In Episode 243, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger investigate Gould Court in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where a poltergeist haunting made the news back in the early 1880s. Were the strange knocks and thumps just the house settling, or could they have been something more sinister?
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JEFF: So we’ll turn left here onto Washington Street in Gloucester….
JEFF: And now we’re looking for Gould Court. It should be the next street on the right.
RAY: Yup… there it is… Huh, it looks like it’s a dead end street.
JEFF: You don’t know the half of it.
JEFF: We’ve come to Gloucester, Massachusetts, because there was a house on this short street… at least according to the newspapers… that they say is haunted. We’re searching for Gloucester’s Gould Court Ghoul.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 243 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. Thanks 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 who search for the strange, the haunted, and the out-of-this-world. The events and legends that have left a mark to the point where we’re still talking about them. We’re glad you’re with us.
JEFF: Also, be sure to subscribe to our podcast, and tell a friend or two about what we’re doing. Great things happen when you share stories.
RAY: Before we go looking for the Gould Court Ghost, we want to take just a minute to thank our patreon patrons!
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JEFF: Okay, Ray. Let’s get out of the car and have a look around.
[CAR DOOR SHUTS]
RAY: Gould Court is a really short street. It’s maybe about a block and a half in length. There are a few historic buildings here. I can see the side of the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church up ahead. And it looks like a couple of these houses are multi-family apartments.
JEFF: We’re in the heart of the coastal town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The film Coda, which won really big at the most recent Oscars, was filmed here. Of course, so was the movie: A Perfect Storm. This is an historic fishing town. It pretty much always has been. And it would seem this town has always had its ghosts too.
RAY: What self-respecting New England town DOESN’T have its ghosts?
JEFF: Good point. To find this Gloucester Ghoul, let’s head back to 1881.
RAY: It’s early October of 1881 here in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It’s a strange time for the nation. Just a couple of weeks ago, Chester Arthur was sworn in as President of the United States. He’s the third person to hold the highest office in the land this year alone!
JEFF: That’s right! Earlier this year Rutherford B. Hayes ended his first and only term in office, then handed the presidency to his friend, James Garfield. Then this past July, Garfield was shot by an assassin. Though the bullet didn’t initially kill him, Garfield suffered wounds that left him lingering for months until he died September 19th. Chester Arthur was sworn in the next day.
RAY: So it’s a confusing time in national politics, but here in the town of Gloucester, life goes on. Time and tide waits for no one, as they say. The population in town is just over 19,000 people, so it’s bustling. Most of the folks here earn here living by the sea in one way or another.
JEFF: Our destination is 12 Gould Court because the word around town is that there are some strange happenings afoot. Ghostly happenings. Let’s go inside.
JEFF: This is a multi-family tenement owned by Michael O’Maley, who lives nearby. It’s two-stories tall, and also has a basement and an attic. The basement is slightly lower than ground-level, the first floor starts about six feet above ground, and the second floor is above that. The first floor is occupied by Henry Hatch. He’s a fisherman who lives here with his wife and three children. On one side of the second floor, fisherman Stephen McKinney lives with his wife and three children, and in the other second-floor apartment is Mrs. Gillis.
RAY: We’re here to see Mrs. McKinney. She said all of this fuss started with some strange knocks from somewhere in the house.
JEFF: She explains that sometimes weeks will go by and they hear nothing. So we’ll sit and wait.
[TICK TOCK OF OLD CLOCK]
RAY: And wait.
JEFF: And wait….
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
RAY: Okay, I heard that!
JEFF: Me too! Mrs. McKinney claims that’s what they hear!
RAY: It sounds like a knock on their front door.
JEFF: It does.
RAY: Let’s go check.
[WALKING DOWN STAIRS]
RAY: Huh… there’s no one here. Think it’s a prank?
JEFF: I guess it could be. Kids knocking on doors and running off.
JEFF: Back upstairs, Mrs. McKinney insists that’s her ghost.
RAY: Come on… that could have been ANYTHI….
[3 HUGE THUMPS]
JEFF: Okay, that’s no knock at the door. That sounded like someone hitting the wall with a sledgehammer!
RAY: That shook the whole house! I could hear the plates rattling in the kitchen like it was a minor earthquake or something! Mrs. McKinney looks pretty shaken herself.
JEFF: I can imagine. She has to live here with her family.
RAY: Stephen McKinney explains that sometimes these loud thumps on the house go on for hours. He’d even run down to the basement to see if it was something down there, but the basement is locked tight, and there’s no sign of anyone trying to break in anywhere.
