The Milton Co-operative Dairy Corporation

Being a storyteller is somewhere in my framework. I’d like to think that’s the crux of this blog, to tell stories. This blog has lots of long-winded stories. It’s just one of those things that you’re gonna have to live with for giving an emotionally unstable person a keyboard and a WiFi connection. (That’s me) And whatever it is that I have to tell wouldn’t be complete without the mention of this place.

When I first started this blog, I made sure this was one of the first subjects I posted about, because it was, and still is such a big deal to me, following me around like a phantom through different stages of my life.

The chiseled granite block along the disintegrating roof line reads “Milton Co-operative Dairy Corporation”. Most folks in town call it “the creamery” unless you’re one of the few who are unaware of what the corroding property used to be. I’ve heard people speculate plenty of things, including a train station, a munitions factory or an armory.

The rambling building made of patchwork additions is off a side street in town, and the years run down its crumbling facade. Its forsakenness is obvious. Young trees have grown around and inside the building, disfiguring the structure. If you catch a glimpse through any of the broken windows or an open doorway, you witness a dark world made of peeling lead paint, reservoired floors and piles of fallen bricks, all cast in various shadows in the places the shine of the sun penetrates its way inside. In a state as non-industrial as Vermont, this location is truly a magnificent way to get your senses drunk. And it was this dangerous, virulent location that changed my life around age 12.

Around 1835, Milton’s agriculture scene shifted fads, from sheep based farming, to more profitable dairy. The town saw an increase in farming in the intervening years which began to put a strain on Milton’s original creamery, The Whiting Creamery, located off Main Street near where Oliver Seed is today. By 1919, many Milton farmers got together to form a dairy co-op. They built their headquarters on Railroad Street, a side street off Main Street, which today is one of the village’s primary thoroughfares. At the time, Main Street was actually the Main Street in town, and because titular Railroad Street paralleled the tracks, it was practical real estate.

The Whiting Creamery in Milton, circa 1905 | UVM Landscape Change Program
The Whiting Creamery in Milton, circa 1905 | UVM Landscape Change Program

The building was done unconventionally, with a steel I-beam construction and stucco facade installed over bricks, which according to the late owner of the ruins, was a design unique for anywhere in Vermont at the time. Miltoner John McGrath would become the first president of the co-op. Over time, the creamery’s business ignited, as more farmers from Milton, and rural parts of northern Chittenden County and Southern Franklin County were sending their milk to be processed there – and shipped out. A lot of the revenue made by the creamery actually came from exotic foreign locations they shipped the milk to, like Boston and New York, via the aforementioned railroad that runs inches from behind the building.

In 1935, the creamery would expand for the first time at the height of the great depression in a conspicuous brick addition that today is the worst part of the complex. While most money-making things in the United States were prostrate in defeat, the railroads and the dairy industry seemed to be staying steady. Over the years, several more additions came along, and when cars became common, garages and a scale room were built, until the current uniquely shaped structure that exists today was finished. Those who can remember the creamery when it was functioning said that it was one of the largest creameries in western Vermont. During its most prosperous years, it would do over $5 million worth of business in a year, and employed 50 people. According to a homeless fella I accidentally met that briefly lived in a tent near the tracks behind the building, he recalled his father working there. “I remember how bad the milk lab used to smell” he said in fervent disgust at the memory. “Used to stink so bad, you could smell it down Railroad Street!”

During the cold war, the basement area was also designated as a fallout shelter, an appointed place to seek safety in case of nuclear destruction. Though, a practical observation at the grimy basement now days tells the visitor that the apocalyptic urgency so many people in the 50s were subscribing to would have easily vaporized anyone who decided to wait it out down there. Until recently, a badly warped caution-yellow sign that read “Fallout Shelter” in black lettering could be seen crookedly hanging from a concrete wall. Some local kid most likely stole it for a memento and hung it in their bedroom.

However, as time flowed, business practices changed, and the creamery soon found itself cutting its teeth on the stone of the changing times. McGrath would resign as president in 1953, and Ray Rowley, from another long-standing dairy family in town, would take control. But the Co-Op was already shaking hands with its mortality.

By the 1960s, the creamery’s fate seemed poised to continue percolating in some downward lament. A decline in dairy farming led to a decline in dairy – the stuff that created the business in the first place. It was around this time when bigger monopolies began to appear on the scene, a trend which has only intensified since then. Larger and more resourced operations like HP Hood in Burlington were hard to compete with, and the growing struggle of irrelevancy disarmed many smaller businesses. Sort of ironic is that HP Hood is also long gone, the old plant on the corner of King and South Winooski has been modernly renovated into condos and mixed commercial space, as is the cool trend with defunct industrial properties.

The last 2 decades of the creamery’s life were slow death. Fluctuating milk prices and the cost of refining didn’t show up in the farmers’ paychecks, which irritated some of them. I can’t say I blame them, farming is hard work. A crude barn shaped structure was built next door, and was ran as “The Milton General Store” for a while – an appendage of the creamery. Those who still remember it, say that it was the kind of place where you could literally buy anything – from nails to maple syrup, and had a distinct “dusty workshop smell” inside. But that attempt at savior failed as well, and by 1974, the creamery became a ghost.

The building was put up for sale, and shortly afterward, was purchased by a local gentleman who used it as storage space for his many antiques and the miscellany he either collected or hoarded. That line was a blurry one. But it was clear that this guy was of his own sort. Sadly, mental instability and his own demons got the best of him, and one of the consequences was that he neglected the place. His paraphernalia became either stolen by characters who have no moral issues with thievery, or what was left behind rotted away when the building began to progressively weaken, and rats began to nest inside.

I had struck up a few conversations with the owner before in my teenage years. I used to work at a local gas station then, which was a crash course on social skills for this young Aspergian and his seemingly incompetent switchboards, but the struggles also brought some worthy experiences. Like getting to know him a little better whenever he’d stop in. I knew who he was, but our getting acquainted was a bit coincidental. He’d see me working and just start chatting with me if he was in my proximity, but he seemed a bit lonely and he’d chat with anyone willing to lend an ear. Over time, he began to recognize me as a regular working stiff and always made a point to have some sort of small talk with me, on his own terms anyways. I found out that he was a pundit on Milton history, or really the old in general. I’d risk getting reprimanded by my shift manager and have conversations with him about local history and things I found to be fascinating – information that I didn’t have access to anywhere else. But due to his schizophrenic-esque behaviors, I had to try to be mindful of how I engaged with him.

I found out about his death in the summer of 2016, which saddened me a little. I’m sure he had so many stories and secrets that he took to his grave with him that we’ll just never know. I always contemplated taking the time to contact him and ask for an interview, but anxiety got the best of me. The creamery was hastily and quietly sold, and condos were spoken of. I suppose the momentum didn’t surprise me. Milton-ites have wanted to get rid of the scorned property for decades. Which is also why I’m re-submitting this blog post. The creamery wasn’t just the first place I had ever explored, it was a huge part of my adolescence. I’ve never dealt with change that well, so when I got word of a change coming up in the form of the creamery’s possible demolition, I decided I needed a fond farewell.

I’m going to borrow a quote from the late Leonard Cohen, when he said; “I’m interested in things that contribute to my survival”. The creamery (and Mr. Cohen) has contributed greatly and artfully to my survival and I’m forever grateful. It’s weird to think about as I’m reminiscing and drinking a beer right now – how different would my life have been if I didn’t grow up in walking distance of this place? Did any of you folks have an abandoned building in your hometown, or a place that was a local rite of passage to visit as a kid? Do you have any stories of your first adventure?

Over the years, I struck up a friendship with the great folks at the Milton Historical Society, and one of my first research topics was the creamery. Sadly, not a great deal of information about it really carried over the turn of the most recent century. For the most part, I compiled all the usable information I could in the paragraphs above this one. But that’s not all. Museum curator Lorinda Henry was kind enough to scan for me some historical photographs of the business in operation, and portraits of its employees.

Folklore

I think one of the most memorable things about the creamery, and my childhood affixion to it, were the ghastly urban legends and ghost stories that the older kids told me, a ritual I continued when I aged. Stories that created an inseparable impression about the place.

Murder

I still remember the first story I was told, which I think is also the most popular one in some variation or another. The story of the murdered janitor. Essentially, two custodians were working graveyard shift, and a known rivalry was between them. That particular night, one of them would let all of his animosity towards the other cut loose like a pressure valve. Somehow, one of them fell off of a two story catwalk which is suspended above the scale room, broke his neck when he hit the concrete, and died in the building. The motive, whether it was preempted murder or a moment of unchecked anger isn’t translated into this tale. But the aftermath is. The other employee realized the gravity of what just happened, and he was frightened. He’d be blamed. He’d go to prison! No, he couldn’t let that happen. So, he decided to make his co-worker’s death look like a suicide.

Transporting the body upstairs, he hung him from a meat hook in one of the coolers, hoping when the corpse was discovered the next day, that’s exactly what the shocked observers would believe. Only, they didn’t, and apparently, according to an increasingly vague story line, the assaulting janitor was accused of the crime. The story splits into a few endings from here. One says he was arrested, acquitted and sentenced to prison. Another version tells that he skipped town, and successfully vanished from those who wished to prosecute him. As the older kids told me, the residue of the departed janitor still skulks around the building, which seems to be his tomb in the afterlife. Though not much is known about his apparent haunting, people have admitted to feeling uncomfortable inside, like they were being watched by some unknown specter, especially by the room where his body was hung. Phantom chills and disembodied noises have also been reported, but whoever was the one coming forth with these claims remain a mystery. The historical society couldn’t give me any hard evidence of a murder at the creamery, or even a death, so this spook tale remains in the realm of urban legend.

Broiled Alive 

I remember another, far more ghastly story. I was shown a large rusted vat inside one of the many dark rooms of the basement, leprous with peeling paint, dankness and dripping water trickling down overhead. A dim mag light beam illuminated the robust fixture, and it was filled with some sort of unidentifiable glish. As the story goes, sometime in the 30s or 40s, a young man was tasked with making powdered milk, and somehow, fell into a vat of product heated to boiling temperatures. His skin was filleted from his body and was unable to be saved. A more macabre version of the story was that crooked business practices just distributed the milk afterward because losing money was a more grim thought than their customers drinking liquefied employee.

Well, I couldn’t find any validation on that story either – but the historical society did help me dig up a very brief newspaper snippet from the 1940s, about a boy who did die in the creamery in those days before child work regulations, but the cause of his death wasn’t specified. But one look at the gross vat today does make a good totem for a story like this one, and the basement is a creepy place. Not surprisingly, there have been quite a few reports of feelings of unease down there.

The Homeless Man

Another notable story did happen, and is documented. Sort of. In the 1980s, recently after the building had been abandoned, a homeless man got inside and planned on spending the night. But nothing stays warm in the wintery cold, and he decided to get a fire started. The details here vary on what happened, but somehow, him and the old couch he was sleeping on, became engulfed in flame. The man died on site. Speculations vary on how he died, whether some flying cinders landed on his sleeping form and ignited his clothes, he was drunk and knocked over or fell into the barrel he used to put the fire in, or some hoodlum kids decided to harass the guy, and wound up setting him on fire. Either way, a dead vagabond was the result. Today, there is a pancaked and charred couch on the ground floor, which I was told was the very same one he died on. Though that too is unverifiable. Some ghost enthusiasts like to think that the homeless man adds to the creamery’s fabled layers of ghosts.

That may account for a claim I heard around 2009, when someone told me of a strange experience of theirs. As he was walking by the creamery at night, he saw a ‘black cloaked figure – almost like a robed monk’, moving in the same direction as him as he walked by the building down the railroad tracks on his way home. He could easily distinguish the thing thanks to the dirty yellow glow of the street lights coming through the second-floor windows, giving the figure a distinct outline from the shadows. His claim wouldn’t have been as weird if it weren’t for the fact that he saw it walking in a part of the second story that didn’t have a floor.

The Tunnel

My favorite hearsay was of the old tunnel. In my teenage years, when I began to become more intimate with the building, I was acquainted with a piece of Milton lore; about a tunnel, which supposedly led from the creamery, all the way down Main Street underneath several of the old houses before dumping out near the Lamoille River. My teenage mind sort of just took that in as fact, and I began making trips down to the basement trying to find the opening, or a trace of a sealed up door. I did find something, a door below ground level, that had been cinderblocked off. Most likely, that was the old tunnel, and years later, parts of the blockade were sledgehammered through, giving me a glimpse. The tunnel was there all right, but didn’t run all that far. I could see the collapsed section yards from my position. It actually ran to the brick building next door. Today, its apartments, but it was originally built as another part of the creamery, which is why the tunnel was there, and which is why it was sealed off. I spoke to a few Milton old timers, who smirked and recalled breaking into the tunnel when they were younger, and sneaking beer and cigarettes down there. But was there ever a passageway that ran all the way under Main Street? Well, I wrote about that, if you’re curious.

As for me? Well, I’ll admit that my experiences being a tourist to this old building haven’t been all that paranormal. I generally don’t concern myself with hauntings or ghosts anyways, unless one of them walks right up to me and says hi. It’s not that I don’t believe in those things (I write about weird stuff after all!), I just try to take an agnostic approach first. I do have one strange personal account though. In 2011, I was walking up to take some photos, and found a very strangely placed mannequin inside one of the old coolers upstairs, propped right in the doorway so whoever walks by would notice it. This one was particularly creepy. It looked old and decayed and yellowed, and dressed in a patchwork of old clothes. There was also a pentagram carved into its neck. I went to other parts of the building and doubled back about 40 minutes later, and the thing was gone. I never heard or saw anyone come for it. To this day, I still don’t have much of an explanation for that weird event.

I still recall one person writing to me when my old post was live, and told me how they found old co-op milk jugs that had been found underneath their old concrete front steps. They had apparently been used to help build the framework for them, which wasn’t an unusual practice for old Vermonters, who used their ingenuity to use whatever materials they could for their benefits. Milton’s Main and Railroad Streets are old. It makes me wonder what else is found within these old homes.

Painkillers and a Purpose.

This is the section where I get emotional and hash out my scars. If you don’t dig personal backstories or revelations, skip down to the pictures. There’s lots.

Growing up in Milton, I was a shy, creatively maladjusted boy. As the years and my youth passed on, not much changed, apart from my curiosity, and me never feeling like I was comfortable in my own skin. I was always thinking there was something wrong with me. Being diagnosed with Aspergers at a young age, I quickly found out that I was a pundit on certain things, but hopelessly inept with others, like social skills. It was an unhappy balance, and that led to a coming of age where I was bullied and timid.

I suppose it’s fitting that I began to take interest in what we perceive as oddities, or things that don’t fit our conception of the illusion of normal – and their captivating stories.  Abandoned places fell into that category for me. The creamery was the first. And better yet, it was easily accessible.

I first dared to cross that threshold into a world that conventional wisdom told me was dangerous and forbidden. And that’s partially why I wanted to venture inside, and why I decided to repeat that ritual for years to come, because people frowned on those sort of behaviors, and I wanted answers for myself.

The thing is, I’ve never been like everyone else or satisfied with the pre-prescribed banalities of everyday life, things that are all too generic and sanitized. Whether it had to do with growing up Aspergian, or be it something in my framework, I never fit in. So I decided to put myself in haunted waters, and see what happened. Turns out, bending the rules, thinking for myself and daring to go against what I was taught was one of the best things I ever turned into a habit – and is some of the best advice I can give to anyone, assuming I’m asked for my opinion on these things.

Everything is a language, everything is constantly trying to tell us something or express itself in its own way. The trick was learning how to discern the signals from the din of chaos. It was the first abandoned building I ever explored that fired the engines of desire and curiosity in my mind. It was in those precious hours inside where I heard an obsession being born amidst the damp cold and watchful eye of wild shadows that would haunt me for years to come. Treading over the debris littered floors, slowly opening crumbling doors, peering into a vast basement filled with water and intimidation, the dark becomes your hunting grounds, in the foreground of endlessly dripping water.

I spent most of my 20s in dislocation and learning about the blues while slowly murdered by my anxiety. I was depressed, lonely, still trying to figure out my autism diagnosis, and going through the trials and tribulations of several different antidepressants or booze. Sometime in between all of that, I lost myself trying to please everyone. In those years of learning what heartache brings, I waltzed between things that I did that brought regret and just trying to get by. By age 25, I had given up on myself. I spent years running from nothing but those vicious, self-depreciating thoughts in my mind and not only did I feel inferior to everyone in the world, but I lost faith in people, and hoping that anyone would understand. I even attempted suicide. They say that you grow up believing the narrative we’re told by society, and how people treat you. Either you had it or you didn’t, I guess. I couldn’t be the only one who felt there had to be something better than the imposed adult lifestyle that was bounded by convention. I knew I wanted more.

My tendencies to escape from the pressures of a judgemental society raging over me and all my failures brought me to these forsaken locations. When things got too rough outside, my earnest self climbed inside. My time hanging out in them not only became like therapy for me, but it also picked me up like a drug as unacquainted fires lit sparks in me that took me years just to understand their ways. Urban exploration helped me confront social and emotional turmoil, as I’d disappear into a sea of rebirth, or at least a change of scenery.

