I f you should catch a flash of a figure in the shadows, awake to footsteps tapping across an empty room or get a reprimand from the beyond for redecorating the old homestead, remember this: You’re the newcomer.
Perley Beck, Frank Mills and Frank Watson were all here first.
This Halloween, the Warner and Hopkinton historical societies are conjuring “Stories of Ghosts, Witches and Things that Go Bump in the Night,” a virtual celebration of local hauntings and gruesome tales, at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Guest speakers will share stories rooted in the Granite State, and then invite audience members to share their own tales of supernatural encounters or tales handed down through generations.
The first spine-chilling piece of history that comes to mind for Heather Mitchell, who heads the Hopkinton Historical Society, involves a man whose death 130 years ago spurred officials to investigate his life as a possible killer.
“There was a lot of rumor going around this area of town, and no one wanted to speak too much about it … because they were afraid that they might become a victim of Perley Beck. You would not want to draw his attention,” Mitchell said.
The only picture the historical society has in their archives of Beck is one taken on the January day in 1890 when he was found dead in his bed.
“He had been bleeding from a wound on his head. Initially people thought that he had been murdered,” Mitchell said. “(But later) it was reported that he had fallen several days prior to this and fallen on the ice and gotten a gash on his forehead. The blood that they found was likely the from that fall, plus he was extremely emaciated.”
That piece of the puzzle seemed solved, but there were still questions about Beck’s past — and what he might have done to his brother and sister-in-law.
“They started investigating these sort of confirmed rumors that had been circulating around town for years about this man, (and they determined) that his sister in law’s ‘accidental death’ was probably not an accident. She had been set on fire by Perley Beck,” Mitchell said. “He said it had been accidental, that she had been in front of the stove trying to light it, but the position that her been body was found in — her arms raised upright, in a defensive posture — certainly didn’t suggest that.”
Mitchell said Beck’s brother, Calvin, supposedly left for a train trip to New York to collect some money that was due him.
“And he was never seen or heard from again,” she said. “He was most likely killed by Beck as well.”
Mitchell can’t share the location of the house where Beck once lived and died — it’s still standing, but it’s a private residence — but she can say that Beck is buried in Stumpfield Cemetery.
The Maples at Warner
A picturesque bed and breakfast dating back to 1790 and tucked on four acres in the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire, the Maples at Warner was a hotbed of paranormal investigation a dozen years ago.
Soon after Cheryl Johnson purchased the building and started renovations, she realized she wasn’t alone at 69 E. Main St.
“I was working on the wallpaper and listening to people walk around” in the supposedly empty house, she said. “Months went by and I got a letter in the mail from the New England Ghost Hunter Guild out of Connecticut. They were looking for old buildings to investigate. I gave them a call and said, ‘Come on up, I’ve got a live one.’”
Paranormal researchers, mediums and dowsers soon descended. Though those visits have slowed down in recent years, the ghosts are still restless.
“We have had our flurry of fun, and to this day we see and hear them. They’re here, walking down the hall or over my head when there’s nobody up there in the human sense,” Johnson said.
The 18th-century building is filled with antique touches, cozy nooks and corners, and lots of creaking floorboards — perfect for three resident ghosts: Frank Watson (who folks still call “Uncle Frank”), his wife Mary Jane, and son Blaisdell, who were innkeepers here in the 1800s, Johnson said, as if rattling off the names of registered guests.
“I’ve seen Uncle Frank myself, because I guess I’m blessed with that sixth sense. My whole family has been. He’s an old guy in suspenders and a plaid top and a pair of jeans,” she said.
Johnson said she grew up in a noisy haunted house in a family with a knack for spotting the supernatural. So, she’s used to the temperature drops and orb-dotted photographs that signal the presence of otherworldly visitors at the Maples. Room 6 seems to be especially active: The furniture tends to move around when it’s unoccupied.
“We had an instance a couple of years after I had the place. The gal who stayed in the back room said, ‘Oh, my God, the people in the front room kept me up all night long, banging the bed around.’ I said, ‘There’s no one in that room.’ We open the door and both of us were freaked out because … it’s a big canopy four-post bed and you can see it’s been moved. You know those long indents the legs leave in the carpet? The bed was moved out a whole six inches from the wall. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous?’”
Blaisdell is the likely culprit. He’s the loudest and most mischievous of the three ghosts, Johnson said.
“He told the medium the bed was in the wrong place and wanted it moved across the room,” she said.
Her solution? She gave all the ghosts a talking to. They could move all the figurines they wanted and flick the lights on and off at will, but had to stop moving the bed because it was just too heavy for Johnson to move back into place. It seemed to do the trick. The next day, the bed was, indeed, in place. But the table next to the bed was sideways.
“Yep, we have fun,” she says, her laughter contagious. “And guests are either thrilled by it or scared … (well, let’s just say she uses a word that rhymes with witless.)”
“My partner works from home. He’ll go in his office and half the equipment is either turned on or off — not as he left it. They love electronics up there on the third floor. I don’t know why,” she says with a chuckle.
But she considers them all good spirits.
“We don’t have creepy, yucky ghosts,” she said.
It’s a give-and-take relationship between past and current home owners, all of whom sometimes want a say in proposed renovations or decorating decisions.
“It took me several requests to build the new kitchen. It’s kind of funny. (Uncle Frank’s) got an attachment to things here,” Johnson said.
In preparation for having the floors redone in the dining room, she moved all the furniture and “knickknacks and whatnots” into another room. In the process, an antique clock got relocated to the mantel in the parlor. Later, she had a visit from some paranormal investigators.
“The medium was upstairs with the whole group of us and she turned to me and says, ‘He wants you to put the clock back.’ I said, ‘What?” and she said, ‘Let me show you,’ and went downstairs into the living room. She said, ‘This is the clock’ and (walking back into the dining room) pointed and said, ‘This is where he wants it put back.”
For the record, the Dutch gingerbread clock is back in its nook above an open-faced cabinet, where it was located when Frank would have lived here.
What today is Lakehouse Tavern, at 157 Main St. in Hopkinton, has had many incarnations in the restaurant business over the years, including Horseshoe Tavern and Blaser’s. It was built as part of a home in the 1850s and passed through family lines to Frank Mills.
There has been some romanticized speculation over the years that Mills took his own life in the mid-1920s because he was still despondent over his wife’s death two years earlier. But a death certificate at the historical society shows that Mills died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1931.
“His wife did not die until 1937. On his death certificate, he is listed as married, although the 1930 census has his wife living in Massachusetts,” Mitchell said. “He may have been bereft at the state of his marriage but not because of her passing.”
Still, some of that despair is said to linger. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Susan Mitchell (no relation to Heather) and her late husband, Dick, worked at the site when it was Kimball’s Lakeside Tavern.
“My husband was a bartender, so he was sometimes the last to leave the building,” she said.
On more than one occasion, Dick heard running footsteps overhead head when no living person was supposed to be scurrying about. Later, he would bring in ghost chasers, who did a séance on the third floor.
“There were four people, including my husband, seated around a card table,” Mitchell said. “She started doing her thing and the table rose up and actually banged against a wall and then came back down.”
Dick believed in ghosts but Mitchell wasn’t as convinced. Still, she trusted her husband and the owners, who all talked about things that went bump in the night. Stories she’s heard over the years center around sounds of running water, pots and pans crashing to the floor, banging upon the tavern door and furniture being moved about. In each instance, a sweep of the room revealed no living culprit.
“Dick wasn’t scared,” Mitchell said. “We lived across the street (from the tavern) in 1965 when first married. I just told him, ‘Don’t let them come over here.’”