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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Notes From The Field (Part 1)

Adapted from journal notes, March 20, 2015:

The first official day of Spring.  It's 82 and humid at the edge of the swamp. Bugs are swarming up in front of my eyes; I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to see through them.

This swamp has been gone over with a fine comb already.  It's been dredged, searched with divers, finally drained, re-scoured, and refilled.  The small parking area across the way was where they found the truck.   It belonged to a local firefighter and mother of two.  Her bag was found separately, along a canal I'll visit later in the day.

All of a sudden, it feels like such a long winter.

Included in the police file on this case is a diary that the missing firefighter's daughter was working on for a 6th grade class project at the time.  There are no real clues in it, just a series of heart-wrenching entries.

"Today is my mom's birthday, I wish she was here so we could celebrate. She was turning 33 years old. We all miss her."

To an extent, the last dozen or so years have all been a bit like this.  Since Christmas it's been like this at a nonstop, frantic pace.  For months now, by far the least uncomfortable part of my week is asking clowns why they think people are so scared of them.  That's the easy stuff [in fact we're still finding ways to laugh about that, clowns and I].

In the last few days, I interviewed 3 different clowns... in between visiting the former home of a vampire rapist, recording a bizarre but sincere account of a river monster from a retired engineer, and walking the last known locations of two other missing women.  The juxtaposition of jesters may well be what's keeping my mind afloat at this point.

In a variety of ways, missing persons cases are the worst of anything I've become involved in.  Worse than religious extremists who pull guns on you, UFO cults who drug your drink (has its moments), worse than conversing with suspected (or convicted) killers, or middle of the night death threats for poking about at Navajo taboos.

"My mom was a good person. There was no reason to hurt her. My brother, dad, and I loved my mom so much," reads another diary entry.

This is history that cuts deep- and it doesn't matter, not as much as you'd think, whether it's been 5 weeks or 50 years.  The impact on families, on communities, remains acute.  The fog of uncertainty and unsettling potentials takes generations to clear.

The accumulation of unknowables takes a psychological toll on even the most dogged researchers, as does the intense personalization of the work, as strangers become familiar almost as though one's own lost loved ones.  Each case becomes a face, faces that become most vivid in late sleepless hours.

It's not just these mysteries in isolation that have worn the edges ragged, it's all mixed in with the whole menagerie of [natural and unnatural] occurrences that have swirled together, and boiled into this gray soup of maddening speculation and omni-directional agnosticism.

All this mucking about in the secret and the deceptive and the unsavory is either an unprofitable business or an expensive hobby, I can't decide which; a steep karmic trade to make, considering the brick wall statistical reality stacked up against any real break-through in knowledge... and the sobering, repeated realization that even if you get to a point of nearly certain mystery-solving, you may never be able to prove that which you have come to know.

Sure, there have been wins in The Digging, some small victories, some times that someone's life was made marginally better by the unrelenting hunt for the story.  Mostly even those have seemed secondary, partial, tangenital.

It's rare that the finding out and knowing of the truth, even if helpful, can in any way make up for the unfortunate implications of said truth.  At best, you're providing a few more chips for someone to lay down against the roulette wheel of closure.

The darker the story, the colder any comfort in success, and the lonelier the messenger who delivers it.

All of which graduates to approximately the level of abject stupidity, of real idiocy in life choices, when some of the sacrifices made to keep doing the work are also taken into consideration.  When enough years go by and enough days pile up without a day off, the math can seem inconceivable, even if I can't quite bring myself to list out and think at once [because if I did my mind might break] about all of the things lost that I can never get back.

Pure stupid, and stupidly necessary.  Unshakable.  As bleak and intractable and silly as anyone who ever made a royal mess of their life for something that could be cooked in a spoon.

 It's a bitter pill, this perpetual striving to accept that all of the same things that keep me up at night also are what gets me up in the morning.

...and as I look at this now, just a matter of weeks after first recording the thoughts, it is with the amused bewilderment that one reflects on one's self as a child.  "Ah, yes," it says, half-admiring-half-scorning the optimistic naivete of that self, "that was just before things really got rough."

Monday, May 11, 2015

New Contest! Win Free Merch By Facebook Sharing

In an effort to promote the current crowd-funding campaign for the upcoming book, These Mysterious Hills is also launching a new contest, with opportunities to score some of the rewards of donors without spending a dime.

The top ten sharers of the link over the next 2 weeks will be entered into a drawing to receive a variety of prizes associated with the book launch.  1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes will be awarded, so if you share the following link regularly, you basically have about a 1 in 3 chance of winning.

To enter, simply go to the Mysterious Hills Facebook page ( and click ‘Share’ on the link for the Indiegogo campaign.  This is the best way to keep track of who has shared it.  Repeat often ( but not *too* often- no more than 2 shares per 24 hours will be counted toward the contest).  

  • 1st prize: VIP ticket to the book release bash, including after-hours tutorial in ghost-hunting and an opportunity to explore and investigate the haunted former Colt mansion in Pittsfield (October 3), plus a free signed copy of the book and a limited edition bookmark guide to haunted sites throughout the Berkshires.
  • 2nd prize: free signed copy of the book, limited edition bookmark
  • 3rd prize: free eBook edition of the book + bookmark

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


A new kind of history...

Chock full of ghost stories, legendary people, strange creatures, UFO accounts,  unsolved mysteries, and all manner of bizarre incidents... this book will offer the first comprehensive collection of folklore drawn from three and a half centuries of local history.  In this form, it represents the culmination of more than a decade of writing on all things weird in the Berkshires and its surroundings.
With your help, I can bring this unconventional chronicle of a fascinating region to life, allowing a unique alternate window into an important part of New England history for both residents, visitors, and potential visitors alike.

Uncovering the Berkshires

  • As an independently produced and published work, These Mysterious Hills can go beyond generic genre limitations to portray the diverse collection of local curiosities.  An additional $2,000 dollars is being sought to help defray costs involved in printing, distributing and promoting this book.
  • Unique perks available to funders include free book copies, special limited edition merchandise, extensive promotional opportunities, guided tours and rare chances to explore little known haunted sites in the Berkshires.    Click here for more info.
  • All funds raised will be used to underwrite costs of making this book available to residents and visitors of the area as well as curiosity seekers the world over.

Benefits the Berkshires

In addition to providing a broader perspective of the history of the region, These Mysterious Hills will help enhance the region's appeal as a destination for para-tourism, one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry.  Included among the numerous locations brought to life in this book are many of the region's premiere venues for culture, history and natural beauty.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Old Coot of Greylock: The Legend in Full

The following is a full account of the Legend of the Old Coot, as told over a campfire last summer by Mount Greylock State Reservation Park Interpreter Michael Whalen, one of the Shire's grand storytellers.  This transcription has attempted to adhere as close to word-for-word as possible to Mike's colorful telling of the story:

"...Whatever direction you may travel, Greylock looms large... physically, mentally, spiritually, geographically.  And there is something about these hills around here that have borne so many colorful characters.