It was here where I could try on my heart, and let my walls down. Over time, I didn’t really mind that I was lonely because it felt like home. Whatever things ran through my mind I could keep for myself. I could learn about myself and my environment and observe both and how they changed with the weather. I could study these ruins and what was left behind, getting an extraordinary and authentic look at a sort of museum of humankind than I could ever learn elsewhere as I picked at the bones. Building materials, architecture, electrical and plumbing, amateur archeology, hazardous side effects, irrelevant culture – all things that would give me a better understanding of the world around me, and conjure more questions and a desire to learn. I could learn to gauge my anxiety and problem solve in different ways.

Little did I know that while I spent so much time in the edges between self-awareness and self-loathing, I grew as a person.

Photography was something I picked up in relation to urban exploration, as I pushed myself to learn the mechanics and how to capture this world that I saw. I really digged the feelings I was receiving, that excitement, that push to keep trying, to keep dreaming. I wanted to get lost because I couldn’t be found. When we’re presented with things that we don’t see in our routine days, we get curious and we look. Social norms often tend to discourage looking closer in real life, and that’s why I love photography. It allows us to do so freely.

I still remember the satisfied grin on my face when I first bought my own camera with money that I had worked so long to save. And the creamery was where I honed those skills. Exploring enhanced and enlightened by appreciation for the landscape around me, and matured a sense of wonder in these everyday spaces. Being a photographer really enhanced my self-esteem and gave me a distraction from everything that was bringing me down. Every photo tells a story. Every photo was taken by someone who had to be at that place, who did the planning, who had an experience to share.

In college, I majored in graphic design, which, despite me falling out of love with it after I became wise to how the industry works and how that didn’t fit me, has greatly influenced and improved my imagery and my hobby. I could further my creativity with all that was still stuck in my head.

Writing has something that always came sort of naturally to me I guess, but it’s still something I’m pretty self-conscious about and always trying to develop. Twisting the night away in front of the comforting glow of a computer screen as I listened to those records that almost hit harder than my pain, I tried to translate and find a meaning in my thoughts and experiences and explores. Especially as I grew older, I wanted to spin a thread from my past into my present and try to find a meaning to my suffering, to these forsaken locations, and how being a human is one complicated gig.

I definitely wore my heart on my sleeve, and I remember all the things I felt discovering my favorite albums, the heroes I would worship, fascinating local weirdness and just about anything else that made me shiver. Part of me wanted to contribute, to create, to make sense of everything I could. What do I do with all these feelings and experiences, these things that are crawling up inside my head in my 20 something-year-old wasteland?

I’m not sure what it is about the creamery, or these temples that are a relief to me, but they make great atmospheres to drain my mind, all the more so when my cup is full.

Exploring ironically became some sort of a social endeavor for me in my young adult years when I was searching for friendships and other libertines. I’d often accidentally meet these amiable, intelligent people with the same interests, and I’d take the chance and meet them in person and go on adventures, and I’ve been lucky to form a few strong bonds because of it.

Before I had this blog, I had a Flickr account. In those days, Flickr was really a niche audience. But somehow, my Vermont-based photographs made their rounds, and over time, others started to reach out to me. We would bond over the places we’d shoot and our stories, and sometimes, if we really hit it off, we’d meet up in person and find new exploratory joys (but to be honest, the biggest thrill for me was to finding new places myself). I think any other explorers can vouch for this – that the conversations you have while adventuring are often the best, and the weirdest. I’ve had plenty of amusing chats underneath the creamery’s arched tin ceilings. That’s how I met my friends and role models Rusty and Christina who run Antiquity Echoes and Dan from Environmental Imagery, to name a few.

The internet introduced me to the “urban exploration” community, which was still emerging at the time and pretty underground, and I remember being curiously thrilled that there were other people out there who did what I did. The explorers (“urbexers”) who were creating websites and putting their photography online, I found, had scars, philosophies, and interests similar to mine. And their work was good, it was venerable, and it gave me a direction. I love people who add personality to their work.

That was also where I was introduced to the term “urbex”,  something that attempted to categorize what I was doing. Way different than the modern day urbex explosion that has crawled all over the internet, and alongside the greats, an oversaturation of various disrespectful types who are more into their own vanity and bravado and taking pictures of them smoking vapor cigarettes than the tourism, which often brought drama and something pathetically similar to high school cliques in the social media groups I used to be apart of (another attempt at trying to fit in), so these things turned back into a private affair for me.

I don’t want to be a trite person because that’s unfulfilling and there is no point in following this blog if I sound like everyone else. I’m me, and my thing is to be upfront and honest about where I come from, and often, I talk too much. That may not be everyone’s scene, but I’m okay with it – it’s all I got. It took me years to find my words and a beat, and I’ve learned a murderers row of personal lessons from it.

I’ve been searching all my life for a purpose, some sort of connection to this “humanhood” we’re all supposedly a part of – but I never really found it until I started learning how to live in the present tense and brave through the pain and uncertainties. You have to be vulnerable to grow, and sometimes, letting down my guard was a significant and valuable thing. Proving the static in my head wrong, that I wasn’t too far gone to have a talent.

Exploring, photography, writing, they all sort of united together, and as I chased them, I fell for them. I wasn’t wasting away my soul anymore, and I learned to stand on my own and begin again as my purpose worked its way to the surface. I wanted my life to matter, and for my time to have a positive impact and not to simply pass me by, even if it costs me. I don’t want to just survive, I want to do the best that I can to create a wonderful life. Especially now as my youth and years are passing me by.

Nothing will ever be handed to you. You gotta work hard, or it will never happen. If you want to be an artist or wield a talent, you have to study that art. Get the books, the role models, the media that has to do with what sort of person or thing that you feel you want to become. Study it all the time. Practice, learn, stumble, keep practicing, go. Decide, who are you trying to be? And what’s the motive? Do you want to be an artist that cares about your art, or famous? Those are 2 completely different things. I’d rather be trying to be the best I can be at whatever I’m doing, even if I only have a few other people that happen to like it.

For someone who didn’t believe he had much of a future after he had left college and feels like he’s spent his whole life less up than his downs, this has turned my whole life around. It’s the long haul, but it’s worth it. I try not to put anything out there that I don’t believe is good. Even if that means a lot of time in between my newer posts. Quality is more important to me than success. And I’m still finding my beat and my voice (and still cringing at my earlier posts haha).

I learned that I can succeed even when I’m failing miserably. I learned not to be as negative as I used to be, and indulgence can be a good thing in moderation. Enjoying a little danger now and then is fun and beneficial, and remembering where I came from doesn’t have to be a condemnation. Being willfully ignorant will get me nowhere, and is counter-productive to the life I want to live, or the people that help me shine.

Others are imbued by my weather, and I flourish in the presence of love. Fear gets me nowhere. Anger and indignation can be useful and rejection can make you resilient. In pain there is wisdom. Waiting out my life to hold onto anything never worked.

I re-wrote this blog entry and re-photographed this place for myself, the people I know now, and those who became ghosts, because I think there is a great story being told here. Our beginnings and ends are all written in the choices we make, and they all lead us in a direction.

In this struggle, something can be found, and it shouldn’t be measured by what conventional wisdom has imposed or implied. It’s the experience that means everything. In some ways, I’d like to hope my story can be several of us. And after all I’ve said here, I’m still shaking as I consider hitting the publish button. If you don’t say anything, you’re not vulnerable.

It took me 28 years to stop playing my old records, to get beyond that point where I couldn’t seem to move on yet knew I couldn’t stay the same. Now, I’m writing this up in an apartment 24 miles away from where I grew up, and where I spent my youth in imagination or hopelessly devoted to misery. Life moves on and our stories are always more connected than distance implies.

Requiem Revisited

The town I grew up in left a long time ago, and we lost touch as I shed my skin. Now, with the creamery’s uncertain future and Hyde Manor’s weight taking over and speeding its collapse, I felt like two of the most influential figures of my past lives, things that really shaped the person that’s writing this right now, are vanishing. And they’re dying breeds – venerable buildings built with a motivation and with dignity, things that our new disposable and tawdry society shamefully doesn’t value. That’s more or less evident with all the pop-up cardboard condos appearing in town. It’s a shame that future generations of curious kids or explorers will loose these mysteries and interactions that are kept inside these constructions that they don’t build anymore.

Because I taught myself the basics of photography here, I thought it was ironic that all the photos I had of this place didn’t really reflect how much I feel I’ve progressed over the intervening years – and I definitely felt like out of all the locations I’ve documented, this deserved good representation. So I was on a bittersweet mission of reverence; to record every corner of the building and do a good job at doing so.

My friend Josh and I got together and decided to spend as many days as we could stomping around the creamery with camera equipment, our footsteps the only things haunting its rooms.

I wonder if I would have even gotten into exploring to the extent that I am now, if it wasn’t for my time spent here and the spell I was under. Would I have ever gone to Hyde Manor? Would this blog be existing? I can’t say if this place that has driven me crazy will fall and fade or not, but I’m glad we let our distress push us back to this old haunt and all my forgotten ghosts. But if I never see it again, well, I’m damn appreciative of my time here.

Thank you for the indulgence here. Part of me was almost against posting this last section, but my feelings that it was somehow meaningful and cathartic overpowered the fears of showing my scars.

I think the Lawrence Arms said it best; the time is never right, the words are never right. I hope it’s helpful. I hope it fires you up.

Historical Images

The newly constructed Milton Creamery. The ground still muddied and rutted from building it. 1919. Via UVM Landscape Change Program
The newly constructed Milton Creamery. The ground still muddied and rutted from building it. 1919. Via UVM Landscape Change Program
Circa 1930. Via UVM Landscape Change Program
Circa 1930. Via UVM Landscape Change Program
Circa 1930. Via UVM Landscape Change Program
Collection trucks in front of the creamery – Circa 1930. Via UVM Landscape Change Program
Weighing and Receiving Room.
Weighing and Receiving Room. Courtsey of Milton Historical Society.
Employees, Circa 1920. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
Employees, Circa 1920. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
The original Creamery, before the brick edition and the front garages. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
The original Creamery, before the brick edition and the front garages. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
Railroad view, Notice the massive water tower and the absence of the brick edition. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
Railroad view, Notice the massive water tower and the absence of the brick edition. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
43 Creamery Employees, in it's later years. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society
43 Creamery Employees, in its later years. Courtesy of Milton Historical Society

The Creamery Today 

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Because this is an old creamery, I think this is the best graffiti in the entire building. Get it?!
Because this is an old creamery, I think this is the best graffiti in the entire building. Get it?!
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According to local lore, this is all that remains of the couch that the homeless man burned alive on years ago.

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According to local lore, this is all that remains of the couch that the homeless man burned alive on years ago.
According to local lore, this is all that remains of the couch that the homeless man burned alive on years ago.

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We found several animal bone fragments in the basement. According to my friend, years ago, people used to have illegal cock fights down here. Over the years, the decayed corpses of dead cats and skunks would also appear. Once, some folks, probably teenagers, stole road flares and had what we guess was a road flare fight down there as well.
We found several animal bone fragments in the basement. According to my friend, years ago, people used to have illegal cock fights down here. Over the years, the decayed corpses of dead cats and skunks would also appear. Once, some folks, probably teenagers, stole road flares and had what we guess was a road flare fight down there as well.

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A reality of abandoned places. They're very commonly breeding grounds for stuff that hates us. Stuff like mold in a Pantone book of colors.
A reality of abandoned places. They’re very commonly breeding grounds for stuff that hates us. Stuff like mold in a Pantone book of colors.
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Always a good reminder to look down, you might be surprised at what your feet crunch over. Like shards of old china plates.

 

The sections of the basement area that ran alongside the railroad tracks were chopped up into several smaller rooms and passageways. In one of them, we found a crooked, rusted ladder that scaled up alongside what appeared to be a giant vat. So, up we climbed to check it out.
The sections of the basement area that ran alongside the railroad tracks were chopped up into several smaller rooms and passageways. In one of them, we found a crooked, rusted ladder that scaled up alongside what appeared to be a giant vat. So, up we climbed to check it out.
Here's a shot of the former tunnel entrance, from the basement. If you notice the indented cinder blocks back against the wall below where the light is working its way through the boards, that's it. The eerie and dank basement levels here were dug down two and a half stories deep, with slate ceilings to insulate and keep in the chill. The foresight in its design worked. Even in the most sultry summer months as a kid, I remember it always being chilly down here in the dark. For half the year, the subterranean areas are a reservoir of stagnant water and the waste of the decaying building.
Here’s a shot of the former tunnel entrance, from the basement. If you notice the indented cinder blocks with holes sledged into them back against the wall – below where the light is working its way through the boards, that’s it. The eerie and dank basement levels here were dug down two and a half stories deep, with slate ceilings to insulate and keep in the chill. The foresight in its design worked. Even in the most sultry summer months as a kid, I remember it always being chilly down here in the dark. For half the year, the subterranean areas are a reservoir of stagnant water and the waste of the decaying building.
The Creamery Tunnel, sealed off at it's other end.
The Creamery tunnel, sealed off at its other end.

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A little DIY reading was found in the dark and the damp of the basement area. It was a moldering manual on how to properly run a creamery. It's fragile pages pretty much covered how to properly clean and sterilize both the machines and the milk, and how to pasteurize it so people won't get sick.
A little DIY reading was found in the dark and the damp of the basement area. It was a moldering manual on how to properly run a creamery. It’s fragile pages pretty much covered how to properly clean and sterilize both the machines and the milk, and how to pasteurize it so people won’t get sick.

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Howe scales came from Rutland, and besides Saint Johnsbury's Fairbanks factory, was one of the domineering weighing apparatuses found around Vermont. The Howe factory went defunct years ago, and it's great building was converted into mix commercial and office space.
Howe scales came from Rutland, and besides Saint Johnsbury’s Fairbanks factory, was one of the domineering weighing apparatuses found around Vermont. The Howe factory went defunct years ago, and it’s great building was converted into mix commercial and office space.

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Off The Beaten Path in Southern Vermont

I woke up at 5 AM, was reminded that I wasn’t a morning person, and stumbled out my back door at 6. My friend was waiting for me in his parked car as the headlights cast a dull amber pallor onto quiet streets that were under the cold gray dawn. It was 41 degrees and I was all shiver bones in the new coming chill.

I stopped for a few gas station coffees and was rewarded with my early rise by wicked fog that obscured the landscape off route 7 in a glorious visceral veil that turned everything into mutated shadows. I caught some of it on my cell phone hanging around Dorset Peak, before it burned off. 

The weather lately has been prime for adventuring, and I’ve been aching to get out. This trip would give me that spark in my brains I was looking for. Feeding off my desire to visit as many obscure places as I can, I figured that two ghost towns in southern Vermont would be a great way to spend my day. These vanished places are probably some of the most obscure in the state. But everyone pays the price to feed, and I arrived back home exhausted and practically limping, so I suppose that can be gauged as one hell of an adventure. But I’m also someone who’d willingly drive 8 hours just to find an oddity, so a follow-up day of sluggish exhaustion was easily worth it for me.

Somerset

I’m willing to assume that plenty of Vermonters haven’t heard of Somerset. If you take a gander at a state atlas, it’s a narrow rectangle at the western edge of Windham County that nudges into eastern Bennington County – giving the latter county its block lettered “C” shape.

The entire burg is filled by the Green Mountain National Forest. It has a year-round population of 2 people and is only accessible by a forest service road that is all too easy to miss because of it’s small, squint-to-read street sign. But out of the two destinations I was planning on scouting, Somerset was the only one that was somewhat accessible by vehicle, so we started out with that one. I was still sipping my coffee which was getting unsatisfyingly cold, trying to shake off a road trip thematic Tom Waits song beating around in my head.

Somerset Road sort of plunges immediately down an embankment right off The Molly Stark Byway in woodsy Searsburg, and almost as quickly, turns to washboarded gravel after passing a few houses with scores of signs telling you that they’re not into people trespassing on their land. The increasingly destitute road now follows the Deerfield River and is thick with trees. We noticed that some older power lines had still been strung up along the road, and ran the length of the Searsburg portion. But it was evident these lines were archaic predecessors of modern day utility infrastructure. Some of the poles were leaning pretty horizontally as we got further down the road, and that’s when we noticed that they had glass insulators still on their lower rungs, now defunct as the power company had long clipped those wires and modernized things a bit a few feet higher up. Glass insulators were developed in the 1850s originally for telegraph wires, but were later utilized for initiative telephone wires and electric power lines, until the 1960s when they began to be phased out and simultaneously became a feature of interest.

I thought it was pretty cool to see them, and that there are still more or less untouched Vermont back roads that still exist. Older relics like these are becoming increasingly hard to find nowadays. And, apparently, there is a collectors market, clubs and even shows dedicated to them. Anything can have fanfare it seems.

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The Somerset Road as it winds through Searsburg.
The blue glass insulators are on the bottom rung, while the modernized installation sits on top.

As soon as we hit the Somerset town line, which was marked by an omnipresently strange country icon of a bullet-perforated speed limit sign and an abrupt transition of bad gravel road to worse gravel road. The power lines stopped, and for the next several miles, we were deep in the type of woods where you really couldn’t see the forest through the trees, and they were all in the throes of their glorious descent into their perennial death.

