Met State: The Asylum Time Forgot

There’s an odd thing how paranormal landmarks work.  There’s an ebb and a flow to the popularity of locations which draw people in.  Whether it’s the Lizzie Borden’s Bed and Breakfast or Eastern State Penitentiary, these locations have a tendency to flare up, become very popular and eventually take a backseat to the next supernatural trend. Usually it’s due to television and media exposure, and much like a hot trend on television for the season, unless there is a deep rooted sense of community or legend within the story behind the location, it is almost impossible to keep the momentum.

Metropolitan State in Massachusetts is a lot like that.   Obviously when the hospital was still open reports from there were frequent.  When you consider its closing aligned with the rise of ghost hunting television shows and the founding of investigation groups, it’s no wonder it became one of the most popular legends in the Metro Boston area.  The longer it sat unoccupied, the more the stories grew.  The larger the fence was around it grew, the more people needed to see what was behind it.  It was even featured in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places.  Then nothing.  

After I found this old article, I tried to connect with some of the people I had spoken to about it and research whether things were still being spread the old building.   People I spoke to who research and investigate in the area had to look  it up when asked about it.  Met State’s time has come and gone.  It will be interesting to observe what might happen to it as time passes.  These things tend to go in cycles.

 

Asylums feed into our very idea of terror.  The insane, the locked doors, the masked doctors performing treatment we’d rather not think about.  To hear the word conjures up images we try and block out.  The buildings, designed to be inviting and practical, fit into our worst visions of these asylums, and as they fell into ruin they became more and more intimidating.  The torment that went on in them and the patients who died without names and without peace create a settling ripe for ghosts and ghost stories.

Although not as famous as its nearby cousin Danvers State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital in Middlesex County, Massachusetts has become known itself for the type of ghosts and ghostly legends that give people nightmares.  No one knows what went on behind the cement walls of that building, but our imagination has created its resident’s lives.  When reports started to come out about the strange happenings on its grounds, Metro State was labeled as haunted, and since its closure in 1992 those rumors have been confirmed time and time again.  Trespassers inside the building and people just interested in the beauty of the land say the same things doctors and mental health workers had said for decades.  Metro State is haunted.

metstateWhen looking at the hauntings at Metro State Hospital, it is important to separate the facts from the legends that now surround them.  The rundown buildings lie in Waltham, Belmont and Lexington, Massachusetts, cutting into the landscape of three very different communities.  It was originally opened in 1930  and functioned successfully for decades..  Although many mental health treatments in the past century seem ludicrous to us today, Metro was always on the cutting edge of the field.  As methods changed, Metro changed with them, and when severe financial cutbacks hit the state in the 1980’s, Metro felt them as much as the other institutions in the state.  The buildings were plagued with overcrowding and understaffing.  Unlike other hospitals that could be converted to prisons or juvenile detention facilities, Metro State was hampered by the design that had made it unique.  The building was finally closed in the early nineties. 

During the time it acted as a functioning hospital, its residents suffered horrible conditions and saw the worst of human sorrow.  Lost souls filled the rooms, giving in to homicide and suicide by its residents.  Doctors tinkered with experimental treatments like mind-altering drugs and electroshock therapy.  The poor died without family around them to grieve.  The psychic energy amassed in within its walls makes the hospital a prime area for the appearance of ghosts.

The reports started while the building was still open.  Several employees spoke of shadowy figures seen at night.  Described as a looking like a tall slender man but having no solid form, the unknown visitors would walk through walls or appear in locked rooms.  Residents reported the same shadow, but the reports were ignored as delusion.  Then nurses and security officers began seeing them too.  One woman described at least three different men who all walked differently.  She stated it became common knowledge around the main buildings and were talked about but ignored.

Other residents reported hearing the screams of residents who had passed, especially those who had suffered electroshock treatment at the hospital.  One employee went to assist a certain patient he had had a close relationship with.  The man was screaming about his mother, but when the worker, recently back from a vacation, went into the room a different man was there.  His resident had died over the week.

met6Underneath the hospital runs a network of tunnels once used to travel to different parts of the 23 acre grounds.  The tunnels were lit by intermittent bare light bulbs, and patients were often found in them after having wandered off.  There were also reports of deviant workers would take willing and unwilling patients down there for sex.  Whispers were often heard down in the tunnels although no people could be found.  One man described always feeling as if there was someone behind him or in front of him, but he never saw anyone there.

