In Episode 211, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the haunting of Highgate Manor in Highgate, Vermont. Once the home of Dr. Henry Baxter, some believe the doctor performed strange experiments on his children sending them to an early grave. Later, the house was turned into an inn where notorious mobster Al Capone once stayed. Today the stately home sits empty, save for the ghosts and legends still lurking inside.
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RAY: You seem a little nervous, Jeff.
JEFF: I am a little nervous, Ray. The place we’re going has some downright dark legends surrounding it.
RAY: We’re driving down Route 207 into the small town of Highgate, Vermont. It’s pretty rural around here. Not too many houses. Just a town green and…. Wait a minute… that’s one spooky-looking house over there on the left.
JEFF: That old Victorian mansion is our destination.
RAY: I get that it looks spooky, but just because it looks like that doesn’t mean anything… does it?
JEFF: That’s the old Highgate Manor Inn. Legendary mobster Al Capone once stayed here, but that’s not the half of it. They say this was once home to a doctor who performed strange experiments on his children… and now… the place is haunted.
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 211 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about 10 minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re a community of legend seekers sharing these tales of history and lore in our podcast, in the New England Legends television series that you can watch right now on Amazon Prime, and in our super-secret Facebook group – now more than 5000 members in that group and growing fast. We love it when you reach out to us anytime because so many of our story leads come from you.
RAY: Before we go looking for ghosts in this creepy old Highgate, Vermont, house, we want to take a minute to thank our Patreon Patrons! For years now these legendary people have been helping us with our production costs, Web hosting, promotion, and everything else that we do to keep growing. We appreciate them more than we can express. It’s just $3 bucks per month if you can help us. AND you’ll get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Just head over to Patreon.com/NewEnglandLegends to sign up.
[CAR STOPPING AND GETTING OUT]
JEFF: This place has the look, doesn’t it?
RAY: It sure does. It’s a fancy Victorian-type building. It’s three-stories tall with a large cupola on the top that’s glassed in. Kind of like a look-out. The house is painted yellow with white trim. It’s easy to imagine this was the finest house in town at one time. (UNSURE) And yeah… there is a bit of a creepy vibe here.
JEFF: This is the old Highgate Manor Inn. It’s been shut down for quite a while. But before it was an inn, it was a private home built in 1818 by Captain Steve Keyes. The Keyes family lived here for many years. Eventually, in the 1860s, the home was a stop for the Underground Railroad. But it’s shortly after the Civil War that the legend begins.
RAY: Let’s head back to the autumn of 1870.
RAY: It’s September of 1870, and this charming house is now the home of Dr. Henry Baxter. Dr. Baxter converts part of the house into his medical practice inside the building he calls Highgate Manor.
JEFF: Dr. Baxter has made quite a name for himself, and quite a few dollars along the way, I might add… selling his medicines and elixirs. Ray, check out this newspaper ad from the Saint Albans, Vermont, Democrat Newspaper.
RAY: Okay, it says: Have you got the sick headache? Take Dr. Henry Baxter’s Bitters. Have you got Dyspepsia or Sour Stomach? Take Dr. Henry Baxter’s Bitters.
JEFF: Have you got a poor appetite? Take Dr. Henry Baxter’s Bitters. Are you weak and feeble from long sickness or other causes? Take Dr. Henry Baxter’s Bitters. Do you get tired early or inclined to be sleepy?
RAY/JEFF TOGETHER: Take Dr. Henry Baxter’s Bitters.
JEFF: You get the point. Dr. Henry Baxter manufactures Mandrake Bitters and sells them in liquid and pill form for 25 cents per bottle. And business… is good.
RAY: The thing about mandrake is it contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids…
JEFF: Say that ten times fast.
RAY: I barely got it out once!
JEFF: So you’re saying this drug could make you trip out.
RAY: At least a little bit… but you’ll feel better!
JEFF: I bet you will! Besides being a medical doctor, and proprietor of his own pharmaceutical company, Dr. Henry Baxter also owns a few other businesses in town.
RAY: What else does he have his hands in?
JEFF: He owns a drug and grocery store, a furniture store… and… (PAUSE) the H.W. Baxter and Company Undertakers…
RAY: Wait, wait, wait… the town doctor is also the undertaker?
RAY: That’s gotta be a conflict of interest!
JEFF: You’d think. Anyway, the guy is wealthy and owns the nicest house in town.
RAY: It’s February of 1872, when Doctor Baxter decides to cash out of his medicine business. He sells his White’s Elixir, Baxter’s Worm Lozenges…
RAY: Pain Extractor, and Fly Paper to the Lord Brothers of Burlington for what the newspapers have called quote, “A handsome fortune.”
