Podcast 253 – Suicide Pond

In June of 1819, Hannah Chase took her own life in a pond in Haverhill, Massachusetts, the day before her wedding.


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In Episode 253, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger head to Newton, New Hampshire, to explore the tragic story of Hannah Chase, who took her own life the day before her wedding in June of 1819. Her story and the pond where she perished may have been forgotten if not for the pen of Haverhill, Massachusetts, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who immortalized the story and place. Chase’s story haunted Whittier as a boy.

Read the episode transcript.

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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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Suicide Pond in Haverhill, Massachusetts, circa 1892. Photo by Austin P. Nichols and courtesy of the Trustees of the Haverhill Public Library, Special Collections Department.

Suicide Pond in Haverhill, Massachusetts, circa 1892. Photo by Austin P. Nichols and courtesy of the Trustees of the Haverhill Public Library, Special Collections Department.

“Suicide Pond”
By John Greenleaf Whittier

Tis a dark and dismal little pool, and fed by tiny rills,
And bosom’d in waveless quietude between two barren hills;
There is no tree on its rugged marge, save a willow old and lone,
Like a solitary mourner for its sylvan sisters gone.

The plough of the farmer turneth not the sward of its gloomy shore,
Which bears even now the same gray moss which in other times it bore;
And seldom or never the tread of man is heard in that lonely spot,
For with all the dwellers around that pool its story is unforgot.

And why does the traveler turn aside from that dark and silent pool,
Though the sun be burning above his head, and the willow’s shade be cool?
Or glance with fear to its shadowy brink, when night rests darkly there,
And down, through its sullen and evil depths the stars of the midnight glare?

Merrily whistles the cowboy on—but he hushes his music when
He hurries his cows, with a sidelong glance, from that cold forsaken glen!
Laughing and mirthful the young girl comes, with her gamesome mates, from school,
But her laugh is lost and her lip is white as she passes the haunted pool!

‘Tis said that a young, a beautiful girl, with a brow and with an eye,–
One like a cloud in the moonlight robed, and one like a star on high!–
One who was loved by the villagers all, and whose smile was a gift to them,
Was found one morn in that pool as cold as the water-lily’s stem!

Ay, cold as the rank and wasting weeds, which lie in the pool’s dark bed,
The villagers found that beautiful one, in the slumber of the dead.
She had strangely whisper’d her dark design in a young companion’s ear,
But so wild and vague that the listener smiled and knew not what to fear.

And she went to die in that loathsome pool when the summer day was done,
With her dark hair curl’d on her pure white form, and her fairest garments on;
With the ring on her taper finger still, and her necklace of ocean pearl,
Twined as in mockery round the neck of that suicidal girl.

And why she perish’d so strangely there no mortal tongue can tell–
She told her story to none, and Death retains her secret well!
And the willow, whose mossy and aged boughs o’er the silent water lean,
Like a sad and sorrowful mourner of the beautiful dead, is seen!

But oft, our village maidens say, when the summer evenings fall,
When the frog is calling from his pool to the cricket in the wall;
When the night-hawk’s wing dips lightly down to that dull and sleeping lake,
And slow through its green and stagnant mass the shoreward circles break–

At a time like this, a misty form—as fog beneath the moon–
Like a meteor glides to the startled view, and vanishes as soon;
Yet weareth it ever a human shape, and ever a human cry
Comes faintly and low on the still night-air, as when the despairing die!