Not all the spirits in the yard are happy.  Poorer patients without families were buried on the site.  Hundreds of bodies were laid to rest in unhallowed ground with nothing but a marker stating their religion and a number.  Although there have been recent attempts to find their identities and give them a proper burial, their souls seem trapped.  Glowing red and green figures have been seen in the areas of the old and new cemeteries.  The emotions of these people are felt throughout the grounds.  People have heard whispers and footsteps and one woman stopped walking near the grounds after she continuously saw visions of the patients while near the building.  Although she walked without really thinking about what went on there, she would see them inside her head and feel what they had felt.

met5The reports continued after Metro State’s closing.  The longer it remained closed, the more the main building looked like a stereotypical haunted house.  What was once a beautiful and intriguing piece of architecture was became covered with graffiti with broken windows and crooked doors.  Adventure seekers and paranormal investigators found their way in.  Inspired by their own fears and the media coverage of the asylum, they broke in.  Equipment has registered activity such as EMF readings, bizarre changes in temperature and ghostly photographs.  They have experienced the same shadows and screams reported while it was still open, but they have also felt sudden sadness and depression hit them and seen objects in plain sight move by themselves.

The ghosts are not confined to the buildings.  There have been numerous sightings made on the grounds.  Designers envisioned a active yard where patients would receive occupational therapy and grow their own crops.  Touch and sensory treatment was also utilized.  This positive energy has also been imprinted at Metro State.  In the daytime there have been reports of people with a glowing aura picking flowers with smiles on their faces.  These people disappear when approached and have even been seen floating slightly off the ground.

met3Like other asylums throughout the East coast, the grounds at Metro State are being recycled.  AvalonBay Communities Incorporated has purchased part of the land and is converting it to apartments and a golf course.  Buildings are already being torn down and construction has started, giving rise to a new chapter in the land’s history.  The same company has been buying old hospitals and building homes, laying the foundation for a new set of hauntings and legends.  Instead of a haunted house being on what was once an old Indian burial ground, people will begin to talk of houses built over the sunken remains of old asylums.

met2If a society is judged on how it treats its sick and helpless, should it not also be judged on how it remembers it?  Metropolitan State began as an experiment in curing those society had cast away.  The souls trapped in the hospital may never find peace and those walking the grounds may never find rest.  That then remains the legacy of Metro State; a reminder of what we tried and a living ghost of just how far we need to go.

Old Ghosts at the Almshouse in Walpole

The Almshouse on East Street in Walpole has been the sight of hauntings since a fire in the late 1800’s and may have been the site of more than one tragedy before that.

 

Built in the early 1800’s by the houses original owner, Daniel Allen, the house was transformed into a house for the poor of the town and a weigh station for the homeless who jumped the railroads tracks nearby.  The poor farm allowed people to work in return for room and board and was supported mainly by town funds.  Because many of the people who lived in the house were unregistered with the farm it was difficult to keep track of who was there and tragedies that might have happened to people who lived a high risk lifestyle, but in the late 1800’s a fire killed anywhere between 16 and 26 boarders.  The house switched hands many times after the fire and in the early 1900’s children accidentally set fire to the barn and caused other damage to the property.  There are also rumors of the house being used as part of the Underground Railroad, and as we have seen in other stories, there has been a coloration between these locations and hauntings, often because of escaped slaves caught, but also because of the emotion releases during the tense moments hiding for one’s life.

 

The house has been known to be the spot of several hauntings, the most regular of which is known as Uncle Joe.  He is said to be responsible for tickling people on the back of their necks and misplacing thing.  There is a bit of sadness in his haunting, as he seems to play out his failed escape from the fire by opening and closing windows and rattling windows.

 

There have been various investigations of the hauntings at the Almshouse, but they have yet to produce anything more than medium impressions and scary stories.

 

The majority of information for the Almshouse came from a 1970 article by Janathan Kannair and an Article in The Walpole Times which ran on October 31, 1985 by Steve Mackinnon

 

Thank you to The Walpole Public Library and librarian Warren Smith for the information.  Libraries and Librarians like them are vital to the research I do and proved most helpful.  Help them keep up the work they do by checking out the Friends of Walpole Public Library and giving what you can.

Revisiting Charlesgate

This was one of the first articles I wrote on Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, even before it was called that.  Part of this appeared in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places and was “borrowed”  by several other books.  Charlesgate is where it all started for me, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Two things hit me upon reading the article.  The first is that I hope my writing has become better since this was first published around 2002.  Not sure I can say that’s true.  The other is that so much of what I was putting out there about the building and its history was based on things I was told and information passed down rather than researched.  I think that works sometimes.  Natalie Crist of Tripping on Legends was going through the story and asked me questions about the dates and times things had actually happened.  I had no answers for her.  I don’t think I need them.  So much of the legend of Charlesgate comes things that cannot be verified.
Before I left Boston, I took a haunted tour of the city that went by my old dorm.  The person giving the tour retold my stories back to me, not knowing I was the one who had experienced them or at least had written them down.  They were mixed and matched, with details added that had never happened.   The Federal Government story was its centerpiece and almost none of the details were right.
In that spirit, I offer you the unedited original story.