To tell this tale, we need to go back before the Civil War...

Needless to say, the war effort drew in many different people, into this major bloody event... one of our local citizens, one Bill Saunders... he probably had one of the biggest sheep farms in Adams in the middle 1850s.  His farm was located at a very interesting nexus in the town of Adams, Bob's Hill.  

It was on this very folkloric, legendary hill, that Saunders had his farm.  He had about 300 sheep pasturing on the hilltop, and a most beautiful farmhouse.  He had a young wife, and was just beginning to raise a family, when the call came for more able bodied soldiers to fight on the side of the north in the Civil War.

So sadly, Bill Saunders had to pack up and leave his farm on Bob's Hill, and travel far away, deep into the south, to  many battles throughout the war.

Meanwhile, his wife and young children were left behind at the farm, to fend for themselves.  And it wasn't a very easy life... now I have to believe that his wife, Emma was her name, was made of tough raw nails, like a good Yankee farm wife would have to be.  She did the best she could, but it was very difficult on her own, and she often had to hire local men to help on the farm in place of her husband.

And so the war wore on, and Bill Saunders, he was wounded a number of times. Finally, in one of the last battles of the Civil War, he was wounded very badly in a canon blast, and he almost died from it. 

He was laid up in a hospital, first in Richmond, Virginia, and then he was moved to Washington for a number of months.  He was in and out of death during those many months, struggling to live. But the thought of his farm, and his young wife and children back in Adams is really what kept him alive.

So Bill Saunders ultimately did survive the war... but for many months following the war, he was in a sort of state of amnesia.  He couldn't remember exactly where his home was, he just knew tnat he had a farm and a family somewhere back north.  It took a while for him to regain his complete memories.  He had worked at odd jobs around Washington DC, and thereabouts.

Finally, his memory is jogged, and he recalls exactly where his farm and his family were, and decides that it is time to return home.

This was two years following the war, so a lot of time had passed, and he was more or less considered missing in action... which was almost like being considered dead, lost in battle.   Which is essentially how word had come back to his wife, who now considered herself a widow.

This was no time in history for a young woman with no husband and young children to raise, to be trying to run a farm with 300 sheep.  So sadly, she decides it was really necessary for her to find a new husband.

So ultimately, she does.  She had hired various handyman to help on the farm, in the absence of Bill Saunders, and one of these handymen she hits it off with.  She enjoys his company and his sense of humor, and what's more, he's a sturdy man, he's reliable.  And to find a sturdy reliable man, in the aftermath of that great war, on a New England farm, was rare indeed.

So they married, and he becomes her new husband and father to her children.  The children grow up, and have just a very faint memory of their father.

Eventually, Bill Saunders finds his way back home.  He takes a train back to Springfield, still a bit hazy on the exact whereabouts of his former home.  Then he takes another train, and eventually arrives in Adams.

When he does, he almost feels like a stranger, because the town has changed a great deal, it's grown a lot in the mean time.  And he is barely recognizable, for though he is still a young man, perhaps in his early 30s, he's taken on a kind of grizzled, elderly look about him.  He has aged prematurely, grayed and become unkempt, due to his ordeal. So he goes to a barber, before he goes anywhere else, to have his hair and beard trimmed.

Still, he takes advantage of his changed appearance, not sure at first that he is quite ready to be recognized.  He is thus able to travel around his hometown anonymously, without being recognized.  It gives him an opportunity to look around the town a bit, and size it up, before he makes his true identity known.  

He begins making inquiries about his wife, and his farm... and it is then that he learns the unfortunate news, that she has taken a new husband, and that his children, now somewhat older, recognize the new man as their father.  

Bill's a tough Yankee, though, and he can deal with that.  It's sad news for him, but he can cope with it.  

'The worst thing that I can do is make an appearance there, and disrupt her new life,' he decides.  He cared enough about her and her happiness not to disturb that.  In the great tradition of stoic New Englanders, he decides to make a new life.

He takes various odd jobs, because he is very skilled, so he works as a blacksmith, and he works as a cooper, making barrels in the local shop.  He works in the growing Adams cotton mill for a time.  Occasionally, he would hire out to local farms as a hired hand.

Legend has it, that on more than one occasion, Bill Saunders actually hired on to his old farm, and was working for his wife and her new husband.  But she never recognized him, so dramatically had he changed in the intervening years.  A number of times, he had actually sat down and eaten at their dinner table.  In that way, he was actually able to reconnect with his lost family and his former life.  

From this, he attained a certain peace with his new life, and after the first few times, never worked on that farm again.

'It's time for me to go off and live on my own, on my own terms,' Saunders decided, a life somewhat outside the circle of culture and civilization.

Now, he had a little bit of pay left over from his years in army service.  In fact, he'd been so frugal in saving that pay, because he'd intended to return home with that pay and improve his farm, that now he was able to purchase a tiny piece of land on the Greylock mountainside, upon which he'd looked up his whole life.

So he went up the mountainside, and cobbled together a small log cabin, and that's where he lived the rest of his life.

A few more years went on, and Bill occasionally would go down into the valley at various times a year, particularly in the winter months, and he would find odd work in town.  But he would always tire of that work, and eventually wander back to his cabin on the Greylock mountainside. 

 One winter, it was so bad that, meteorologists and the Old Farmer's Almanac today, have claimed that this was perhaps the worst winter on the slopes of Mount Greylock since the "the Year Without A Summer," back in 1816. One one of the coldest nights of the year, of this winter, one of the coldest winters of the century, the temperatures fell so low that they couldn't even record them.

Saunders had made sure he had plenty of firewood in his cabin that night, and he built himself a roaring fire, the most roaring, hottest, baddest fire he had ever made, which he figured would take him through the night and into the next day.  He made himself a cup of coffee in a tin cup, drank it, and went to bed, leaving one candle lit. Bill went to sleep in this lonely little cabin, no living soul in miles.

But unfortunately, the door of the cabin, which he had believed secure, blew wide open in a ferocious, roaring wind.  That wind blew out the fire... but didn't blow out the candle... at least not at first.

Bill Saunders froze to death that night, unable to survive that coldest, baddest night in one of the worst winters on the slopes of mount Greylock.  