There are really no places in Vermont like Somerset. Though there are 2 census documented year-round denizens, the amount of people gets to about 24-ish during the summer months – they’re all people who have camps there. In a 2011 interview done by WCAX, one of two Somersetians, Don Gero, explained that people don’t stick around here. Both residents are bachelors, and he quipped that because Somerset has no electricity or phones, women don’t want to live there. “They can’t use their hair dryers or wash their clothes” he said. He’s also not happy about the summer camping population, who are “two dozen too many” for his tastes, and paeaned for the good ol’ days when I guess none of them were there. Often, the current culture of these odd places is more interesting than the past events that created them.

Charted by Benning Wentworth back when Vermont wasn’t Vermont and its land was quarreled over by New York and New Hampshire, the New Hampshire governor and businessman (in no particular order) just drew a whole bunch of lines on a map and granted towns without knowing anything of the area’s geography. The most important thing was that New York couldn’t get their hands on any of the land, so he didn’t concern himself with pesky things like that. Vermonters decided they preferred anarchy, and would later orgonize an independent republic in 1777 with our own currency and postal service, and then, the 14th state in 1791 when we tried on our current name. 

Somerset is all mountains, far away from anything and hard to get to. Despite that it wasn’t great real estate to early settlers, 321 people tried to live here in the town’s 1880s apex. Logging was the only way to make a few bucks, so they deforested all of the area mountains. They attempted to have log drives down the Deerfield River, except for when it was low, which it was, a lot. 

The demand for timber was ravenous, and that convinced a railroad line to lay tracks up to the mills, which were a huge boon to the town, but also helped speed up its death. A town depending on a finite resource comes and goes like fads always do, and most of the trees in the area were hacked down, the inevitable consequence was that both the logging industry and the town became a literal washout. 

The town’s last hurrah was when the Deerfield River valley was eyed for a future facing wonder like hydropower and the cash it could bring. In 1911, the Somerset Dam began to take form. The dam was built by massive work crews of about 100 men in shifts, doing everything by hand and took about 3 years to complete. The reservoir did what reservoirs do best and collected the desired water, which submerged what was left of town and the railroad and the mills. 

At some point, there was an airfield in Somerset, which has also vanished. Today it’s a free and minimal amenitied national forest campground under the same name. According to campers who post reviews online, it’s either wonderfully remote or a place where amateur outdoors folk or “Massholes” go to belt loud music and litter. Given my experience at campgrounds, I’d say it’s probably both.

I also found out, which isn’t detrimental to your life if you don’t know, that you can take class D forest roads from Somerset all the way north to the Kelly Stand Road – a west-east oriented forest road that’s also one of Southern Vermont’s most scenic. If you enjoy shunpiking, finding more of these back road byways to explore is usually not a bad thing.

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The Somerset Road in Somerset.
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A small and mowed cemetery surprisingly pops out of miles of wilderness as you travel up the forest road. Many of the weathered and matching headstones were kids. One sad entombment was uniquely chiseled with a sheep on top, and quickly caught my wondering eyes. Lancelot was 3 years old. Life up here was tough, especially for kids.

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The further away from civilization we drove, the more apple trees started to distinguish appear from the northern forests. These apples trees appeared somewhat old, some of them were haunted by the thick woods and lack of sunlight needed to grow. Others still carried apple crops of various qualities, apple strands that are heirloom seeds, and are not commercially available anymore in an increasingly controlled GMO market, leaving these trees to one by one drift away or die off.
The further away from civilization we drove, the more apple trees started to distinguishly appear from the northern forests. I’m not sure how old some of these trees were, and if they were original to former Somerset residents, or planted after the national forest took over. These apple trees appeared somewhat haunted by the thick woods and lack of sunlight needed to grow. Others still carried apple crops which varied in how rotten they were. These apple strands that are heirloom seeds, and are not commercially available anymore in an increasingly lack of choice based GMO market, leaving these trees to one by one die off.
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A brown and white national forest sign explained at the trees that were still able to produce apples were part of an “apples for wildlife program”,which is pretty self-explanatory.
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I could have hung out in Somerset all day, it was just so beautiful and almost intimidatingly wild. All I’d need is a few Vermont microbrews to accompany me. This little brook paralleled the forest road, but I wouldn’t have found it if I didn’t stop to spark my interest in an old apple orchard.
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Only 3 things remain of Somerset’s days as a town – one of them being its restored but locked one-room schoolhouse, also found a ways up the forest road. I heard it was a private camp, but not positive about those details. I’d love to see the inside. Or to live in a restored one-room schoolhouse.
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The forests of Somerset. Are any of my blog followers into Geocaching like me? Somerset may be remote, but the area is loaded with caches!

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The Somerset Reservoir is where the Somerset Road comes to an end, and in my humble opinion, one of the more stunning places in Vermont. The sinuous and currently blustery cold water body is about 5-6 miles long and undeveloped. The dam's roadside appearance is really just a high grassy wall with a nearby unmanned rickety tin shack that has a TransCanada logo sign plate on it. But atop the dam is this awesome view of one of Vermont's largest wilderness areas. I really wish I had brought a kayak or something. Seriously, places like this are therapy to me. I couldn't contain my approval and swore a few times to prove it.
The Somerset Reservoir is where the Somerset Road comes to an end, and in my humble opinion, one of the more stunning places in Vermont. The sinuous and currently blustery cold water body is about 5-6 miles long and undeveloped. The long form of Stratton’s rounded mountain top could be seen in the distance . The dam’s roadside appearance is really just a high grassy wall with a nearby unmanned rickety tin shack that has a TransCanada logo sign plate on it. But atop the dam is this awesome view of one of Vermont’s largest wilderness areas. I really wish I had brought a kayak or something. Seriously, places like this are therapy to me. I couldn’t contain my approval and swore a few times to prove it.

Glastenbury

Vermont author Joseph Citro introduced Connecticut’s faded hamlet of Duddleytown (which was really only a place name in the town of Cornwall named after the trio of brothers who bought land there) as “the granddaddy of all New England window areas” in his book Passing Strange, which to me made a pretty good lead-in to that chapter (it was actually the last sentence in his chapter on Glastenbury). I’d like to term swipe that to introduce Glastenbury on a more localized level, as the granddaddy of Vermont’s lost areas, for multifarious justifications.

Getting to the ill-fated town is nothing short of a challenge today, and was for the people who tried to make a life for themselves up there over a century ago. It’s isolation, stubbornly built up in an area of 12 peaks over 3,000 feet with no convenient access, makes it one of the most unique places in the Green Mountain State, then and now.

If you’ve been following my blog, you might know that I’ve been very interested in Glastenbury since I was a kid, and wrote about it extensively, my long winded self trying to pack as much detail as I could into a blog post. This entry expands on that.

To summarize things; the vanished town of Glastenbury was charted in 1761, and reflected the circumstances of its neighbor Somerset when it was naively plotted over some of the worst topography in the state. As a consequence, it wasn’t really until the 1850s when anyone paid interest to the town, when people figured out they had an entire mountain of wood to deforest for profit, and a logging/charcoal duality became Glastenbury’s only industry.

About 12 brick kilns for charcoal production were built in southern Glastenbury at an area known as “the forks”, because it was a distinguishable location where Bolles Brook split in two in a V-shaped parting of ways. A small and rough, lawless village designated as South Glastenbury grew up around these kilns, including a one-room schoolhouse, loggers boardinghouse and company store.

The steepest railroad ever built in the U.S. was developed to get up into South Glastenbury. The electric trolly line was the only element that made the town a pragmatic place; bringing down money making lumber and charcoal, and later, bringing up tourists. Many have no idea that aforementioned rail bed still exists, and if you follow it, will bring you deep into indistinguishable wilderness to the grave of the old town. Our adventure started well before we got out of the car when we navigated our way to the portal into the forest. 

Funny enough, Glastenbury is still technically a town, at least in the haze of Vermont law. A gaze at a state atlas, or a Google map search, will show you a dotted lined square that represents a town boundary, only, there is nothing within the square. It’s considered an unincorporated town – or, one of 5 Vermont communities with a population so low, that instead of a town government handling its affairs, those things are managed by a county or the state. Or the national forest service I guess. There are a few people who still do live in Glastenbury – populated by just 6 people ( their properties are pretty much clustered near the borders of either Shaftsbury or Woodford), who also have achieved somewhat of a level of intrigue beyond the strange phenomena that describes the town.

I’m going to stay quiet on the access road we took, because it’s pretty evident that the people who have their addresses there don’t want the crowds. (Like the folks in Somerset, they live in the boonies for a reason, only, these folks express their discontent via threatening scrawl) When we drove up the gravel roadway, we immediately began to pass some shabby looking properties, all of them with handwritten and somewhat threatening signs warning nonlocals not to park their cars there, or else.

Fearing our car would be cannibalized for its wheels in an uncomfortable back woods “we warned you!” sort of situation, we decided to find what we designated as the safest parking space on the road, far away from any discernable houses and no parking signs. Hoping that we didn’t make a stupid mistake, we trekked up the road on foot, found the forest road, and began our hike into one of the most fabled places in state mythology.

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This is a shot of the trail slash old rail bed, miles into our hike. Unexpectedly to me, this might be the most grueling of Vermont hikes I’ve endured. The amount of rocks ravished my feet to a point where I was literally limping down the trail, silently no longer caring if I was there and begging to rest my weary bones in the car.
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Further up the trail, we started to find original rail spikes from when the railroad was built over a century ago!
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This was a sign that got me revved up. We began to notice chunks of Slag along the trail. Slag is a stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore, and since Glastenbury was built around charcoal furnaces, there is plenty of the stuff in the woods today. We were even to find some rare green and blue slag. I’m not very savvy about the jewelry culture, but I guess you can polish and buffer up slag chunks pretty attractively and make accented miscellany from them. I dig them in their natural form, and grabbed a few chunks of the green for my collection of oddities.

We hushed our sound as we heard another one that was all too familiar to me. We heard an approaching 4 wheeler. Because of my suspicious nature and not knowing what sort of people were this deep up in the woods, I decided to relocate myself as far to the side of the trail as I could, give a friendly nod and let them pass. As they got closer, I saw it was a younger couple, a man and a woman, and they slowed down as they saw us. I decided to take the mutual encounter and get past my social anxiety and spark up a conversation with them.

Actually, I wanted directions, because we were beginning to second guess ourselves as to where we were, and if we could find any of the ruins, and I really didn’t want to leave disappointed.

The front handbrakes were pulled and their 4 wheeler slowed down to a stop. The gentleman, who was wearing a camo baseball cap and sunglasses smiled at us and wished us a good afternoon, his wife sat behind him silently observing us with a friendly expression. I returned the greeting and asked him if he could direct us to South Glastenbury.

“Oh, the forks?” he asked. That casual nickname drop meant that they were aware of it, and I nodded my head, my excitement immediately betrayed my casual expression I was trying to keep. I also thought it was pretty rad that locals today still use the place’s old handle.

“Yes, the forks. Are we close? Would it even be traceable in all this?” I gestured to the thick woods around me to make a point. “Well, yeah you can find it. But this is sort of the wrong time of year to be looking for that sort of stuff. Also, it’s bear season up here you know. Uhh, how’d you guys know about Glastenbury, just curious?” he asked us with a backdrop set to his tone.

I wasn’t quite sure if my candor had triggered a nerve, or how to give him a cropped statement of how Glastenbury found itself sticking to the flypaper of New England mythology, but I had a feeling he already knew that. “So, you know about Middie Rivers?” his wife spoke up. “Yeah, I do” I stated. There was no need to be superfluous there. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with Glastenbury and it’s monsters;

Local lore includes a froth of big hairy monsters, a cursed Indian stone that swallows humans, UFOs, mysterious lights, sounds and odors detected by colonial settlers, and numerous hikers walking off the face of the earth here between 1945 to 1950 – earning it the nickname; “The Bennington Triangle” in 1992, which has adhered itself to the flypaper of popular culture.

Fortean researchers like John A. Keel conjured up the term “Window Area”, which I had referenced at the beginning of this section, as a place where some sort of interdimensional trapdoor can be found. Well, that’s one theory anyways. New England is loaded with so-called “Window Areas”. Cryptozoologist and researcher Loren Coleman identified Massachusetts’ “Bridgewater Triangle”, using the term “triangle” to designate any odd geographical area. Joseph Citro followed up by coining “The Bennington Triangle” – both are said to be “window areas” It’s also one of my favorite terms to use when talking about this caliber of local weirdness.

Who knows where the flickers of truth are in all this. And that’s what makes everything so damn fascinating, because there is truth in these tales tall and true.

It’s also the mountain’s paranormal and controversial tales that attract modern day professed ghost hunting clubs and social media sensationalists, whose meddling are an affront to both locals and reasonable judgment, which really seemed to have damned the wilderness area.

Don’t get me wrong, these haunting stories are partially why I found myself hiking up the mountain, because of how impressionable they were and still are to me, but I find that there is also a line between being a civilized researcher, and becoming one of the monsters you’re chasing and exploiting it on a tawdry clickbait website with a headline that reads something like “{insert subject} will give you NIGHTMARES!”

Middie Rivers

The elderly Middie Rivers was the first of a handful of people who reputedly disappeared in the mountains in or near Glastenbury. Anyone who tells the story of southern Vermont’s Shangri-La recants that Rivers was an experienced woodsman who, while leading other hunters on the mountain, got a bit ahead on the trail, and was never seen again.

“None of that is true”, his wife said declaredly. “Rivers wasn’t a hunter or an experienced woodsman at all! He was actually from Massachusetts, and he had borrowed a rifle from his brother-in-law, who he was hunting with. He’d probably never even hunted before, and certainly never guided other hunters up here. The only thing that’s true about that story, is that he did disappear.”

“One theory is that he might have fallen down an old well. That seems pretty plausible to me”, I added. She nodded her head. “Yup, that’s what we think too. I mean, there are plenty of them up in the hills. But vanishing without a trace…people love to say that, because it backs up the mystic or, I don’t know, the ghostly impression about this place. They’d rather believe that than the facts, because it’s more interesting” she furrowed her brows and cut herself off in annoyed contemplation – like she knew what she wanted to say but couldn’t get it out. I was loving this conversation. “I know a bit about Middie Rivers” she continued after a moment. “I know a lot of stories and legends, passed down by relations to him. The Loziers – that’s the family who is related to him – we knew/know them, they passed down all sorts of stuff to us growing up. They have a camp up in Glastenbury still, like us. I even have a picture of Middie Rivers”.

“Ah, that explains the 4 wheeler then. I was a little surprised to see you folks! I assumed this was just a hiking trail or forest road”.

“Yup, we’re one of two camps in Glastenbury on this trail. My wife’s father built it years ago. We were grandfathered in. After the national forest took over, no one else was allowed to build up here or drive up this trail anymore. As it is, we need a special permit to have 4 wheelers so we can ride up here” – the husband cut in. “Did you see all of the gates?” I nodded in confirmation. We had to crawl underneath a few of them just to advance our hike. He continued; “We used to have friends up all the time, they used to come up in huge parties on ATVs up the trail. Now you can’t do that. It’s ridiculous, but hell, we’re not going to fucking lug all of our shit up to the camp on foot” – he then gestured to a cooler on the back rack of his 4 wheeler to emphasize his point. I got it. My friend and I had been walking for over an hour now, and I was already exhausted. “Our camps have been here for a long time – they started out as plywood cabins with dirt floors, and over the years as they were passed down, we’ve improved them a bit. No one else can build up here now.”

“I mean, it’s really probable that Middie could have fallen down a sink hole”, his wife interjected herself back into the already broadening conversation. “Sinkholes?” I asked, hoping I delivered a cue to get any sort of further information. “Ayuh, it happens more often than you think. Sinkholes swallow hunters all the time! There’s tons of them up here. People have hunted this mountain all their lives and still report getting turned around in the woods and intimidated here.”

“Because of the cross winds that meet on Glastenbury Mountain?” I prodded, a showing a little pride in my research. She nodded her head.

“I’d love to hear more about Middie Rivers, or any stories you guys have, if you’d be interested in chatting? I can give you my email or something?” I attempted. I couldn’t help it, I live for stuff like this. There is just something underneath my skin, a desire to make sense of everything. I’m definitely the type to overload myself with information.

At this point, his wife broke out in a lopsided grin and told me that she wasn’t interested in speaking any further about Glastenbury, without actually telling me she didn’t want to speak anymore about Glastenbury. “Well, we’ll be on our way now” said her husband, his thumb pushing the ignition and the engine promptly firing up. He gave us directions that were incredibly vague, but given the lack of wayfinding points, were the best he could do with people who’ve never been in those woods before. I thanked the both of them, tipped my hat in gesture, and both groups parted our opposite ways down the trail.

The Forks

It didn’t take long before we were unclear of the given directions and insecure about how much we remembered. It didn’t help that there were plenty of brook forks along the trail, tripping my thoughts up to think that any of them could be the forks.