 

The old Charlesgate Hotel is one of the most haunted buildings in Boston. Over time the building has taken on legend status, making it difficult to separate the truth from the mystique that surrounds it. It was built in 1891, supposedly by the Mafia, although there has been no connection between the original contractor and architect and organized crime. From the outside you can’t see the eighth floor, where some of the illegal activity was supposed to have happened. There are several areas that are boarded up or filled in, revealing hidden rooms that were once used but that you cannot see unless you follow the slight cracks in the wall. One such room on the sixth floor was the sight of a suicide. Walking through the halls, checking out the rooms and then comparing it to the original blueprints (on file at the Boston Public Library) shows many inconsistencies and points to potential areas of hauntings.

After serving as a hotel it was sold and sold again until it eventually became a BU dorm. The lore began with the influx of students. BU sold the dorms and it became a tenement, serving some of the worst tenants in Kenmore. At that time, students began to move in as well, often charged far more than the other people living there, creating an interesting mix of college kids and sketchy “adults”. Emerson College bought the building in the 1980’s and renovated it back into dorms, placing its foot firmly in the square and extending its influence in the city.

100_0170Some of the legendary spirits that walked the halls are very old. In the basement there are the spirits of horses that died when there were stables there. There is a little girl that haunts the elevator where she died. Often people had seances and weird things would happen, and more than once magic and black magic had been practiced in the dorm rooms. But there were other strange things that went on. Often at night there was scampering in the ceilings, too small to be people, but too big to be rats. There would be voices and light problems. Some student would see a gurney roll by their room.

Suicide plays a major role in the mythology of the building, often being the root cause of things that cannot be explained. In the 1970’s there was an alarm clock in a room where a supposed suicide had occurred that would go off at 6:11 am although it was not set. Another time 3 girls moved into a room on the 6th floor. Although each of them wanted the big closet upon moving in, they all had unusual sensations when they approached it, deciding it was better to let someone else use the closet. Research discovered another suicide in that closet. Once a student woke up to see a spirit hovering over him. The ghost was also seen by the RA who ran in to see why the student was screaming.

cgate3It was a hotbed of activity, and if you used a Ouija board anywhere in it, you’d get results (See the Federal Government story).  One night we got an answer to some of the activity. We contacted a spirit that called itself Zena that would clearly write out answers to our questions and offered a detailed history of its existence. It was not a normal spirit because it had never lived, but was more of a spell that had been cast on doorways by one of the original builders to protect those inside. They saw everything and tried to help people and often communicated on the board as different people to make them do what they thought was right. They told me of a spell placed on me by someone that was later confirmed by two psychics who had no idea what I was going in for. It knew things only the people themselves would know, and made a believer out of more than one skeptic that would try the board.

After we left the dorms it was sold again, and one person who lives in the building says he never has had anything happen. I think back to a rule of Ouija boards though. If a spirit is on the board and it is not cleaned, and it is destroyed somehow, the spirit is said to escape. If there was something in those walls, I wonder what might have happened when they gutted the place out to make the condos.

100_0175Recently, while taking photographs for a new book coming out I evaluated some of the designs at Charlesgate. I had lived in the building for two years, but I had never noticed the faces, some obvious and other not so obvious, around the windows and in the rest of the metalwork. There were also scratches which appeared random, but upon zooming appeared to spell things out. Some of the expressions I found, hidden in the beauty, were “No Exit”, “Hell”, and “Gone”.

The Country Tavern

This was a classic haunted I first heard about in the early days of researching. I got the story because my parents ate there on an almost weekly basis. The legend was already hot by then, but when I published it in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places, it’s infamy grew. There is less spoken about the legend today, but the backstory and first hand accounts make it a classic New England haunted tale.

The aged wooden building now known as Country Tavern in Nashua, New Hampshire, has served many purposes over the years.  The flashing video sign and new coat of paint might hide the history to those passing on Amherst Street, but anyone who has been inside knows the past comes off the walls.  The antiques on the walls and exposed beams hint at stories that stretch back, and any waiter or waitress you ask is willing to share the history of Country Tavern’s most famous visitor.  Camille, the owner, looks more like a uncle or old friend than the proprietor of one of the most successful restaurants in “America’s Number One Town to Live in” as he shakes your hand and confirms the story.

At Country Tavern the talk is of Elizabeth.

Originally built as a farmhouse in 1741, the newly restored building was once the house of Elizabeth Ford, the wife of a ship captain.  After one of his long voyages, he returned to find his wife pregnant by another man.  He waited until the baby was born and then killed them both, burying them somewhere on the property.  Some say they were buried directly on the land below where the restaurant now stands.  Other say he dumped them in a well on the property.  Either way, Elizabeth has stayed on the property.

