February 25, 2007


"We may have to fight dead men and devils
before we get fairly hold of it."
-Daniel P. Thompson:
May Martin, or The Money Diggers

An area as remote, sinister, and alluring as Hell’s Half Acre often attracts more than tourists or treasure hunters. Representatives from “the Dark Side” will routinely take up residence as well. Some have been there since the beginning of the Money Diggings, some wandered onto the scene years afterward.

Their otherworldly presence seems to confirm one of the laws of supernature: Where there's buried treasure you’ll find ghosts. (In fact, in most cases the ghosts are easier to find than the treasure.)

One of the most gothic elements associated with Bristol is the belief that a murdered boy and his sidekick, a demonic hound, hold an eternal vigil in the lightless bowels of the mine shaft. They are preternaturally compelled to forever guard against would-be treasure hunters. Franklin S. Harvey wrote, "As these patient toilers hewed their way through the ledge and drew nearer to the object of their search, they could hear the boy sign and groan . . ."

Mr. Harvey tells us that as a lad, he was often present when the phantoms were disturbed. "I can't say I ever heard the howls and groans," he wrote, "but who is to dispute the statement of a dozen gray-haired men, all of whom were ready to say they did hear them?"

This respectful attitude – the will not to contradict -- may account in part for the persistence of ghost tales. And perhaps treasure tales as well.

Over the years the saga of the ghost-boy and his hell-hound has evolved a bit. Though they continue to appear in local folklore, their story a some point began to take on less sinister and far more poignant tones.

Today the boy and his dog are truly sympathetic characters.

In the modern telling, a Bristol boy and his loyal dog set out for a pleasant hike one fine fall afternoon. The lad whistled happily as the dog, its pink tongue dangling, loped along at his side.

Exactly what they were up to is not important and probably changes with the teller of the tale. Let’s say they were gathering spruce gum.

In the vicinity of the abandoned diggings the boy’s curiosity clicked in. Maybe he’d just have a look at the abandoned cavities on Hell's Half Acre. Probably, way in the back of his mind something subtle clicked. It was that same notion that had clicked in Uncle Sim some years before: maybe, just maybe, a fortune in silver lay beneath some long-overlooked rock or below one of the many rotting wooden platforms.

Maybe . . .

That evening the boy didn't return home.

His worried parents stared at the darkening acres around them. Their shouts were answered only by echoes. Before all light was lost the father organized a search party. Men with torches and lanterns crisscrossed the woods. They cried the boy’s name. Then the dog’s. But to no avail.

Sometime months later, after the deep snows of the next winter had finally melted, a local man wandered through Hell's Half Acre. Minding the pits and outcropping he moved carefully, with his eyes scanning the ground.

There was something out of place among the ledges and pits and caves and rubble: the skeleton of a dog stretched flat near the dark opening of a shaft.

I suspect the man never had to look into the pit to know what he would find there. Intuition allowed him to fill in all the blanks: The curious boy had wandered too close to the opening. He’d slipped. Fallen. Slid 50-feet to the shadowy bottom. There, trapped, alone, and terrified, he had died.

His dog, refusing to desert him, waited by the threshold his young master would never cross. In time he died too, a loyal companion till the end.

And nature took its course.

Then came supernature.

Till this day when the moon is right and the shadows are long, Bristol folks and uneasy outsiders swear they sometimes hear "something". Is it the wind? The woodland sounds of wildlife? The rumor of a crowd of searchers long one? Or is it faint cries? Cries for help? Or the unearthly wail of a dog?

Yeah, it sounds far-fetched to me, too. But enough people have heard the unexplained sounds to embed the story in our folk-memory.

I'm sure most of the holes were never named, but one particular excavation in Hell's Half Acre, the westernmost, has come to called "The Ghost Shaft of Bristol Notch."

©2007 by Joseph A. Citro

NOTE: The drawing of the skeleton dog is from The Vermont Ghost Guide by Joseph A. Citro, illustrated by Stephen R. Bissette. Many thanks to my pal Steve for allowing me to reproduce the picture here. Be sure to check out Steve's blog at http://www.srbissette.com