In 1870, a schoolhouse in Newburyport, Massachusetts, made headlines when a ghost rattled the students and their teacher.
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In Episode 181, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger stroll down Charles Street in Newburyport, Massachusetts, searching for a haunted schoolhouse. Back in 1870, the schoolhouse ghosts kept this building in the newspapers for years to come, drawing in the curious and the skeptical. Much was published on the details of this on-going haunting that rattled the students and the poor teacher.
Read the episode transcript.
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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Additional Voice Talent: Lorna Nogueira and Michael Legge
Theme Music by: John Judd
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A drawing of Newburyport’s haunted schoolhouse from the 1873 pamphlet published by Loring Publishing, Boston.
A drawing of Miss Perkins and the ghost from the 1873 pamphlet published by Loring Publishing, Boston.
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
[WALKING ON STREET]
JEFF: Ray, school can be a scary place for a kid.
RAY: I agree, Jeff. Even before they had to worry about an invisible virus and global pandemic, there were bullies, peer pressure, violence, and all of the other awkward parts of adolescence.
JEFF: Okay, now imagine that your school house is also haunted.
RAY: That WOULD add a layer to it.
JEFF: I mean so haunted that stories of the ghosts make it into the local newspapers for years. Everyone around town knows about and talks about it, but YOU have to go to school there each day.
RAY: Yeah, that would make school even more frightening.
JEFF: That’s why we’re walking down Charles Street in Newburyport, Massachusetts. We’re searching for this town’s haunted school house.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 181 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Newburyport, Massachusetts, is the next stop on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. If you want to check out all of the legends we’ve explored so far, you can visit our Web site, OR you can download our free New England Legends app in your smart device app store. There’s an interactive map with links to every story we’ve covered so far, plus you can get driving directions so you can check them out for yourself.
JEFF: We might just be in your town next. And if we do stop by for a visit, you know we’ll bring you a cup of tea from our sponsor Nuwati Herbals!
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[WALKING ON SIDEWALK]
JEFF: Okay, Ray. We’re going back to school this week. A haunted school right here on Boston’s North Shore.
RAY: Newburyport is one of those historic, picturesque coastal towns. They call this town Clipper City, because the clipper ship was invented here. But Newburyport is also the birthplace of something everyone has heard of.
JEFF: What’s that?
RAY: The United States Coast Guard! The first revenue cutter called the Massachusetts was built here. Back in 1790, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, ordered that 10 small ships called revenue cutters be built and dispatched in Atlantic harbors. Armed with cannons and federal authority, they would approach arriving ships to collect tariffs to help raise money for this young nation.
JEFF: Right here in Newburyport! That’s pretty cool. Okay, let’s talk a walk down this street up here on the left.
[WALKING ON SIDEWALK]
RAY: Charles Street in Newburyport, looks pretty much like any other neighborhood on the south side of town. There’s some single and multi-family houses along this short street. The houses are seated pretty close together. The former James Steam Mill building takes up half of one side of the block. But I don’t see any old school house.
JEFF: The school house transformed into something else long ago, but the legends persist. To see it all, let’s head back to October of 1870, and set this up.
RAY: It’s early October of 1870 here on Charles Street in Newburyport, and we’re standing outside a small, pitch-roofed building that serves as a school for local boys. It’s technically a one and a half story building, with two windows allowing light into the garret above the classroom. There’s a broken fence bordering a mostly bare yard. The building is scratched and drab in color, green blinds hang in the windows. Inside, there’s one open room with seven rows of long benches that serve as desks for 60 students, and in the front is a raised platform for the teacher’s desk. This isn’t the finest school in the region. The kids here come from the working class. It’s not the kind of building or students that most folks notice.
JEFF: Suddenly, from somewhere in the otherwise quiet room, someone hears a noise.
[KNOCKING ON WALL]
JEFF: Just a knock. It could have been anything, really. Some kid may have knocked on his desk. The class looks around, sees no one is at the door, so they goes back to their silent work.
[FOOTSTEPS ON WOOD]
JEFF: But now there are footsteps. The only problem is… there’s no one walking in the room. The students and even the teacher look around. They’re a little uneasy, but there must be some logical explanation.
RAY: The teacher is new. And she’s determined to keep control of this classroom. But what do you do when the nuisance is not someone you can scold or whip? And suddenly, it dawns on the teacher why the last teacher left after only one school year.
JEFF: The strange knocks and ghostly sounds come during morning prayers. During recitations. They happen when the classroom is crowded, and when it’s empty. The young teacher, Miss Lucy Perkins, who considers herself to have a firm temperament and a commanding use of the English language, is left with only one word her lexicon.
RAY: Sometimes the knocks are subtle.
RAY: Other times it’s a thunder clap that shakes the entire building.
RAY: Sometimes it comes from the wall. Other times the teacher’s desk. Sometimes the floor. Some of the sounds are so loud, that the boys can only try to shout their lessons over the rumble. If there’s a repeating pattern to this unexplained phenomenon, none of us can find it.
JEFF: Then there’s the doors.
[DOOR OPENS WITH CREAK THEN SLAMS]
JEFF: Closet doors open and close by themselves. As do doors to the outside world and the door that leads to the garret area above. The teacher and students are scared. And they’re talking. Kids tell other kids and their parents, and pretty soon, some adults are showing up to see what all the fuss is about.
[KNOCK, KNOCK, BOOM]
JEFF: But they too witness the poltergeist. And now these Charles Street School ghosts start to make headlines.
RAY: And headlines draw in more curious people. It’s creating a problem. The December 23rd 1872 Boston Globe publishes a notice.