Employees of the restaurant report items being moved and hearing footsteps late at night.  Some say she would regularly cause things to fall and break.  This seems to be the most malicious thing she desires to do, because most stories about her describe her actions as harmless and at times even pointless.  There is no rhyme or reason to what she does.  The sightings seem to be focuses more on women on the premises and her favorite activity used to be to play with women’s hair in the ladies room.

There have been several physical sights of the mother.  She is never seen in detail, but more as a shadow with a face.  She is most often seen looking out the windows to the parking lot in the back of the building.  One customer was in that parking lot smoking a cigarette before rejoining his family inside.  He saw a door on the second floor open and close several times without anyone moving through.  The door then began to swing violently, still with no one appearing.  He questioned the people inside who confirmed no one was in the area at that time.

Although a specialist was brought in during the late nineties to give Elizabeth peace, the owner and staff do not try and hide what they have experienced.  The reports of her activities have all but stopped, but the employees and customers keep the tragic story of mother and child alive.

Nick’s Nest

This is another found story, and another case of serendipity leading to a treasure.  I was originally supposed to go to a gallery opening in New York with Jackie Barrett, but snow made travel impossible.  The next day I planned to go to the Warrren Museum and spent a while talking to Lorraine on the the phone, but it started to snow again.  Instead, after the snow had stopped, a friend and I headed out to Nick’s to follow up on a report we were told.
Although the restaurant has hit come controversy of late, Nick’s is still around and changing with the times, although it is unclear whether they are still experiencing anything unexplained.

 

Nick’s Nest in Holyoke, Massachusetts, is a landmark built on tradition.  People can sit at the counter and touch the past, and enjoying a hot dog and some homemade baked beans has never felt more like traveling back to a simpler time.  From the basic, original menu to old the neon sign and the antique music box, when you get sit and eat your popcorn you feel someone from another age is sitting next to you, whispering old stories.  The new owners know all about touching history.  They feel the ghost of a past owner walking the halls, checking up on the place.

Although it is now a landmark in the town of Holyoke, Nick’s Nest earned its name in part from its humble beginnings.  Nick Malfas was the very definition of the American dream.  Malfas first started his business as a popcorn pushcart in 1921.  Every morning he would fill up the cart and walk up and down the streets of town selling his goods.  As his popularity grew, he continued to expand his business.  Without money to buy a professional electric cart, he converted an old Ford model T into a makeshift mobile restaurant by building the popper into the truck.

DSCN1199

One set of stairs where people have seen a ghostly figure.

 

In 1927 further expansion forced him to open a store on his favorite corner in Holyoke.  The new highway was being built, and Malfas knew the right food in the right location would be the perfect fit.  The story goes the building was so small his wife called it nothing more than a “nest”, and they just knew the name was right.  In 1948, Malfas decided to move to a new location that included two additional floors for his son Charles.

Charles took over the business and continued to run it like his father.  Every passing year meant more pressure to expand and modernize, but Nick’s Nest stayed much the same as it always did.  The menu remained simple; popcorn, hot dogs, baked beans, soda and soup from time to time.  The people of Holyoke took this consistency to heart, continuing to cherish the restaurant for its delicious, high quality food.  The bean recipe became notorious and the hot dogs were always made from lean fresh meat.  Once, when the meat packers went on strike, hot dogs were taken off the menu until the best meat could be purchased again.   The food was always good, but it was the tradition and nostalgia that truly drew people in and kept them coming back.

Charles son, Charles Malfas Jr., has become as much a part of the modern legend of the place as the food it sells.  Much has been said about him, and all of it falls into the realm of rumor.  Some say he did not like the family business and tolerated working there and running the place after his father passed because it was the only life he knew.  Others say a injury that forced him to install chairs lifts from the restaurant floor to the residence on the second floor prevented him from working the restaurant the same way his father and grandfather had.  Other say he was influenced by a seedy friend who manipulated him to take out a second mortgage to pay debts and ultimately sell the restaurant.

While none of this can be confirmed, Charles Jr. did allow the business to go downhill.  He was said to be rude to customers and employees, many of whom had worked there for years.  Press releases and interview contradict this, but former employees and old customers tell a different story.  Old ways were looked down on, and money stopped getting put in for repairs.  The second floor was not kept up and the third floor was all but abandoned.  It was at this time the rumors of a possible ghost began.  Again, nothing can be confirmed, but Charles Jr. was said to have been pestered by some spirit in the place, and the rumors all stated it was one of the old owners showing their disapproval of the state of the family treasure.