So there he was... no one even knows how long, perhaps days, or weeks. One day, later that winter, a couple of hunters wandered up up the mountain to one of their favorite hunting grounds.  They recalled that there was an old hermit living up there, and though they rarely ever went that way, this particular night, for some reason, they decide to head by there and check to see how the old man was doing.

So they climbed the slope, and came into view of the old cabin.  All they could see was a little glow, through a partly open door.  They approached the cabin, unsure if he was actually home, because the place looked abandoned.  It felt abandoned.  There was something just very uninhabited about this old cabin.

As they got to the door, they could see a single candle, flickering on the bedside table.  As they pushed the door the rest of the way open, they heard a little crackle... and coming from a branch of an outside tree, quite suddenly, came the hoot of a large owl.  
'This is too eerie,' they said to themselves.  'What's going on here?'

As they pushed through the snow covered door, the owl hoots once more, loudly, as though in warning... and then they see a still, motionless figure on the bed.

They come closer, the only light coming from the flickering candle, and as they approach, they realize that the man is indeed lifeless... the man is dead.  Going over to touch him, they find his body frozen solid.  They recognize him as the hermit, that 'Old Coot' that lived these many years alone up on the side of Greylock.

There he was, frozen, perhaps for weeks.  At first they are not sure what to do.  They look around for a few minutes at the sparsely furnished cabin, finally deciding that they need to go and tell someone.  

As they begin walking back to the door, to go down to notify the local constable... suddenly the door slams shut... and the candle blows out.

Before they can open the door and run out... they see this misty figure rising up from the frozen, lifeless body of Bill Saunders.

Slowly the shadow rises up... then suddenly, there's a rush of wind and the door blows open again.  

The two hunters go running out frantically, down the mountain.  Just behind them, the misty figure follows.  They keep looking over their shoulders as the run, the figure right behind them... until abruptly it vanishes.   

Well, they're beside themselves with horror.  This is the most terrifying thing which they have ever seen.  They make a dash down the valley at record pace.

They reached the Gould farm, and were taken by wagon down into town to tell the constable. The constable, a bit skeptically, heads back up the mountain with the men in daylight, to the old cabin.  

Once again, they notice a candle barely lit, and there it is sitting once more on the table.  The hunters lead the way, edging the door open.  Once inside, the candle illuminates a surprising sight- an empty bed.  

The two hunters were not about to stay around to investigate; no, they went running once again down the mountainside, shrieking the whole way.

In fact, they shrieked so loud, that a lot of people at the mill were letting out for lunch, because they thought it was the lunch whistle. and the train men down at the station, they were letting up the flag to warn of a train's approach, even though there was no train for miles.  That's the kind of screaming they were letting out.

The hunters had disappeared, leaving the Constable staring at an empty bed and mulling a half-known story.  Later, once back to town, he got ahold of them and got as much of the story from these two frightened and unsettled hunters as he could.

But as he was walking back down the mountain, off at the entrance of the Bellows Pipe trail, he thought he could see a flicker, like a spectre, moving across the gap of the mountain reaches.  

Suddenly, it transformed, into a raven, and flew off into the woods.  And that was the last of Bill Saunders.

To this day, at about that same time of the year, if one were to hike up that same side of Greylock, one is bound to see, at some point, the grizzled apparition of Bill Saunders, the Old Coot, wandering about his haven in the mountains... perhaps finally finding peace in his ghostly wanderings, that he never knew in life."   

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gilded Age Ghoulishness at The Mount for "Victorian Boudoir" Party

The fine folks at Berkshire Shenanigans have, over the past several years,  earned themselves a reputation as cats who know how to throw a hell of a party.  Each year for the past half decade or so, they have incrementally outdone themselves with their elaborate and well attended themed Halloween bashes.  From the Spice ballroom to Bosquet to monstering about in the presence of mummies at the Berkshire Museum, they have combined venues with thematic extravaganzas to create decadently dark soirees attended by hundreds.

This year, though, the Shenanigans crew has taken it a bit more next-level, celebrating the All Hallow's season in perhaps the most well known haunted house in the region, The Mount.

The curious history of Edith Wharton's Lenox "cottage" has been explored before in these pages, and in many other articles, books, and the popular television show "Ghost Hunters."  Based on extensive testimonies from Mount visitors, staff, and their past tenants at Shakespeare & Company, who first launched the legend into public awareness, the turn of the century mansion is said to be acutely active with paranormal occurrences.

Indeed, it is thought by some to be haunted by any number of spectres, including Edith, her husband, writer Henry James, and even Wharton's pets (though interestingly, no one ever seems to associate any of the strange sounds and alleged apparitions seen there with, say, less famous people who have actually died on the property, of which there have been a couple).  At present, the museum has over the years collected enough witness reports and ghostly lore to run its own two hour ghost tour at the estate to large crowds each October.  From these, one gets the impression that virtually every part of the mansion has been associated with such surreal encounters.

Tour guide leads visitors in a night time recon of The Mount's pet cemetery, Oct 2012
Now, this Saturday, The Mount will host Berkshire Shenanigans "Victorian Boudoir," a risque homage to the period that built so many of the Berkshires' fine estates (and scandals, and legends), complete with all the holiday trimmings: candy, carved pumpkins, costume contest and their usual outstanding decorative flair.  Oh and the truly inestimable DJ BFG, who even manages to get me on the dance floor at times, as unlikely a prospect as that is.

I would extend an imploratory "get your tickets now!" but sadly for you, dear reader, due to the established reputation of the Berkshire Shenanigans gang, tickets were completely sold out long, long before I could pen this preview.  If you can, by some means, beg, bribe, blackmail or otherwise obtain such a ticket from someone who has one I strongly suggest it... and you may wish to check back with the Facebook event page, as there may be one or two more last minute scalpers who aren't able to use their ticket.

For those of you going, keep your eyes and ears peeled as you are wandering to and from the main hall, as perhaps these unusually racy shenanigans will pique the curiosity of one or two of the house's longest residents...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ghosts & Legends of Upstreet Pittsfield

Based on the longtime local folklore project These Mysterious Hills, a new downtown walking tour will explore a lesser known, mysterious, and somewhat darker side of Pittsfield's historic and cultural center. Beginning in front of the Pittsfield Common, an early city graveyard, this approximately 1.5 hour walk will delve into ghost stories, legends, lore, and strange-but-true tales attached to many Upstreet locations, including several of the city's premiere cultural venues.

A suggested donation of $5 per person will go to defray expenses involved in ongoing research into the rich folklore of the Berkshires.

Local author and tour host Joe Durwin's These Mysterious Hills has run on a semi-regular basis in the former Advocate Weekly (2004-2009) and (2010-2014), and his work on lore and mysteries of the region has also been featured in Fate Magazine, Haunted Times, the North Adams Transcript, as well as William Shatner’s “Weird or What” on the SyFy Channel, MSG Films’ “Bennington Triangle,” and numerous documentary specials for PBS.