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

[SMALL SPLASH]
JEFF: I guess you haven’t skipped a rock in a while, eh Ray?
RAY: No, I’m definitely out of practice.
JEFF: Still, there’s something mesmerizing about ponds like this one here at the edge of Newton, New Hampshire.
RAY: I know what you mean. The way the water reflects the sky. It’s pretty.
JEFF: This is Country pond, but this isn’t the pond we’re looking for.
RAY: No? Where are we heading?
JEFF: We’re heading southeast of here to where a pond used to be.
RAY: That’s an odd destination. A pond used to be where we’re going?
JEFF: It’s probably good that it’s gone, because a tragic event happened here that changed the name of this small body of water until the day it ran dry. Ray, we’re looking for Suicide Pond.
[INTRO]
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 253 of the New England Legends podcast.
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 glad you’re with us! We’re always on the hunt for strange tales, legends, haunts, and other places where history has left a mark.
JEFF: Did you know we get most of our story ideas from you! Like this one! Thanks to Jessica Hlebica who grew up in Newton, New Hampshire, and told us about it. We appreciate whenever you reach out to us through our Web site, through our social media, in our super secret Facebook group, or telepathically. To be fair, we miss most of those telepathic messages, so reach out other ways if you can.
RAY: We also appreciate it when you post a review for us, or share the podcast with a friend or two, it’s how our community grows. Also, be sure to listen to After the Legend, the second half of this week’s story, where we take a deeper dive into the legends and sometimes veer of course.
JEFF: Just a warning that this week’s legend does feature suicide as a theme. If you’re sensitive to that subject, you may want to skip this one. Now, before we go searching for this infamous pond, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati herbals!
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. If the pond we’re looking for is dry, how do we know where to find it?
JEFF: We have a few clues. That it sat between two barren hills, for one. But the reason we know anything about this pond and the tragic event that took place here at all is because of New England poet, John Greenleaf Whittier.
RAY: Okay, that’s a person we’ve quoted before in other episodes.
JEFF: We have. He’s a legend unto himself. Whittier was born in 1807 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which is just the next town to the south of us here in Newton, New Hampshire. Whittier wrote many a poem about legends and lore, which explains why we’ve quoted him here more than once. In fact, his first book of poetry published in 1831 was called Legends of New England.
RAY: He sort-of stole our name!
JEFF: Clearly! If he was alive today, we’d probably be friends. The reason we’re here, the reason we know anything at all about this tragic event is because of Whittier’s poem titled “Suicide Pond.” Given this event happened just a few miles from his home in Haverhill, it clearly left an impression on the prolific poet.
RAY: Then let’s head back to the year 1819 and see this pond.
[TRANSITION]
JEFF: It’s early June of 1819 here in the small town of Newton, New Hampshire. June is a month for weddings, of course, and one local-bride-to-be is nervous.
RAY: That’s normal when you have a wedding coming up.
JEFF: Hannah Chase of Newton, New Hampshire, isn’t nervous so much for her wedding, but because her father does NOT approve of her groom-to-be.
RAY: Dads CAN be over zealous. No man is good enough for my daughter, and that kind of thing.
JEFF: Sure, that’s not unusual either. But Hannah has her wedding dress together, the jewelry she’s going to wear, and a wedding date—it’s just days away. But as each hour passes, and the wedding day draws closer, Hannah’s father is growing more furious.
RAY: Folks in Newton adore Hannah. She’s a pretty girl, and kind. She’s generous with her smiles. Everyone in town is happy for Hannah’s nuptials. Everyone… but her dad, it would seem.
JEFF: With the wedding eminent, Hannah’s father is telling his daughter he simply forbids the marriage. It’s more than Hannah can take.
[CRICKETS / NIGHT]
RAY: It’s the evening of June 12th when Hannah wanders away from her home. She walks about three and a half miles southeast into Haverhill, Massachusetts, where she finds a small pond nestled between two hills. She’s dressed in her finest dress. She’s wearing her pearls. She glances at her engagement ring one more time… then slips into the water.
[SOFT SPLASH/SWIMMING]
RAY: She swims herself out just beyond where she can stand… and slips below.
[NIGHT CRICKETS FADE OUT]
JEFF: The following morning, Sunday, June 13th, Hannah Chase is found dead in the small pond. Her family, her community, and everyone who knew her are crushed.
RAY: A formal inquiry is made into her death. The findings are published in a single paragraph that reads, Quote, “Miss Hannah Chase, a beautiful and amiable young lady, age 22, committed suicide by drowning, on the 13th of June. The verdict of the jury was thus: “Her death, for aught that appears to us, was by sane suicide, unless insanity came suddenly upon her, of which it is impossible for us, under existing circumstances, to have knowledge.”
JEFF: I’ve never heard of a sane suicide, but I understand the jury’s point. They don’t suspect foul play. Hannah seems to have made this awful decision.
RAY: At the time of Hannah’s tragedy, poet John Greenleaf Whittier was 11 years old, and living in Haverhill. This is the kind of event that everyone would hear about. It left an impression.
JEFF: Enough of an impression that he never stopped thinking about it. From here we jump ahead 15 years to 1834. Whittier has just published his poem titled “Suicide Pond.” The first stanza reads:
Tis a dark and dismal little pool, and fed by tiny rills,
And bosom’d in waveless quietude between two barren hills;
There is no tree on its rugged marge, save a willow old and lone,
Like a solitary mourner for its sylvan sisters gone.
RAY: Whittier’s poem captivates not just the region, but everyone who reads his work. And pretty soon, the small pond where Hannah drowned starts to be officially called Suicide Pond.
JEFF: Whittier’s words are haunting. I’d like to read a few more stanzas.