DSCN1214In early summer 2005, the location was bought by Kevin Chateuneuf for a little over six hundred thousand dollars.  The price included the restaurant, the residence and the attached house and the secret recipes and traditions of the name.  Kevin and his brother-in-law Ted went about rebuilding the business and restoring Nick’s Nest to its old glory.  Ted moved into the second floor and has since become familiar with all the sounds and odd winds connected to such an old building.  It was Ted that first started to notice odd things, but he brushed them off at first.

Odd things started to happen to different electric devices in the restaurant.  Several times the radio in the restaurant turned on after Ted had shut it off for the light.  He though he had forgotten in the course of closing up the first time it happened.  “We hadn’t been there that long,” says Ted.  “We were both new on what we were doing closing up.”  He shut the stereo system off, but then heard it on after he had made it upstairs.   The second time he knew he had turned off the radio when hours later, while sleeping upstairs, he heard it on again.  He was too tired to go down and turn it back off, but he started to think something unexplained was happening.

Another time the lights in the basement went off when he knew he had left them on.  The main switch lights the stairs and first section of the basement and then hanging lights all along the rafters light the rest of the area.  He and another employee were moving things out of the basement.  When they went back down, the basement was in total darkness.

Another time Kevin was walking with his wife and decided to go by the store after it had closed.  Ted  had closed up for the night and the building was locked and the lights turned off.  As they made their way down the street, the couple noticed something odd.  “We went past the place and, I don’t know why but we looked up,” says Kevin.  “There was a light on on the third floor.  I knew there was no one there.”  Kevin also saw a figure in the window, but assumed it was a reflection of something on the wall behind the window.

Ted confirms he shut the light off before going to bed, and the switch is located as you leave the stairs.  No one had access to the second or third floor other than Ted himself and there is no way to get to the third floor without going through Ted’s apartment.  As a matter of fact, one of the reasons Kevin has been unable to rent the space is because there is no way to get out in case of a fire.

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The most disturbing incident happened when both when were working late just after they had purchased the property.  “We hadn’t been there that long.  We were both new on what we were doing closing up,” says Kevin.

They were in the office on the third floor when they heard a long creak and then a loud bang from one of the doors on the second floor.  “We were sure we were alone.  We just heard a creak and then, ‘Bam’, it slammed.  It sounded like the loudest door in the world,” says Ted.  The two felt the temperature and began to joke with each other about who would go upstairs to check.  Neither went to check, but they were sure no one else was in the building; they both reported there was no wind that night and the door that was the best candidate for the sound was open when Ted eventually went to sleep.

Orbs seen on the second floor landing, the area where the slamming door was heard.

All of these experiences could be passed off it was not for other disturbing elements to the house.      While the store was open one day, Ted was hit in the back of the head with a package of plates.  The plates were not on a shelf above him and no employees were behind him.  He also reports things falling off the rack that have been placed securely.

Ted, as a resident in the building, as had more exposure to oddities that might exist in the building.  He has heard creaks that sound like footsteps and has experienced cold spots.  Much of the activity seems to center around the second floor residence.  Ted is sure there is something there, although he not quite ready to admit it might be a ghost.  “Sometimes when I’m in there (his room on the second floor) I sense something is with me.  I look over to my right (down a hallway that leads to the room in the front of the building).  I look over and feel something is there.”

DSCN1198

Another spot of activity…ignore the orb…

There are other things about the house that remain unexplained.  The intercom on the second floor is pulled out, almost as if destroyed in anger or frustration.  In the days when Charles lived there, it acted as an intercom to the store, and the microphone to it is still hanging in the store.  He would go up to sleep or take a break during the slow times, and when it was busy, his father would call up to him to come down and help.  Could it be the father still tried to communicate through the line after his death, perhaps giving some sign of his disapproval of the way things were being run?

There are also an abnormal number of thermometers placed throughout the second and third floor.  They are not thermostats, but rather cheap gauges measuring changes in the room.  Almost every room has at least two, including doors near crawl spaces and the kitchen.  Why would it be so important to know the temperature?  If there were spirits in the house, they might have caused dramatic changes Charles was trying to monitor.

In December of 2005, Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads traveled to Holyoke to interview the owner and his brother and law and take a tour of the place.  During the visit, pictures were taken of most of the rooms and temperature and EMF reading were made.  Several unexplained orbs were sighted in areas mentioned as having activity, although it should be mentioned almost all were in areas that had the potential for dust.  The temperature often dropped ten degrees in small pockets of space, especially in the basement.  In one of the third floor bedrooms a small object, like a plastic bag but with a tip on the top, was seen in both the video and digital pictures taken.  This room is just off the main room on that floor, where the light went on, and had a bed and some personal items left by Charles, the only room to have anything from the former owners.

As the investigators left they took the time to get some pictures of the outside of the building.  The light on the third floor was on, even though the video clearly shows Ted shutting it off and no one has access to it after they had left.

