Podcast 241 – The Case of the Haunted Londonderry Farm

In 1890, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled on the case of a haunted Londonderry farm.


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In Episode 241, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the case of a haunted farmhouse in Londonderry, New Hampshire, that made the news in 1891 because the man who bought the farm didn’t know it was haunted. He sued the former owner, bringing the case all the way to the state Supreme Court where the court was forced to rule on the haunting.

Read the episode transcript.

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CREDITS:
Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Additional Voice Talent: John Bashford
Theme Music by: John Judd

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A derelict and abandoned farmhouse at Nun’s Cross a remote part of Dartmoor National Park near Princetown in Devon

A sketch of the haunted Londonderry farm house from the August 30, 1891 Boston Globe.

A sketch of the haunted Londonderry farm house from the August 30, 1891 Boston Globe.

A sketch of George Butler from the August 30, 1891 Boston Globe.

A sketch of George Butler from the August 30, 1891 Boston Globe.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

RAY: Jeff, do you ever think we’ll… or ANYONE… for that matter, will prove the existence of ghosts?
JEFF: Ray, I’ve been pondering that question for my entire 25 year career so far. The answer I typically give is that is HAS been proven to millions of witnesses all over the world from every walk of life, but because this can turn into a matter of faith and belief, I don’t think we’ll ever get 100% market share on that.
RAY: I get that. Think of how many religions are out there convinced they follow the truth. They can’t all be right… right?!
JEFF: Depends who you ask, I guess. And while no amount of proof will ever be enough for some people, we’ve come to this rural section of Londonderry, New Hampshire, because at one point in time, a local man proved the existence of ghosts beyond a reasonable doubt.
RAY: How did he do that?
JEFF: He did it in New Hampshire’s supreme court, and the judge ruled in his favor. We’re in Londonderry, to examine the case of the haunted farm.
[INTRO]
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 241 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about 15 minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, we’re glad you’re with us each week as we explore the haunts, monsters, the UFOs, the true crime, the roadside oddities, and the just plain weird things that make New England like no other place. We’re a community of legend seekers always looking for the next story. We love when you contact us with your local story leads. Reach out to us anytime through our Web site, our super secret Facebook group, or you can always call or text our legend line anytime at 617-444-9683.
JEFF: Before we explore this strange case of a haunted Londonderry Farm, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
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RAY: So Londonderry is a pretty little southern New Hampshire town. It’s nestled in the southeastern corner of the state between Nashua and Derry. Founded in 1722, it’s one of those great, old, historic New England towns.
JEFF: It sure is.
RAY: A no B.S.-kind of place. They tell it like it is around here.
JEFF: True now, and it was true then.
RAY: Let’s say a building IS haunted.
JEFF: Okay.
RAY: You’re inside. You see a ghost. It tips its ghostly hat, then vanishes before your eyes.
JEFF: Okay, I’m picturing it now.
RAY: No one needs to tell you this place is haunted!
JEFF: That’s right! I saw it for myself.
RAY: How in the world can you prove it to others, though?
JEFF: It’s a great question. And one that had to be answered in the Superior Court of New Hampshire back in 1890.
RAY: Then let’s head back, and hear what lead up to this case.
[TRANSITION]
RAY: It’s January of 1882, and George Butler of Pelham, New Hampshire, is interested in purchasing Moody Morse’s farm in Londonderry. The farm includes various buildings situated on the property, plus a small house. This farm has been here for a long time and was once known as the Baker Farm. The price is $1700.
JEFF: George Butler agrees to pays a portion of the $1700 in cash, and the balance via bank notes to Moody’s daughters. Basically, it’s a mortgage kind of arrangement. But of course, he’d like to see the property and buildings first-hand before he agrees.
RAY: Of course! The thing is, George Butler is a stranger in Londonderry. He didn’t grow up here, and doesn’t know anyone, really. But he likes the Moody farm and believes he can make this an investment property. The plan is to rent the farm and house out to tenants.