Non-matinee tours will take place primarily after dark, trick-or-treat rules apply, light clothing recommended. Crosswalks and traffic rules will be observed throughout the tour. The tour will cover some mature themes, and parental caution is advised, this event may not be suitable for persons under 12.

Tour dates & times (rain will cancel) :
Oct 23 5:30PM
Oct 24 7:00PM
Oct 25 1:00 & 3:30PM
Oct 29: 5:30PM
Oct 30: 5:30PM

Disclaimer: Neither These Mysterious Hills or any party associated with it assumes any responsibility for injury, aggravation, nightmares, unsettling thoughts, demonic possession, occult obsessions, temporary or permanent haunting, poltergeist, or any other type of preternatural harassment or paranormal experience that may result from participation in this tour.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Deceased Bernard Baran 2nd Top Vote Getter in Berkshire DA Election

 Controversial Berkshire County District Capeless received an unexpected, but telling, challenge in last week's statewide primary election in Massachusetts.

While running unopposed, nearly 3% of the votes cast for District Attorney in Pittsfield, the county's largest municipality, were for write in candidates, and more than half of those were for a former Pittsfield resident who passed away the week before.

32 votes were cast in the city for former resident Bernard Baran, who passed away earlier this month at his Fitchburg home.

Capeless, who has been widely criticized by area residents in recent years for everything from aggressive prosecution of marijuana offenses to a perceived failure to protect witnesses, resulting in 2011's horrific triple homicide in Pittsfield, has also had his past handling of the Baran case called into question once again in the wake of his death.

In 1984 Baran became the first to be convicted in the 1980s "day care abuse scandals, " now generally regarded as a form of witchhunt mass hysteria that swept a number of American communities in the 1980s.  Through a shadowy, dubious investigation filled with discredited tactics and information, Baran was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation.

Despite the fact that most legal experts who've reviewed the case concur with a Boston court finding describing the trial as a farce, Baran spent more than half of his adult life in jail, essentially for the crime of being a gay man working in a day care facility.  His long languishment in prison, during which he sustained horrifying injuries that some say helped shorten his life considerably, is in large part due to the conduct of the Berkshire County District Attorney's office, first under former DA Daniel Ford and then under Capeless, who fiercely defended the handling of the trial by Ford, now a superior court judge up until Baran's eventual release in 2007.

The wave of write in votes in support of Baran may have been largely the result of a suggestion to this effect in a recent editorial in the Berkshire Eagle penned by local attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo.

According to City Clerk Linda Tyer, because the "candidate" is deceased, the write in votes will not be officially recorded by the state.

In a low turnout showing like that seen in the 2014 primary, with a total of only 2070 votes cast for that position, the write in response against Capeless was plainly significant.  The percentage of write-ins for the District Attorney's position was three times that of any other official on the ballot.

When reached for a response, the District Attorney's office declined to comment on the write in votes, or on the case of Bernard Baran.


For more on the tragic persecution of an innocent man by the Berkshire County justice system, watch the film "Freeing Bernie Baran."

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday the 13th Copycat Killing in Western Mass

Almost everyone in the western world takes notice, at least in passing, when the thirteenth of a month falls on a Friday. Many people are blatantly superstitious about such a day- some considering it lucky, some unlucky- but widely associated with luck in some fashion. In fact, considering that the belief in the significance of the day is only about a century old, it is maybe even a little surprising how nearly universal it is in the English-speaking world, and beyond.

Individually, though, superstitions about the number thirteen (the most popular superstition in the world, according to author Nathaniel Lachenmeyer) and Fridays in general have existed for a great deal longer. Both have roots in the Christian gospels- the old “thirteen at a table” rule (which appears to be the oldest superstition about the number), after that fiasco at the Last Supper, and the universal agreement in scripture that Christ’s execution took place on a Friday. Until recent decades, executions in general were typically carried out on Friday, contributing to its somewhat grim reputation.

Since the 1980 debut of Shaun Cunningham’s film of that title and its subsequent franchise, Friday the 13th has taken on a somewhat ‘spookier’ connotation in, and when it takes place in October some even take it as cue to start getting in Halloween mode early. For some though, it can be a cause of serious anxiety. There is even a name for this: triskaidekaphobia, an overwhelming and irrational fear of Friday the 13th (as opposed to jasospacephobia, which is merely an extreme repulsion to Friday the 13th Part X).

Some people have even more convoluted ways of relating to the pop culture of the day. This is the story of how Friday the 13th came to life and terrorized the town of Greenfield Massachusetts through Halloween, 1988. That is, at least as much of it as ever leaked out to the press.


Mark Branch
Mark Branch was an 18 year old grocery store clerk with an avid interest in slasher films. As the clerk at Video Expo 1 in Greenfield put it later: “He rented strictly gore, period. The gorier, the better.” He was particularly entranced with the Friday the 13th series, and its machete-wielding protagonist, Jason Vorhees. Some might have called it an obsession.

Perhaps that’s the way it might have been described by Sharon Gregory, a freshman psychology major at Greenfield Community College. Sharon was apparently intrigued enough by Branch to do some sort of psychological profile on him. Curiously, police were later unable to confirm that this was done as part of her course work. Just how well acquainted the two were is opaque, but what is known is that Mark knew that Sharon had written up a psychological profile of him, and that he wanted it.

On the night of October 24, Mark donned Jason’s trademark hockey mask and big black boots, and headed for Sharon’s apartment. What exactly transpired will never be known. Her twin sister found her mutilated body in the bathroom, having been stabbed repeatedly in the head, chest, and abdomen.

Police honed in on Branch as a suspect immediately, and suspicion of his guilt became a growing certainty when they found his bloodstained car abandoned near the woods in nearby Buckland. A massive manhunt ensued, but the Jason copycat remained undiscovered. As Halloween approached and more and more sensational media coverage came out about Branch’s obsession with Friday the 13th, area residents became increasingly frightened. Greenfield cancelled its Halloween parade and downtown activities, and confined trick-or-treat to afternoon hours. The local movie theater even agreed to postpone the release of Halloween IV- though how exactly that helped is somewhat unclear. Perhaps they feared that Branch would show up to attend the film- after all, Jason is, to a large extent, just a rip-off of Michael Myers.