Kevin and Ted are unsure who they ghosts might be.  Both believe it to be Charles Senior, checking up to see what they are doing.  They have recently started renovations to restore much of the original look of the house and store, and Kevin believes Charles likes this.  Before they bought the building, neither was told of any haunting and nothing has been reported by the tenants of the office space attached where Nick and his family lived.  No customers have ever had anything happen, but a few employees, mostly former or older employees have said they hear odd noises, like footsteps and voices, from time to time.

There are rumors Charles Senior reported the place being haunted to a few customers.  This seem like more of a rumor, especially considering his disposition.  It seems unusual he would confide such sensitive information given his personality.  It is worth noting the investigation into Nick’s was sparked by an e-mail from a ChuckyLighthouse who we have been unable to contact since.  If Charles Junior did indeed retire to Maine or Florida as some have said, he may very well have an affection for lighthouses.

It is hard when your future is laid out for you.  Nick Malfas worked hard to pass something on to the next generation and to leave a piece of himself behind.  After generations, sons can lose sight of this.  From your birth you are planned to inherit the mantel, even if you want another path.  Those kinds of emotions can stir up negative feelings, and if last wishes are ignore, there might just be enough there to allow someone to return.  Two generations lived for the small store in Holyoke that was nothing more than a nest, and in death they seem to still feel the emotion of its neglect and the pride in a new family looking to bring back the old days.

The Red Headed Hitchhiker of Route 44

It’s odd how things work out.  A student recently sent me an e-mail with a link to my old material from Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads.  I decided to post some of the stories as part of documenting some of the hauntings and legends I’ve covered over the years, but also as a way of tracking how some of these stories have changed over the years since they were originally published.  
The story of the Red Headed Hitchhiker or Phantom of Route 44 was the first story I every tracked down after reading about it in Charles Robsinson’s New England Ghost Files.  I decided to post it with no editing for two reasons; first, I wanted to document how I first published on the topic back in 2003, second, I wanted to put it out there to see how the public has changed its opinion on the it and how might have changed how I feel about it.  The only change is a switching around of a few paragraphs to move some first hand account I published in a follow-up the next year up into the main article.
Enjoy, and let me know what changed to the legend you’ve heard over the years.

 

People from New England survive on a history of oral tradition, passed down by word of mouth in accents that sound funny to the rest of country.  Whether it is the sports they play or the lives they live, people from that area are natural storytellers.  From the beginnings of European settlement to today, the history of this country goes through New England, and an area with such a rich history is bound to have rich legends and folklore, but that reputation might work against reality.  People with real experiences are seen as spinners, and although they might try to raise a voice to protest, their words become part of the myth of the state.  People have claimed to see a red-headed man walking down U.S. Route 44 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and some have stopped to pick him up only to have him disappear on them.  It sounds like an excellent story, giving people chills around a campfire, but the story might be more truth than legend and the ghost might be more supernatural than literary.

015Descriptions of the ghost and the encounters seem to follow the same basic pattern.  The driver is driving along Route 44 at night, usually near the Seekonk-Rehoboth, Massachusetts line, when they encounter a well-built man between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-five.  He has red hair and usually a beard and is dressed in a red flannel shirt with either jeans or brown work pants and work boots.  Sometimes he is well kept, but other times he appears disheveled with an overgrown beard, dirty pants and an untucked shirt.  Most times he appears solid to the drivers but not quite all there and there is a rare report of him seeming transparent throughout the entire encounter.

The biggest discrepancy in the physical description of the hitchhiker is with his eyes.  Some say they look normal but just don’t feel right.  Some say they are black and empty, others glowing and lifeless.  Every color has been attributed to them at one time or another, from yellow and red to green and it is this inconsistency which adds fuel to the skeptic’s argument against the existence of a genuine spirit.

The basic encounters all follow a similar pattern.  Someone is driving along the road, usually alone, when they see a man in the road or on the side of the road.  They may hit him or stop to pick him up.  The hitchhiker will interact with the person and then eventually vanish before their eyes or no longer be there when they turn to look.  This is followed by some type of audio finale where he laughs at them, yells or taunts them.

Anyone who has driven that stretch of road at night can understand the uneasy feeling that pervades Route 44.  A similar scene plays itself out in any rural towns across America where there are more legends than streetlights.  It is a classic movie set up, which may have something to do with the appearance of the spirit.  There is documented proof of accidents in that area that have proved fatal, and Rehoboth is located at one end of the Bridgewater Triangle, an area in Massachusetts made of about a dozen small towns having a documented history of high paranormal activity, UFO activity and anomalous animals.  Rehoboth might be the most active town, with Route 44 being home to the haunted Annawan Rock and several cemeteries that have supernatural histories ranging from sightings and car failures to attacks.

