Monday is Halloween, a favorite celebration for kids of all ages. Halloween is not just about candy and costumes. Its roots are in the festival of Samhain, a tradition of the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland. Here is an interesting description of the origins of Halloween from the online Britannica website:
“Halloween is a holiday observed on Oct. 31, the eve of All Saints’ Day. Its pagan origins can be traced to the Celtic festival of Samhain, celebrated in ancient England and Ireland to mark the beginning of the Celtic new year. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on Samhain eve, and witches, goblins, black cats, and ghosts were said to roam abroad. The pagan observances influenced the Christian festival of All Hallows’ Eve, celebrated on the same date. The holiday was gradually secularized and was introduced into the U.S. by the late 19th century. Still associated with evil spirits and the supernatural, it is celebrated by children in costume who gather candy by ringing doorbells and calling out ‘trick or treat,’ ‘trick’ referring to the pranks and vandalism that are also part of the Halloween tradition.”
In The Last Green Valley there are numerous tales of souls from the dead who revisit their homes and roam abroad. Books have been written about the legends and folklore of the region and include fascinating and spooky investigations into paranormal activity in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor.
I first learned about our region’s legends, tales and hauntings from David E. Phillips, author of one of my favorite books, “Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State.” I met David at a program sponsored by the Woodstock Historical Society. The book is the culmination of his work as a professor of folklore and Connecticut studies at Eastern Connecticut State University.
The book is filled with local supernatural legends, including the story of Micah Rood’s bleeding apples from his orchard in the West Farms part of Norwich, which is now Franklin. The remains of a murdered peddler were discovered in the Rood orchard, and the following year the apples appeared with red streaks inside the fruit, considered a sign from the murdered peddler that Micah Rood was the cause of his demise.
Another book in my collection is the 2019 publication “Connecticut Spooky Trails and Tall Tales: Hiking the State’s Legends, Hauntings and History,” by Stephen Gencarella. Gencarella also picks up the story of Micah Rood, helping to put the fanciful tale into historical perspective. He also takes the reader deep in Pachaug Forest in Voluntown to learn the story of Maud, the witch of Hell Hollow Road.
The ghost of Benedict Arnold
A few years ago I met Zach Lamothe and learned about his publication “Connecticut Lore: Strange, Off-Kilter, & Full of Surprises.” Lamothe tells the tales of hauntings in his hometown, including the best-known ghost story in Norwich about the specter of the notorious Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold visiting Norwichtown Colonial Burial Ground each Halloween - at midnight. The ghostly figure is said to arrive on horseback and limp to the final resting place of his mother, Hannah Waterman King Arnold.
Here is a link to Lamothe telling the story, filmed by the Norwich Historical Society and The Last Green Valley. The story of Arnold’s ghost begins at the 4.17 minute of the video. https://thelastgreenvalley.org/walktober-2/virtual-programs/
The fascinating part of the spooky tales and legends of the region is that stories have been part of the region’s folklore and history for centuries. While often embellished, they are usually centered on a real person or event that actually happened in the past. For example, the story of Elizabeth Shaw and the Windham Inn is based in fact.
The hanging of Elizabeth Shaw in Windham
I have been past the Windham Inn many times at the intersection of Scotland Road and Windham Center Road. It is a notable building due to its age and reports of being haunted by a benevolent spirit, perhaps the ghost of Elizabeth Shaw, a Windham resident, who in 1745 was the first person executed in Connecticut. Now boarded up, there is a movement to save the building not only for its historic value but its legendary status.
Shaw had given birth to an illegitimate baby son on June 29, 1745, and fearing shame, punishment, and public humiliation, wrapped the newborn in a blanket and left it in the woods to die. Her crime was discovered, and she was tried for infanticide and sentenced to hang with the execution being carried out Dec. 18.
The horrific and tragic tale of Elizabeth Shaw and her infant is prime material for tales of hauntings. There is speculation that she is the ghostly white figure reported to be seen in the bog at the bottom of nearby Plaines Road – as if seeking her child. The Windham Inn is also near that location and has been reported to be haunted, perhaps by Elizabeth Shaw as well.
Those with a keen interest in the paranormal reports and activities in our region will want to check out the Eastern Connecticut Paranormal Society. The group’s website, www.easternctparanormal.com, is fascinating with several examples of locations where they have conducted extensive research, including the Windham Inn and the Captain Grant Inn in Preston, also a place of numerous reports of hauntings.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, full of natural wonders and historical tales that are legendary and, in some cases, spooky. I hope you’ll join me and together let us care for them, enjoy them, and pass them on.
Tomorrow is Halloween. Who’s up for a visit to Norwichtown Colonial Burial Ground?
Say around midnight?
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 860-774-3300 or email@example.com
This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Halloween: Paranormal activity and ghost stories in Norwich, Windham