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An orb of Abigail on Church Street. Photo (Illustration courtesy of Chrystyne McGrath )
Abigail on Church Street. (Photo courtesy of Chrystyne McGrath )
The “dead window” where people could pay their respects, circa 1800s. (Photo courtesy of Chrystyne McGrath )
Animal orbs in a barn on Clapboard Hill Road in Guilford. (Photo courtesy of Chrystyne McGrath )
A woman (with her dog, circled) looking out a window on Church Street. (Photo courtesy of Chrystyne McGrath )
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Anyone who's walked through their town center at night and glanced up at the dark windows of an old Colonial may have found themselves thinking about ghosts. Perhaps it's the area's rich history that ensures that along the shoreline, there's no shortage of stories about hauntings and apparitions, ranging from a haunted library to a 19th-century murder victim.
For more than a decade, the Clinton Historical Society (CHS) has led participants on an annual Ghost Walk, giving tours of haunted homes, complete with spooky skits by Kidz Konnection.
"I think there's an inevitable relationship between old houses and ghosts," says Laraine Scherban, curator of CHS's Old Brick. "Sometimes those stories of the people who used to live there turn to stories of people who used to live there and are still there."
Ghost hunters, take note: Ghosts are everywhere, according to medium Chrystyne McGrath. You can see one at Gillette Castle.
"William [Gillette] is very present there," says McGrath. "When you walk in, if you turn right and look up, he's in the balcony."
However, you don't have to go all the way to East Haddam to find a ghost.
McGrath describes her work this way: "I go to homes and locations and I clear out energies that are earthbound."
She says that usually, she and her clients are satisfied the ghosts have crossed over to...wherever it is that ghosts go. However, she said that on Church Street in Guilford there's one devoted ghost, Abigail, who refuses to give up on her husband, who disappeared at sea.
"I tell her what date it is. I want her to understand it's not the 1860s," McGrath says. But, "I can't cross the woman because she's waiting for her husband to return."
Ghosts on the Guilford Green
"There are not less than a thousand burials on the green," says Guilford town historian Joel Helander.
Up until 1818, parishioners associated with the two churches on the green were buried there. However, most stories revolve around a Civil War ghost haunting the corner of Water and Whitfield streets.
"He's always in a brown uniform and you see him right off of the green," says McGrath. "He'll be walking right next to your car."
The ghost may have lived in the green saltbox, where a tenant used to see him regularly, according to Lorrie Shaw, who ran a program on ghosts to support the Guilford Fund for Education.
"The previous owner of the saltbox invited us in for a visit," Shaw says. "He showed us the Colonial shoes that were buried in the bricks of the fireplace downstairs, a custom in Colonial times, I believe, to ward off evil. The shoes came out when he renovated, but he saved them...perhaps stirring the Civil War soldier out of resting?"
The Bereaved Mother
Next to Clinton Town Hall, the Eliot House reportedly has a ghost in its two bedrooms overlooking the Post Road. Overnight visitors reported hearing a female spirit whispering a name: Sarah.
"This is a longstanding ghost story," says Scherban. "We know a child died in the mid-1800s; people have assumed the apparition is the mother. It's kind of a comforting presence."
Mary Stannard and the Woodsmen
The 1878 Rockland murder has all the makings of a classic ghost story. Mary Stannard was killed in Rockland (North Madison) on Sept. 3, 1878: her 22nd birthday. She was poisoned, hit in the head with a rock, and her throat was slit. Her body was exhumed nine times during the trial for evidence. And she was buried in the pauper section of Rockland Cemetery, with no stone to mark the grave.
The alleged killer was the Reverend Herbert Hayden, the local Methodist minister. Hayden owned a pocketknife that matched Stannard's wounds, and if that wasn't enough, arsenic found on the body matched arsenic purchased by Hayden.
The two had been having a known affair. Stannard's half-sister testified that Hayden had told Stannard he was going to procure abortion medicine for her. When the arsenic didn't work right away, he likely killed her.
"All the evidence was there. The pocketknife that cut her neck matched his. The heelprint on her face matched his," says McGrath.
However, the jury let Hayden go.
"Rosa, his wife, took the stand and they thought she was lovely, and they didn't want her to be alone without a husband raising three children," says McGrath.
For years, homeowners and visitors at Rockland Preserve have reported sightings of Stannard's ghost. There's even a trail named for her: the Mary's Ghost Trail.
"She wanted everyone to know that Rosa Hayden knew about the affair and wasn't innocent," says McGrath, who claims that Stannard found peace after McGrath told the story at a local presentation. "She just wanted to be heard."
However, McGrath said there are still ghosts in the area: the men who used to camp in the woods and make charcoal in the 1800s.
"They're very angry," she says. "They were stodgy men that liked to be alone."
McGrath says one of them chased her—the only time a ghost has shown aggression.
The Ghosts of Deep River Library
Featured on Syfy's Haunted Collector show and host to more than 30 paranormal investigations, the Deep River Library is a famous hotspot of activity. Library staff and patrons used to report a woman floating down the stairs, and a voice asking questions—What is your name? What year is it? What am I doing here?—in 20-second intervals, sometimes accompanied by flashes of light.
"They said it was a creepy feeling—cold—you felt uncomfortable down there [in the basement]," says medium Paul Rice.
Rice says he found several spirits at the library, including a gay man who had felt extremely repressed during his lifetime, and a young girl stuck in an upstairs room. He also got the feeling that several people had been held against their will in the basement.
Library Director Susan Rooney says that Rice and other mediums said they set the spirits free.
"[Last year] Paul said there was only one sad and lonely spirit left in the library, living in the basement," says Rooney. "He was able to release this spirit. Without a doubt, the basement feels much more comfortable and clear now."
The sheer volume of ghost stories is matched only by the range of explanations. Scherban sees them as a natural product of old homes with rich history: places where people died and were mourned—and also places of birth, laughter, and joy, too.
Many will be comforted by Helander's explanation of things that go bump in the night: "Nine times out of 10 it's a flying squirrel."
Yet, like Scherban, Helander gets calls from people reporting the inexplicable.
"I had a woman call me about a house on Old Whitfield Street" in Guilford, Helander says. "She said she had an experience there that was so terrifying that she would never go back to the house."
Then there are the mediums, McGrath and Rice, who talk matter-of-factly about clearing out ghosts. According to them, ghosts are deceased people who have trouble leaving this world.
But perhaps they do have a warning for us. According to McGrath, many are wearing the clothing they died in.
"Be careful when you leave the house what you're dressed in," she says. "It could be your forever outfit."
Reservations are required for Clinton's Ghost Walk in October; visit clintoncthistory.org. For more about Paul Rice, visit ghostsbegone.com. Chrystyne McGrath is happy to lead tours by appointment: chrystynemcgrath.com. For more on Deep River Library's ghosts, check out americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2012/10/23/tales-from-a-haunted-library. Find the full Rockland murder story at connecticutmag.com.
Get ready to celebrate the holidays with our helpful guide
The 2020 Member Directory and Town Guide for Branford, Guilford, North Branford, and Northford has arrived!