1943- A skull found on West Mountain is believed to be from an abducted 22 year old schoolteacher; meanwhile, an armed robber nabs $190 from Pedercini Restaurant in North Adams.

May 9, 1945- Pittsfield's Willie Wynn is arrested for killing his 26 year old girlfriend. The following month, James Noxon is convicted of intentionally electrocuting his 6 month old son to death.

May 22, 1959 – News of the day: manhunt for two missing North Adams girls, corpse found floating in Silver Lake, woman robbed while in a North St. Shop.

October 7, 1976- Cynthia Krizack becomes the second unsolved murder of a teenage girl in less than two years; two out of at least a dozen murders within the county in a 3 year period.

July 9, 1981- Seven Lenox youths indicted for manslaughter in the drowning deaths of two Lee High students.

June, 1984 – The Springside Park zoo is finally closed after years of persistent vandalism. At least six animals had been butchered there since 1972, among dozens of malicious acts of destruction at that park since the 1960s.

Jan 7, 1994- Lewis Lent is arrested in Lanesboro and confesses to the murders of Jimmy Bernardo and Sara Anne Wood. Some investigators believe he may have been responsible for the murders of as many as 10 children.