JEFF: And then comes the worse part…
JEFF: Silence that can go on for hours, or days, or even weeks. And just when you start to relax. Just when you let your guard down a little…
[3 HUGE THUMPS]
JEFF: It happens again. And everyone is rattled.
RAY: Three years go by. The knocks continue. And they stop. The residents at 12 Gould Court start to notice patterns. They find that the knocks are more common in the fall and winter months.
JEFF: It’s especially stressful for Mrs. McKinney. Her husband is away on his fishing boat for many days at a time, while she’s left home alone with the children in a haunted house.
RAY: Okay, if it’s happening in the fall and winter, maybe it’s normal house noises? Wood contains moisture. When the house is warmed from the inside, and the air outside is cold, wood can creak and pop as it expands and contracts.
JEFF: Sure, that absolutely can happen. But have you ever heard of wood contracting to the point where it rattles dishes in the kitchen? And the thumps continue for hours?
RAY: No, nothing like that. Maybe it’s termites, and parts of the house are cracking and breaking?
JEFF: They thought of that too. Every inch of the house is inspected looking for some natural cause, but none are found. These poltergeist noises happen when people are home alone, and guests have heard it too. After three years, the stories are getting around enough that this haunt makes the Boston Daily Globe newspaper. Ray, check out this headline from the March 3rd, 1884 paper.
RAY: It reads: Ghosts in Gloucester. The Mysterious Noises in Gould’s Court. Frequent Gratuitous Rappings Unexplained.
JEFF: Henry Hatch, who you may recall lives on the first floor with his family. Has only heard the strange knocks once. But that may be because like Stephen McKinney, he’s also a fisherman, and gone for long stretches at a time. Neither men are here much.
RAY: But Mrs. Hatch… she’s heard the knocks and bangs so many times that she says she’s no longer afraid. I guess she figures if this ghostly visitor meant to do harm it would have done so by now. Mrs. McKinney, says she’s afraid of her own shadow, but then points out that the men are more frightened of the knocks than the women in the house.
JEFF: Given this poltergeist phenomena has been going on for so long, they have noticed another pattern as to where in the house the sound originates. It’s most often heard coming from the wall facing the cellarway, but then it can suddenly shift to a wall about 12 feet away in the Hatch’s kitchen. The noise is always heard throughout the house, and some of the larger bangs can even be heard in neighboring houses.
RAY: And then there’s the door to the basement. Sometimes it rattles and shakes. Sometimes the handle will shake as if someone on the other side is desperately trying to open the door.
RAY: But when you open the basement door during one of these episodes…
RAY: There’s nothing there but darkness.
JEFF: The other strange patterns they’ve noticed inside the house, is that the knocks and thumps never occur before 7PM in the evening, and end no later than midnight.
RAY: So a considerate poltergeist.
JEFF: Right. In fact, after so many months of these unexplained knocks and bangs, the residents of 12 Gould Court gave this mysterious ghostly entity a name.
RAY: What name is that?
JEFF: You may not believe me if I tell you.
RAY: Try me.
JEFF: They call him… Old Jeffrey.
RAY: And here you are! Coincidence?
JEFF: There are no coincidences. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: And don’t EVER call me Jeffrey.
RAY: It’s worth noting the day after the first Boston Daily Globe article came out, there was a follow-up article about the haunting, including a diagram of the Gould Court apartment showing where the knocks came from within the building.
JEFF: The follow-up article, the one from March 4th, 1884, made the front page of the Boston Daily Globe. Above the fold too!
RAY: Which means Greater Boston area readers wanted to know more about this haunt.
JEFF: Exactly right. Now, I know Hollywood will never make a horror movie about a house that knocks on the wall. It’s just not enough. Plus, think about where you live. You know your home. You know which stair creaks, you know exactly what it sounds like when a person you live with opens the front door, and walks down the hallway. You know where the pipes are in the wall, and how they tick when water runs through them.
RAY: Sure, you learn those unique sounds within a few weeks of living somewhere new.
JEFF: So you also know when sounds are off. When it’s NOT something normal. That’s true today, and it was true in the 1880s on Gould Court in Gloucester.
RAY: Se here’s the big question: What became of this haunting?
JEFF: That’s the bummer, Ray. We don’t really know. The haunting didn’t make the newspapers again, so the news cycle moved on. And it looks like the house was torn down within a few years after this story hit the papers because there’s a newer house near the same spot that was built in 1900.
RAY: I guess sometimes all you can do with a haunted house is tear it down and try again.
JEFF: Yup. “Strikes and gutters. Ups and downs,” to quote the Big Lebowski.
RAY: To quote JEFF Lebowski!
JEFF: Right, this is the all Jeff episode, I guess.
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RAY: We’d like to thank our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.