CONCORD, October 30, 2013 – Concord is synonymous with Revolutionary War heroes, Walden Pond and celebrated authors that inexplicably have three names such as Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott.
It is also home to Joan Spinazola and Alida Bailey, spinners of ghost stories, facilitators of un-earthly encounters, and enthusiastic tour guides. They are the self proclaimed history nerds of Gatepost Tours.
These two very energetic and funny ladies are not only entertaining, they are official “CHEs” or Concord History Experts. They will entrance you with stories of the living and the dead. Choose from the walking or the coach experience, depending on the amount of time you have to spend and enjoy the “Ghosts in the Gloaming Tour,” visiting the most haunted places of America’s very earliest days.
The tours introduce guests to Concord’s 1635 founding, guiding them to the varied and scattered historical sites, ensuring that the historic buildings you want to see and hear about are open and ready to receive you. This consideration is important as budgetary cuts have reduced visiting hours.
You don’t want to travel that far only to find out what you came to see is closed at the time of your visit.
And there are things you do not want to miss, such as the site of the Minute Mens’ encounter with the British which became the first battle of the American Revolution. During this battle, African American Crispus Attucks had the regrettable distinction to be the first man killed by the British.
But this time of year, it’s the ghost stories that draw us to Concord, and Joan and Alida can share some great ones with you.
Our personal favorite is the tale of Minister Ezra Ripley.
It was in 1799 that then 55-year-old Samuel Smith of Connecticut was sentenced to “be hung by the neck until dead” for the crime of theft, and not his first. Previous punishments including being jailed, whipped, pilloried in the stocks and having his ears cropped (a common form of branding practiced by the Puritans to mark a thief) did not deter Mr. Smith from his criminal ways.
Serving a 15-year jail term on Castle Island in the Boston Harbor, Smith escaped after just two and a half years when the bay froze over and he could walk to the mainland.
Not walking far or fast enough, he was caught again, convicted and scheduled to hang on the 26th of December, 1799.
Minister Ripley, preached a special sermon in light of the occasion based on Matthew’s “Love thy neighbor as thyself” scripture. The minister’s opening words were: “The crime, which is this day to be capitally punished, is a direct violation of the law of love to our neighbor.”
It is here that the story of Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman begins.
Smith’s execution took place in what was then a field, but is now part of the New Hill Old Burying Ground, where Ezra Ripley is buried in an amongst the almost 500 graves dating back to Joseph Merriam who died April 20, 1677.
Amon the graves: forty Revolutionary War heroes and Major John Buttrick, who led the fight at the North Bridge, buried along with his son who was also at the bridge serving as a fifer. It is at this idyllic spot looking over the town of Concord where British commanders, who were eyewitnesses from the first shot fired to the end of British rule of the colonies, made their post.
Now a National Historic Landmark, the Olde Manse was built in 1770 for Rev. William Emerson (1743-1776) and Phebe Emerson (1741-1829), grandparents of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Following the death of Rev. William, Ezra Ripley boarded at the Old Manse, replacing William Emerson as both the town’s preacher and Phebe’s husband.
The Olde Manse is one of Concord’s most special and haunted places. The Georgian clapboard house was home to Concord’s early political and social revolutions, as well as a retreat to its literary luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Concord’s favorite
Tour guide Joan Spinazola relates her story of being in the house with Ezra, who is known to toss a book or two and has been seen by more than one guest or employee.
Other ghosts that inhabit the house are said to be a disgruntled male spirit that has no love lost for the writer Hawthorne; and one Theodora W. Thayer, an artist and single woman, who committed suicide, possibly as a result of being raped by a spurned suitor.
It is believed that Theodora may have been a lesbian, or maybe she just enjoyed not being under the rule of the men of her time. Either way, she was a free spirit then, and now.
Not far from the Old Manse is the North Bridge, where two British soldiers are buried, one mortally wounded by (allegedly) one Ammi White, a young private who fought on the side of the Patriots (b. 1875)
It is said that after that first skirmish, White was tearing through the field, cane across a British soldier who was wounded, but not dead – at least not until White took out his soldier’s axe and buried in into the man’s skull.
Rev. William Emerson likely witnessed this savage killing, while standing in the Manse and looking out over the Old North Bridge.
During this time there was an interest in the pseudo science of telling a person’s mettle by feeling the bumps on their head, called phrenology. One phrenologist, Walton Felch, requested and received permission to remove the heads of those British soldiers, taking them on tour and displaying them during lectures.
Only one of those soldiers’ heads was eventually returned. The other was lost to history.
Ammi White survived the war, marrying Mary Minot, daughter of town doctor Timothy Minot. The young couple moved into the Minot family home, living there for a considerable time. This original home was expanded in stages until it became part of the Colonial Inn, and it is here in Room 24 that the presence of a spirit is felt and seen.
Is it Ammi White that haunts room 24? Or possibly his bride, Mary Minot? Or might it even it be one of the headless British soldiers?
You can find out yourself, though the waiting list can become long so book early.
On our tour of the Old Colonia we found Mr. and Mrs. Bill and Carolyn Brugman in Concord celebrating Mr. Brugman’s birthday. They did not know about ghosts and did not encounter any hauntings while there.
While at the Colonial Inn stop by the restaurant, not only for an incredible meal but a possible spirit encounter, as it is said a woman haunts the dining room. Try to visit when it is quiet.
Which brings us back to Old Hill Burying Ground where the grave of John Jack, a freed slave at the time of his death, bears a notable epithet written by his lawyer which alludes to the hypocrisy of a young nation that fights for freedom while enslaving others.
Jack was the property of one Benjamin Barron, a shoemaker who was married to Elizabeth. Known as Betty Paris, in the winter of 1691, Betty and her cousin Abigail Williams began behaving oddly: having fits and losing control of their limbs, barking like dogs and in general behaving oddly. The girls were diagnosed as being afflicted of Witchcraft and this is where the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials began, eventually taking the lives of 24 people.
Alida and Joan have many stories to tell. Many places to share. History real and spectral to expose. Concord is where America’s story begins and it seems that her early residents are, well, still in residence.
While living in Concord, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “Houses of antiquity in New England are so invariably possessed with spirits that the matter seems hardly worth alluding to,” and that seems quite possible.
There are stories of haunts from the young woman who drowned in the river and whose gruesome discovery makes one wince to this day; to the lollipop tree, a recent find. It is said, if you touch the tree, it will throw down trinkets taken from the living by the dead.
This article original posted November 1, 2012
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