JEFF: As you can imagine, Butler has some questions about the property. Springs, water, neighbors, and things like that. Moody Morse agrees to meet Butler at the property on a specific time and day, but when Butler arrives, he finds only the keys to the house left by a neighbor who passes along Moody’s regrets that he couldn’t be here in person.
RAY: No big deal, though. I mean, Butler is a smart guy. He can figure out this farm. And the keys get him into the various buildings for inspection.
JEFF: Butler wants the farm, he and Moody agree to the terms, they shake hands, and the deeds are transferred to Butler. It’s also convenient that the home and buildings aren’t occupied at the time of the sale. So he can move in a tenant right away.
RAY: The day after the sale closes, a stranger asks Butler if he knows the farm he just bought is haunted.
[LAUGHING]
RAY: Butler laughs at the idea. But the stranger insists the reason the farm was empty and for sale was because no one would live there.
JEFF: The stranger leaves, and Butler shakes his head. He is NOT the superstitious type. Soon, Butler rents the house to a family from another town who will work the farm and pay Butler rent.
RAY: But before that family can move in, the house needs a few minor repairs. So there’s Butler, standing in the kitchen with a worker he’s hired to make some of the repairs when suddenly…
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
RAY: There’s a knock at the front door. Thinking there’s another worker arriving at the house, Butler calls out, inviting whoever is there to come in. He then returns to his conversation.
[LOUDER KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
RAY: When the second, more persistent knock strikes his door, and no one bothers with the latch, Butler walks to the front door….
[DOOR CREAKS OPEN]
RAY: And discovers no one is there.
JEFF: Maybe it was the wind or something.
RAY: Sure… I guess.
JEFF: It’s not a house Butler is used to, so who knows! So Butler and his employee spend the day fixing up the house.
[SAWING HAMMERING]
JEFF: They fix loose shingles on the siding, tightening hinges on the doors, and makes other small repairs.
RAY: Still, his new tenants are nervous. The family has now heard about the haunted reputation from neighbors. They’re not sure if this is a good idea.
JEFF: But Butler is sure he’s taken care of the so-called ghosts by tightening up the loose fixtures and things like that. He tells his new tenants that they can stay here rent-free for a little while because then people will see there’s no problem. Free rent is enough of a bargain to convince the family, so they move in.
[NIGHT SOUNDS CRICKETS]
RAY: After a few nights in their new, rent-free home, the family hears some strange sounds.
[FOOTSTEPS ON WOODEN FLOORS]
[DOOR SLAM]
RAY: It’s more than they can take. Rent-free or not, the family does NOT want to live with a ghost, so they leave.
JEFF: Butler moves quick to find another tenant from out of town.
[GHOSTLY MOANS]
JEFF: That tenant doesn’t last long either. Over the next six years, there were only two years that the house was rented and it took SIX different tenants to fill those two years. There’s a lot of turnover.
RAY: Some tenants claimed they’d hear footsteps and other strange noises in the attic. They would investigate, but find no one there.
JEFF: During one of the long stretches while the house sat empty, a neighbor was walking by at night, and said he saw an unnatural light glowing in the house. He knew no one was living there at the time.
RAY: One brief tenant claims he saw a female figure gliding by about three feet above the ground in front of the house.
JEFF: Every neighbor has heard the rumors, some have heard the phenomena for themselves, and every tenant left spooked.
RAY: After six years, and so many problems surrounding this haunted house, Butler is forced to conclude there REALLY is something going here. And with no renters, it’s getting difficult to pay his mortgage. It’s January of 1888 when Butler makes a claim for an allowance on one of his bank notes. He claims he shouldn’t have to pay the full amount because this property’s bad and haunted reputation had not been disclosed to him at the time of the sale.
JEFF: But the mortgage holder won’t hear it. The Moody family wants their money. In March of 1889, they attempt to foreclose on the farm.
RAY: While this should be an open-and-shut case of a borrower not paying his bills, it’s not. It’s June of 1890 when the case goes to court in New Hampshire. It works its way all the way up to the state Supreme Court.
[JUDGE GAVEL BANGS ON BENCH]
JUDGE: The court will now hear the case between George C. Butler of Pelham, New Hampshire, and Mrs. Morse of Londonderry.
JEFF: By this time, Moody Morse had passed away, and now his daughters own the mortgage rights.
