In Vermont’s history of scary Halloween moments, one of the scariest occurred in 1803. On Hallow Eve, as it was called then, a young woman threw a handful of hemp seeds on the barn floor in a ceremony called “Trying the Tricks.” She was trying to see in the fallen seeds an outline of a person who would be the love of her life.
Instead, as she gazed eagerly, something unexpected appeared: the face of a devil. The woman screamed and ran into the house. She slept that night with a Bible under her pillow. When she awoke, she seemed fine, but by nightfall she had fallen ill. Despite the Bible and a doctor’s care, the young woman died the next day.
The Windsor Federal Gazette published an account of her death, Vermont’s first article on Halloween, according to the Brattleboro Historical Society. The article was titled “Solemn Warning.”
Here are several books for those who prefer reading about scary Halloween-related experiences to living them.
“Haunted Vermont: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Green Mountain State” by Charles A. Stansfield (2007) zips through some 70 incidents in roughly 100 pages, divided geographically. One, for example, notes a haunting of the Equinox Hotel in Manchester Village. Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad was a rambunctious child who loved to run up behind people, tap them on the shoulder and dart away unseen. When he died at age 18, hotel guests at the Equinox, a Lincoln family favorite, reported feeling gentle taps on the shoulder — and turning around to see nothing.
“Haunted Vermont” by Thomas D’Agostino and Arlene Nicholson (2011) lists 30 towns, some with multiple tales. One of the three for Brattleboro focuses on an organist of St. Michael’s Church who was so well-loved, that when he died, a mausoleum was built for him, and his body was propped up at the organ. Not long after, eerie sounds began emanating from the churchyard, disturbing townspeople. A few intrepid souls decided to act. They broke open the mausoleum doors and to their horror found the source of the sounds: rats, chewing on the man’s fingers, pressing down on the organ keys. If this tale makes you want to go in search of your own paranormal (or creepy but normal) phenomenon, the book provides a 20-page guide at the end.
“Haunted Inns and Ghostly Getaways of Vermont” by Thea Lewis (2014) takes a jaunty tour through mostly inns up and down the state. The Equinox gets a look, the focus here being the ghost of Mary Todd Lincoln. A “when you go” section follows each haunted account, and a few pages near the end discuss assembling your own research team.
“Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls & Unsolved Mysteries,” by Joseph A. Citro (1994) is the book for you if you like stylishly told tales with a dash of humor. Citro, who has written some 20 books and is featured in a recent YouTube interview, zeroes in on the Bennington Monster in one passage. Early settlers to the Glastenbury Mountain, one of the state’s “most haunted spots,” heard of a stagecoach stuck in a horrific storm. With the coach’s horses rearing up and refusing to move, the stage driver clutched his gun and surveyed the washed-out road. Huge pawprints lay cut across the soggy trail — recent, or they would have been washed out. The coach made it back to civilization, and stories spread of a huge beast in the mountains. Years later, the discovery of some gigantic bones had people suspecting that a “brontosaurus rex” must have roamed the area. But, Citro explains, scientists discovered that the bones came from “a cow. But a BIG one.”
The final two books are departures. “Abandoned Vermont: Dishevelment in the Green Mountains” by Maxwell Brisben (2020) is mostly a photo book, images of abandonment up and down the state, unsettling and haunting.
Finally, if a ghost is scary, what about a ghost town? “Glastenbury: The History of a Vermont Ghost Town” by Tyler Resch (2013) covers this site historically (including a double-murder), attempting to set it into a cultural framework, too. The prose is crisp, befitting Resch’s past as an old Bennington Banner journalist. Perhaps a stretch for Halloween traditionalists, but scary in its implications.
Note: All these books — and others for Halloween — may be found at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center.