JEFF: This is where things get weird. Sure, Dr. Baxter cashed out, but rumors fly that he’s still experimenting with drugs and elixirs. Maybe to try and sell them for another fortune.
RAY: You can never have too much money.
JEFF: True. The rumors are that Dr. Baxter is experimenting with his drugs on his young children… which explains why they all die so young from inexplicable illnesses. Still, when you’re that wealthy and influential, people don’t ask too many questions.
RAY: Dr. Henry Baxter dies in 1898, and soon the Manor is taken over by Philip Schmitt. By 1917, Schmitt converts the property into an upscale vacation resort. He begins to add on to the property.
[SAWING AND HAMMERING]
RAY: Schmitt builds the Manor Annex, and a new dance hall, billed as the largest and best dance hall in the North. And the reputation grows as people turn this small town and this large house into a destination.
JEFF: During prohibition, the basement of the Manor is converted into a Speakeasy.
RAY: People will always find a way to drink.
JEFF: It’s during this time period that notorious mobster Al Capone stays here. It’s the best accommodations in town, the food is great, and he can connect with local rum-runners. No doubt Capone heard the tales of Hilda Stone while he’s up here.
RAY: Of course! Hilda Stone, the Bootlegger Queen of Vermont.
JEFF: When Prohibition ends, and we move into the 1940s, big bands like Benny Goodman and his orchestra perform here. As do other acts… each leaving a mark behind, and building the legend of the Manor House even bigger.
RAY: It’s 1952 when tragedy strikes in the form of a fire. Some workers are burning some leaves a little too close to the building, when one of the newer buildings catches fire and burns to the ground. By the 1960s, this Manor House and Inn, slips into obscurity. It’s still a regional favorite for many, enough to keep it in business, but it’s not thriving like it once was. The bar and restaurant keep the place afloat.
JEFF: And there’s talk of the place being haunted. The basement bar is named after its most infamous patron: Al Capone, and it’s down there that some of the staff report strange ghostly activity. There’s a presence. Some believe maybe it’s Capone swinging by for one more drink, but others go to a darker place… assuming it’s the ghosts of Dr. Henry Baxter’s lost children. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: The Highgate Manor Inn kind of putters along through the 1980s and 1990s, but struggles to keep up with the times. Plus, vacationers are flocking to other places in the region—feeling the call of the mountains or the lakes. By 2006, the owners can’t keep up with the bills, and the house is sold at auction.
JEFF: There is one problem with the backstory of this haunting.
RAY: What’s that?
JEFF: The story about Dr. Henry Baxter’s multiple dead children. We did some digging, and it turns out Henry and his wife Adelia only had one son, Frank Woodruff Baxter who was born in 1843. He lived long enough to marry and have two children, and then die the same year as his father in 1887.
RAY: I still struggle with Dr. Baxter being the medical doctor, selling medicines, AND owning the undertaker business.
JEFF: Talk about full service, huh?
RAY: (LAUGHING) Right?! If you went to see him and you were sick, and you heard the undertaker business was slow… you’d have concerns, right?!
JEFF: Good point. By 2006 the owner of the Highgate Manor fell into legal trouble with the government, and the building was sold at auction.
RAY: Do you think it’s haunted?
JEFF: Highgate Manor has been around for more than two centuries. Multiple families lived here. Add in the Underground railroad, a doctor’s office, and an inn, with countless people coming and going, and I have no doubt it’s haunted. And when something bumps in the night, it’s natural to want to define it. To give it a name and identity. You hear a rumor, and suddenly… BOOM! That must be the ghost. But the truth is we don’t know much beyond the layers of history and lore that surround an otherwise spooky and abandoned old house.
RAY: Like we said earlier… the place has the look. You get a feeling here.
JEFF: And I get the feeling we would love more of you to tell your friends about our podcast. Post and share your favorite episodes to your social media, and post a review for us on Apple Podcasts. It just takes a second and really helps others find us in a big sea filled with podcasts.
RAY: Speaking of a big sea of podcasts, lately we’ve been telling you about some of our favorite podcasts that we listen to.
JEFF: This week I wanted to tip my hat to a juggernaut of a podcast. The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe. I love his storytelling, his personality, and the way he connects with his audience with just a laugh. This guy does everything well, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when his podcast is amazing too.
RAY: It’s a good one for sure. But we have something Mike Rowe does not.
JEFF: What’s that?
RAY: Our theme music is by John Judd!
JEFF: Right on. Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.