Keene Ghost Elephant, and Apples!

The film “Jumanji”, parts of which were filmed in Keene, featured a computer generated elephant stomping around Keene. However, rumors of a real elephant in Keene predate the release of the movie. Rumors of a mystery elephant, no one is sure if it’s a ghost or not, have been kept secret by residents not wishing to be laughed at. Is the elephant a ghost? Perhaps the elephant is that most delightful of ghostly apparitions, the embedded memory of an event that happened long ago. A ghostly event does not have to be the result of a tragedy, but often is the result of something interesting that lived in the memory of those alive so long, that after their deaths the memory remains. It’s only a theory ,or suggestion, to explain why so many ghostly and strange apparitions aren’t frightening or spooky. They are simply, strange and in the case of the Keene elephant, those who experience it are more afraid of being laughed at than anything else.

The stories all start the same, somewhere near Fuller Park, an early evening stroller finds an apple. Usually the pedestrian inadvertently kicks the apple, or they just notice an apple, on the ground. That is of course not unusual. It’s the next apple that makes people take notice. Then the third apple, on the ground, and the one after that usually evokes a chuckle or laughter. Laid out, usually on the sidewalk or in the road, are apples. There is something odd about the apples also. While one may kick or trip over the apples, if you pick one up and put it in your pocket, it won’t be there when you look later. Also if you try to bite the apple, it won’t have any taste. People report rubbing the dirt off the apple, taking a bite, and wondering at the lack of any apple flavor at all. “It’s like eating nothing, no tartness, no sweetness, it’s tasteless and seems to melt in your mouth. You can’t chew it at all” reports one who attempted to eat the apple.

The apples alone aren’t peculiar enough, as there seems to be a fire near Fuller Park. No one ever seems to be able to reach the fire, it’s always “just over there”. But what is seen, and scares the nighttime stroller, is the elephant.

“I can’t tell anyone I saw an elephant, and an elephant eating an apple!” exclaimed one person that made me promise never to share her name. “You know what they say about drunks seeing pink elephants! If I told anyone I thought I saw an elephant in Keene they would think I had been drinking!”

But, often after looking at the fire and trying to place it, people report hearing a loud snort. Sometimes people turn around and see nothing, but other times, they turn around and see, an elephant:

“It was very dark, and this was a dark elephant, so it was hard to see.”

“I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around and there was an elephant. It had tapped my shoulder with it’s nose and I thought this had to be a joke. I looked around for a keeper, or someone, and then when I looked back the elephant was gone. The apple I had been holding, was also gone!”

“I was looking at the fire, wondering who had started it and if I should call someone. I decided to take a photograph of it with my phone camera, and everything went dark in front of the camera. I looked up and there was an elephant. I dropped my phone, and it just walked and slowly faded away. When I got home I saw the photograph on my phone was just a gray blob. I had photographed the side of the elephant, but it looks like a dark gray blob.”

No one seems to have thought the elephant anything but an elephant at first. After all, we know there are elephants, but we don’t know that there are ghost elephants. In fact, we don’t even know for sure there are ghosts of any kind. It’s only the elusiveness of the ghost, combined with the mystery apples, that makes the encounter one people want to keep quiet. Over 10 people shared their story of their encounter but none of them had spoken of the elephant except to close family members. Many of them had not told anyone before reporting what happened for this book. None were afraid so much as surprised, some were even delighted, imagining they had found a lost elephant for a few moments. The ability of this elephant to fade away or even disappear soon convinced everyone this was not a “real elephant”. Still no one felt the elephant was going to harm them or that it had anything on its mind but eating apples.

The elephant will sometimes be far away and hard to see, but to some the elephant will surprise someone by being very close. The bonfire seems to switch positions in the dark, and no one seems to be able to close to it. The apples are confusing to everyone but the elephant. One encounter with the elephant is not enough, and most people that have experienced the elephant find themselves walking the same route again and again, hoping for another chance to meet the gray beast. Some claim they have had more than one view, but usually it’s much less exciting than the first time. They simply hear the elephant or catching a glimpse of the bonfire.

So, ghost or imprinted memory? This seems to be a case of perhaps a ghostly elephant returning to Keene because of a happy memory from long ago. We forget there was a time when elephants were very mysterious animals. Keene residents were happy in the early 1800’s to learn an elephant was going to be displayed in Keene. However, there would be a charge for viewing the elephant. The elephant was being brought into Keene at night, so there would be no free viewing for the residents as the elephant came to town in these days before street lights. Enterprising young boys decided they wanted to view the elephant without paying. The youngsters lit a bonfire, and laid out a trail of apples to the fire. The elephant was delighted to find snacks, and must have been particularly fond of apples as the elephant defied the handlers and followed the apple path to the fire where the elephant could be viewed for free by the delighted youngsters.

The memory of this happy event, for the elephant, the children, and the residents of Keene that admired the boys cleverness, might still linger to be share by those simply going for a quiet evening walk in Keene.

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