And why does the traveler turn aside from that dark and silent pool,
Though the sun be burning above his head, and the willow’s shade be cool?
Or glance with fear to its shadowy brink, when night rests darkly there,
And down, through its sullen and evil depths the stars of the midnight glare?

‘Tis said that a young, a beautiful girl, with a brow and with an eye,–
One like a cloud in the moonlight robed, and one like a star on high!–
One who was loved by the villagers all, and whose smile was a gift to them,
Was found one morn in that pool as cold as the water-lily’s stem!

Ay, cold as the rank and wasting weeds, which lie in the pool’s dark bed,
The villagers found that beautiful one, in the slumber of the dead.
She had strangely whisper’d her dark design in a young companion’s ear,
But so wild and vague that the listener smiled and knew not what to fear.

RAY: That almost sounds like she said goodbye to her lover before she took her own life.
JEFF:
And she went to die in that loathsome pool when the summer day was done,
With her dark hair curl’d on her pure white form, and her fairest garments on;
With the ring on her taper finger still, and her necklace of ocean pearl,
Twined as in mockery round the neck of that suicidal girl.

And why she perish’d so strangely there no mortal tongue can tell–
She told her story to none, and Death retains her secret well!
And the willow, whose mossy and aged boughs o’er the silent water lean,
Like a sad and sorrowful mourner of the beautiful dead, is seen!

At a time like this, a misty form—as fog beneath the moon–
Like a meteor glides to the startled view, and vanishes as soon;
Yet weareth it ever a human shape, and ever a human cry
Comes faintly and low on the still night-air, as when the despairing die!

RAY: Hmmm, that last stanza seems to imply Hannah’s ghost still haunts the pond.
JEFF: Hannah was buried in her family plot in Newton, New Hampshire. Once everyone in this region started referring to this small body of water as Suicide Pond, it’s safe to say her memory at the very least haunted this hallowed spot. And that brings us back to today.
[TRANSITION]
RAY: The pond is the kind of place that would spook you for sure, especially walking by alone. The reason we know roughly where Suicide Pond was located is thanks to our friends at the Special Collections Department of the Haverhill Public Library. In their digital archives they found an 1892 photo by Austin P. Nichols that shows the small pond, and a sign that reads: “Suicide Pond – Miss Hannah Chase – Drowned June 13, 1819.” You can see the image on our Web site. Just click on Episode 253.
JEFF: To be fair, Hannah’s father’s disapproval of her wedding is only speculation. It’s the rumor that circulated around town. We may never know for sure what happened. A century after Hannah Chase’s tragedy, and decades after Whittier’s poem was published, the pond vanished. The vanishing even made the newspapers because of the famous poem. Check out this January 30, 1919 article.
RAY: Okay, it reads: “Suicide Pond” of Whittier’s Time is Nearly Run Dry. “Suicide Pond,” that “dark and dismal little pool” made famous by the poet Whittier, is nearly gone. Outlets made by farmers for irrigation purposes have reduced the pond to a shallow stream. People living in the vicinity always have had a gruesome awe of the pond, which stood between two barren hills. Women and children, recalling its dark history, always shuddered when they passed it after sunset.
JEFF: Suicide is something to fear. It’s an illness, and there is help.
RAY: If you need help, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. There are people who care about you. Besides, we need everyone we can get in our community. We can’t afford to lose you.
JEFF: A century ago this pond ran dry, taking away the physical reminder of the tragedy tied to a famous poem by a New England treasure. But here’s the thing. Had Whittier NOT written than poem, there’s no way we would have ever remembered Hannah Chase… or the pond that vanished.
[OUTTRO]
RAY: And that brings us to After the Legends where we take a deeper dive into the story and sometimes veer of course.
JEFF: After the Legend is brought to you by our Patreon Patrons! Our Patreon Patrons are a group of insiders who have kept us going and growing 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. They’re our lifeblood for sure. From hosting and production costs, marketing costs, it takes a whole lot to keep New England Legends running. Our patreon patrons make it happen.
RAY: If you can help us out, just head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up. We’d appreciate it.

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We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, thank you to our family and friends for putting up with us, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.

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