In Episode 290 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the Meeting House Hill region of Meriden, Connecticut, searching for a ghost that made the newspaper back in August of 1895 — a spooky specter around Booth Pond seen by dozens of locals. Though the reporter at the time seems to think he solved the mystery of the ghost… we found something more. The pond is gone now, but are the ghosts?
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[TV SOUNDS IN BACKGROUND]
JEFF: Ray, do you ever wonder what people did before the days of streaming television, Internet, cell phones, podcasts, or even radio?
RAY: You mean the Stone Age?
JEFF: Yeah, the Stone Age, or say… 125 years ago, which is an eyeblink in the scale of human history. My great grandfather was alive 125 years ago to put it in some perspective. That’s literally two people ago.
RAY: I guess it wasn’t all that long ago when you put it that way.
JEFF: What do you think people did to amuse themselves 125 years ago?
RAY: I guess they actually talked to each other? Maybe they read books? Tended to the horses?
JEFF: I’m sure people did some of those things, but they also spent some time chasing legends. Sometimes a story so good will make the local newspapers, and make people curious enough to check it out for themselves.
RAY: Is that what we’re chasing this week? A legend that made the paper and got people buzzing?
JEFF: That’s exactly what we’re doing, Ray. Grab your keys, we’re heading to Meriden, Connecticut, to search for the Meeting House Hill ghost.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to episode 290 of the New England Legends podcast. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time.
JEFF: Whether ghosts, monsters, UFOs, roadside oddities, or the just plain weird. Most of our story leads come from you. So please share our episodes with a friend or two. It’s how we continue to find new stories each and every week. Also, check out our super secret New England Legends Facebook group. 8,000 people strong now. And you can watch the New England Legends television series on Amazon Prime right now.
RAY: Before we go looking for this Meriden, Connecticut, ghost. We want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
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[CAR STARTING AND DRIVING]
RAY: So we’re heading to Meriden, Connecticut, to search for a ghost.
JEFF: That’s the plan. A ghost investigation that made the headlines back in 1895.
RAY: This isn’t our first trip to Meriden.
JEFF: No it’s not.
RAY: Back in Episode 118 we came here searching for the Black Dog of Hubbard Park.
JEFF: We did! And we found plenty of black dogs in the park too.
RAY: We did. Good point.
JEFF: If you put on cable TV or even streaming TV today, you know there are dozens of ghost hunting shows.
RAY: You work for the biggest one!
JEFF: That’s true. I’ve worked with Ghost Adventures as a researcher and writer for 15 years now. Ever since episode 1. Crazy, right?
RAY: That’s a long run for sure.
JEFF: We didn’t invent paranormal investigating.
RAY: No. It’s been around a long time. It’s fair to say more than a century, right?
JEFF: Absolutely! Way back in 1936 Harry Price wrote the book Confessions of a Ghost Hunter. And he wasn’t the first, either. But it’s fair to call him maybe the first pop culture ghost hunting icon? Paranormal investigating is an offshoot of psychical research, which came around as a byproduct of the Spiritualist movement that began in a little town call Hydesville, New York, back in 1848.
RAY: Right. The Fox Sisters. They became the first celebrity touring psychics.
JEFF: They brought the idea of spirits and spirit communication into the mainstream. If you trace the lineage of all the paranormal shows today that line runs back through Harry Price, through psychical research, and eventually through the Fox Sisters.
RAY: And if this Meriden, Connecticut, ghost investigation made the headlines back in 1895, then we’re talking before Harry Price too.
JEFF: We are. Okay, we’re going to make a right onto South Curtis Street.
RAY: Got it.
JEFF: And we’ll head up this long gradual hill.
JEFF: I know it’s not much of a hill, but the area over there is called Meeting House Hill. Let’s pull over here.
[CAR STOPS DOORS CLOSE]
RAY: This isn’t the best place to stop. This is a somewhat busy road. There are houses on either side of the street. But the properties are kind of spread out.
JEFF: Over that way would have been Meeting House Hill. Today there’s houses, streets, and condos there. But that’s not how it looked 125 years ago. Back then it was more open land featuring a pond, a natural spring, and a ghostly mystery that a local reporter aimed to solve. So let’s head back to 1895 and search for the Meeting House Hill ghost.