As we continued our trek up the trail, we sighted something that sort of sketched us out. I’m laughing to myself as I type this sentence, but it was a cozy looking, nicely upkept log cabin which was probably one of the camps the baseball capped guy was talking about. There was an open lawn area out front that was mindfully mowed and solar panels on the roof, with an outhouse in back.  It’s hard to explain what it is about off grid living, or seeing a home way out in the boonies, that sends odd reactions that crawl up your spine. I suppose that so many of us are just accustomed to being hooked up to utility poles (in some more repressive states, it’s actually against the law to be off the grid), that this sort of makes us subconsciously weary, like there is something “weird” about the arrangement, and easy to stereotype the people that chose to live like that and how they’re of their own sort. But then I remember that I’d live like that too if I could.

But still, I picked up my pace a bit, wanting to get out of sight of the cabin and back into the woods. Then, we ran into another fellow on a 4 wheeler. This time, our approaching character was an older gentleman. We side-stepped off the trail again, nodded our heads, and went through the same rounds of introductions as last time.

“The forks, huh? Well, I mean….you can’t make out much of the old hotel foundation anymore, but it’s right off this trail. Nothing much left of the kilns. Might be some iron bands, maybe bricks.” Then he pointed to an offshoot 4 wheeler trail that ran through an area thick with prickers and berry bushes. “There’s more kilns up that knoll there” he said, his wisdom rolled confidently off his tongue wrapped up in his heavy Vermont accent. “Oh, uh, that trail looks like it goes behind the camp we just passed,” I said uncomfortably. Though my hobby of exploration often involves trespassing, I wasn’t about to skulk around someone’s land up in those hills, especially inhabited land. People in the boondocks have guns. “They aren’t home are they?!” He said, a little wonderment in his inotation.

“No, we didn’t see anyone when we walked by”, I returned, grinning at his unexpected humorous reaction.

“Oh, good!” he said, his enthusiasm almost made me crack up. I wondered if they got along or not. “But yeah – there’s more of em’ down that trail. Well, I’ve never seen them, but I know they’re there!” This time, I didn’t contain my mirth. I liked this guy. I asked him to clarify our misdirections a bit, and he gave us some of the most Vermont directions I’ve ever gotten – far superior to the ones I got when searching for some of our state’s mysterious stone chambers.

“Well, when you get to the forks, take a right instead of the left crossing over the brook, then go up the mountain a ways but still make sure to parallel the river – look down and you’ll eventually see the kilns. Or what’s left of ’em anyways. ” Just then, a Glastenbury traffic jam formed behind the old timer on his 4 wheeler, as three teenage rednecks on dirtbikes pulled up and sort of just looked at my friend and I stoically, the last one in line revved his engine impatiently while refusing to make eye contact and tried to flaunt his, I don’t know, machismo? Or maybe he was just impatient. I shook his hand and wished him a good afternoon, and we were on our way.

More walking down the trail later, and we approached a very standout fork in Bolles Brook and the rail bed portion of the trail we were on ended and transitioned into a slender path beyond a wooden bridge that crossed the brook. We had found the forks.

The village of South Glastenbury circa 1897. Bolles Brook is in the middle of the photo. The hotel (former logger's boardinghouse) is to the left, with the double story porch, and the casino (former company store), is up the hill a ways to the right. You can also see the electric trolly on the lower right hand corner of the photo - the same tracks we hiked to get up into town.
The village of South Glastenbury circa 1897. Bolles Brook is in the middle of the photo. The hotel is to the left, with the double story porch, and the casino is up the hill a ways to the right. You can also see the electric trolly on the lower right corner of the photo – the same tracks we hiked to get up into town. This is my favorite picture of Glastenbury.
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This is “the forks” or Bolles Brook today. The village of South Glastenbury is practically intractable.
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Taken on the forest road bridge that crosses Bolles Brook. Someone cryptically carved either “The Kilns” or “The Kill” on the railings.
The Glastenbury casino, 1897. I really like the architecture on this old building, like the multi-story porches and the clocktower. You still get a good sense of how isolated it was.
The Glastenbury casino, 1897. I really like the architecture on this old building, like the multi-story porches and the clocktower. You still get a good sense of how isolated it was.
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You can’t really tell, but this landslide filled in pitted portion of hillside is a foundation. This is where Glastenbury’s casino used to be. The logging and charcoal industry decimated the forests of Glastenbury, so the townsfolk, with a lot of urging from the railroad who didn’t want to go broke, developed South Glastenbury into a mountain tourism getaway. The loggers’ boardinghouse became a hotel and the company store became a casino. It was open for business by 1897 after much painstaking work was put into sprucing up the area, and visitors loved it. Glastenbury must have been pretty cool in its day, way up in the mountains over 2,000 feet. And during the time of inconvenient travel, it must have been a novelty. But a year later, a flood destroyed the tracks to a quality beyond repair, and it successfully killed the town. Most of the buildings just rotted away and fell into their cellar holes, and the national forest took control of the area in the 1930s.

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“Well….” I dragged out the word, in a reverie of run down indecisiveness. “Should we try to scout the hillside a bit? See if we can find anything?” I asked. My friend enthusiastically agreed, not being constantly annoyed by an abused foot throbbing in pain. So, off the trail we went, regardless of the reminders that we were in “The Bennington Triangle” and “this is how people disappear” that my brain was trying to communicate with me. To my relief, which quickly muted by lethargy, my friend ecstatically yelled; “I found bricks!”
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I clambered over to where his form was through the foliage and found myself stumbling over piles and piles of bricks that practically made up the slope we were on. Further up the hill, we began finding some old stone foundations filled in by a century of erosion.

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I read that there were very few photos of any of the charcoal kilns in Glastenbury. Here's one of the few I was able to find.
I read that there were very few photos of any of the charcoal kilns in Glastenbury – and the few that do exist are only after the kilns went defunct. Here’s one of the few I was able to find, with two men standing nearby.
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The further up the slopes we ventured, our efforts paid off. I began finding tons of moss covered bricks and bent up iron bands from the old charcoal kilns! I was so excited to find artifacts that have survived the ravages of time – things that help us reconstruct our past culture.
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A contorted iron band from one of the old kilns.

Visiting the peaceful and secluded location of Glastenbury town was a strange experience. Knowing the lore and the history there sort of make you look at this otherwise banal stream crossing in the woods through a different set of lenses, ones that makes professed monsters a bit more discernable. Unless there is just something in Bolles Brook that made/makes the locals morbidly imaginative.

On our way down the mountain, we saw a couple fellas standing barefoot in the chilly waters of the brook smoking pot – a scent that followed us halfway through the rest of our hike. One gave us a toothless smile and a wave, and kept on giggling at whatever it was they were talking about. I won’t deny that they picked a nice afternoon for woodsy shenanigans.

Thankfully, our car was as we left it when we got back, and we sluggishly made our way back down to Bennington to grab a burger.

My friend and fellow explorer Josh is into video editing and decided to film our oddysey. Cinematography is something I keep saying I’m going to get into more, but my laziness and reserved nature always seem to prevent that from getting a checkmark on my list. If videos are your thing, and you want to see my friend and this blogger being sort of goofy/awkward while tromping through the woods, I’ll link you below.

Things worth mentioning:

If any of you are interested further in Glastenbury, I’d highly recommend author Tyler Resch’s venerable book about the history of the town. I have a copy of it in my library.

I’d also like to suggest Joseph Citro’s Passing Strange, a detailed compendium of New England folklore and weirdness. It was one of the first books I bought as a kid, and my worn out copy is still with me. Both of these books helped further my research and curiosity.

If you missed it, here is my first post on Glastenbury, if you want more on the town’s history and ghastliness.

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations throughout the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly! Especially now, as my camera is in need of repairs and I can’t afford the bill, which is distressing me greatly.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

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Wizard’s Glen

Ever since we started narrating our folklore collectively as a species, we’ve always marked the wildest places of our topography as incubators of contagion shotgun blasts for the darkest, grimmest things our human minds can create, existing in a variety of forms. These tales often like to hang around well into the intervening years where they should become obsolete, and yet, they don’t. We all deal with the dangers of the world in different ways. Sometimes, carrying on the traditions of talking about these kind of fabled places is a way of dealing with these dangers. And sometimes, these monsters reveal the most about humanity.

Wizard’s Glen in the Berkshires is a wild, picturesque depression between two steep-sided hills. Intersected by a lone, narrow and often washed out dirt road with it’s to-the-point name of Gulf Road, you are welcomed into this attention-grabbing area by tons of boulders that are stacked up the hillsides, some covered with some impressive and patriotic graffitic murals instead of the flippant teenage rabble I expected to find in such an area.

The name “Gulf” interested me before I even began to think about Wizard’s Glen.  The noun is a distinctive part of the obscure Vermont vernacular. Gulfs are known to the rest of the world as a large area of the sea or ocean that’s almost entirely surrounded by land, expect for its mouth. A Vermont gulf is a landlocked one – found in our mountains. We know them as deep ravines (or more dramatically, an “abyss”) that run between two parallel mountains or rises. To my knowledge, us Vermonters were/are the only ones to use the word in that sense. Vermont actually goes as far as to erect road signs to let travelers know that you’re passing through one. Granville, Proctorsville and Williamstown Gulfs come to mind, all of which are great drives. But finding a gulf outside of Vermont, even only in the form of a street name, was sort of cool to me. There is also a Gulf Road in New Hampshire near Brattleboro.

This particular Gulf Road runs east to west over the bumps that are the Berkshires. Both entry points are unobtrusive and start out as an unremarkable suburban street with storm drains, crumbling curbs and cobra head street light fixtures that run to the very point when suddenly, the pavement ends, and the obsessively trimmed lawns cease to exist, and you’re in a surprisingly sizable wilderness area that runs for about 1.8 miles between Lanesborough and Dalton. But at the slow speeds you are forced to crawl on this winding roadway, it feels much longer.

Wizard’s Glen

The area known as Wizard’s Glen, vs. the rest of the area that’s not known as Wizard’s Glen, co-exist very inconspicuously with each other. If it wasn’t for the wayfinding graffiti marked boulders, I would have driven right by it.

I got out of the car and noticed the temperature was a pleasant few degrees cooler, and the forest was soluble underneath a still silence. I immediately began to get interactive with my environment and started clambering on top of the boulders and under Hemlock boughs and inside the caves and crevices of undetermined pasts.

Godfrey Greylock described the diminutive gorge in 1879 as being “as though and angry Jove had here thrown down some impious wall of Heaven-defying Titans. Block lies heaped upon block; squared and bedeviled, as if by more than mortal art…”

I have to say, the stories about this place were far more waggish than it’s real life locality would suggest, which only intrigued me more. This place has spawned plenty of strange tales of the supernatural and the dreadful, and many of them are almost as old as New England is.

Someone had told me that the hollow is known for its strange sounds and echo-related properties, and claimed that if you banged on one of the rocks with a hammer, it would make a noise sounding like you were smashing the keys of a xylophone, while inexplicably, the surrounding boulders wouldn’t. However, that enticing theory was disappointingly proven false. Well, at least it didn’t work for me.

It was here that Indian priests and shaman centuries ago performed rituals, ceremonies and incantations amongst the rocks in the ravine known for its echoes. Because they revered this area to have special properties, it was said they even offered human sacrifices here to Hobomocko, the spirit of evil. There is a flat, broad square-ish rock known as “Devils’ Alter” where these cryptic sacrifices were said to be imposed. The rock today has faint traces of red stains on it, which some say is the remaining blood from the aforementioned occurrences – but the reality is the stains just come from iron in the rocks.  The unique name Wizard’s Glen was actually derived from these legends. And it makes sense – it’s aesthetically the type of place where strange happenings can’t be easily dismissed.

The best known story of the glen is of John Chamberlain, a hunter from Dalton about two hundred years ago whose whopper of a story was passed on in Godfrey Greylock’s book Taghconic: The Romance and Beauty of The Hills in 1852, when he interviewed Joseph Edward Adams, a ninety-year-old man who had heard it from the hunter eyewitness himself.

Chamberlain had killed a deer and was carrying it home on his shoulders, when he was overtaken in the hills by a storm. The tired man decided to take shelter in a cavernous recess in Wizard’s Glen. But despite his fatigue, he was unable to sleep and wound up laying awake, lying on the earth with his wide open in the dark. He was suddenly amazed when, according to him, he saw the woods bend apart, disclosing a long aisle that was mysteriously lighted and contained “hundreds of capering forms”. As his eyes grew accustomed to the new faint light, he made out tails and cloven feet on the dancing figures. One very tall form had wings, who the hunter thought to be the devil himself.

As Chamberlain lay watching the through the spiteful deluge from his cave shelter, a tall and painted Indian leaped on Devil’s Alter, fresh scalps dangling around his body and his eyes blazing with fierce require. He muttered a brief incantation and summoned the shadows around him. They came with torches that burned blue, and began to move around the rock singing some sort of harsh chant, until a sign was given, and a nude Indian girl, shrieking, and fighting, was dragged and flung viciously onto the rock.

The figures now rushed towards her brandishing sharpened weapons in their outstretched arms, and the terrified girl let out a shrill cry that the hunter said haunted him for the rest of his life. The “wizard”, (who I’m assuming is the prominent figure with the wings), raised an ax, as the rest of the group waited apprehensively for the oncoming carnalish blood bath. Lightning flashed and quickly illuminated the dark pocket of woods, and Chamberlain noticed the the girl’s face quickly fell on his. The look she gave him tore at his heartstrings. He gathered as much courage as he could, and decided to act. Grabbing his bible he traveled with, he ran towards the debauchery in self-righteous fashion, clutching it in front of him and hollering the name of his god. There was a crash of thunder. The light faded, the demons vanished and the hunter was left sopping wet in the middle of the woods in silence. When morning came, he had almost convinced himself that it was all a dream, until he realized his deer had vanished.

Though not much is really known about Chamberlain, it was apparently well documented at the time that he was “no lover of the Indian race,” which may explain more about the content or the intent of this fanciful legend than anything. In my humble opinion, this eyebrow furrowing story probably shouldn’t be taken as verbatim of a real event. Even as mythology or folklore, it lacks essentially what most of these tales are built on; meaning.

There is no good evidence that any Native American group up in our part of the country even conducted human sacrifices, but I do believe that Wizard’s Glen held some sort of ritualistic importance to the area’s original natives.

Hobbomocco is a real Algonquin deity, though, and was more so associated with darkness and the night. His name is related to all Algonquin words for death and the dead, and has no relation to the Christian idea of Satan, unless misinterpreted by, well, a Christian. In the Algonquin viewpoint, Hobbomocco is actually a side or nuance of the natural world, a potential source of dangerous visions and power, which can be obtained through communication, sort of similar to Voodoo deities, and how it’s said that with enough persuasion, you can persuade them to either carry out good or evil intentions.  I think the rather dramatic story of Wizard’s Glen may be more of a manifestation of the friction between two clashing cultures and their ideas, where everything else is sort of devalued, open for interpretation, or simply cast away.

There is also said to be a talus “cave” known cryptically as Lucky Seven Cave somewhere in the glen. However, after some time clambering around and almost rolling my ankle, I couldn’t find any opening that could shelter a human who wasn’t a small child, so either it’s long toppled, or I just didn’t have good directions. Some speak of covens, convergences and rituals still being practiced in the cave and around the site, given the various paraphernalia and shitty beer cans that you can find there. I find it interesting that this site may still be attracting modern day wizards, witches or spiritualists, or people that think they are these things, but when I visited, I had the beautiful place all to myself under the heat of the day, despite the fact that it’s a geocache location and the famous Appalachian Scenic Trail crosses Gulf Road near the glen, just east of there.

Historic post card image of Wizards Glen, via cardcow.com. Date unknown.

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More Wild Places

While I’m on the topic of gulfs, I’d highly recommend checking out what may be Vermont’s most beautiful; Granville Gulf, a rugged and impressive wilderness area of moss laden cliffs, ferns and waterfalls.

If you’re curious about more of our regional wild places with extraordinary folklore attached to them, my blog entry on Glastenbury and the popularly dubbed “Bennington Triangle” may be worth a read. It’s certainly one of my favorite Vermont tales to tell.

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations throughout the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly!

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

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The Vermont Character: Coffin Windows

One of my favorite pieces of Obscure Vermont is a mixture of architectural vernacular, and good old fashioned Yankee Ingenuity.

Do you see the diagonally tilted window placed in the gable end of this old farmhouse with its long edge parallel to the roof? A lot of people, Vermonters or flatlanders, seem to be flummoxed about these peculiarly slanted windows. That’s because their orientational existence isn’t found in any other states (though someone did tell me that they think they saw one somewhere in New Hampshire not too long ago.) To add a bit more rapturous froth to the isolated mystery, our Vermont parlance labels them “coffin windows”, or sometimes “witch windows”, depending on who you are I guess. Growing up, my mother would always point them out as “coffin windows” whenever we would take a trip out of suburban Chittenden County to more rural parts of the state, where older structures far outnumbered the new. I wasn’t introduced to “witch windows” until much later.

The etymology behind the monikers vary, and can’t really be traced back to a materialized point of origin.

Going alphabetically – it’s said these are called coffin windows because if a family member died upstairs, it was far easier to maneuver the needed coffin out the window and slide it down the roof as opposed to figuring out just how to haul it down a steep and narrow Vermont farmhouse staircase. And trust me, some of them are very steep and narrow to a point of over-cautiousness when walking up or down one – enough for me to sympathize with anyone who would groan at the prospect of dragging anything up or down them.

