MATTAPOISETT — A town hall is peopled by clerks, accountants, coordinators and other municipal employees. Mattapoisett Town Hall also has a prankster poltergeist named Abner, employees claim.
“I know I sound like a crazy person here, man,” said Barbara Gaspar, who worked as an assistant clerk at the Mattapoisett Town Hall for decades. “But you know, that’s OK. Sometimes I think I’m crazy.”
Gaspar, who has a history of seeing spirits since she was a child, says she immediately sensed a male spirit when she first entered the building. “I knew he was there.”
Gaspar is convinced it’s Abner Harlow, a town clerk from 1912-1917 and 1924-1946. According to Gaspar, Harlow was known for being very disorganized. Thus, she says, he likes to play practical jokes on the staff.
“We would get things done in the office and go back the next day and not be able to find it,” she said. “Sometimes they would show up, sometimes they would not.
“If you were working there at night, you could hear him moving upstairs, even though you knew you were alone in the building,” Gaspar said.
Confirming the ghost story
Mattapoisett Town Clerk Catherine Heuberger confirms Gaspar’s story. “I’d be in the bathroom and you swear that you hear someone,” she said. “It sounds like someone came in the front door and that they were walking down the hall or whatever. Then you come out and there’s like nobody there.”
Heuberger says that’s about the extent of her run-ins with Abner. However, her only other unexplainable story is when a shelving unit filled with supplies that’s meant to hold up to 200 pounds mysteriously collapsed one morning.
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“It looked to me like someone picked everything up and just tossed it,” Heuberger said. “I’ve always wondered.”
Gaspar has that story beat
She remembers in 2004, preparing all the absentee ballot envelopes filled out and ready to be mailed. The staff put them in the vault and came back the next day to discover they were gone. “Several people saw us do that and to the best of my knowledge, they have not turned up since.”
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She said they were forced to do it all over again and when they put the box in the vault a second time, Gaspar wrote on the box: “Abner, these are important. Please do not touch them.” And they were thankfully there the next day.
“He’s not obnoxious or would do anything major. He didn’t attack anybody. He was a good guy,” she said. “I often would talk to him if I was there alone because I’d say, ‘OK, don’t startle me. I’m here alone. I know you’re here. We both have to work here.’ And for the most part that worked.”
Some call her the ghost lady
Gaspar was born in New Bedford and grew up in Fairhaven. “When I was four and a half, my father passed away, and I’ve been seeing him since,” she said.
She remembers living at her grandparents’ house and knowing it was haunted. “I kind of grew up knowing that these things existed, and never feeling like it was odd or strange, or I should be afraid of them.”
Gaspar graduated from Bridgewater State with a major in secondary education with a concentration in history into social sciences.
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She worked as a substitute at the Old Rochester Regional High School and came to be referred to as the “ghost lady.”
“I would make a deal with the class, if they did the work they were supposed to do, I would stop the class 10 or 15 minutes early and tell them some true ghost stories. And they loved it,” she said.
Heuberger confirms this firsthand.
“She was actually my Girl Scout leader,” Heuberger said. “She taught me a lot and basically took me away for my first overnight trip with a bunch of girls.”
On their first camping trip, Heuberger remembers Gaspar told ghost stories around the campfire. “She scared the bejesus out of me,” she admitted.
“That’s always been her thing, though, but I’ve questioned whether she should have told me that when I was in the fourth grade. I was pretty scared,” she jokingly added.
Gaspar is now working as a freelance seamstress. She has helped with costuming for a few high school drama clubs including the Rhode Island School of the Deaf’s drama group.
“That was my first love. That was a blessing that was given to me. And, you know, I feel like I have to do it,” she said.
“Seamstresses are very hard to find right now and the prices are astronomical,” she said. “I just do the little things that I can and I do it for a very, very reasonable price for people.”
Gaspar has been living in Mattapoisett with her husband for the past 48 years and they are about to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Inviting the ghost hunters
Gaspar wishes that the New England Ghost Hunters could do an overnight at town hall to experience Abner. She said she asked the former administrator for permission and he thought she was nuts. She hasn’t yet asked the new administrator Michael Lorenco, because he started in March 2020 — the first day of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
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“He’s working hard to make the community safe for COVID-19,” she said. “I didn’t want to lay a ghost on him at that point.”
She said she did work with the New England Ghost Hunters, several years ago, when they did an overnight at the Mattapoisett Library, which is also rumored to be haunted.
Gaspar said that there was a big debate in the town about adding a new addition onto the library because they didn’t have enough money and felt like it should go toward school repairs.
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The former library director, Judy Wallace, worked hard to get donations and support to get the new addition approved by selectmen. Unfortunately, she diedy right after the new additions were built.
Gaspar said when she was with the ghost hunters, in that section of the library, one of them asked why there were so many people against it and the spirit box printed out several dollar and cent icons.
“I mean, you know, not everybody believes,” Gaspar said. “I would like to have the New England Ghost Hunters come in and do it.”
How to handle Abner
A few people currently working in the town hall, but who asked to remain anonymous, said they were aware there was “potentially” a ghost amongst them. One employee confirmed they’ve heard footsteps over their head from the second floor, despite knowing they were the only ones in the building.
Gaspar’s best advice for handling Abner is to just acknowledge and respect his presence. That seems to work. She recalls a past administrator not taking Abner seriously and calling the story a joke.
The next morning, she came in to discover everything on her desk was strewn on the floor and her coffee cup was set up like somebody had tea.
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“But after that, she acknowledged him. And they didn’t argue anymore,” Gaspar said. “He doesn’t bother people who acknowledge him.”
Gaspar said that she still finds herself in town hall, occasionally. She has worked on elections or to fill in for someone who is absent. “I know he’s there. He has not left,” she said.
“I know it sounds crazy,” she said again. “But I’ve wondered if that’s one of the reasons why I’m so open to them.”