July 15, 2010

WEIRD WOODSTOCK: The Final Verdict*

What do Melvin Douglas, Fred Astaire, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. have in common?

That's right, they all appeared in Ghost Story, a horror movie filmed partly in
Woodstock, Vermont.

But, I got to wondering, does Woodstock have any real ghosts?

Well, if you can believe the stories, it has as many ghosts as tourists.

In 1970 Polly Billings bought F.H Gillingham & Sons general store. She often worked alone. After hours. In the oldest part of the building. "I never felt as if I was by myself," she told me. "It was as if F.H. was... with me. When I couldn’t get an idea for the advertising copy, he would often help me out."

Thing is, her "helper" died in 1918.

At The Dana House, headquarters of the Woodstock Historical Society,
people have seen a transparent woman wearing a long, brown, satin dress. Sometimes, while completely invisible, she plays the piano.

Former director Corwin Sharp recalls comforting a terrified volunteer who’d encountered the Victorian specter. "She wasn’t making it up," he told me. "She was shaken, white as a ghost herself."

And there’s a little ghost-boy on the stairs. He is presumed to be the ectoplasmic residue of Mary and Charles Dana’s first born - who died at the age of two.

Both Dana House ghosts are easily recognized because of their anachronistic attire. And because they vanish before your eyes.
A beautiful brick colonial house near The Green - and not far from the covered bridge - has tenants who move in... and quickly leave.

Maybe it’s the heating bills. One former renter told me no matter how much fuel they burned they could never get the place above 65 degrees.

The doorknob in the master bedroom sometimes turned of its own accord. Or the door would open and close, though no one was there.

Occasionally they’d find pictures smashed. After hearing a loud crash, the couple ran upstairs, to find a precious Civil War engraving smashed on the floor.

After they’d moved out they heard that their former residence had once been a school in which the lovely young teacher had been murdered by a pale, thin, blond-headed soldier.

Well... maybe. Or maybe not.

Perhaps we can learn the truth in court.

The Windsor County Court House is an psychic battery, highly charged with emotion since 1855. Custodial staff working alone in the building report footsteps, unfathomable utterances, and awful noises. Sometimes, while court is in session, the door to the Judge’s Room will open and close. Moments later, the Witness Room door on the far side of the room will rattle. It’s as if something invisible is crossing the courtroom from one door to another.

A judge who witnessed this phenomenon from the bench looked over at the sheriff and said, "Ghosts."

And I guess that is the final verdict.
THE END (or is it...?)

*For a spoken version of this commentary
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