A Small Ghost Story for Autumn Months in New England
Robert Toher is a founding member of the band ERAAS. The band recorded its self-titled debut in a mansion in Western Massachusetts, to achieve a certain mood and attachment to its past in New England. Toher dabbles in the paranormal and shared some of his childhood experiences with it. ERAAS's debut is out now on Felte.
» Half of ERAAS' chilling experiences with cemeteries and ghost children in closets.
Photo by Shervin Lainez
I grew up in (what at the time was) a sprawling pastoral town in southwestern Connecticut in the Eighties. I was surrounded with farmland, rural expanses, breezy pine forests and dilatant hilly plains. Old roads and rivers. Buildings that are centuries old, that feel like buildings that are centuries old. Stone churches and unkempt cemeteries, labyrinthian paths cut in tall grass that drew on interminably. October and November have always had a special significance and still do, as most New Englanders (if you will) will tell you. Sure, the geographically-celebrated changing of the seasons from summer to fall are fetishized: the leaves, the fall colors, pumpkin picking, the foods of the seasonal harvest, halloween, et al. But for many - and for me, it's also about how this time of year corresponds with emotions, changes within the self, the climate and landscape with relationship to music, coming of age and importantly, the relationship that this time of year, has had to me with an interest in unknown spiritual energies.
The town I grew up in featured a haunted insane asylum called "Fairfield Hills" which opened in 1931 and closed in 1995. It's an immense stretch of austere buildings, heartbreaking courtyards, sprawling tunnels and torn trees. Even well before its 64 year tenure came to a close it was in managerial dysfunction, with its buildings and grounds in ruin. At its peak there were over 4,000 patients, though as I remember it there were probably only a thousand or so left when I was there - a number which dwindled through the years until the entire complex closed. When I became old enough to be aware of what it was, it began to take on an immeasurable duality between foreboding / ominous and wildly intriguing. Friends of mine and I began to regularly sneak into the buildings - and the tunnels, day or night (it was arguably more frightening in the day - something about the light). We'd bring with us cheap point-and-shoot cameras and tape recorders. We got a thrill out of feigning that we were involved in paranormal research, or even a kind of cheeky amateur clairvoyance.
While I maintain that a friend of mine still has a microcassette tape that clearly features a low-pitched male voice speaking the words 'broken tomb' - shortly after we had illegally breached one of the many tunnel doors some fall day after school in the throes of an October dusk, most would think I'd be sensationalizing the experience. In all honesty this instance is the least far-fetched of the stories that I have about the old place and were I to tell you of the two other primary instances and in one case 'encounter' they might seem laughable. But they are true - and - regardless, this was the entrance into my interest in supernatural activity in New England.
Some years after my prolonged preoccupation with Fairfield Hills let up a bit, friends of mine and I were driving around the deadly quiet back roads of a small suburban town on a September evening and stopped at a drab looking church with a shoddy graveyard in front of it. They wanted to get out and explore. We were thrilled about it, nervous, giddy, scared, all the while intrigued. (Perhaps I still feel that way now, about graveyards, the only difference is that now upon the rare chance that I muse on entering a graveyard whilst nearby, if I decide to go in I have an overwhelming sense that the dead do not want me there). As we were about to breach the bounds of the graveyard I was taken, overwhelmed with a full-body chill - and that at that point I had never felt it so strongly and so deep. It could've been purely psychological, sure but there was the devastating feeling of a malicious presence there. My eyes filled up, I became panicked, and to such a level that those I was with agreed to leave immediately. It bothered me still, the following days. In the next week to come however, I wrote it off, attributing it solely to being of psychological origin.
A month later into that fall a friend of mine appeared outside of my class rapping at the window. He pulled me into the foyer and showed me prints of photographs he had taken (on a clear night) - which upon seeing and confirming with him, I discovered were taken at the very same church / cemetery where I had recently had my ‘encounter.’ Nearly all of the photos were full of vaporous forms - white, grey or red. Gaseous wisps, circular figures or ragged strips of muted light. Vestiges of a presence there, outside the activity of he and his friends. Most apparent were the multitudes of psychic orbs or globules. Myself, being someone who had taken photo classes and then went on to take 4 photo classes in college, the orbs weren't light reflections, rain / snow / fog, someone's finger over the lens or anything on the 'surface' of the film. They were *in* the space. Some set back, or up close, some in the middle-ground. After research I came to find that the very graveyard where I had experienced these feelings, the same graveyard where the photos had been taken was supposedly the famous 'Union Cemetery'**.
There are 3 other accounts of my experiences in New England, related to supernatural occurrences. I'll tell you about one more of them here. I attended college at an art school on Massachusetts' North Shore in a strange town called Beverly (just across a modest bay from historic Salem). A friend of mine who was in my former band (APSE) at the time lived in an old place not too far from the ocean called Watch Hill. He lived on the 4th (top) floor in an attic-like space. One autumn evening in 2002 he and I were taking turns, trading off putting sounds into the first model BOSS RC-20 Loop Station. The idea was about chance - I'd leave the room, he'd put in a part - then I'd return, he'd leave and I'd put in parts over his - the whole time leaving the playback volume down so we were sort of blindly layering things atop each other (an exquisite corpse of sorts) to then hear the result play back after a few go-arounds and see what we'd ended up with.
