Wilton has abundance of historic hauntings

WILTON – As Halloween draws near, it’s time to start thinking about the spirits that stalk our own footsteps, of the ghosts who remain unknown to us for the other 11 months.

Here in New England, we have no shortage of specters. A history that goes back several hundred years must have more than its share of frustrated spooks, destined to walk the Earth in search of some sort of retribution or salvation. For your edification, here is one such story, situated right in your own neighborhood.

Wilton is a very weird place. For a start, there is Wilton Center, which isn’t really in the center of Wilton at all, but rides up aside the old Isaac Frye Highway. Secondly, it appears that the entire town is hunkered over a huge deposit of quartz; which, as anyone associated with spiritualism will tell you, is a very strong psychic medium.

In 1773, the residents of Wilton determined they were in need of a new meetinghouse. In April of that year, the town voted to provide six barrels of rum, a barrel of brown sugar, half a box of lemons and two loaves of sugar to fortify the men who would raise the building.

On Sept. 7, people gathered from miles around, eager for what was to be a day of celebration. Then, things went horribly wrong.

In the midst of construction, the huge central beam broke loose, and 53 men fell 30 feet to the ground, followed by tons of beams and building materials. Five of the men were killed outright, and many others were permanently crippled.

For a full account of the tragedy, we turn to the New Hampshire Gazette, from Portsmouth, which published this account on Sept. 24, 1773:

“Last Tuesday the most melancholy Accident, of the kind, happened at Wilton, in New-Hampshire Government, that perhaps as been known in the County; – A Large Company was collected there to raise a Meeting House, and they got up the Body of it, the Beams and Joints, and these had laid a large quantity of Boards for the more convenient standing; they had also raised part of the Roof, in doing which they had occasion for a number of Crow-bars and Axes, which rested on the Building while the People got together, and were in the act of raising another double pair of Principles with a King-Post, when on a sudden the Beam under them broke at the Mortise in the middle, by which upwards of fifty Persons fell to the Bottom of the House with the Timber, Bars, Axes & ct. and exhibited a Scene to the astonish’d Spectators around the House (for there were no Persons in the Bottom of it, all having withdrawn thro’ fear of what might happen) which can’t be described; and could only equaled by the Blood and Brains, Shrieks and Groans of the dead and wounded, which were immediately seen and heard. – Three were killed outright another survived but for a short time, and several others have since died of their Wounds’ of fifty three that fell not on escaped without broken Bones, terrible Bruises, or Wounds from the Axes &c. And as they were men pick’d from that and the neighboring Towns, and many of them heads of Families, the News of their Catastrophe filled those Places with Weeping, Lamentation and Woe, and may fully remind us all that ‘Man knoweth not his Time,’ but ‘as such an hour as we think not the Son of Man cometh,’ and it therefore concerns us to be always ready.”

The Blue Lady

Given this weird history, it’s little wonder that the town has more than its fair share of specters. Probably the most famous of these is that of Mary Ritter Spaulding, also known as the Blue Lady, who is said to haunt Vale End Cemetery.

For those unfamiliar with the legend, here’s a brief recap. The ghost in question is that of Mary Ritter Spaulding, who was born on Jan. 12, 1773. In 1795, she married Isaac Spaulding, a local tanner, and bore him seven children before her death on April 27, 1808, at only 35 years old. It is said that she was a kind and gentle woman, and this characterization has carried on in the years since her demise. In that time, there have been countless accounts of her ghost, known locally as the Blue Lady, walking the cemetery and the streets she knew in life. In response, many have left flowers and candles about her grave. Far from being an object of fear, she is seen as a benevolent spirit.

A few years ago, author Robin Ross Schoen purchased a brick colonial on Sand Hill Road, which stands immediately adjacent to the cemetery. That’s when she discovered her new ghostly neighbor.

“When I moved here, all of the local residents were very friendly,” Schoen said. “They would invite me over for drinks or dinner, and they would all talk about the Blue Lady. Well, I began to get a little scared, and decided that I would go up to the place where she was buried, and talked with her. Basically, I said that she had no idea what it took for me to get this house, and, as I was here, we would just have to get along.”

Although Schoen herself admits to never having seen the specter, her son did, and promptly decided he’d be much more comfortable at a local hotel. Her granddaughter, Alex, also observed the ghost, but had a much different reaction. She became enamored of the spirit, and began to strike up a dialogue.

The book

All of these events prompted Schoen to write a book about the situation, titled “Grandmother’s Guest: The Blue Lady of Wilton,” which is due to be published by Hobby Horse Publishers in Peterborough. It was, Schoen said, a project of significant duration, taking a full eight years of preparation.

“When I first started the book, I had such a hard time, because I was trying to tell the story from my own viewpoint,” Schoen said. “That’s when I realized that I was going at it all wrong. I should have been telling it from my granddaughter’s point of view. After all, children connect better with certain things than we do.”

For Schoen, the situation became even stranger, when she purchased a small pitcher at auction for her granddaughter.

“It’s a little Staffordshire pitcher, with the handle broken and then repaired with staples,” she said. “Inside, we found a note, simply inscribed ‘Mary Ritter Spaulding,’ with the date, 1850. Alex came to the conclusion that this belonged to our Mary, but the date was all wrong – it was much too late. Eventually, after doing some research, I discovered that Mary had a granddaughter with the exact same name, who would have been 8 years old at that time. So, the whole thing dovetailed together in a very intriguing way.”

For the illustrations, Schoen enlisted noted artist Gail Hoar, who was more than happy to help. With each page involving a complete oil painting, it was an arduous and time-consuming task.

“The reason why I decided to illustrate it was because it was a New England story but with universal appeal,” Hoar said. “It’s the kind of story you want to pass on to your children and grandchildren. There’s something very warm and appealing about it.”

Despite all of these positive signs, Schoen still had some reservations about writing a children’s book involving the supernatural. Eventually, however, she found those fears were groundless.

“Children weren’t scared at all,” she said. “Mary was such a gentle soul, that they can sense that. As a matter of fact, I went up to the graveyard one day, and visited her resting place. The epitaph pretty much says it all: ‘Her serenity of temper and gentleness of manner threw a charm over a brief and peaceful life.’ I thought that was just lovely.”

Wilton Town Hall Theater

Before we depart this haunted town, it would be remiss of me to mention the Town Hall Theater, itself the subject of many spectral visitations.

The present building was constructed in 1883, after a hotel that originally stood here burned to the ground. Over the years, the building has served as a municipal center, a police station and a jail. For the last couple of decades, however, a portion of the building has served as an art-house movie theater, screening classic favorites of the past.

Owner Dennis Markaverich has had a unique opportunity to witness these spirits firsthand, as he cleans the theater each night in preparation for the next day’s showings. According to Markaverich, one of the most prominent ghosts in the place is that of a young boy named Henry, who haunts the landing of the staircase leading to the second floor. He believes the specter is that of a boy whose parents died in the fire that he himself set.

That’s not all. There also is a tall man adorned with a black stovepipe hat who is often seen walking down the center aisle of the theater. Additionally, there is another ghost in the ladies’ restroom, who can be often seen in the mirror.

Eric Stanway is the author of the new book, “The Victorian,” available now at the Toadstool Bookshops. He can be reached at eric.stanway@yahoo.com.