The name witch window gets a bit more on the superstitious side. It’s said that an old belief was that a witch couldn’t enter your dwelling through a crooked window or opening. A similar superstition that comes to mind is how the ancient Chinese thought bad spirits traveled in straight lines, so their architecture took on steeply peaked rooflines.

I know old Vermonters were a superstitious bunch. Our collective state history and folklore include such grim things as incriminating real people accused of Vampirism, or desecrating the graves of dead people accused of postmortem vampirism (our most famous Vampire execution was a man named Corwin, whose remains still loam underneath Woodstock’s boat shaped town green).

But witches? There isn’t much known on how scared Vermonters were of witches, leaving this as intriguing speculation. However, I was able to dig up a small number of succinct accounts in old state newspapers around the late 1700s and early 1800s of various Vermonters who locals suspected were witches, but in reality were probably nothing more than eccentrics living in a more narrow-minded time. One article amusingly reported that a Stowe woman was blamed for making several farmers’ milk cows run dry.

A more practical theory and probably the most likely of the three, was that these windows were a creative solution to let light into the cramped spaces upstairs. Gables didn’t often leave rooms for traditional sized windows and poor farmers didn’t want to spend the money on drafty dormers or getting a custom window made – which was a costly purchase many families couldn’t afford. They also enabled fresh air and ventilation to keep the house inhabitable. Though there are far more scolding environments than Vermont, our summers do get pretty humid, and the upper floors of an old house easily turn into ovens. 

Further down the line, these windows adopted yet another sobriquet with less dour and more civic pride; Vermont Windows. Though I haven’t heard that term nearly as much as the afore-referenced other two. 

In a world that loves things to fall into human-made symmetry, who knew that a window installed at a tilt could conjure up so many declaratory ideologies.

It seems that these windows have a bit of cool fanfare behind them, apart from your blogger. Some cool individual even made an Instagram account dedicated to them!

Route 100 in South Duxbury
Found one in this abandoned farmhouse I was exploring.
Found one in this abandoned farmhouse I was exploring.
East Calais
Calais
Calais
South Woodbury village
South Woodbury village
South Woodbury village
South Woodbury village
The NEK is in winter wonderland mode, even though it was a miserable 9 degrees. Saw this nice farmhouse and coffin window in tiny Peacham, what might just be the most iconic village in Vermont.
If you’re a cinephile, “Ethan Frome” was filmed in Peacham.
As seen on my friend’s family’s farm on view-stacked Turkey Hill in Northfield.

Any of you folks know of a coffin window near you? Let me know! I love road tripping around Vermont, and I always make excuses to shunpike somewhere!

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To all of my fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible. Seriously, even the small cost equivalent to a gas station cup of coffee would help greatly!

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

 

Cemetery Safaris and Green Mountain Memento Mori.

Legacy is one of those nouns that we as humans are all united by. While all of us will leave some sort of mark behind, many of us mull over just what that will be. How will you be remembered?

Some of us make our mark in life through death, and on rare occasions, certain people achieve beyond that and find themselves exhibitioners of the long sought after status of immortality. Humans have collectively been searching for ways to cheat our other unity as a species since we first came into existence; death. And I have to say, we’re a pretty creative bunch, and have gone about it in a variety of forms that are sure to keep anthropologists and storytellers like myself pretty busy with the secrets that they keep. More interestingly – it’s actually been achieved before, but not quite in the way that we might have expected it, that is, it was successful after the postmortem.

Sometimes these surviving inclusions of this manifesto can be found in your local cemetery, memorialized in crafted monuments and in the psyche of regional denizens until enough time has passed for history to forget – if it ever does. Often, someone’s final resting place is our immortal legacy, and what has been left behind is what lives on for generations after our physical bodies return to the earth we’re buried in. The same concept can be said for the forsaken places I explore.

Vermont isn’t short of memorable memorialsm, a few of which I’ve highlighted in this blog post. Ethan Allen’s landmark grave in Burlington is a soaring vanity project of the state’s most pronounced hero, commemorated with a giant spindly pedestal topped by a rather valiant looking life sake statue of Allen himself, standing his limited ground mute and stubbornly. But the real mind boggle is that no one is sure if Ethan Allen is actually buried underneath his own monument, and if he’s not, where did he wind up?

Thanks to a 19th century Middlebury millionaire who was striving to start a cabinet of curiosities to aww his wealthy friends with, there is now a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy buried in Middlebury’s west cemetery. And, there is rumored to be a forgotten cemetery near Fays’ Corners where all of its inhabitants unintentionally became members of the exclusive club of dead remembered as they wound up as opposed to who they were, at the end of their line. The cemetery was long ago removed by a local farmer who wanted to expand his haying field. The graves were later returned, or at least re-propped back up, but the farmer had forgotten their original orientation, so he lined them up alphabetically. Today the tiny bone yard is shrouded in shadow light cast in all directions by the woods that have reclaimed the surrounding land.

In Middlebury's West Cemetery, a innocuous headstone has some rather strange markings. For example, the date of death is 1883, B.C! An error on the stonecutter's part, right? Nope. This is the grave of Amun-Her-Khepesh-Ef, Vermont's only royal figure, the 2 year old son on an ancient Egyptian king. But how did he wind up in Addison County? We have Henry Sheldon to thank, who over a century ago bought the mummy from a dealer in New York. A wealthy man and local oddities collector, he wanted the mummy to be the focal point of an ostentatious cabinet of curiosities he was building. But the mummy was in worse condition than the dealer said it was in, so he wound up disappointedly stashing it in his attic. It was rediscovered in 1945 by a curator of the related Sheldon museum. George Mead, head of the museum's board of directors, decided the best thing to do was to give the mummy a Christian burial by cremation and then buried the ashes in his family plot in West Cemetery, kinda like an adoption.
This is the grave of Amun-Her-Khepesh-Ef, Vermont’s only royal figure, the 2-year-old son of an ancient Egyptian king. But how did he wind up in Addison County? We have Henry Sheldon to thank, who over a century ago bought the mummy from a dealer in New York. A wealthy man and local oddities collector, he wanted the mummy to be the focal point of an ostentatious cabinet of curiosities he was building. But the mummy was in worse condition than the dealer said it was in, so he wound up disappointedly stashing it in his attic. It was rediscovered in 1945 by a curator of the related Sheldon museum. George Mead, head of the museum’s board of directors, decided the best thing to do was to give the mummy a Christian burial by cremation and then buried the ashes in his family plot in West Cemetery, kinda like an adoption.
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Fays’ Corners Cemetery, photograph by Kali Yuga. Used with permission.

“Black Agnes”

But perhaps one of the most infamous grave sites in Vermont is the monument of John E. Hubbard in Montpelier’s Green Mount Cemetery. But it’s the curse that is attached to his monument that has earned its reputation with paranormal aficionados who chase such tales, and gave me a reason to visit it’s whereabout graveyard. As a matter of fact, my own interest in the idea and mystic of curses began when I heard the story of Montpelier’s “Black Agnes” when I was a child.

Green Mount is located on the outskirts of Montpelier. The cemetery crawls 35 acres up the side of a rolling hillside that runs parallel to the Winooski River just outside the nation’s smallest capital city. You’ll know you’ll there when you see the rather large Gothic stone freestanding arch that marks the entrance.

Green Mount began as a bequest of a local benefactor, who purchased 35 acres in 1854 so the city could bury it’s dead on a nice piece of land, at a time when many existing New England cemeteries were reaching capacity and communities were looking for alternatives outside the city limits. The cemetery is on a gentle slope that rises above Route 2/State Street and overlooks the meandering Winooski River and it’s fluctuating moods; it’s monuments and entombments underneath the shade of old hardwood trees. I couldn’t help thinking of this song when I strolled through trying to find my oddity.

The affor-referenced Hubbard was a local philanthropist and celebrity, and his ideas saw that he spent much of his life in controversy, before dying in 1899. Hubbard’s aunt who died a decade before him, wanted to leave her sizable fortune of $350,000 to the city of Montpelier – about 9 million in today’s money – asking it go towards financing a new library and part of the construction of the front gates and a chapel at Green Mount Cemetery. But Hubbard decided to contest her will and squandered her fortune all for himself. In addition to arguing that his aunt wasn’t “of sound mind” when she wrote up her will, he also allegedly bribed city counselor members not to fight him in court. The whole fiasco struck Montpelier-ites as strange. Hubbard wasn’t exactly short on cash, and that move easily made him a detested citizen of Vermont’s capital city.

But after his death, the Montpelier Argus and Patriot reported the contents of his will, and were surprised to learn that Hubbard generously gave the city $125,000 for a new library, $25,000 for a chapel and gates at Green Mount Cemetery, and $85,000 to establish Hubbard Park, the tree clustered hillside that rises above the state house. Hubbard seemed to be a misunderstood gentleman of some perplexities, that were only beginning to unravel after his death. And those include his death itself. Local lore still permeates today that Hubbard jumped off the stone lookout tower in the titular named park and committed suicide, regardless that the tower wasn’t completed until well after his departure.

Austrian sculpture Karl Bitter was commissioned to cast this rather fraught looking bronze statue for his grave site – a shrouded figure that seems to be in a perpetual state of sorrow. Though over the years it has weathered and turned a greenish hue, it is still just as captivating in its transformation. While some say that the monument was supposed to be the Virgin Mary, the anatomy was actually intended to be male. After it’s installment, the memorial almost immediately became a local curiosity. In an interesting account I was able to find; Mrs. Sumner Kimball wanted to buy an even-tempered horse in 1902, and she thought a good test of its calmness would be to bring it to Green Mount Cemetery and take the horse to Hubbard’s grave. As she told the seller; “if she don’t shy at that, I’ll take her.”

But perhaps it’s what we don’t know about this solemn grave site that is the most baffling. The grave is more known by its official yet inexplicable nickname; “Black Agnes”, but no one is quite sure who coined the nickname, or why. And perhaps more puzzling is the frightening curse attached to it.

However this grave site became the instrument to a curse is most baffling. There is no information on the origins of the curse and when its nasty thorns began growing in urban mythology. Legend has it that if you sit on the statue’s lap, (some say it has to be at night, while others argue at all), you will suffer terrible misfortunes, and possibly even death. 

The most popular accompanying urban legend tells the story of three local teens from an area high school who all decided to put the curse to the test and visit Black Agnes one night. Illuminated by the light of the full moon, all three of them sat on the statue’s lap as the witching hour approached. After nothing happened, they all piled back into the car, feeling bravado in their curse debunking accomplishment. But within one week, one fell down a flight of stairs, breaking his leg. One was hit by a car and the other drowned when his canoe capsized in the Winooski River. Maybe it was just a coincidence that all three incidents were apparently less than two miles away from the statue at the time. Or at least that’s what the story says.

Needless to say, this narrative has made the statue a local landmark, and a hot spot for curious teenagers either looking for a thrill or asking for trouble.

After doing a little further investigating into this curse, I found that Hubbard’s monument isn’t unique. Karl Bitter had sculpted a few similar prototypes, and exhibited one at the 1904 World’s Fair. He called his creation Thanatos, which was inspired by the Greek personification of death. There are also a few surviving examples of Thanatos still existing in other cemeteries nationwide. So I guess the metaphor here is that sitting on Hubbard’s monument is the equivalent of sitting on the lap of death. Sure, that’s creepy and emblematic, but not enough people are aware of that information, making the curse a lingering mystery still.

Whether you believe in curses or superstitions or not, a lot of people aren’t taking chances. I’ve spoken to a few people about the statue, and there have been those who outright scoffed at the curse. But when I asked if they would sit on the statue’s lap, they hesitated and eventually admitted they wouldn’t. Is there something to this curse business? I suppose one may never know, unless you’re brazen enough to plop down on Black Agnes’s lap yourself.

Youtuber Ian Burnette made a short video for the Green Mountain Film Festival’s 48 Hour Film Slam in March 2013 which partially features a cameo of Black Agnes, and my good friend and frequent accomplice to my adventures, Eric Downing. Curse or no curse, the story is compelling enough to continuously inspire people and create other monsters.

Whether you believe in the business of curses or not, it is true that the dead can kill you, and they don’t need a creepy story or supernatural mojo to do it. Old civil war era cemeteries like this one have a secret that is literally just raising to the surface. These old graveyards may be leaking toxins, or, the arsenic used in old embalming fluids, into local groundwater. Two centuries ago, it was customary to have a wake for the deceased which could last several days to a week, depending on who you were, and the family didn’t want the body decomposing while it was laid it out in their parlor, so they were pumped full of arsenic to preserve them until the visitors stopped coming and they could be put six feet under. Arsenic was eventually banned in the early 1900s because of its toxicity, but enough corpses were pumped full of the stuff to leave a lasting effect, the real dangers being that today, many of us – especially who dwell near cemeteries, know little about arsenic or it’s dangers.

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I visited in 2011, heading back up to college after spring break. I declined sitting on his lap.

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The Bowman Mausoleum 

If you wish to visit with Cuttingsville’s most famous denizen, you can find the stoic man of mystery in the village’s only cemetery that is directly across Route 103 from an attractively restored Queen-Anne style Victorian mansion that he once referred to humbly as his summer home. 

I’m talking about John P. Bowman. The real Mr. Bowman is long deceased, but a poignant, life-sized monster of masonry is an exact effigy of the intriguing gentleman, and can be found lurching along a hillside cemetery that rises slightly above Route 103.

I first became antiquated with Mr. Bowman as a child. I saw him whenever we would venture down to my deer camp in East Wallingford for a weekend. His mansion was a rather faded, spooky old place which was then an establishment called “The Haunted Mansion Bookshop”. I had no idea that the name wasn’t just a gimmick, the mansion was, and maybe still is presently, purported to be haunted.

But it was what was across from the old mansion that really drew my attention as a young boy; the somber granite mausoleum with a grief-stricken, proportionally accurate statue of Mr. Bowman frozen in mid kneel along the steps that leads to it’s gated front entrance, depicted wearing a 19th century mourning cloak as well as clutching a key and a wreath in his hands – his blues reflected in the grays of his marble eyes that purposely gaze at the family tomb. Even as a kid, I knew there was something, well, a bit different about the Bowman mausoleum. And as I grew older, I realized that quite a few other people seemed to share my sentiment towards Bowman and his estate.

John Porter Bowman was born in neighboring Clarendon in 1816 in an area of town referred to as Pierces Corner, which today is practically little more than the intersection of state routes 103 and 7B. Educational opportunities were limited for Bowman, but his ambitions landed him employment at a Rutland tannery at the age of 15, where he spent five years learning the art of turning animal hides into fine leather, before leaving to start his own tanning business near Cuttingsville. In the early 1850s, he became so well-liked in the local community that he was either coaxed or self-inspired to run for a seat on the Vermont legislature. He won.

But he much preferred  business over politics, and in 1852, moved to Stony Creek, New York in search of opportunity. And he found it, in the form of a 6,000-acre plot of Hemlock forest, where he started a far more ambitious tannery business. The civil war brought great fortune to Bowman, as there was a huge demand for boots, saddles and other leather made wartime paraphernalia. He hired dozens of people, became a venerable figure of the region, and eventually fell in love and married Jennie Gates from Warren, New York. They ambitioned to building a grand summer home in his home state of Vermont where they could raise a family.

While he prospered financially, his personal life didn’t fare as generously. The couple’s first child, their daughter Addie, died as an infant in 1854. Their second daughter Ella survived much longer, but perished in 1879 at the age of 22, when she eventually succumbed to an illness she was fighting. Not long after, in 1800, Mrs. Bowman followed their daughters to the grave.

The agonized Mr. Bowman sought to find some relief. Shortly afterward, he hired labor crews and sent them to Cuttingsville, Vermont to begin construction on that aforementioned lavish Victorian summer home that his family would now never get to see.

During this time, he became obsessed with death; perhaps as a way to cope with his loss, or maybe influenced by the rise of spiritualism. He drew up additional blueprints to his Cuttingsville compound. Now, they would include a grand Neo-Egyptian mausoleum which would become a monument to his departed, and a local tourist attraction.

The colossal project took over a year to complete, and was the creation of 125 sculptures, stone cutters and laborers, the final cost exceeding $75,000. Construction of its facade ordered 750 tons of Vermont granite, 50 tons of Vermont marble, over 20,000 bricks and over 100 loads of sand. And they did a great job; the robust structure still stands proudly along the roadside, almost looking as if it was brand new construction given the great shape it’s in. But it may be the ghostly statue of Mr. Bowman that is the crypt’s most startling piece of artistry. His cloaked figure, clutching that wreath and key, kneels down on the front steps, peering at the front gates.

In 1887, he sold everything in New York and moved to his new digs in Cuttingsville, broken and alone. According to a few accounts, he would make it a point to look out the window each morning and gaze at the family crypt, a ritual he would keep until 1891, when he finally died, alone and sad, forever becoming a figure of misery.

He had no heirs, and no one to leave the house too. He was wealthy enough where he was able to start a trust to take care of his property long after his death. And this is where things get weirdly fascinating.