We had everything set up in the corner of his room, with a modest practice amp, facing a corner closet.One of the times that he was out of the room and it was my turn to record I began to undeniably sense that inside the closet just in front of me, there was a small boy. It wasn’t really ‘scary’ per se, at least at first. I didn't see him, the way I can see my own hand in front of my face, but I saw him in my mind's eye. A young boy, sunken- eyed, a bit frail, not reaching out to me or gesticulating in any way, I could just tell he was there. Mostly I felt his presence and an associated feeling of melancholy associated with it. As I began to shift my focus more and more on this energy and away from what I was doing, the feeling of the boy's own discontent or I’d even say acute misery, became overwhelming – to such a point that my eyes filled up and began to tear. Over the course of what was probably less than 2-minutes it peaked and I began trembling. I threw down the guitar, fleeing the room and calling out my friend's name. When I explained this to him he became partially moved by it, but naturally a bit wound up and somewhat angry with me. After all I’d just discovered/witnessed the ghost of a little boy, in all its gloom, living inside his closet.
Five years later, in 2008 a friend of mine who had attended the same school after I had, explained that she had befriended someone who now occupied that very room on the 4th floor of Watch Hill. She was unaware of my experience there, but she knew I had spent time there and wanted to tell me that her friend, now living in that room presently at that time, had told her that 'the ghost of a little boy lives in my closet' - completely unaware of my story, never having met me or crossed paths as I had graduated years before he even began attending. I became emotional. I had tried to sort it out in my own mind in the years that followed my experience, rationalizing it, telling myself it was purely psychological, and resolved to believe my imagination to be the origin of that experience. Upon this confirmation I've since been convinced that it had to be real, thus affirming my belief that on some level, even if science has yet to explain it, the spiritual world is a real one.
Yet since then – and it’s perhaps something that I can attest to down the line where I have more time on the subject, I very much also believe that that world is not merely the world of the ghosts / energies of peoples (and animal / plant / earth energies) that have lived and died, but that there are also forces that aren’t of human origin, forces of good and evil that are very much alive in the spiritual world – and very much active in our world. Science may be able to explain it one day, smug atheists may scoff at it now – or then, but it’s real – and related more to another experience and not so much these few accounts - if there’s one bit of insight I can lend – as humbly as possible - it would be to say to be advised when messing with matters of this nature and don’t take them quite so lightly. Sometimes one can open doors that they may not be able to close.
**Union Cemetery is a cemetery that is located near Stepney Road in Easton, Connecticut. The site dates back to the 17th century and is reputed to be one of the most haunted cemeteries not only in Connecticut, but also in the entire United States. "The White Lady" The most famous character said to haunt the cemetery is the mysterious "White Lady", who has been reported by many witnesses, including police and firemen. She is described as having long, dark hair and wears what looks like a white nightgown and a white bonnet. The White Lady usually appears in the roadway along Route 59 or sometimes 111, often being "hit" by vehicles when she appears out of nowhere. But she is never found after the fact, nor is there ever any damage to the vehicles that pass through the mournful woman. People who have "hit" the White Lady with their car have never had any damage turn up on their vehicles, except in the case of an off-duty fireman in 1993. He was driving his pickup somewhere between Union Cemetery and Stepney Cemetery, which is ten miles away, when the road in front of him took on a reddish glow. In those few surreal seconds, he saw a farmer with a straw hat sitting beside him and a lady in white approaching in the roadway with her hands reaching out toward him. He slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. He heard a thud and even ended up with a dent from the impact, yet no trace of the woman, or the farmer who had been sitting beside him, was ever found. The fact that he heard and was left with physical evidence of the impact is most unusual in cases of cars driving through or into apparitions. The White Lady is also said to haunt the nearby Stepney Cemetery in Monroe, Connecticut. It is believed that she walks back and forth between the two. Another character considered to haunt the cemetery is "Red Eyes". A person walking by the cemetery caught a glimpse of a pair of red eyes in the brush peering at him through the darkness. As he ran from the entity, he heard footsteps following him. Cosmic Society’s Donna Kent speculates that it was the specter of Earle Kellog, a man who was set afire across the street and burned to death in 1935, or a man, killed by a drunken driver, who provided his name—and a number of choice expletives—to a group of boys trying to capture electronic voice phenomena (EVP) in the cemetery one night.
Posted on October 31, 2012. More on: eraas, felte, ghost story, the white lady, stepney cemetery, union cemetery, haunted cemetery, connecticut, new england, fairfield hills, supernatural, paranormal activity, paranormal research, watch hill, beverly, salem, apse