NEWSMAN: The haunted school house at Newburyport has been visited by such crowds of curious students of occult science as to materially interfere with the regular exercises, and the school committee have published a notice to the effect that only the committee themselves will for the future be allowed to interview the spirits.
JEFF: So it’s been two years of strange phenomena going on inside the Charles Street School House with no explanation. But it’s clearly a growing problem. About three months after that previous article, the Boston Globe publishes another notice on March 4th, 1873.
NEWSMAN: On Saturday evening a party of stranger obtained admission to the Newburyport haunted school house and held a session through the night. Miss Perkins, the teacher, is to have four weeks’ vacation, and it is said that she was ordered, Saturday morning, that she must keep herself shut up during that time and answer no questions concerning the ghost, or she would be discharged.
RAY: How can Miss Perkins keep ignoring these strange events? How can this rational and professional woman keep lying to the children?
PERKINS: It’s rodents, children.
RAY: Yeah, right.
PERKINS: It’s just the wind.
JEFF: That doesn’t sound like wind.
PERKINS: The cold weather is making the wood pop.
RAY: Okayyy… but how do you explain the strange yellow glow that seems to come from nowhere inside the middle of the room?
PERKINS: It’s the… uhhhh… Back to your lessons, children!
JEFF: When the kids get too frightened, she makes them sing songs like “Here We Stand Hand in Hand,” or “The Farmer’s Boy.” But Miss Perkins can only distract them for so long.
[SLAP OF HAND ON WINDOW]
RAY: One boy’s attention is drawn to the window where the pale hand of a child just slapped against the glass. There’s the hand still pressed against the window, as if trying to push through. Then another student sees the hand, then another. In seconds all eyes are on the window, and that’s when the hand pulls away. Not one to be tricked, Miss Perkins is out the door in seconds ready to grab the prankster by the ear…
RAY: But the school yard is empty. Miss Perkins knows had that been a living child, she would see him running off. There wasn’t enough time to get around the building without being seen.
JEFF: That’s how life in school is these days. Haunted. But it’s November 1st, 1873, when events reach a crescendo.
RAY: Outside gray clouds are moving in, and the temperature is falling to a frigid 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
JEFF: That’s pretty cold for this time of year.
RAY: It’s just before 3:00 PM during a Geography lesson. Eight of the oldest boys in the class are doing their lessons in the southern side of the room. That’s when one of the students notices a boy entering the building.
JEFF: Miss Perkins springs to action to meet the boy and ask what he thinks he’s up to interrupting the class like this. The boy looks to be about 13 years old, and is walking, almost gliding into the room. Miss Perkins closes within four feet of the boy when she realizes something is very different about this child. She can almost see through him. She can make out the color of the boy’s blue eyes, his face looks sad, his trousers are black, his shirt is brown, his clothes look well-worn. But he’s NOT solid. Miss Perkins is now face-to-face with the school house ghost. That’s when the teacher gasps.
JEFF: The specter of the boy keeps his eyes transfixed on Miss Perkins as he glides toward the door to the upstairs garret. It opens without anyone touching it.
JEFF: The boy glides up the stairs and Miss Perkins follows. Her rigid body language shows us the range of emotions she’s going through right now. Scared. Perturbed. Concerned. And a little curious.
RAY: Miss Perkins almost trips on the stairs following the boy. He looks back at her from the top of the stairs, his face more melancholy than ever.
[FOOTSTEPS UP THE STAIRS]
RAY: Miss Perkins walks to the top of the stairs never taking her eyes off the boy. At the last step, she reaches out to touch him, but her hands pass right through! The ghostly boy locks eyes with the teacher for one more second… then vanishes. He’s gone.
JEFF: This isn’t the last ghostly event. In the coming weeks more distinct voices are heard from the garret above, and footsteps, though there’s no one up there… well, no one living.
RAY: Meanwhile, students are dropping out of the school out of fear. The school committee brings in clergy, and even the local postmaster to declare the building can’t be haunted. But when stories and events go on like this for years, they don’t depart easily. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Most of what we know about this haunted Newburyport school house comes from the Boston Globe newspaper articles we referenced earlier, but also from a pamphlet that was published in 1873 by Loring Publishing out of Boston called: The Haunted Schoolhouse at Newburyport.
RAY: So the million-dollar question, Jeff.
RAY: What happened to the ghost?
JEFF: So many journalists, skeptics, writers, and locals came in to try and figure out the cause, but no one really could. By 1875, the strange phenomena stopped, and the school went back to normal. But five years is a really long time to be haunted. No one can really say why it started or why it went away.
RAY: And what became of the school?
JEFF: Eventually the school was remodeled into a house as this street turned into a neighborhood. People have been living in the building ever since, apparently without incident. The house is right over there.
RAY: Very cool! We should point out that out of respect for the privacy of the current home owners, we’re not going to give out the address.
JEFF: I love that when something bumps in the night… or during the day, for that matter, the story spreads. It’s easy to scoff and say there’s no such thing as a ghost, until you confront something that you just can’t explain. Add up enough of these events over time, and you too may be left with one word: Haunted.
RAY: We’d love it if you haunted us. Please get more involved with our community. Join our super-secret Facebook group, share your favorite episodes with your friends, or better yet, become a patreon patron. For just $3 bucks per month you’ll get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Head over the patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Lorna Nougeria and Michael Legge for lending their voice acting talent this week. We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals. And our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL: This Reed Savory, formerly of Innsmouth, and the wild hills of West Arkham. Remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.