Though no actual documentation offers proof of this, the story goes that Mr. Bowman left some peculiar details in his will, where he willed his servants to prepare a freshly cooked dinner every night, turn on the gas lamps and turn down the bed-clothes, as if they were expecting Mr. Bowman to return from the dead and walk through his front door. The strangeness continues to morph. Somehow, the mansion began to inspire myths of phantom crying babies, wispy and frail phantoms moving silently down the halls, and even a secret spot where a vast amount of money was hidden by Mr. Bowman himself, still unfound and within the walls, or under a floorboard, or something…

The hidden treasure is more easily debunked. Though Mr. Bowman instructed that none of his property or belongings should ever be sold, by 1950, the deceased millionaire’s extensive fortune finally was depleted, and the trust went bankrupt when the coast of up-keeping the large property became too much – so all of his paintings and furnishings were auctioned off. If there was any amount of cash left behind, it was probably spent well before that time. The claim of a crying baby is curious to me, as no children ever lived in the house.

Some even claimed that Bowman’s large statue inexplicably came to life, and could be seen slowly walking around the cemetery at night or gazing at his mansion across Route 103. Other stories I heard in passing was that local kids claimed that if you visited the statue at night, his eyes would move and follow you, or even blink. A July 27th, 1950 article printed in the Rutland Herald offers some amusing incite. the wife of a long time caretaker admitted to the interviewer that people kept pressuring them for spook stories about the place, until her husband who had had enough, said: “if they wanted a story, I’d give them one”. While that isn’t necessarily condemning evidence of all of this being nothing more than yarns well spun, it certainly makes me wonder.

If these claims are true, I wasn’t fortunate enough to witness any of the bizarre phenomena while I visited on a beautiful Spring afternoon. But the Bowman statue and tomb are both incredible works of art and craftsmanship.

I can see why his statue would make someone uncomfortable, though. The well-captured expression of his eternal grief is pretty evocative.

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The handsome Bowman mansion, restored and called “Laurel Hall” – as seen from the front steps of his across the street mausoleum. I would have snapped a better picture, but all of my weird detours had made me late and I needed to rush back to Burlington.

Grave With A Window

New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery is more or less unremarkable, as far as cemeteries go I suppose. That is, apart from one entombment. Among the faded and weathered headstones that are eternal witnesses to the passing generations and the turning of the seasons, is the grave of Dr. Timothy Clark Smith.

Walking through the cemetery, you’ll notice a mound of earth roughly 4 feet in height. On the top is an unremarkable looking square slab of Granite, which really doesn’t allude to the fact it’s supposed to mark a corpse’s final resting place. But upon closer investigation, you’ll realize that there is something more to this seemingly innocuous block. In the dead center of the granite slab is a Plexiglas window. Stained with years of condensation and scratches from the sputtering seasons and many other curious visitors, you find yourself peering down into an eerie undertone blackness underneath the ground your standing on. What is this?

During the 17th century, there were a number of premature burials, enough to make the general public a bit uncomfortable. Medicine was still in it’s momentum of advancement, and as a result, an unfortunate number of patients had a sleeping sickness, or a state of illness that could make the victim appear to be dead, but later to awaken in a cold, dark grave, very much alive. Medicine has thankfully came a long way since those days, and today, we know this strange state of sleep as Narcolepsy.

The horror stories continue. There have an unfortunate number of terrifying accounts in which bodies were accidentally dissected before death, and a few cases in which embalming was started on the not-yet-dead. Not surprisingly, urban legends of people being accidentally buried alive began to surface and spread. Legends tell of coffins opened to find a corpse with a long beard or corpses with the hands raised and palms turned upward, their fingers worn down to the bone as they literally tried to claw their way of their tombs, scratch marks being found on the wooden lid of their coffins.

To stretch the imagination further, Some superstitious old New Englanders didn’t blame these horrifying accounts on premature burial. Instead, they blamed the most logical answer they could muster, the victim had to be a Vampire. Evidence of unfortunate souls being found in a different position after unearthing their graves, with bloody stumps for fingers scared people, and the evidence was used to inspire famous tales as Rhode Island’s Mercy Brown, who innocently became the most infamous Vampire in New England history.

A well-respected man, Timothy Clarke Smith, born 1821, could boast a rather long list of accomplishments in his life. Among many things, he was a schoolteacher, a merchant, a clerk for the Treasury Dept. and obtained his degree as an MD in 1855, which led to his position as a staff surgeon in the Russian Army. But the good doctor also ruminated over those postmortem horror stories and developed a fear – not of dying, but of not being dead. He was terrified at the possibility of being buried alive.

That sentiment wasn’t unique. It was happening so often, that some swindlers decided to cash in on it, and create a market for “safety coffins”

These new models of coffin included glass lids for observation, so people could see in, or out. Ropes from the inside of the coffin were attached to bells fastened on the surface, so that if the poor soul were to wake up six feet under, they could ring it in a panic and hope someone is nearby enough to hear it – which is said to be where the popular sayings “saved by the bell” and “dead ringer” originated from. Breathing pipes were also constructed to run air into the coffin, to sustain the misdiagnosed corpses until they could be rescued.

Dr. Smith was going to make sure this wouldn’t happen to him, and gladly paid up for such an arrangement, which he was buried in at the time of his death in 1893 and has no doubt overshadowed any of his other noble life pursuits. Beneath a grassy mound of earth in New Haven, a tomb was constructed with a six-foot cement tube that protruded the surface into a 14×14 inch piece of Plexiglas. This was to allow groundskeepers or visiting family members to check in on him, just in case they saw his disgruntled face staring up at them through the window…

For extra protection, a bell was supposedly placed in his hands that he could ring in case he woke up. But who could hear a bell under 6 feet of earth? And If he were alive, how long would the oxygen really last?

According to old records from the cemetery sexton, the burial vault has two rooms. One for Dr. Smith (with the window) and the other for his wife. The burial vault is arched with stairs (capped by the stone in the lower front of the mound) and leads to the two rooms, with the viewing window at the top of the shaft.

People from years ago claim to have peered down the window and stared directly at the skeletal face of Dr. Smith, along with a hammer and chisel placed on his chest. But today, you can barely see anything through the condensation that has occupied most of the glass surface, which may make the trip slightly disappointing for some visitors.

If you wish to see this literal monument to a man’s insecurities turned extraordinary tourist attraction for yourself, take Route 7 to the small farming community of New Haven, and make a turn on Town Hill Road. The cemetery will be about a mile or two down the road on your right, just look for the rather large mound of Earth right by the entrance and the square slab dead on top. You can’t miss it.

Here is a neat visual of what your money might have gotten you – should you have decided to purchase one of these special graves. It seems that this model comes with what looks like a periscope, but in actuality, the person buried could spin the handles and it would turn above, letting who ever came and checked on the cemetery that the person moved.

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“A dreamless sleep, emblem of eternal rest”

I once heard a theory that it’s better to have an interesting headstone than to have been an interesting person, because the headstone will be around for much longer.

While I think that theory is open to interpretation, in the case of Lyndon Center’s G.P. Spencer, he certainly left his mark, where even after his passing, he remains a well-remembered figure with his grave pointing an accusatory finger at Lyndon denizens, long after the others that weren’t so kind to him have turned to dust and vanished into fading records.

The story as I know it goes that Spencer, born 1825, was a proudly stubborn atheist in Lyndonville, a suspiciously treated minority absorbed into a larger population of hardscrabble northeast kingdomers that identified as being religious in one way or another. Unlike today’s more tolerant attitudes and Vermont’s time-tested reputation for being far less religious than the rest of the country, the folks of town shunned Spencer.

A stone cutter, he decided to fashion himself a grave that would spitefully give himself the last word in the form of a wrap around epitaph which has weathered to points of illegibility. So I had to look it up.

His epitaph reads; “science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teaching, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas and most of these dogmas have been false.

All stories about gods and Devils, of heavens and hells, as they do not conform to nature, and are not apparent to sense, should be rejected without consideration. Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe, the supernatural does not and cannot exist.

Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to be lead by a light above.

The lips of the dead are closed forever. There comes no voice from the tomb.
Christianity is responsible for having cast the fable of eternal fire over almost every tomb”

G.P. Spencer died in 1908, and Lyndon locals immediately began fighting his headstone’s placement in the cemetery which today can be found at the end of a dirt driveway that the village boldly named “Heaven Lane”. They lost, and you can still observe it today. A monument to a man who stood up for his beliefs, and maybe a good example of an archetypal Vermonter; stubborn, not spiritually inclined, and having a sense of humor – depending on who you ask I guess.

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The interesting grave topped with a curious sleeping baby, which may be a metaphor, is located in the only cemetery in tiny Lyndon Center. It was just a short yet freezing walk down College Hill from my dorm at Lyndon State College to snap a few photos of it, then retreat back to my room in search of coffee.

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Vermont’s Immortal Man and Frozen Hill Folk?

There is an old Vermont anecdote that pertains to cemeteries. When passing a graveyard, the joke is to ask “how many dead are in this cemetery?”, with the correct answer of course being, “all of them”. But this “dad joke” of a punchline recently took on a new weight with me.

Not long ago, someone told me offhandedly that they found a peculiar grave in a cemetery near Montpelier – which according to this gravestone and a viral post in the Vermont subreddit page, there is a 157-year-old man (and counting) living somewhere in Vermont. What?

The Montpelier and Barre region seems to be a bulls-eye for some of the state’s most interesting memento mori, which may be one of the many reasons why some Vermonters refer to their capital as “Montpeculiar”. Included in this interesting region’s points of interest is Barre’s celebrity Hope Cemetery. Barre-ites discovered over a century ago that the city was literally built on top of a mother lode of a valuable granite vein that was so robust and unique, it’s incredibly resistant to deterioration, discoloration and great for construction projects. That stone made the town so famous that it drew sculptures and stone cutters from around the globe – a good chunk from Italy due to sour economics back home. As the city’s residents died, the locals did what they did best and sculpted some very interesting monuments in their honor that now proudly decorate the cemetery off Maple Avenue – the commemorations ranging from incredible works of funerary art to the kitschy.

Regardless, the thought of an “immortal” man in the capital region only amused me more, as this wouldn’t be the first time that this trope has played out in this part of the state. Over a century ago, it was sensationalized in the Washington County region in 1887 when an article was published in the defunct newspaper, The Montpelier Argus and Patriot, in which was a compelling and startling tale of poor Vermont hill farmers keeping their loved ones alive through the grueling winters by inducing forced hibernation, via some strange Yankee magic, which emanated like a contagion shotgun blast from the hills.

In the strange account told by a mysterious first and one-time only contributor known as A.M., he dug up the story in the pages of his uncle William’s journal that told a rather gothic and macabre series of events said to be practiced deep in the Vermont hills north of Montpelier. Wretchedly poor Vermont hill farmers had contrived a solution ensuring that the weakest and most vulnerable members of their family could survive the state’s grueling winters without straining the already meager food rations. Life in Vermont’s mountains was hard, and often death came early.

The chosen participants would drink a special potion – the ingredients a closely guarded secret – and would then be placed inside a large pine box that would be lined with straw, before a wooden lid was placed over it and weighed down by rocks to keep predators out. Once the winter freeze came, the buried family members would literally sleep out the winter in a frozen state. When the Spring thaw softened up the ground, they would be dug up, placed in a steaming bath lined with Hemlock bows, and as their muscles twitched and color came back to their pallor, they would be ready to face the summer with vigor. In theory anyways. And according to A.M., his uncle not only knew about it, he was invited to watch the process, and he transcribed all that he saw in his journal, documenting the bizarre.

At the time, The Montpelier Argus and Patriot had the most circulation of any of the state’s newspapers, meaning that plenty of Vermonters must have been horrified by it, but even more tantalizingly, no follow ups about the weird story were ever printed, nor were any letters to the editor. The strange tale probably would have vanished into obscurity if it wasn’t for a Bridgewater gentleman accidentally finding the newspaper article clipping tucked away in the scrapbook of Hannah F. Stevens,his mother, 52 years later.

On May 24, 1939, the Rutland Herald revived the old yarn and printed A.M.’s story word for word, and explained that no one knew it’s source. Interest immediately picked up. The Boston Globe published something on it 4 days later, and it was forever stuck to the flypaper of New England folklore. Yankee Magazine, The Farmers Almanac,  and Vermont Life soon followed, attempting to cash in on the public’s desire to satiate their thirst for this baffling story.

Eventually, writer and lecturer Roland W. Robbins had managed to track the story’s origins in the winter of 1949-1950, and was finally able to give A.M. an identity; Allen Morse, an untypical dairy farmer from Calais who was born in 1835 and died in 1917. Morse’s granddaughter, a Mrs. Mabel E. Hynes of Agawam, Massachusetts was able to reveal more of the mystery. She recalled him telling her that story several times growing up, perhaps influenced by his interest in spiritualism like many Vermonters of the time. Before the distractions of technology, Vermont farmers entertained themselves by “yarnin”, or, seeing who could tell the best lurid tall tale. Allen Morse had considerable talent, and his brother in law William Noyes, aka Uncle William, would often have rounds against one another and test run their tales at family picnics. Morse’s account of the frozen hill folk was his matchless achievement.

But it wasn’t him that submitted the tale to paper, he never even wrote it down. It was Mrs. Hynes’s mother, who in 1887 was working for the The Montpelier Argus and Patriot, and secretly arranged to have “grandpa’s yarn” published on Morse’s next birthday, December 21, 1887. Morse was delighted, and was glad that they had kept his identity a mystery, for anyone that knew him would have labeled it as a hoax immediately, which may have very well put a moratorium on this great regional folk tale. It became so compelling that even the highly respected journal Scientific American picked up on it around 1900. Other scientists were interested into researching just how peoples’ bodies would respond and survive to lower temperatures, and eventually, Cryonic Societies began forming around the country, all interested in the feasibility of resurrecting frozen humans entombed in capsules chilled to -321 degrees via liquid nitrogen.

Regardless of its faux origins, this cryptic fable left an enduring footprint on local culture that is still spoken about today, especially after being revived again when author Joseph Citro retold the great tale in his book, Green Mountains Dark Tales, and later in Weird New England, which was where I discovered it. But as for the grave of Mr. Edward McNalty, Could some Yankee mountain magic actually be at work here?

Taking a drive through the bustling crowds of Downtown Montpelier and up a pothole chocked road into the hills to the cemetery in question, I found the telltale gravestone. Edward McNalty. Born 1857. Died…

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There it was. So, what’s the story here?

As much fun as it might be to romanticize about an immortal being existing in the mortal grind somewhere in Vermont (after all, New England isn’t a stranger to disturbing tales of immortal men and their misdeeds – like New Hampshire’s dreadful Dr. Benton, one of my favorite regional narratives),  the actual story is planted firmly in logistics. As it turns out, according to the limited information I was able to dig up, the mysterious Edward McNalty was born in Moretown, Vermont in November of 1861, not 1857 – they made a mistake on the headstone but it was never corrected. He would eventually enter the workforce as a railroad section man. Edward would marry Illinois born Rosetta Smith on January 7, 1896 at the age of 44, and settled in Washington, Vermont, according to the census of 1930. For both, it was their second marriage, and this marriage produced no children.

Edward died of pneumonia in Montpelier on December 28, 1935. Because his second marriage never bore any kids, his children from his first marriage decided to bury him next to their mom as opposed to his second wife, which explains the missing date of death on the headstone.

And at the end of the day, this amusing gravestone at least offers a good story, and maybe will spark the most curious of imaginations.

A vignette into early Vermont life.

Sometimes, cemeteries can give us clues into our past. Three barely discernible graves deep within the national forest of Chittenden greet you by surprise within the weeds, and are the only things left to tell whoever is passing by that there was once a town here over a hundred years ago.

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This impressionistic headstone found in the vanished town of West Bolton tells the observer how dangerous childbirth, or being a young child could be in Vermont over a century ago, and how much death early Vermonters were actually accustomed to. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, people are living longer lives nowdays.

To finish this entry off, I wanted to include one of my favorite cemetery tombstones I’ve came across so far. Embarking on a random road trip with friend and talented local artist Sam Balling, we traveled the beautiful state route 125 up over Vermont’s green mountain spine which brought us through tiny Ripton, which local lore says its name comes from its land being “ripped” from other Addison County towns to form the new town, but it’s name less interestingly comes from Connecticut, relating to the first named grantee. The town averages an elevation of near 3,000 feet and is surrounded by mountains. Heading towards Middlebury Gap, a pass between the mountains that allows motorists to drop down the other side into Hancock, there is an old cemetery near the Robert Frost Wayside Wilderness of the Green Mountain National Forest. The small burial ground is interspersed with old gnarled trees and centuries-old gravestones that jut from the pine needle fallen earth like broken teeth wearing the different hues of aging. In the background, stark gray ridge lines barren and almost foreboding in their late autumn death, hemmed in the cemetery in isolation.  I loved it.

This simplistic headstone illustrates the tragic demise of two brothers and strangers in detailed brevity. Winfield H. was killed by an overturned load of lumber, and Perley H. was killed by the explosion of a cannon, a vignette into how different, and deadly life was for Vermonters settling up in the mountains over a century ago.

