April 30, 2010


I’m sure you’ve noticed the proliferation of so-called “Paranormal Investigators.” It’s a worldwide phenomenon that can be traced to a TV show, GHOST HUNTERS, that premiered in 2004.

We have at least 3 groups of specter detectors here in Vermont. So I got to wondering who Vermont’s first ghost hunter might have been. So far the outstanding candidate is Ira Allen, brother of Ethan and "Father of the University of Vermont."

In his auto- biography Ira talks about some friends he met in the early 1770s -- a mother with two lovely daughters. He writes, “[They…] used to amuse me by telling… frightful stories [of ghosts and apparitions…] amongst which were many stories [about] an old woman… without a head.”

Now here’s where the ghost hunting comes in. Ira writes, “One evening I challenged the old woman without a head, and all the ghosts, to meet me at any time and place they chose.”

This bravado alarmed Ira’s friends. The young women warned him not to provoke the spirits or there would be supernatural retaliation. And soon.The very next day some of Ira’s hogs escaped. As darkness fell, he went looking for them along a snowy footpath leading deep into the woods. As it got darker, he admits, thoughts of the headless woman crossed his mind. What would he do if he saw her?

Well, he was about to find out.

A little farther along, he says,
“to my no small surprise, at about 8 rods distance, I …[saw] the perfect appearance of a woman without a head; her shoulders, waist, arms akimbo, her hands on her hips, woman’s cloths, and feet below were in perfect shape… ; all which I viewed with astonishment.”

Could it be real?

“If the God of nature authorizes apparitions,” Ira wrote, “then there is no flying from them.”

With that he raised his cane and advanced.

He says, “I came within about 30 yards before I discovered the cause…”

He found that a tree had been broken off by the wind, leaving a human-sized stump. Some of its bark had fallen away, creating the illusion of a white dress. Above that, a dappled pattern -- the work of woodcocks -- completed the upper torso. The night made the darker areas invisible, forming, Ira wrote, “the size and figure of a headless woman”

To satisfy himself, he went back to the original spot. From there the headless woman was visible again.

And then Ira Allen writes a line that perhaps reveals the source of a lot of ghost stories.

He wrote, “Had I been frightened and run away, I might, like others, have believed in spectral appearances,”

Vermont's first ghost, busted.

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