Everyone seemed convinced that Branch would show up around Halloween for some kind of climactic slaughter, demonstrating that perhaps he was not the only one who’d seen one too many slasher movies. In fact, Halloween passed without incident, and also without new breaks in the search for Branch, despite the involvement of reputed psychic John Monti. There were no new developments in the case until late November, when a hunter discovered Branch’s body hanging from a tree in the woods of Buckland. The coroner determined that Branch’s suicide took place shortly after the slaying of Sharon Gregory.

Attempts to draw out more sensational details of the case, particularly those surrounding Branch’s obsession with Friday the 13th, were made by local newspapers, who petitioned the courts to release documents pertaining to the murder and to evidence confiscated from Mark’s home. The motions were successfully blocked by an attorney for his family, and the story essentially ground to a close, wrapping up with a quote from Greenfield police chief David McCarthy:

“He was so entrenched with Jason that he had to have the Final Chapter in his own feelings. He wanted to know what it felt like to live out the part of Jason,'' McCarthy said.


United Press International: Oct. 29, Nov. 1, Nov. 5, Dec. 1, 1988
Associated Press: Oct. 29, Nov. 1, 1988
Syracuse Daily Herald Oct 30, 1988
Boston Globe Nov. 30, 1988

Friday, November 01, 2013

Folkore & the 1st Amendment: The Halloween Story That Almost Wasn't

These Mysterious Hills celebrated its 9th birthday yesterday by weathering the first major challenge to publication of its content in the history of its run.

TMH began Halloween 2004, in the pages of the Advocate Weekly newspaper, where it ran first as a weekly, then a sporadic column from 2004-2009.  As a body of folklore research and fortean journalism, it has spanned also the pages of Haunted Times, Fate Magazine, the North Adams Transcript, iBerkshires, multiple radio networks, internet sites, and television networks from the regional to the international.  Over a decade, I've written on dozens and dozens of legended landmarks and sites of curiosity, from New England to Arizona... not all of them are always thrilled to have persistent rumors of spooky goings on repeated and reported, but though many have opted not to comment on inquiries about their possible para-scare status, none has ever demanded a retraction.

Until now.
Yesterday, within an hour or so of my Halloween special installment for, an annual tradition since 2011, the site was contacted asking that the article be removed.  The complaint came from an owner of one of the three haunted hotels featured in the piece.  The reason given is that one of the proprietors is from an ethnic culture in which discussion of ghosts is sometimes considered taboo.

It's perfectly fine to have a cultural taboo about something.  I have no problem respecting that.  In over a decade of swimming in uncomfortable, taboo topics of study, I have never pushed anyone to talk to me about something they don't want to talk about.

Any time I've profiled the folklore surrounding a place that was an institution or business, I have offered the opportunity for those involved to weigh in.  Many venues have had ample chances, over months or even years, to talk about the lore and ideas that may be floating around about said site, and have declined.  Of the three hotels profiled in yesterday's temporarily banished article, all three have had such opportunities.  One has been overwhelmingly forthcoming, and a pleasure to work with in the past.

To be clear, non-comment in no way makes a story go away, and in folklore this is doubly true.  In an ostensibly free, constitutionally protected country, you cannot expect that your reservations or even disagreement, however strong, are going to be sufficient to suppress the wider dialogue of others in the world.  You are under no obligation to discuss or read information that bothers you, but you are also in no position to halt the flow of that information by others.

It is, perhaps, naive to conclude that just because someone comes to an area and purchases a piece of property, that they will suddenly be able to somehow control or manage the whole social dialogue and body of folklore about a historic local landmark that was part of a community long before said owners arrived, and will remain so long after they have moved on to other adventures.  Not only did these legends existed about this inn before its most recent purchase, but I had already written about them in a different local newspaper long before.  They will linger long after its next purchase. Campfire stories belong to none, and they belong to all.  They are a part of our broader culture, even if some choose not to partake.

It seems almost silly to quibble about a challenge (which nearly succeeded, though the article has been put back up, albeit with some small edits*) to a Halloween day piece about ghost stories.  But in this region I have chosen to call home, we have been in the past couple years weathering quite a few attacks to the free use of speech and the ability of journalists to engage on any topics they wish, and that is a thing more scary than any story I've heard of ghostly shenanigans.

We all have things that we'd rather not hear, read, or see.  We all come across stories and statements that make our blood boil.  We all have something we'd maybe like to see censored or suppressed.

Yet we all want this right to be there for us, we need to know that we can still own our voice and let loose ideas and let them rise or fall in the fray.  It's a relative world, where one chap's sacred is another's silly, but this tenet has proven itself in fire enough to be held true, enough that by now we really should all be championing it, even when it allows for information we don't care for.  It doesn't work applied selectively. It has to stand, for all things and all people, or it will stand for none.

*In case you're curious what was removed from the final version, it was just a longer, wordier of the following warning:  if you're an expecting mother, think twice about booking a room in the main Manor House, particularly #5, the master bedroom.  Word has it that whatever may linger of Dame Spencer is hell on pregnant women.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Darkness Over Savoy: Fervor, Murder, and Madness in a Rural New England Town (Part 1)

It's first school was known as Tomb School. It has had a Police Chief named Norman Bates, and a weekly paper called The Crow. Historically, it is a revivalist-friendly hill town sprinkled with witches and haunted inns; riddled with mysterious burial grounds, where lie far too many who died violently for such a tiny, stunningly scenic mountain town in the romantic Berkshires of Massachusetts.

If Stephen King made up Savoy, Massachusetts it would seem desperate at this stage in his career.

Savoy recently topped a Boston Globe list of best places to live in the state, based on its apparently low recorded crime rates. Beneath the statistically clean surface of its scant face to the world along a nondescript stretch of Route 116, however, lies a labyrinth of winding old forest roads, pseudo-roads and trails whose history of dark deeds and weird rumors is far beyond that of comparable nearby towns the likes of Windsor, Florida or Peru.

In a 1938 article, local historian William Browne spoke of the “difference between the type of people who settled Savoy” and the settlers of nearby sister towns, pointing out that unlike many of those towns, the original settlers of Savoy hailed from the low coastal plains of Massachusetts, places like Plymouth and Cape Cod, Taunton, Rehoboth, and Middleboro.

“They left a region that had been well settled for a long period and where they had become accustomed to every comfort and where life was easy. What could have tempted them to leave such a favorable spot and begin pioneer life of a very arduous kind, in the mountains of the Berkshires, is one of the mysteries.”

Earlier town historian H.E. Miller depicts a similarly harsh wilderness “surrounded by wolves, bears, and other animals.”

“There is a tradition that one lady stayed many nights with nothing but blankets to keep the wolves from her window,” writes Miller, who also recounts another account in which a man walking back from Adams was followed some distance by a large bear on his hind legs. “Many of the settlers passed their first night under an upturned hogshead, to protect themselves from wild beasts. All the houses were built of logs, and people who kept sheep or swine, made pens for them beneath some window, that they might be easily reached in time of danger.”