RAY: It’s August of 1895 here in Meriden, Connecticut. President Grover Cleveland is in the White House, and Levi Coe is the Mayor of Meriden. The song “America the Beautiful” by Massachusetts-native Katherine Lee Bates was just published and the sport of volleyball was just invented a few months ago by William Morgan out in Holyoke, Massachusetts. But here in Meriden, there’s strange talk of ghosts in town.
JEFF: Strange talk indeed. Though there are plenty of people in town who don’t believe in ghosts in Meriden or anywhere else for that matter, there are many in town who will swear under oath that there are ghosts afoot around here. And the epicenter these past two weeks seems to be the Meeting House Brook that runs into Booth’s Pond on South Curtis Street. It’s a popular spot to take a drink from the spring water, or go for a swim in the pond, or even a stroll. And when we mean people will take an oath they’ve seen the ghost, we mean literally. Ray, go ahead and read the list of gentlemen in town who swear they’ve seen the specter.
RAY: Okay, there’s Edward Coleman, Joseph Casey, Joseph Loeffler, William Hogan, John Madden, Fred Bauer, Thomas F. Carney, Charles Bickford, James Hughes, Thomas Gragan, John Maguire, George Stubbins, Edward Leahy, Patrick Shortell, Edward Meaney, and Mrs. Donohue. [READ THE FIRST FEW AND SLOW FADE OUT UNDER MY NEXT LINES?]
JEFF: Right… a lot of reliable local people. But the first name on the list, Edward Coleman, is of particular interest because many people saw him racing up Meeting House Hill last week after seeing the ghost. You don’t have to believe in ghosts to see that something had Coleman frightened out of his wits.
RAY: And before you go thinking that Coleman is a guy who scares easily, you should know that he worked for years as the assistant undertaker to D.K. Murphy in town. He’s used to being around graveyards and dead people. He doesn’t rattle. Today Coleman works for the Wilcox Silver Plate Factory. He’s the kind of person who can set your watch by.
JEFF: One odd note is that Coleman has said the water at Meeting House Brook Spring hasn’t tasted the same since the ghost started showing up.
RAY: Coleman isn’t the only person to drink from this spring either. Even the town Superintendent. the Honorable Charles Parker drinks from this spring. Some locals come here to fill jugs to bring the water home. It’s a popular place with plenty of foot traffic.
JEFF: The ghost doesn’t seem confined to just the spring and brook either. A few days ago some locals said the ghost was spotted on the property of ole Bill Stoughton who lives just a short distance from the spring.
RAY: Bill Stoughton… the one they call “Sailor Bill” because of his tattoos?
JEFF: That’s the one. He’s been learning to play the cornet. Sailor Bill lives like a hermit all alone. They say when Bill saw the specter coming he grabbed his horn…
[HOME SWEET HOME CORNET SOUNDS LIKE A TRUMPET] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLXFdqi_X1o (Scrub to 34 seconds and you’ll hear the familiar melody of “Home Sweet Home.”)
JEFF: And played “Home Sweet Home” out his window until the ghost fled.
RAY: We should go ask Bill if that really happened.
JEFF: Sure! Is house is just over that hill.
JEFF: I hope he’s willing to talk to us.
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK ON DOOR]
RAY: Hi Sailor Bill! Is it true you saw the Meeting House Hill Ghost and scared him off with your cornet?
JEFF: I don’t think we’re wanted here, Ray.
JEFF: Ray? You coming?
RAY: I’ll catch up in a second.
RAY: So Bill yelled through his door that he never saw any ghost. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, and he’d have no fear sleeping out by the spring all night.
JEFF: Hmmmm. Just a rumor then, I guess. Let’s try some other neighbors.
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
RAY: Excuse me… Mr. Fearnley… have you or your wife seen the ghost by the Meeting House Hill Spring?
RAY: Another no.
JEFF: Let’s wait for dark and go check out the spring and Booth’s Pond for ourselves.
[SLOW BUILD OF NIGHT CRICKETS]
JEFF: Okay, the spring is just up ahead.
[MURMERING CROWD BUILDING]
RAY: It looks like we’re not the only people looking for the ghost tonight.
JEFF: No, I guess we’re not. I can see kids with their parents on a blanket over there.
RAY: There’s some older men passing a bottle around between them.
RAY: Annnnnd of course some kids messing around in the woods. We should ask around and find out what people know.