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Ripton, VT

Sometimes having a peaceful, out of the way location can also be a place’s undoing, especially when for whatever reason, it inspires spectral fodder and monstrous legends. But I’m always very interested in these tales that surpass strange. If you’re curious about more local lore involving cemeteries (or indirectly involving cemeteries), check out an older blog post I wrote up years ago, featuring two stories that saw the glow of a computer screen for the first time when I wrote them down.

While we’re on the topic of cemeteries, here’s a link that I thought was very cool; Atlas Obscura’s Guide to Cemetery Symbolism

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What Dwells on Woodcrest Circle?

Recently, a good friend of mine just confessed to his childhood home being haunted, and if I had known then what I know now, I don’t think I would have ever dared step inside when I was a kid.

I had visited a few times before, and never thought anything strange about the place. I had no reason to feel uncomfortable there. But my friend could argue otherwise, and the things he finally relayed to me were nothing short of terrifying.

He grew up in the same neighborhood as me, a typical 1980s sub division of simple cookie cutter ranch homes built precisely around planned circles and cul-de-sacs all named after local trees that grow wild on the front lawns. Even today, as Milton continues to grow, the honeycomb of pot holed streets and homes that make up my neighborhood is still considered to be the largest development in town. A neighborhood so big, that most of my friends would often call me from their cellphones and complain that they were lost long after they had pulled out of my driveway to leave.

To understand what exactly went on in that house, it’s good to know a little of the history behind it. One of the first occupants of the small ranch house was your typical American nuclear family. A father, a wife and their children. Though almost nothing is known about the family who owned the house before my friend’s family did, the tragic events that exploded like find powder have seemed to forever linger in the atmosphere like oil on skin.

It was known that the happiness of that family had long been eroding, as the father spent most of his hours working his fingers down to dust, trying to provide for his family. But the problem was sadly beyond what a good paycheck could repair. One day, he came home from a grueling day of work, and noticed he was in the unusual position of walking into a quiet and empty house. His suspicious soon became fire as the night passed and his family still hadn’t returned home. Beginning to panic, he soon made frantic phone calls to just about everyone he knew, asking if they had seen his family. But no one had. A few days later, he would have his answer. His wife had waited until he left for work, taken the children, and left him for another man. To make things more devastating,  he found that she had been cheating on him for several years. Unable to deal with his betrayal and shame, he went into the bathroom and shot himself.

Years later, my friend’s family moved in. Because they had 4 children, more rooms were needed and the basement was eventually converted into 2 makeshift bedrooms. My friend recalls the basement right after they moved in. He said his first impression of the basement wasn’t a great one, saying it made him feel uncomfortable the moment he set foot down there. Towards the far end was an area that was fenced off from the rest of the basement. It was a giant cage type room, with walls made from 2x4s and chicken wire walls. Their landlord informed them that it used to be a dog cage, but there was just something eerie about it still. Eventually, the space that was the cage was converted into bedrooms.

My friend developed a fear of the basement; more specifically, the part of the basement that was his room. Things seemed normal after they had first settled in. But slowly, strange things began to happen.

He first realized that no matter the circumstances, it was always cold in the basement. He would report feeling phantom breezes at night and frigid temperature drops that would leave his room freezing compared to the rest of the house. Before his room had a door, he used a sheet that had been nailed to the wooden frame around it. Some nights, he reported waking up to the sheet blowing in some sort of invisible draft that seemed to manifest itself from nowhere. More peculiarly, the breezes only seemed to disturb the sheet, and didn’t touch anything else around. With no open windows or doors that could act as the scapegoat, the source of these phantom breezes remained a mystery. But that was nothing.

After some time had passed, he woke up to hearing the sound of something moving around on his carpet. As he lay awake listening, he eventually pin pointed the location of the strange noises; they were coming from the broken plastic remains of a Plasma Globe that broke at the foot of his bed, the broken pieces lay scattered on the floor. Now, it sounded like something was crawling around inside the broken plastic shell. Getting up to turn on his light, he scanned the carpet and the broken globe for the mysterious culprit, and found nothing. Turning off his light, he got back into bed with the intention of getting more sleep, but was soon woken up again to the same noises, only this time, they seemed faster and more frantic. Getting up again, he picked up the shards and put them in the garbage. Thinking that was the end, he got back into bed and fell asleep. But for weeks after, he continued to hear noises at night. This time, he described them as what sounded like chirping noises, like a bird would make. They were soft and delicate, and could never be traced. But he knew they were coming from inside his room.

As time progressed, the strange noises stopped as mysteriously as they had appeared. Things once again were uneventful until months later, he awoke one night to the sound of his computer chair moving. Through the dim light coming from outside his room, he witnessed the chair wheeling itself from the computer desk across his room and stop itself right at the foot of his bed. The basement floor was poured concrete and was level, there was no explanation for why the chair moved on its own. He got out of bed and pushed the chair back underneath the desk. Sometime later, he awoke again to find that the chair was back at the side of his bed! Only this time, the back of the chair was reclined – an impossible position without human help, as if something was sitting in it, and it was facing him as if whatever was sitting in the chair was observing him. After a few minutes, the chair straightened back up to its natural position, as if whatever had been sitting in it had gotten up. He watched the chair roll by itself across the room and rest against the wall.

These events seemed to space themselves out unpredictably, and for the most part, innocuous. But soon, the strange phenomenon became more intense and more interactive. He began waking up in all hours of the night for unexplained reasons. Feeling horribly uncomfortable, he would scan the dark shadows of his room. Meeting his gaze was a “shadow figure” standing near the basement doors that lead to a staircase that went outside, staring at him with red eyes that he described as “like cats eyes”. The shadow was reported as being very tall, and reached from floor to ceiling. But this didn’t happen only once. This happened for years, to a point where he went from being absolutely terrified of this mysterious entity, to becoming accustomed to it. Eventually, he came to the realization that he would wake up every night and see it staring at him from his doorway.

He began to have terrifying and powerful nightmares on a nightly basis, so incredibly intense and aggressive that he didn’t want to talk about them. But, he did recall a few that he remembered vividly. Once, he dreamed that he awoke in the middle of the night laying next to a dead girl in his bed. His eyes would open and he would find himself staring into her dead eyes, which he described as calm and soothing. But the rest of her was anything but. Her mouth gaped open and was infested with crawling worms. Sometimes he would freak out and scream, and like lightning, she would begin to eat him until he woke up in his trembling skin.

Another dream he had involved the same girl, only this time he woke up to a rotting hand coming up from his bedside and clutch his chest. That soon was followed by another hand, and eventually, her dead and rotting face. She opened her mouth and let out an agonizing scream of misery and sorrow for what seemed like hours until he woke up. An interesting side note is that after every single nightmare he would suffer through, he would always wake up and see that familiar shadow figure with the cats eyes staring at him from his doorway. The figure would always be in the same spot, but would never come in the room. Could there be a connection between this strange entity and his dreams?

Another night, he awoke to the chirping noises again. At this point, it had been some time since he had last heard them, so he was a little surprised as his memory was revived. But there was something else now. In the desolate moonlight that lit up his room, he reported seeing something truly terrifying that seemed to crawl and shamble along his floor. Extending from the basement doors to the door of his bedroom, he said he saw what he can best be described as a giant human back, without arms, legs or a head attached to it. It withered and twisted and convulsed across the floor, it’s bones looked like they’d pop out of its skin at any moment. He turned his head away, far too afraid to stare at whatever he was seeing. When he heard the chirping noises quiet down, he forced himself to look at his floor again, and whatever he had seen had vanished into the night.

Now, all of this admittedly seems a bit extreme, if not Hollywood in character. But, my friend isn’t one for lying, and his voice was trembling with such emotion and sincerity that I simply can’t believe that he would be having a laugh at my expense. And as I would soon find out, my theory would be proven correct.

A few nights ago, myself and another good childhood friend were enjoying fine Long Trail Coffee Stouts underneath soft Spring breezes that seemed safe and cool. Sitting on two chairs on his back deck, we often would meet up and let our conversations continue into the night, a great way to unwind from the despairs of the day. And somehow, our conversation turned to nostalgia and strange experiences, and eventually, it lead to my friend’s house.

I had mentioned that I wasn’t sure what to make of the claims that were told to me, I was more than a little skeptical, but he intervened and stopped me.

“I had a really strange experience there when I used to spend the night” he told me. “So, you believe that it’s haunted as well?” I asked, almost incredulously. He wasn’t sure what to think. Like me, he tries to see things logically, and even though he was a firsthand witness to a bizarre encounter there, he still had a hard time admitting to himself that he believed what he saw.

Years ago, when he was spending the night, he rolled over on the couch he was sleeping on, and his foot banged into something. His eyes slowly opened, trying to read the situation. This was strange, considering he knew before he went to bed, there was nothing at all that was near the couch that his foot should have bumped into. Eventually, he sat up and noticed that a computer chair was sitting beside the couch. That was strange, because before he went to bed, he recalled that the chair was in fact tucked underneath the computer desk at the other side of the room, a good 6 feet from where he was sleeping. What was it doing over here? He didn’t think much of it, but he noticed that the room was much colder than it had been. On the back of the computer chair, a blanket had been draped over it. Wanting some extra warmth, he quickly snatched the blanket from the chair and pulled it over him. When he grabbed the blanket, the chair expectantly started spinning. But 15 minutes later, he sat there watching the chair incredulously; it was still spinning at a continuous yet slow speed and showed no signs of slowing down. Then to his horror, the chair began to spin faster. In a scene that would only appear to most people on the silver screen, the chair began to spin faster and faster as if pushed by an unseen force, only to come to a direct stop suddenly, the front of the chair facing him. Needless to say, he preferred not to spend another night in that house again.

But there were other strange factors at play here. My friend recalled that his step dad began to suffer from terrible mood swings shortly after they had moved in the house. He would become violent, irrational and his tongue sharp and serpentine. I only met him a few times when I was much younger, and I saw him as an unfriendly type of person, but according to my friend, he was acting “out of character, even for him”. Eventually, the marriage was dissolved and he left the house. But soon after, his mother would report waking up with a body like imprint in her bed, as if someone had been sleeping beside her the entire time.

In a case such as this, a lot of questions remain, and not surprisingly, far more that can ever be answered.

If we were to believe that these events happened with no logical explanation, was there more than one thing troubling my friend and his family? Was it just a series of bizarre occurrences that seemed all too real? And, what sort of person in life was the man who killed himself? Was he kind and troubled, or were his abusive motives a reason why his family had left him? Admittedly, I was having a hard time debunking these claims.

My friend admitted that one night, he tried speaking to the shadow figure outside his door. “Well, what happened?” I asked curiously, my mind not being able to even predict his response. But he simply shrugged his shoulders and nonchalantly said “nothing”.

One theory is that if haunts are the responsibility of the angry and wounded spirit of the man who killed himself, he seems to have a strong dislike towards men, which is probably why my friend seemed to get the brunt of all that happened. Or perhaps, it was personal…

That was years ago, and they have long since moved and grown up. A peculiar ending to this story is that eventually, the strange phenomenon seemed to die out well before they sold the house, but the strange feeling of being watched remained until the day they left.  The house still stands today, and is currently being lived in. It’s been a few years now and it hasn’t been put up for sale, so my best assumption would be that maybe, whatever malevolent entity that plagued the house has perhaps moved on? But maybe the question is, if this is so, where did it go?

The Patch Hollow Massacre

Why do remote and wild places captivate us so much? Maybe it’s because these inaccessible places don’t easily give their secrets or their history – forcing the curious adventurer to truly dig for answers (sometimes literally). Or maybe it’s because here, our imaginations run wild as we find ourselves detached from the modern comforts and the familiarization of our backyards. We seek these places for their inspiring beauty, and ask for the answers to our questions which burn in our veins of desire. Anything can happen out there.

Vermont’s mountains hold quite a few ghastly secrets. Perhaps the most well known story to come out of the Green Mountains is the legend of The Bennington Triangle and the now vanished town of Glastenbury. It was here on the wild slopes of Glastenbury Mountain where 5 innocent people dissapeared without a trace between 1945 and 1950 – no clues or remains were ever found, but the theories were more than plentiful.

I’d like to tell a story just as sinister and lesser known, in a place just as remote and wild. But this story is more gruesome because it can be proved, and its catalysts are human rather then paranormal – hinting that sometimes the most dangerous things on Earth can be ourselves. I’m especially fond of this story for it’s obscurity, and that it’s darkness happened near one of my favorite places.

Patch Hollow

The Long Trail travels north from Glastenbury, over the peaks of Southern Vermont’s Green Mountains, dips down and back up the steep gulf around Route 140, and descends upon a wild and desolate area above Wallingford called “Patch Hollow”.

Running in a north-south direction, Patch Hollow is a deep trench of land high in the Green Mountains, formed by the steep slope of Bear Mountain to the west, and the more gentle Button Hill to the east. In the center of this densely wooded bowl is a large swamp, its green waters occasionally protruded by the skeletons of dead trees that twist towards the Wallingford skies above. In 2008, the beaver dam broke with such a force that it sent a large wall of water plowing down the steep hillsides, carving a jagged gorge into the land and completely taking out a chunk of Route 140, the bafflingly large boulders that were transported down the hill still rest along the roadside today.

The power of Mother Nature is both awesome and awe inspiring, and Patch Hollow is indeed a wild place. I know this hollow personally, as I grew up hiking here and riding my 4 wheeler through the few trails that traversed the rough terrain (and are not for the inexperienced rider). But what I didn’t know at the time, was that there used to be a settlement here – one with a gruesome tale attached.

My first thoughts of any sort of community way up in Patch Hollow, far above the valleys amused me. Looking at the stark wilderness today, it seems almost unrealistic. This is where a lesson in Vermont history comes in handy. When towns were being settled, and the first roads were being cleared, often they were built through the highlands and the mountains because the valleys were prone to flooding and washouts. This means that at one time, Patch Hollow was on the main road through town. In the book “History of Wallingford, Vermont” by By Walter Thorpe, he writes that a settlement of at least 5 families once made their home here. But there are no clues that are left that would point to the bloody struggle that took place at here, not even a hint that civilization was once rooted in this sunny dale.

So what happened here? The story goes back to May 11, 1831. One of the settlements in the hollow was owned by Rolon Wheeler, a “man of violent passions and jealous disposition,” according to an account written in 1911. Wheeler was reportedly guilty of sexual acts with his wife’s sister — a situation that when was leaked, created a great deal of resentment from the community.

Some community members from Wallingford and nearby Shrewsbury were so resentful that they decided to go as far as form a mob – with the intent of tar and feathering him. The threats were made so publicly that Wheeler was forewarned and took measures to defend himself. He fashioned a knife from a large file and barred his door.

On the night of May 11, your classic angry mom scenario formed two parties from Shrewsbury and Wallingford, and set out for Patch Hollow for some justice. Equipped with jugs of rum, a bucket of tar and a sack of feathers, both parties made their way into the mountains. The party from Shrewsbury never made it – getting lost in the woods instead. Their pride damaged – the reality of getting lost over powered the want for vigilante justice, and the group returned home.

The Wallingford group didn’t share the same fate, and did arrive at Wheeler’s house. They eventually forced their way in by prying a hole in the gable end of the roof. Three men leaped into the house and struggled with Wheeler in the dark. Wheeler stabbed one man in the side and another was slashed an excessive amount of 14 times. The door to the cabin was unbarred and more people poured into the cabin. In the scuffle, someone was killed. The angry mob stopped being belligerent and went to get a better look at their prize.

But, in all the haste, they made a fatal, and rather embarrassing mistake. They killed group member and friend, Issac Osborne by mistake…Wheeler was nowhere to be found. After a few minutes of trying to comprehend the situation, the group noticed that a set of clothes had been strewn across the cabin floor. The picture was clearer now. Wheeler had escaped the hands of one of his attackers by wrestling out of his clothes, crawling under his bed, and prying up some floorboards before escaping beneath the house.

A moment of realization was then sparked under the watchful eye of the Patch Hollow shadows. The mob panicked, most likely all scared because they committed murder that night, and hastily fled the house. Later, Dr. John Fox of Wallingford would visit the scene, which he recounted as “the most terrible sight he could recall.”

By the light of a candle, Fox saw “the livid body of Osborne on the bed and cabin literally soaked in blood.”

After escaping his blood stained house, Wheeler decided that spending the night naked in the woods was a safer decision than venturing back into town. Before dawn he stole a shirt from a clothesline, walked to the Hartsboro section of town (now a ghost town and a road of the same name) and hid in a barn. Needing clothes, he spent part of the day crudely weaving a dress from rye straw he found in the barn, and then retreating to his sister’s home in Pawlet. But after all that, Wheeler was finally caught.

He was arrested and put on trial in a makeshift court held at the Baptist Church in Wallingford — the only building in town that could hold the crowds eager to watch the proceedings. In the end, he was found innocent under terms of self defense.

The mob who assaulted him didn’t get off so easily. Two of his attackers were fined $60 each,while three others were fined $40. Justice was served, just not in the way the angry mob had expected.

After the court hearing, something strange happened to Patch Hollow. Perhaps the tragic events of that chaotic night left its scar in the minds of everyone who partook, forever troubling the land. Or maybe it was just “bad for business”. After that bloody incident, Patch Hollow became abandoned shortly afterwards and to this day, no one has tried to rebuild it.