Nonetheless, settlement in Savoy did grow from its rocky 18th century start, and even come to flourish for a time in the early decades of the 19th. For a period it enjoyed some success by default of its location, offering a key stop for stage coaches traveling from east to west over the northern Berkshire hills. Along what is now Route 116 there have flourished several inns, all of which at one time or another have been alleged to have been the site of the town's most commonly known legend, a chilling “murdered traveler” tale from before the days of William Cullen Bryant's famed poem.

The broad but unimpressive house where the Mason Hotel thrived from the 1820s to 1930s can today be seen next to the Savoy Hollow General Store, whose width sits atop the slightly charred foundation that held the Bowker Tavern in two different forms over seventy-one years, before fire finally claimed it for good in 1894.  Both have had claim to the town's murdered traveler story over time, but a closer look at Savoy history points to it's earliest lodging, the Williams Inn. The bizarre historical accounts of Joseph Williams, his missing visitor, and the mystery surrounding his demise and the empty tomb in Tomb Cemetery, are an entire saga in their own right. (See: Savoy's Murdered Traveler -Advocate Weekly, Oct 22,2009)

But the stories surrounding Williams share aspects with other threads of Savoy's thick religious history, intersecting as they do with Savoy's Shaker revival, through the life of the widow Olive Blake and the “strange lights” reported among the newly converted Shakers there in the same years as his descent and murky end.

Savoy was a place of wild revivalism in the 1810s, and Shaker missionaries in the middle part of the decade found receptive ears, and a community of 80 converts grew over a five year period, controlling about 1500 acres primarily in the area called New State.  These hill town Shakers lived mostly in their own homes though they began housing their youth communally, built a grist mill and began the early makings of their own Shaker village. They folded into the larger communities at New Lebanon and Watervliet, New York in 1821, leaving only a thicket of cellar holes that can still be seen throughout land that is now mostly within Savoy State Forest.

This was in the Burned Over days, when wandering prophets, fervent revivals, and complex new denominations were cropping out across the northeast, and Savoy proved ripe for new churches from its earliest days.

Some of the first followers to the Shaker missionaries dispatched there by Elder Calvin Green came from among those swept up by an earlier traveling clergyman who arrived from Vermont in 1810. His name was Joseph Smith, and histories have often confused him with the more well known founder of Mormonism, who would at that time have been five, an error borne partly out of confusion at the curious parallels in their story.

This earlier Smith was a charismatic Baptist preacher whose colorful sermons evoked dancing, whirling and tongue-speaking among a quickly growing congregation in the New State sector of town. New State, which by 1810 numbered at least 150 souls, were of the more radical “New Light” Baptist tradition and differed from their neighbors to the southeast worshiping at the First Baptist Church down in Savoy Hollow. Historian David Newell says over three fourths of these “New Light” settlers were connected by birth or marriage to one of three prominent early families: Cornells, the Shermans, and the Lewises. Smith promptly married Hepsibah Lewis, daughter of early convert Nathaniel Lewis.

Elsewhere Baptists leaders were busily warning nearby towns about the itinerant Smith, an imposter posing as ordained clergy, who had already left in his wake one wife who shortly thereafter arrived to confront him in Savoy. The scandalized Smith left Savoy hurriedly with both wives in tow (or in pursuit, history is unclear on this point).

A bulk of Smith's disillusioned parishioners joined the Shakers, while 
others may have eventually gravitated to the later Second Baptist Church. Nathaniel Lewis and his family, minus the daughter who left with “Pastor” Smith, joined the Shaker community early on. A couple of years later, around the time they built the grist mill, his son Nathaniel Jr. “went insane,” according to records. He was considered so violent and destructive that the town had him kept in chains until his death in the 1820s. His brother Amos also “fell victim to madness” and died a hermit on the Lewis farm after the rest of the family had left with the Shakers. The brothers are in unmarked graves in Dunham Burial Ground for local Shakers, one of more than 20 grave yards in the small town.

Savoy also boasted a Congregational church from 1811 to 1840, along with a Methodist house of worship beginning in 1834. 1840 meanwhile saw the formation of the Adventist (Millerite) sect under William Miller, a Pittsfield native with relatives in Savoy, where the faith blossomed from that time until near the end of the century. The Millerites began at the Union church in New State first built by the Second Baptists, then in 1863 constructed a small Adventist chapel, which still stands in the Brier area of Savoy.

Some in Savoy said that violence and turmoil in town first began when the Adventist church was put in, or so a local farmer told a New York Sun reporter in 1877, when frequent “quarreling” turned into murder. It was here that Herbert Blanchard, son of an Adventist preacher there, shot Francis and Albert Starks with a revolver one Sunday following services, after they tried to warn him away from Albert's underage daughter.

The nature of the crime attracted reporters from major cities, who were shocked to find a town they described as “unsavory” and heavily armed.

“The people are ignorant, odd and bigoted,” said one Boston Globe correspondent. “They talk of shooting one another as they would of butchering an ox.”

“Savoy has an unsavory reputation for harboring roughs, and though one of the smallest of the mountain villages, is kept before the public eye by the frequency with which its citizens get into the courts,” read another Globe story, noting that at Blanchard's trial it was revealed that “men of the village habitually carry revolvers,” all twenty men at the church at the time of the shooting being armed to the teeth.

Tomb Cemetery
Savoy was in the news abroad again the following year, both for a horrific rape case and for a bizarre incident of cemetery desecration by an unknown vandal-poet. On June 9, 1878, 39 headstones within the town's curious Tomb Cemetery were broken, an act that was accompanied by an epic poem entitled “Red Dragon,” written on large sheets of brown wrapping paper. In the verse, which was signed “The Tramp,” the author predicted the coming of a second, more terrible Civil War, and death and destruction for all of the people of Savoy.

There were other abberations and tragedies, too, as the town of Savoy waned both economically and in morale over the latter half of the 19th century. Sometimes whole families seemed blighted by this trend. Wehave delved elsewhere into the dark history of the Tower family, all of whom fell to drownings and disease in the 1850s and 60s... or, depending on your source, as the result of psychic dealings by Florinda Tower, who some say was the first Witch of Savoy. The Tower's lie buried just north from the burned out ruins of the house of Savoy's more recent and well known witch, in yet another small plot on a road gone back to nature in the sprawling hillside.

