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A Moan, a Post, and a Little Bell

A Moan, a Post, and a Little Bell
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Welcome to the October 2009 edition of “Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

A Moan, a Post, and a Little Bell

Each of these represents a spooky true story to tell on Halloween …

With Halloween falling on Saturday, the 31st of this month, I’m reminded once again of how New Englanders have always seemed a little preoccupied with old cemeteries.

I’ll admit to being drawn to them, too. Not long ago, for instance, I found myself in Newcastle, Maine, and decided to look around Glidden Cemetery there for the gravestone of one Mary Howe. I just happened to remember her story. (Talk about trivia!) Mary Howe was a medium who, as such, often put herself into trances.

One summer she went “into” one of these and remained that way for quite a few weeks. Finally, several doctors examined her, found no pulse, and pronounced her dead. Yet she remained warm (possibly because of the warm rocks her family placed around her), her limbs stayed flexible, and it was said there wasn’t the slightest odor from the body.

Eventually, over the strenuous protests of her family, the town authorities ordered that she be buried anyway. And so she was. But for a long time afterward, people insisted they sometimes heard low moans and groans coming from the ground around her gravestone in Glidden Cemetery. I couldn’t locate the stone that cold, foggy day I was there, but as I was leaving, I heard what sounded like a moan. One soft, short little muffled moan. I swear!

There have been stories of people actually returning from the dead. An old-time New England favorite concerns the funeral of a strong-willed Vermont woman, during which the carriage bearing her body hit a wooden post as it was leaving the house for the cemetery. The force of the collision was so great that she was thrown from the carriage onto the ground. The shock of that brought her back to life and she went on to live for another five vociferous years before she died once again.

This time, as the carriage carrying the body was preparing to leave for the cemetery, the woman’s meek and soft-spoken husband approached the driver and said solemnly, “Be careful now that you don’t hit that post again.”

Some people have taken precautions against being buried alive. Ulysses Smith of Middlebury, Vermont, left instructions in his will that his coffin be equipped with a glass window that would be plainly visible through a glass-covered shaft extending from the window to the surface of the ground. Further, he stipulated that a string should extend from inside the coffin up though the shaft, connected to a small bell attached to his tombstone. He felt secure in the knowledge that if he was mistakenly buried alive, he’d be able to ring the bell as a signal for help.

After his death all this was done, exactly per his instructions. Rumor has it that one day a slightly inebriated passerby thought he heard the bell tinkling, staggered over to the tombstone, looked down through the glass at the body far below, and yelled several times, “What do you want?”

Oh, I do so hope that story is true!

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A Moan, a Post, and a Little Bell

Updated Thursday, October 1st, 2009

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