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It's Not Easy to Believe in Ghosts

It’s Not Easy to Believe in Ghosts
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NOW WITH HALLOWEEN coming along at the end of this month, it’s time for ghost stories again. Over the years we’ve heard dozens of them, all supposedly “true.” But, you know, some are not easily explained.

For instance, the late Dr. James Huntington, a Boston obstetrician who gave his 18th-century house, Firth Acres, in Hadley, Massachusetts, to the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation (which maintains it today), was absolutely convinced of the existence of a ghost in his house.

“I have seen, in the moonlight in the small hours of the night, a latch rise and the door silently open,” he often told people that, including my uncle, Robb Sagendorph (founder of YANKEE Magazine). Dr. Huntington suggested it was the ghost of Elizabeth Porter returning to look for her father, who was killed in the French and Indian Wars. He maintained the door would open no matter how securely it had been bolted. Swore to it.

Over the years, we’ve published in YANKEE Magazine several articles on the so-called presence atop Mount Washington. In the weather station buildings up there, this presence has lifted curtains off their hooks and tossed them on the floor, pushed a man off the precipitation measurement platform, made footstep sounds in an empty hall — all sorts of things. One October, YANKEE writer Austin Stevens went up there to investigate and returned convinced that almost all the people stationed on Mount Washington during the fall and winter have, at times, experienced “a force — a curious, watchful, malevolent force.”

During the early years of the 20th century, New Englanders even went through what might be called a spiritual craze. It featured such things as “psychic photographs,” in which faces of dead people, usually relatives, would pop up in the negatives of otherwise ordinary family photographs. My maternal grandmother frequently attended Boston gatherings in which a medium in a trance would serve as a go-between for spirits — mostly Indians, oddly enough — who would speak to and answer questions from those assembled.

In my experience, most New Englanders react to these sorts of stories in a rather blase manner.

“Well, now … maybe there’s something to it. Ya never know.”

That’s a typical summation by someone who has just been subjected to a “true ghost story” filled with an avalanche of ghostly happenings, none of which could possibly be explained except by saying they were all manifestations of the supernatural.

“The vase simply rose for no reason at all about 2 or 3 feet above our fireplace mantel,” a young woman who lived in a Stoddard, New Hampshire, house that was said to be haunted earnestly explained to my uncle Robb and me one day, “and then it suddenly dropped to the brick hearth and broke into a thousand pieces. I saw it with my own eyes. Nothing bumped the vase or was even near it. There was no wind, no earthquake, nothing! Now, how can you explain that? It had to be our ghost.”

Robb’s reaction was as sympathetic as he could make it.

“Well, now … maybe there’s something to it. Ya never know.”

The young woman, no doubt frustrated by Robb’s mild response, rolled her eyes upward and sighed deeply. I sympathized.

It’s not easy to believe in ghosts….

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It's Not Easy to Believe in Ghosts

Updated Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

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