Then there was the Ingraham family, whose lineage was checkered with suicides in the late 1800s. Bill Ingraham hung himself in 1880, according to family records, though the whereabouts of his burial is unclear. In 1900 Savoy native Ella Ingraham very publicly attempted suicide in Boston by drinking acid which while not taking her life, left permanent burns on her chin, mouth and neck. Though she spent time at a Northampton sanitarium and was declared cured, Ella succeeded in suicide by poison on April 29, 1905. Her half brother Frank also died in Savoy by drinking poison two years later in March 1907.

In the next installment, we will continue the tale into the 20th century, as this curiously molded hill town sees the inns, stores and churches close up, despite a brief attempt at reinvention as a tourist destination; chronicling continued high rates of murder and mayhem into a wild modern era when Police Chief Norman Bates presided over a town terrorized by two maniac brothers, where periodically teenagers just died in their car for no apparent reason, and off in the shadow of Borden Mountain Witch Vortex would begin building hismythic Dragon House in the woods...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Asylums of Massachusetts

I get a lot of questions about the old abandoned asylums in Massachusetts, those lovely brick ones with the 'batwing' shaped floor plans that have been mostly torn down by developers over the last decade or so.
Most of these buildings, such as the ones that were in Northampton, Danvers, Taunton, Worcester, etc, were inspired by the work of Thomas Story Kirkbridge, a pioneering 19th century psychiatrist who first developed theories of the role of architecture in treating mental illness. With the advent of neurology, the ever fickle, trendy discipline of psychiatry largely threw out the baby with the bathwater and Kirkbride's theories were mostly forgotten. More recent research has supported the importance of architectural features in mental health, and this concept has once again begun to inform facility design, such as the new Worcester Recovery Center opened this past summer.
Kirkbride's book (available used on Amazon: is very much worth a read, for its overall insights and deeper glimpse into these stunning structures slowly disappearing across America. Full texts copies can also be found online.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Weird in Williamstown Part 2

continued from Weird in Williamstown: Part 1

Despite its comparative size, the pages of Williamstown history present to our browsing thumbs a bit less blood stained than those of some neighbors.  Today, the town of around 7,700 people ranks far below state averages for violent crime overall, plagued by some dozen or so assault and rape cases a year (a feat not to be too quickly glazed over when measured against national averages for college towns).  While truly accurate, apples to apples comparisons of records become increasingly impossible the further back one goes, no one period in its story appears to have been considered particularly rough and rowdy, in deep contrast to many Berkshire villages.  Far more of the tenor of social distress from this part of the map expressed via media of the past two centuries has concerned... well, noise complaints.  

Nonetheless, we have evidence enough- from the alleged peddler disappearance in earliest days, to the slayings of 19 year old Bonnie Pearson or 43 year old Reginald Rockwell in the 60s and 70s, and on to more recent incidents- that the concept of being murdered in Williamstown has never been completely alien.  Out of this history, one troubling unsolved case stands out in particular.

On Oct. 7, 1976, Cynthia Krizack, a 17-year-old student at Mt. Greylock High School, left her home en route to the Williams College library to study. When she had not returned by noon the following day, her parents reported her missing. An extensive search ensued, involving more than 200 volunteers and covering an area of 16 square miles around the Krizack home and the college campus. Two Williamstown residents reported that they believed they had heard a scream that night in the vicinity of the college, but the Williamstown Police Chief countered that it was "not unusual to hear screams in the neighborhood of the campus."

Finally, on Oct. 31, Krizack's body was discovered by a hunter, near the bottom of a rocky gorge off route 9 in Windsor.  An autopsy determined the cause of her death to be strangulation, and her body showed signs of blows to the head by a blunt instrument.  This condition was just the same as that of Kim Benoit, an 18 year old North Adams girl abducted under similar circumstances two years earlier.

 While the two cases seemed almost staggeringly similar, local authorities at the time dismissed a connection between the two murders.

As with Benoit, Cynthia Krizack's murder was never solved, and while cold case enthusiasts  have speculated connections to several potential suspects over the years, one subsequent incident reported in nearby Bennington is rarely if ever considered.

In the early morning of Nov. 2, 1976, less than four weeks after Krizack's murder, 21-year-old Cheryl Mull of Bennington was found unconscious in her car, with battery cables wrapped around her neck. She had left her job at Price Chopper shortly after midnight, only to find a mysterious man hiding in the backseat of her car. When she got in, he promptly attempted to strangle her with the cables, but was scared off when a local police officer drove by and, seeing what appeared to be an empty car with its headlights on, turned back to investigate. He quickly switched off the headlights and fled on foot. After she was taken to the hospital, six local and state officers searched the nearby woods but failed to find anyone.   The mysterious assailant was never caught.

Five years later in northern Berkshires, 18 year old shop clerk Lynn Burdick vanished from behind the register of a Route 2 convenience store, and no trace of her has ever been found... which may or may not be a completely different story


More typically, a variety of less sinister occurrences have occasionally disturbed the town's latent desire for quiet.

 In 1879, a pair of Pownal men hunting in the south of Williamstown came upon a frightful sight, one which was taken seriously enough it made the New York Times soon after.

 The “wild man” encountered they described as “being about five feet high, resembling a man in form and movement, but covered all over with bright red hair, and having a long straggling beard, and with very wild eyes.”

The "thing" was first seen as it sprung from a rocky cliff and darted for the woods nearby.  Unable to catch a good glimpse of it at first, one of them fired and was believed to have wounded it.  Enraged, it turned and charged at the men at a high speed.  In panic, the hunters lost their guns and ammunition as they ran, and "dared not return for fear of encountering the strange being."

This, the correspondent noted, was reminiscent of tales already old by that time of a strange, hairy man-like creature said to be seen in the forests of the southern Green Mountains.  This "wild man" - which years later would come to be called "the Bennington Monster" or the "Bennington Bigfoot"- had at that time not been seen in many years, though the two men's account reinvigorated interest in surrounding towns.  There was talk of assembling a party to go look for it, but it is unclear whether this was undertaken.

While other hairy hominid reports have continued to come in from about the Berkshires, this appears to have been the last from this vicinity.  Almost 70 years after the incident with the wild man, a young Williamstown couple was similarly chased, this time by a cougar.  That of course, is only weird on account of all those fine folks from wildlife agencies that keep telling us those big cats went extinct here long before...


Folks around the area have also been perturbed by the periodic unusual aerial activity. On November 10, 1958, a number of Williamstown residents reported three large lights hovering in the sky in the direction of Bennington, one with a reddish glow and two much brighter ones.  An hour and a half later some teachers from Drury reported seeing a strange searchlight from the southwest.  All observers felt certain they were not viewing airplanes or meteor activity.  Closer to the ground, a series of small unexplained lights in the Spring Street vicinity in August 1970 were reported by a group of young people, who said the lights disappeared when approached.