31+Q6-m65nL._BO1,204,203,200_The earliest formal written record of the occurrence was set down by Charles Turek Robinson in his 1994 book New England Ghost Files. In it he describes several encounters in detail.  In one, the hitchhiker is seen outside the window of a fast moving car.  Another person picked him up, only to have him vanish from the car.  The most disturbing story in his book tells of a couple who broke down at about 10:00 PM.  The woman stayed in the car while the man went to get help.  They both suffered separate experiences.  The man saw him on the side of the road and tried to talk to him.  The red headed man began yelling at him and then disappeared, laughing from all directions as the man made his way back to the car.  The woman heard his voice come over the radio, taunting her until she ran from the car.

Stories like this make the believer in us nod our heads and avoid roads and the skeptics laugh.  Every state has something like this, they say, and despite dozens of sighting over the decades, there is no documented proof other than first hand stories of the encounters.  There are psychological and physical alternatives to the hauntings, as well as entire cannon of myths and urban legends utilizing the basic motif of the lonely road and the hitchhiker or traveler.  Yet just because something can be explained doesn’t mean it has been.

Most hauntings like the red headed hitchhiker have fallen into the realm of local legend, told as cautionary tales and local color.  The most famous of these is Resurrection Mary in the Chicago area that has been reported in books and television shows such as Unsolved Mysteries.  Mary was a teenage immigrant who was killed in a car accident while going home from a dance. She is still seen in her dress traveling the road between the hall and cemetery at which she is buried trying to get home.  She is often picked up and has been known to interact with the people who do so.  She asks to be dropped off near the cemetery and vanishes near it or vanishes from the car as it passes.

If this sounds familiar, it should.  It has been adopted by most states and several countries on both sides of the ocean.  There have been similar occurrences in other parts of the country including Kentucky, St. Louis, North and South Carolina and Arkansas.  Hawaii has a long history of hitchhikers vanishing, and for a long time it was thought to be the volcano god Pele who stole rides with horsemen and drivers.  All have some twist to unique to that area of the country and all are built upon first hand reports later spiced up and allowed to fall into myth and exaggeration.

1743591_10203778409366409_603218265_nThese stories might be part of a broader tradition that continues to grow.  Jan Brunvard, the most decorated folklorist in modern times, has written extensively on the topic of the vanishing hitchhiker, even naming one of his collections of urban legends after the tale.  It is one of the most popular urban legends and seems to stretch across different times and cultures, and new variants are being added every year.  Some stories have a man pick a girl up and drop her off at her house only to find her no longer in the car.  When he approaches the door, he is told by the people inside that it was the ghost of their daughter that died years ago on that stretch of road.  Often there is a picture the driver of the girl so the driver can identify her.  Another has two men or a group of men pick her up and bring her to the prom.  They dance with her all night, noticing how cold she feels before she vanishes.  There is often proof left behind, like a scarf or a jacket left on a gravestone.

Another whole string, more in line with the hitchhiker on Route 44, has a man being picked up or just appearing in the backseat.  He often has something prophetic to tell the driver that comes true and is sometimes Jesus himself.

One of the most disturbing tales is of a naked woman seen lying in the road in California.  The driver gets out, but she is no longer there.  Despite his searching and the help of the police, there is no one found.  After three nights of sightings, they finally find her car off the road and hanging off of an embankment.  She is dead inside, but her son is still alive, hanging on to the last moments of life.

Our time and place does not have exclusive rights to the hitchhiker tales.  Mythology from England and Ireland has its own version of the tale that dates back hundreds of years.  The Fortean Times has published dozens of accounts, sometimes with a supernatural creature such as a vampire, werewolf or black dog filling in.  A famous British politician once saw his doppelganger on such a road.  Irish fairy tales tell of people straying from the road only to fall into a fairy circle that causes disasters to befall them.  There are tales from Roman days of walking along the road only to encounter some paranormal or supernatural being.

There is an account in the Bible and the Devil is known to appear at crossroads to strike deals for hapless victim’s souls.

Rte 44 HitchhikerThe connective tissue of these stories is the lonely road and the unknown and there symbols resonate with the reader because they are common and universal. Roads have long been associated with life; the path of our lives, the journey we must take.  They also imply the soul is still traveling, never able to get where it needs to go.  Are these just motifs of our collective unconscious or is there some basis for these localized hauntings.  Myths might point out the archetypes of the traveler trying to get home and the obstacles he must overcome, the lonely road, dark turns, isolation in the woods.  The very locations of these hauntings allow our minds to wander and sends us crawling back to our bedrooms as children where we shrink back from the darkness of our closed closet and the underneath our bed.  We see the crosses on the sides of roads and maybe even know the names and this adds to our tension.