Today’s Patch Hollow is quieter, as the mountain forests reclaimed the land, the only visitors now are the countless hikers that loyally hike the Long Trail to get lost in the Vermont woods for little while, letting the wilderness and the solitude quell their thoughts.

How To Get Here:

Take the Long Trail North from the Route 140 trail head in Wallingford, or South from The Clarendon Gorge just off Route 103 in Shrewsbury.

Links:

For those who are further interested in The Bennington Triangle, there is a great documentary on the area’s history on Youtube

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdyysF0VC20]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBPMp8H3x3w]

The Terrors of Duxbury Road

Duxbury Road – a strip cut through the mountainous topography of the Green Mountain spine. Starting as a paved road in tiny Jonesville, it quickly turns to dirt on the Bolton town line, and then becomes a desolate drive of potholed thoroughfare on its way to Duxbury, that rolls up and down steep hardwood shrouded ledges with exposed granite cliff walls that form the banks of the great Winooski River, which meanders its way in an east to west direction through the mountains here, around gravel bar islands and muddy banks. It’s a beautiful drive, especially in the summer when the road fills in with greenery and becomes shadowy, even on the brightest of days.

Perhaps it’s the dark forests and the stunning topography that gives the road it’s many disturbing legends. The tales I have been told are so obscure, that even many locals are unaware of them.

A friend of a friend, which is often how these tales go, was the first one to tell me that something was off about Duxbury Road. He finally agreed to sit down with me one night and talk about it. Duxbury Road has been rumored to be haunted for decades, but the source of activity here is almost impossible to uncover, and yet could fill a few chapters in an encyclopedia of urban legends.

According to my friend, who I’ll call “Adam” for story telling purposes, many houses along the road have experienced “something” bizarre, but residents don’t like talking about such things, and in classic Vermont stoicism, keep quiet about it. But occasionally, they’ll talk amongst themselves.

Family troubles

Though Adam couldn’t offer any incite on other people, he did have quite a few stories of his own. As a kid, Adam and his younger sister lived on an old farmhouse on Duxbury Road. For him, the weirdness started with one harrowing encounter on a summer night. His father was sitting in his armchair watching TV, when his five year old sister came out into the living room and stood next to him. His dad turned his head and smiled at her, and asked her what she wanted. “Oh nothing, I just wanted to tell you that Grandpa wanted you to know that he’s proud of you”.

He remembered that his father’s face fell, and was at a loss for words.Their grandfather had died long before she was born. Trying to compose himself, he asked her what she meant. She said that his father sometimes came to visit her at night, and when he leaves, he walks up the hill next to their house, but he has no feet. He wanted him to know that he was doing a great job raising his family, and that he would always be around when he needed him, which was something he always said before he passed away. He walked into another room and came back with an old photo album, and she was able to point out his father, despite never seeing a photo of the man before. Adam said that his father was very distressed for weeks after the incident.

Shortly after that unusual night, his little sister said she had an encounter with another family ghost, but this time she claimed to see the ghost of their dad’s dead brother, while playing hide and seek outside.

After that, the entire family began feeling uncomfortable while inside the house. Everyone recalled at one time or another, they felt like they were being watched.

Then one night, Adam recalled a terrifying incident that happened to him. He remembers waking up abruptly and becoming aware that something was in the room with him. Though he didn’t see anything, he felt its presence. Then, he felt a weight press down on the edge of the bed, and the corner of his mattress sunk down, as if someone was sitting on it. Then, he said he felt what was like an arm clasp around his leg. Too afraid to look, he screamed “leave me alone!”, and whatever it was, vanished.

More things continued to happen. His mom was sitting in the living room one night when everyone else was in bed, when she was startled to hear a noise coming from outside, what she had described as someone dragging a stick across the tin siding of their house, and stopped right underneath the window she was sitting near. She flicked on the floodlights and went to investigate, but no one was outside.

As Adam and his sister grew older, the strange disturbances seemed to fade away. But Adam had a theory. He told me that whatever was behind the supernatural phenomenon at their house was probably playful by nature, and saw him and his sister as playmates, and when they grew up, it no longer had a companion.

More Strange Happenings

Months later, I was having lunch with a friend, and our conversation soon morphed into Vermont weirdness, as we would try to outdo one another with an account that we were sure the other one had never heard of. That brought me to bring up Duxbury, and my friend became animated. “Duxbury you say? That’s strange, I had a friend who grew up in Duxbury, and he told me about a haunted road he knew about as a kid. It might be the same road” His friend grew up in Duxbury in the 50s, and recalls that at the time, the Duxbury Road had a reputation for being haunted. One of the more well known haunts was the ghost of a little girl who was hit and killed by a train after falling out of the back of a moving wagon. Apparently, there was a farmhouse down the road from her fatal accident with a shrine dedicated to the dead girl in the living room.

Another story tells of an old curmudgeonly German hermit who lived on Robbins Mountain with a pack of dogs. Very little is known about him, but one variation of the story was that the hermit was said to be a lunatic, and people knew best to avoid him. The man eventually died and the dogs went wild and dangerous. They continued to roam the slopes of Robbins Mountain, occasionally venturing near a farm or a house and killing livestock and scaring children. The story was continued to be told afterwards, but by then the dogs were ghost dogs, and has now seemed to mysteriously have been forgotten, just as the hermit who inspired the legend.

According to other legends, an unruly band of squatters once inhabited the area, and at one time long ago, the woods were home to a vicious pack of Catamounts. But these were all predictably untraceable things to uncover further.

Shadow Figures

Towards the Jonesville section of Duxbury Road, there is an old schoolhouse that was renovated into a private residence. According to some people, there is something strange about the place.

My friend Adam recalls another bizarre story that was told to him from someone with a firsthand experience. Across from the schoolhouse sat another old house that a man he once knew lived in. One night, the man awoke from his slumber and couldn’t get back to sleep. For whatever reason, he had a yen to look out the window near his bed, which faced the schoolhouse across the road. He pulled back the curtains and peered out into the night. It was almost like something was directing the man where to look, as his gaze was pulled up to the tower on top of the schoolhouse. Inside that tower, he faintly saw the silhouette of a man, and it was looking at him.

Unnerved by this, he pulled back the drapes and blamed the strange visual on being sleep deprived. He rolled back in bed and tried to forget about it, but for some reason, he couldn’t shake the weird image of the figure in the tower. Curiosity got the better of him, and he looked out the window again. This time, he noticed the tower was empty, but soon spotted the familiar dark outline of the man, this time staring at him from a window downstairs.

Wide awake, he tried to find some logic in the bizarre situation. He looked back out the window once again to see if the mysterious figure would still be there. This time, the man was standing in the middle of the road. Terrified now, he turned on all the lights in the house and waited until morning. Nothing further happened, and he never saw the figure again, but he never forgot about that night.

What exactly is going on here? What could be behind so many strange experiences on Duxbury Road? Do strange things still happen today, and are dark tales still told?

Most of the activity on Duxbury Road could very well be attached to the very land the road exists on, acting as some sort of paranormal conduit. It is said that the area is the site of an unrecognized Indian burial ground, with artifacts and human remains being unearthed over the past few centuries as the area became developed and farmed. But my attempt to inquire further about such claims were met with dead ends, putting me right back to where I started.

Could there be some sort of supernatural or awesome property in the hills of Duxbury that the Native Americans recognized? Or perhaps, these strange occurrences are nothing more than the product of yarn spinning and generations of story tellers. I suppose only the Green Mountains know for sure, and they can sure keep a secret.

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Stale Air

You know that old adage, that every (New England) town has a haunted house? Well, in my case, that turned out to be true.

There is something strange about this old farmhouse located on a heavily traveled town highway near Chittenden County. As far as first impressions go, the strange feeling can start from your first glance. In a world where we expect things to fall into man-made symmetry, this house was built differently.

The house is shaped like a V, with the point lining up with the curve formed by the road it sits on. The house has two front doors each at the point of the V, so a first assumption is that it may have been a duplex at some point (a fate that isn’t so uncommon with old Vermont houses). But once inside, you realize the house is a single residence, it was never divided into 2 properties, adding a little confusion at this unusual architectural feature.

To add a little more contemplation, the house’s rambling layout may have you a bit disoriented. The lack of hallways in the house means you enter into other rooms from other rooms, some rooms have four entrances and others only have one. Most of the windows are boarded up – sealing the inside like a tomb. Small slits of sunlight occasionally works their way in through slits in the wood, or bullet holes that had been shot in the planks.

The silence that hangs over the inside of this property is heavy and deep, and makes an amiable companion for the somber darkness – its ghosts falling through the songs of the house as their desires come undone. The only sounds you can hear are the weight of your feet making the wooden floorboards groan, or the occasional crunch of broken glass under your shoes. Most of the furniture has been removed, but various items still remain. There is a room filled with rusting bed frames and another with wooden cribs. A walk down a hallway near the front door revealed a strange discovery, the basement door had been nailed shut with railroad spikes pounded into the frame with a sledgehammer. But that’s not where this story ends. As a matter of fact, given the number of stories about this small farmhouse, it may just be this town’s most haunted house.

While there are no records of murders or tragedies within its crumbling plaster walls, there are a surprising number of terrifying stories that are told about it. But with no traceable origins, these stories are shrouded in mystery.

The Facts.

The house was built by Ethan Austin, son of one of the first settlers, David Austin. He purchased the farm when he married Clarissa Hill, and constructed the farmhouse in 1840. Later, in the 1860′s this farm was occupied by his daughter, Mrs. G. W. Crown. It has since then changed hands quite a few times, until finally transferring it to the caprices of nature. The builders decided to incorporate the property’s position on a sharp turn in the road into the design of the house – and built the unique V-shape structure that stands today, in a style known as a “Flat Iron House” – which essentially joined two buildings end to end at a 30-degree angle.  The foundation is stone with a post and beam wall structure, outfitted with Asphalt Shingle.

The farm was once large enough to hold 2 barns. Today one of these barns has crumbled away into nothing but a memory, only the half shell of a cinder block wall is barely visible through a large patch of weeds that is growing around it. The other barn sits directly across from the house, but is in terrible shape. The wooden structure is warping and slowly caving into the backside, where there is large hole in the roof. Inside the barn, underneath all the collapsing beams and crumbling roof (not a safe place to walk) are some great old antiques of yesteryear. An old tube radio, hand carved cribs, period farming equipment – all which will be lost when the barn decides to tumble. The farm has since dwindled in size as urban encroachment began making its way up the hill, bringing trailers, late century ranch houses and new cookie cutter developments of 2 car garages and pastoral named side streets.

The farmhouse and the small few acres that have survived are a melancholic enclave of what once was. Now, this is where urban myth began to manipulate the missing information. A few local residents told me that they recalled the farm being defunct as late as the 80s but the house was still an active residence until the early 90s, when it was abandoned and has remained that way ever since. However, these suggestions were only speculation – the answers are unclear. Perhaps the house was too outdated and was in need of modernization, a bill the owners couldn’t afford. Maybe it was Chittenden County’s infamous property taxes that drove them to leave. If so, then why didn’t they sell it?

Later, more information would come to light. As told by a friend, he reported that someone had recently talked to him who knew the current owner of the house, who is still alive. He speculates that a divorce was the eventual reason for its abandonment. Further tax complications would make selling the property difficult. But what seems to be more puzzling than the house’s demise, are all of the strange stories that circulate around it.

Tales of Suburban Youth

The most famous legend to come out of the dark enclaves of this house involve a classic scenario in American folklore. As the story goes, on one particular night in the 1970s, a man, for reasons unknown, shot and killed his wife and infant son. Only after a fleeting moment of clarity, he shot himself as well. However, this story is vague, and the father’s motives remain unclear. One more elaborated version of the story includes he was fighting secret wars, battling phenomenal amounts of stress and depression, which created a temporary moment of insanity. Other versions state he found out his wife was having an affair with a neighboring farmhand. Furious, he killed her. When he realized his son had been a witness, he killed him too. I asked the historical society about these stories but they assured me that no murders have ever been recorded at that house. They had never even heard of the story until I brought it up. But earlier, when I had stopped and talked to a neighbor after taking some photographs, he seemed to take a different side, and told me he swears a family was killed inside years ago. Then he stopped and corrected himself. “Well, maybe not killed, but I swear someone died in there anyways”. A strange footnote to all of this is that in the dark corners of the living room, only unveiled by the beam of a flashlight, is a dated family portrait, a small bullet hole making cracks in the glass.

Hangman

Another story I’ve heard tells of another death inside this house. Supposedly, a lonely man once lived there who had no friends, no family and was overwhelmed by his despairs. Seeing no other way out, he hung himself from a rafter in the attic. His lonely spirit is now said to haunt the attic and the second floor, his sadness living on amid the crumbling plaster walls and dusty floors. If this is true, this may account for all of the unsettling feelings of heavy sadness felt in the upper floors. I could not verify this story either. But years ago, I remember talking to one local teen who was dared to enter the house by a group of his friends. “Everything was alright until I got upstairs” he said. “Then I started to get really uncomfortable, my legs were shaking. I wanted to leave”. I asked him if he knew any of the stories about the house, and he said he didn’t. Admittedly, I felt a little unnerved upstairs as well. Was it the watchful ghost of  the gentleman that hung himself? Or was it just the creepy ambiance of an old house?

Phantom Lights

Passersby have reported to see what looks like “lantern lights” bobbing up and down through the attic windows when driving by the house late at night, but as far as I know, no one has stopped to investigate.

Camera Troubles

There is an area of the kitchen that just doesn’t like to be photographed, and I’m not quite sure why. I’ve been back to this house with several different cameras in an attempt to photograph the kitchen, but all of my photos would inexplicably come out blurry, even if they are completely still and resting on a tripod or counter top. But if I turn around and aim it towards the living room, the picture will come out without any interference. This to me is probably the strangest feature of this house – I have no explanation why.

Rushed Departure

Last summer I brought a friend of mine to the house with the intention of taking a few pictures, I didn’t plan on staying long. She had no prior knowledge of the house or it’s lore, and was eager to join. That was, until she went upstairs. For no reason, this once calm person suddenly became paralyzed with anxiety. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I’m not sure, I just don’t like it up here…it just feels really weird” she said. I could tell her own words confused her, like she had no idea what to make of these new feelings. Eventually she had to wait outside. “I can’t do it…go ahead and take your pictures, I’ll just be at the back door. I’m sorry, but I can’t”. She never came back inside, and she told me she was never going too. The few times I attempted to talk to her about it, she refuses to go into detail. I suppose I don’t blame her.

Footsteps

On one occasion, I had brought 2 friends with me on a sunny spring afternoon to visit the property. Once again, we found ourselves upstairs, me playing with the ISO settings on my camera. As I was trying to ready my camera for a picture, I heard a noise that I dreaded hearing; the sound of footsteps inside the house. I immediately tensed, my other friends noticing my reaction and did the same. We listened intently, I could feel my heart in my throat. The footsteps were heavy, like a man’s, and sounded like it was a possibility this intruder was wearing heavy boots that clomped harshly on the wooden floors. As I listened more carefully, I came to a puzzling and startling conclusion; the footsteps were coming from upstairs. That was impossible. We would have heard anyone climb the wooden stairs, we were in the room directly off them. And yet, here we were, listening to those dreadful footsteps coming from the room next door. It sounded like whoever, or whatever, was in that room was pacing back and forth continuously. As we waited, it didn’t seem like whatever it was going to leave the room. And then, as suddenly as they started, they stopped, vanishing into the dusty atmosphere of the shadowy house. We waited for several minutes, listening for them to start back up. They didn’t. And we hastily left. To this day, none of us have no idea what we heard.

Final Thoughts

Whatever inspired all of these stories is a mystery to me. As a kid, I remember hearing them being told, and as I grew older, I continued that time-honored ritual. So what exactly is at work here? The product of over active youthful imaginations that burned these tales into legend? Or do these stories have a shred of truth to them that is still waiting to be uncovered? Maybe the only ones that truly know are the ancient Maples that cast their shadows upon the house.

An interesting footnote to this story is that the current owner of the house confessed to me that the house is in fact haunted. However, the stories I had written about made him scratch his head in confusion – he had never heard of before. Strange things have happened inside he said, but nothing like what I had reported. But the owner didn’t want to elaborate any further. He gave me the gist that the house was kind of a burden to him.

Maybe its the real estate that adds to its creepiness. It was built over a swamp. It’s dank stone basement flooded pretty frequently. A talk with an employee of the local town water district verified that, as he told me he’s been to that place quite a few times, and had some complaints about the shoddy electric work, among other things.

This house, with its rural setting and creepy atmosphere is the perfect breeding ground for urban legends. It’s sort of a comforting thought in my mind, that such mysterious places still exist. As the community develops and evolves around the house, it’s always enjoyable to hear that these legends are still told, and the house still stands to mystify the next generation of curiosity seekers – daring to show you a world that is familiar and yet, completely foreign.

The Photos

These photos were taken variously throughout the years, from when I was a bullet proof teenager looking for a thrill, until a few years recently. Some of these may not be my best work, so excuse the quality. But – I’ve added them to tell the story of the house and its atmosphere. Until I find my way back to re-photograph it that is…

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The rotting ceiling of this room was patchworked with old Vermont newspapers, most with dates from the 1940s.

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