Mystery, legends surround Gilson Cemetery

NASHUA – Over the many times that I’ve been writing ghost stories, I’ve always been struck by the preconceptions that surround the sites themselves.

I mean, I do a fair amount of research on the Internet, as well as discussing the place with representatives of various paranormal societies.

Whether or not this is a good idea, I’m not sure. Certainly, this practice can color your perception, and not always in a good way. On the other hand, it can give you an idea what to look for.

This particular expedition took me out to Gilson Road Cemetery, a tiny plot of land right across the road from the Tanglewood housing estate in Nashua.

For the uninitiated, Gilson Road Cemetery has a considerable reputation in paranormal investigation circles.

The ghosts that inhabit this little plot of land were first observed more than a decade ago by Fiona Broome, a famous investigator who runs the Hollow Hills website.

Since that time, the site has become a favored gathering point for ghost hunters from all over the country. I thought I’d take a trip out there, and see what all the fuss was about.

This is not an easy place to find. I took the exit onto Route 111, and thought myself totally lost. Finding a man fixing the front of his garage, I decided to pull over and ask directions.

“There’s a gas station a little ways down the road,” the man helpfully informed me. “Take a right there. That’s Gilson Road. Of course, it kind of winds around a bit.”

It certainly did. For a while there, I wondered if I was on the right road. When I finally came upon the cemetery itself, I almost drove completely past the place. I actually had to back up when I caught sight of an ancient stone wall.

The cemetery is significantly smaller than one would expect. I doubt it even covers an acre of land.

There are a few stones here and there, and lots of impressions in the ground, that designate where other, older graves probably stood.

The oldest stone I saw here was that of Hannah, wife of Benjamin Robbins, who died on Jan. 29, 1796, at the tender age of 20 years.

The other families interred here include the Gilsons, the Fisks, the Searles, Lawrences and Newtons.

In the front of the cemetery stands the burial spot of the Gilson family. John Gilson died on March 17, 1837. His wife, Betsey, followed him into the Great Beyond some three years later.

Between their graves are three small headstones, simply stating that they bear memorial to their unnamed babies, who died in infancy. I was rather touched by the fact that visitors had placed small toys and Halloween candies on their graves.

Easily the strangest stone in the entire cemetery belongs to young Walter Gilson, who died on Aug. 28, 1811, aged five years, eight months and 25 days. The odd thing about this stone is a hole, about an inch in diameter, drilled directly into the center of the stone. Clearly, it is not the result of a gunshot, as there are no radiating cracks from around the center of the incision. Rather, it is a completely clean radial hole, as if someone had taken a drill to it. At this point, I have absolutely no idea of what purpose the hole could have ever had.

History records that there was a John Gilson who was actually one of the first people to settle in what is now Nashua. Given the timeline, one can only assume that this was an ancestor of the man buried in the cemetery. For more information about this expedition, we turn to “The History of Nashua,” written by John H. Goodale and published in 1885:

“A TRAMP THROUGH THE WILDERNESS – In the fall of 1747 two explorers from Dunstable, Nehemiah Lovewell and John Gilson, started from the present site of Nashua for the purpose of examining the slope of the Merrimack Valley and of crossing the height of land to Number Four (now Charlestown), which was then known as the most northern settlement in the Connecticut Valley.

“Knowing the difficulties in traversing hills and valleys covered with underbrush and rough with fallen timber and huge bowlders, they carried as light an outfit as possible – a musket and camp-blanket each, with five days’ provisions. Following the Souhegan through Milford to Wilton, they then turned northward, and, crossing the height of land in the limits of the present day Stoddard, had, on the afternoon of the third day, their first view of the broad valley westward, with a dim outline of the mountains beyond. The weather was clear and pleasant, the journey laborious, but invigorating. On their fourth afternoon they reached and camped for the night on the banks of the Connecticut, some ten miles below Charlestown. At noon of the next day they were welcomed at the rude fort, which had already won renown by the heroic valor of its little garrison. At this time the forest was commanded by Captain Phineas Stevens, a man of great energy and bravery.

“Lovewell and Gilson were the first visitors from the valley of the Merrimack, and their arrival was a novelty. That night – as in later years, they used to relate – they sat up until midnight, listening to a recital of the fierce struggles which the inmates of this rude fortress, far up in the woods, had encountered within the previous eight months. Tarrying several days at the fort, during which the weather continued clear and mild, the two explorers were ready to return homeward.

“In a direct line Dunstable was about ninety miles distant. With the needed supply of salt pork and corn bread, Lovewell and Gilson left Number Four at sunrise on the 16th of November. The fallen leaves were crisp with frost as they entered the deep maple forests which skirt the hills lying east of the Connecticut intervales. The days being short, it was necessary to lose no time between sunrise and sunset. The air was cool and stimulated them to vigorously hurry forward. Coming to a clear spring soon after midday, Gilson struck a fire and resting for half an hour, they sat down to a marvelously good feast of boiled salt pork and brown bread. One who has never eaten a dinner under like conditions can have no idea of its keen relish and appreciation.”

The details of how the cemetery was founded are extremely vague, shrouded in local folklore.

It is said by some that the spirits of the place are engendered by a fierce battle among the Native Americans that took place on the spot. According to these same legends, it is believed that the area was sacred to the Indians, and when the land was blessed, the spirits of their dead rose up and began to stalk the cemetery.

Another legend maintains that it was to this area that an insane medicine man was banished, and still haunts the place. It is said that, during his life, he would lure young braves here, promising to give them spirits that would aid them in battle. Instead, he would sacrifice the young men to his own dark spirits and use their energy to prolong his own life.

Then, there is the story of the “Gilson Boy,” who is seen running across the road, and disappears the moment he is approached.

Stories of ghosts here are legion. Many investigators report hearing strange whispers as they enter the cemetery, while others have seen strange lights emanating from the back wall.

Photographs taken there show orbs, specters and other paranormal phenomena.

There are also reports of a ghostly woman in a white dress, who is frequently seen wandering the perimeter of the site. Later, it is said, the area was used as a site for dumping murdered bodies.

So, is this cemetery really haunted? It would appear, from the amount of interest it has excited among ghost hunters, that something is definitely going on there. Be aware, though; from everything I’ve heard, the spirits there are restless, and not particularly inviting to interlopers.