RAY: Both sides present their case. Butler argues that every neighbor knows the haunted reputation, plus, he has the proof of his own senses, and that of all of his tenants who refused to stay in a haunted dwelling. No one told Butler the place was haunted before he made the purchase.
JEFF: Meanwhile, the Morse daughters argue there are no such things as ghosts. They can’t help what other people believe.
RAY: Ohhh it looks like the judge has reached a verdict.
[JUDGE GAVEL BANGS ON BENCH]
JUDGE: The case finds that the bad reputation of the dwelling house upon the farm known to Moody Morse at the time of the sale, and unknown to the plaintiff, decreased its value of $300. It was Morse’s duty at the time he sold the farm to tell Butler anything that affected the value of the farm in respect to which Butler did not have equal means of knowledge himself, and when he sold him a house which he knew no one would live in on account of its reputation, and concealed from him this fact, he committed a fraud upon him, and justice requires that the decree of the court should be so modified that these defendants should account to the plaintiff for the sum of $300 and interest from the 28th day of January, 1882.
In this case, whether any one believes in ghosts or not, the fact remains that the dwelling house on this farm is reported to be haunted, and in consequence of its reputation, it is difficult to sell or lease it.
RAY: Wow! $300 bucks! That’s almost 20 percent of the total value of the farm!
JEFF: During the hearing, it comes out that Moody Morse never lived on the farm. He purchased the property and buildings for his son and his young bride. The two lived here until the young woman died suddenly. After that, no one seemed to want to stay in the house. And that brings us back to today.
[TRANSITION]
RAY: And one of the tenants claimed to see the apparition of a woman gliding by!
JEFF: That’s right! What an intriguing story!
RAY: It is!
JEFF: It’s worth noting the court didn’t directly rule on the existence of ghosts. Just that this house had a reputation that was not disclosed to the buyer, George Butler.
RAY: Yeah but aren’t we splitting hairs, here? The reputation was a haunted one. People believed there were ghosts there, and tenants wouldn’t stay very long. GHOSTS are the thing that wasn’t disclosed to the buyer.
JEFF: Fair point.
RAY: Most of what we know about his strange case comes from the August 30, 1891 Boston Globe article that covered the story.
JEFF: I know when a story takes place in the 1800s, it’s easy to think of that as the dark ages. But 1891 isn’t all that long ago. Plus, it’s worth noting that this case could have had the same outcome today!
RAY: Really?
JEFF: There are plenty of rulings in Real Estate law related to what’s called “Stigmatized Properties.” It means the property has some kind of stigma that must be disclosed. A classic example would be some kind of horrific murder. One that maybe made the news years ago, and every now and then, true crime fans come knocking at the door wanting to get in and see the former crime scene.
RAY: Shoot, I can think of some houses like that. The infamous Amityville House in Long Island, New York for one.
JEFF: Absolutely. That house goes up for sale every few years. If you were shopping for houses in that area, the owner would have to disclose to you that this is the DeFeo Murder House, and is considered one of the most haunted homes on earth. If you don’t care, fine. At least you were told. But if you weren’t told, and you bought the house, then had to deal with the nightmare of people stopping by your houses at all hours of the day and night to this very day, you would have a pretty solid legal case to get your money back.
RAY: This court ruling does confirm one thing: if enough people believe in ghosts to the point of not wanting to live in a certain house, then the owner better start believing… or it could cost them big bucks.
[OUTTRO]
JEFF: That it could. Belief is a powerful thing.
RAY: And we’re grateful that our patreon patrons believe in us! These folks have had our backs for years. For just $3 bucks per month they get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. We don’t have a big podcast network behind us, we have something better. We have you. If you can help, please head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
JEFF: Please be sure to subscribe to our show so you don’t miss a thing. You can find us for free wherever you get your podcasts. And tell a friend or two about our show. We love when our community grows.
RAY: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, thanks to John Bashford for lending his voice acting talents this week, and out theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.

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