Michael White offers another theory in his 1999 book Weird Science. He writes about hypnagogic and hynopomic hallucinations and claims it explains away the majority of the hitchhiker stories.  During long drives at night, especially in dark, secluded places, we tend to fall asleep.  The repetitive scenery, the lull of the motor and the constant yellow or white lines in the road put us in a hypnotic state that simulates the beginning and ending stages of sleep when we begin to enter a type of dream state.  Our imagination is fed by the stories we hear about an area or the cliché environment we are in and we see things that are not there.  People have even been known to interact and feel physical sensations from this stage of sleep.

With mounting evidence against the possibility of the existence of the red-headed hitchhiker is there any evidence that he does exist.  Back roads are primed for paranormal occurrences.  People often suffer tragic accidents or die in violent ways in these rural setting without streetlights and quick turns that can not be seen until you are on top of them.  Does this particular legend just sound like an established bit of folklore, or is the folklore based on activity that is more common on roads than other places?

Folklorists look for similarities in stories when they create motifs and variants, but evidence of the existence of the hitchhiker in Massachusetts might be gained by looking at what is different in these tales.   Recently reports have been posted on the internet by people claiming to have seen the ghost.  The majority of these can be discounted because the information seems to be a compilation of the rumors heard.  Most do not get the town or physical description right.  If you look at the reports before the area was modernized however, some things stick out.  First, most of the people reporting the occurrences did so with no ulterior motives, and most of the people Robinson interviewed were asked about a separate legend completely and offered the hitchhiker story.  Next, many of the people had never heard the legend and did not know each other.  At times, the phantom has appeared to more than one person which would make a hallucination like the one White talked about near impossible.

Then there is the ghost himself.  He seems unworldly, unlike the people often seen in the urban legend.  He offers no advice or prophetic promises.  In fact, he doesn’t talk.  His goal does not seem to get home but to scare and taunt.  He also has appeared outside cars moving over fifty miles an hour, which shows up in none of the urban myth research.  Lastly, he comes from an area long known to have paranormal activity.

Several employees of the Cumberland farms spoke of the spirit.  They had not seen it themselves, but had heard of the ghost.  One’s brother had been driving alone when he saw him on the side of the road.  He stopped and called out to the man who started to walk towards him.  As he got closer, he faded until he had completely disappeared.

One e-mail told of the hitchhiker appearing in the backseat of his car.  He was alone and saw him in the rear view mirror.  The radio started to scan the stations and then became so loud it shook the car.  The man disappeared and began to laugh on the radio.

Another e-mail offered some possible explanations and clarification on the source and nature of the haunting.  A resident of Rehoboth, the women who sent the e-mail had seen a shadow in her rear view mirror near the area the hitchhiker is known to lurk.  She had conducted interviews herself with people in the area.  Her research found the identity of the spirit might be that of a local farmer who was hit while changing a tire on 44.  His description matches that of the hitchhiker, although his actions during his death do not match traditional hitchhiker stories.  She also identified another aspect of the story might contributes to the legend aspect of the story.  Some people remember a ghost story involving a traveler seen on the road between Redway Plain and Wilmarth Bridge Road.  The name of the street may have helped change the description of the ghost over time, creating the legend that endures today.

There is no physical evidence that the Red-Headed Hitchhiker on Route 44 is real, and that might be enough for the skeptics among us.  He has never been recorded by tape or film and never been photographed.  Descriptions of him vary.  He never talks or explains why he might be there.  There is no record of who he might.  Just because his existence can be explained by science and anthropology and superstition doesn’t mean it has been.

 

 

 

 

Mini Lights, Minnie Lights, Come Out Tonight

 

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The Mini Lights of St. Petersburg ended up being one of the most interesting legend trips we’ve done, not because of any evidence we got, but for the rich insight it gave us into the community and the challenges it provided for trying to figure out where things happened and what the straight story might be.

Ends up there isn’t one location and there isn’t one story.  You can spend your time trying to straighten out spaghetti or you can devour the bowl and ask for some garlic bread and meatballs.

Check out the episode we did on the way and after…  http://triplegend.hipcast.com/deluge/triplegend-20170326103541-9630.mp3

As well as some follow up on that case and the Devil’s Tree in Port St. Lucie…  http://triplegend.hipcast.com/deluge/triplegend-20170327012736-6406.mp3

…and hear the show where we first talk about it…http://www.hipcast.com/podcast/HtJFN9GQ

…and more about the Devil’s Tree and the mysterious draw to the ruins.  http://www.hipcast.com/podcast/HQRrNrBQ

 

Subscibe to the full show at http://triplegend.hipcast.com/rss/tol1.xml or search for us on Sticher, TuneIn and Itunes and Google Play.

 

For more content, also follow us on Twitter at @SpookyBalzano and @NayNayMyFriend and on Faceboook at https://www.facebook.com/TrippingonLegends/ and YouTube.