In November of 1984, 7 people allegedly witnessed a "enormous sized triangular craft" moving south over the town.  In September of 1996, another object appearing to be three points of light slowly trolling the sky caught the attention of another witness.  On November 11, 2003, some Williams College students viewed another large, strangely moving triangle.  "We believe that it was a UFO because of its flying nature and odd shape that didn't look like a plane," said one. "It had a definite haze around it, but one could make out three standout areas that were more luminous."

A subsequent report from August '07 of two lights racing across the sky was later determined by investigators to have been related to a shuttle launch on the night in question.  Then just last may,  three red lights, again in a triangular formation, were seen moving slowly over the town by another witness wishing to remain anonymous.

These two articles, while not exactly comprehensive of the files of Weird-comma-WilliamstownMass (I didn't mention the bizarre 70 year old insect, did I?), offer a fair exhibit from the cabinet of its curiosities, a primer of things you won't find in the regular brochure. Perfect for that wild eyed Williams bound student or morbidly curious visiting Hollywood VIP in your life. I hope too that it suffices to address earlier admonitions of folkloric discrimination on my part, complaints not without merit; back to the armchair for now, then, to wait in eager anticipation for notifications of omissions...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weird in Williamstown: Part 1

Recently it has come to my attention that there is a sentiment on the part of more than one reader that I may have been a tad remiss in my coverage of the bizarre and bedeviled among the fair hills of northern Berkshires, most emphatically that charmingly historic college burg named for Colonel Ephraim Williams.

Snubbed, yes, snubbed was a word used... an observation that leans heavy on the borderline of irony when I recall one or two of my less favorite visits to the land once called West Hoosac.  Nonetheless- bruised ego, collaborative disconnects and the occasional fancy pants actor not withstanding- I do hold great fondness for Williamstown, and I had to acknowledge that these gentle but earnest criticisms had a point.  How is it that in   more than eight years of chronicling local folklore and forteana I have touched so little on this town? Could it be that this 260+ year old township, home to near 8,000 people, brimming in the warm woods and cold stone of a pedigreed heritage, and bubbling with hordes of insane students, has not that much wealth in legendry? Is it in some way deficient in that mix of mystery, murder, madness and misunderstanding that best congeals into the type of fare served up around this particular campfire?

Certainly not. While this northern border village may lack some of the tradition of cultish fervor and half hidden horrors of Savoy, or the parade of hangings, unhappy eccentrics and upper class villainy that has so informed the history of Lenox and other gilded southern hamlets, it is assuredly not without incident in the annals of the macabre and mysterious.

For beginnings, claims of a ghostly horse plodding about inside an old house along Blair Road date back to some of the town's earliest history, and serve to remind us that life in Williamstown may not have always been peaceful and bucolic.
Josiah Wright moved his family to Williamstown in 1764 from Wethersfield, Connecticut, a witch-trial steeped village that is now part of Glastonbury.  He and his wife Abigail eventually moved on to Arlington, Vermont, but a formidable brick house was built by his son, Josiah Jr sometime around the Revolutionary War.  This Wright clan appears to have been quite ill-regarded by his contemporaries among the other early settlers, as evidenced by a dark tale about the family that historian Arthur Latham Perry records as being quite well established a century later, in 1894:

"The Wrights had become considerably indebted to a certain pedlar driving one horse who frequented those parts in quest of the usual driblets of gain. The neighbors has seen him drive up to the brick house, had watched for his return, and had not discovered it. In the mean time, mysterious movements were observed in and around the house. Lights were seen at unusual times, and in usually unfrequented parts of the house. The suspicions of the neighbors, that something wrong was going on in and around the Wright house, were thoroughly aroused, and these suspicions were mutually inflamed by communicating them. In a day or two, all was still and apparently abandoned at the brick house. Neighbors combined in fear and dread, but with all due resolution, to search for the body of the pedlar and for his various effects. 

"Possible places of interment or hiding away were scrutinized, sheds and barn and cellar were examined, and nothing was found anywhere of a questionable character, until at last the pedlar's horse was discovered in the best room of the brick house, with cloths wrapped round his hoofs, apparently so that his stampings on the floor might not be heard by the neighbors, before the inmates (inhabitants) had gotten a good ways off from the premises. No stampings or neighings from the real horse had then been heard by anybody; but years and years afterwards, and to many successive occupants of the house, mysterious sounds issued from that room, slight but distinct, treadings on that floor, deadened as if falling on cloths, and neighings, not equine and earthly, but stifled and supernatural, as if the ghost of the pedlar had come back to seek for his horse, and the horse had greeted his old master with at least the distant echoes of accustomed sounds."

While this story shares considerable structure to that of other Murdered Traveler stories in the area, which can be found in the folkways of both Savoy and West Stockbridge, there is also some degree of circumstantial evidence that both of those incidents may have basis in fact, so it may be that the Berkshire frontier was just a really rough place to do business.

In 1900, some unexplained incidents at the rail yard lead to a bit of a ghost scare, raising an eyebrow as the witnesses involved were all sturdy railroad workers not generally thought to be prone to flights of fancy.  Some saw the floating apparition of a man while others told of hearing someone ring the shrill whistles of the engines in the round house, only to find no one around.

"The parties who tell this thrilling story each state that they were not frightened but that the parties with them were scared out of their wits," reported the North Adams Evening Transcript. "If this sort of thing continues the Boston and Maine railroad will be short of help in the yard."

Another "ghost" also made news in the Transcript that year, when some neighbors on Southworth Avenue went to investigate noises coming from a nearby cornfield late one night.  They were startled when a "figure clothed in white glided from the field, ran across the road and disappeared behind the schoolhouse."

In the morning, several ears of corn were found on the ground, apparently dropped by the "ghost" as it made its getaway.

Perhaps more worthy of our attention is an item in my files from 2006, a sincere account of odd occurrence at Williams College that comes to us from a maintenance professional working in Thompson Hall.  Though reticent to jump to conclusions about the cause, he experienced a series of curious problems while working alone in the locked building late one night.  First he put a box in the attic, only to find it in the middle of a hallway.  Later, the elevator begin as though someone was using it, though he had it locked off on a particular floor. Finally, he went outside for a moment, only to hear two women's voices through from right inside one of the building's open windows.  Heading back in to investigate, he found no one.

This constitutes just what bits of ghostly lore have come to my attention, and I would not doubt that there are more reports of the curious to be found, past and contemporary.  Nor does this conclude our probe of Williamstown X-files... accounts of unknown beasts in the woods, persistent sightings of flying triangles, and lurid headlines of unsolved horrors await when next we reconvene at this fireside.