RAY: Excuse me… what do you know about the haunting here?
JEFF: Hi, have you seen the ghost here?
RAY: Do you think it’s true?
JEFF: Wait… last winter?
[MURMURING OF CROWD]
RAY: Really?! They live over on Broad Street?
JEFF: That must have been a site!
JEFF: Okay, I learned something interesting.
RAY: Me too! You go first.
JEFF: Last year, on January 26th, three children drowned on Booth’s Pond while ice skating. The ice broke and Mabel Yauch, Frederick Schrader, and Henry Reetler were all lost.
RAY: That’s awful. And that’s not the kind of event a community would forget about.
JEFF: What did you learn from talking to the locals?
RAY: So everyone seems to agree the buzz about ghosts here around the pond started about two weeks ago.
JEFF: What happened two weeks ago?
RAY: One of the kids I talked to said this all started after a group of boys spent an afternoon swimming at Booth’s Pond. They came up to the spring to get a drink where they found some younger kids hanging around. One of the older boys started telling them all kinds of ghost stories. When the younger boys left to go home, the older boys hung back for just a minute before they sprinted out of here screaming at the younger boys that they should run too because a ghost was right behind them.
JEFF: Got it. So the kids ran all the way home.
RAY: But there’s more.
JEFF: Oooo go on.
RAY: The next night, the older boys convinced the younger ones to come back to the area. They even got one of their friends to dress in a white sheet and dance around the spring. And that’s all it took.
JEFF: And this all happened at the place where some of these kids may have lost some friends just a year and a half ago.
JEFF: So the boys tell others, who tell others. And maybe even Edward Coleman saw the white-sheeted figure. Or maybe he saw something else in the place where three children died.
RAY: And once a few adults saw something, the story really started to spread to the point where the local newspaper had to conduct a ghost investigation.
JEFF: One of the last lines of the article concludes, and I quote: Spirit were seen in there Saturday evening, for several happy Germans were observed to produce pint flasks from their coat pockets and take frequent nips.”
RAY: And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: I’m not sure why pointing out that they were German was important to the story, but we’re reading directly from the August 26, 1895, The Journal from Meriden, Connecticut.
RAY: So is this one of those cases where the ghost story was just made up?
JEFF: According to this newspaper account. Yes. But what shocks me is that this article made no mention of the drowning at Booth’s Pond just the previous winter. I wonder if this reporter had an agenda to disprove something rather than report.
RAY: The three deaths seem significant to the story.
JEFF: I agree. Either way, in August of 1895, Meriden was in a kerfuffle for a few weeks. Everyone was buzzing about it, and checking it out.
RAY: And because there was no TV, Internet, radio, podcasts, cell phones, or anything else like that back then, people had time to go check out a ghostly legend for themselves.
JEFF: They did! They took a more active role in their legend-hunting.
RAY: But that list of names of all the people who swore they had seen the ghost. What do you make of that?
JEFF: I think at least some of those people had an experience, and weren’t ashamed to admit it. And maybe some of those people were friends, neighbors, or relatives of the three children who drowned. The reporter did check with people who lived by Meeting House Hill spring, and those folks said they saw nothing. But others clearly had at least heard or felt something. Sometimes a reporter gets overzealous thinking if they look into it and find nothing when they go out there, then there can’t be a ghost.
RAY: What I find interesting is the reporter named names left and right in this article. Here’s a group of people who swear they’ve seen the ghost. Here’s neighbors who say there’s no ghost. But then the alleged boys who made the whole thing up aren’t named at all. Just a group of kids who live on Broad Street.
JEFF: And so the ghostly mystery case isn’t closed. All the people from Meriden and surrounding communities who heard about this haunt came to the location to see it for themselves. They must have remembered the loss of the three children the previous winter. That haunts them. And even if they didn’t spot any specters on their trip to the pond and spring, they still became part of the story.
RAY: And now we’re all a part of this story. Which brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s legend and sometimes veer of course.
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If you’ve got a strange story in New England we simply must check out, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. Most of our story leads come from you! We appreciate it when you get involved. Please subscribe to our podcast wherever you get your podcasts because it’s free! And be sure to share our show with a friend or two. That’s how we grow.
We’d like to thank Jerry from the Hillbilly Horror Podcast for having me and Ray on the latest episode of his show. You should check it out. Thank you to our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.