Where’s there’s Smoke, there’s Tom and Jack

 

Not all the ghosts of Keene are human. People often talk of a beloved pet, usually a cat or dog, that they sense are still loyal companions long after the pet has died. Soft footpads, almost silent meows, and doors that are mysteriously pushed open are considered signs of a pet spirit. There have also been reports of dog’s barking, awakening their families to danger, only this is the eternal vigilance of a dogs long dead still protecting their loved ones.

Tom and Jack however weren’t pets, but they did belong to the entire city of Keene.

They were a beautiful set of gray horses, used to pull a fire engine, and saved lives and property with their well trained strength. The fire horse had to be a very special horse. Strong to pull the engine, swift as speed was of the essence with a fire, and also brave, as most horses will shy and run away from fire and smoke. Tom and Jack were the pride of the Keene Fire Department for their beauty and sense of duty. Photographs of the horses proudly marching in parades can be found in historic records from the time.

Fire, while a danger today, was especially frightening before the advent of smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems. It was only the watchful eye of a neighbor or sheer luck if a fire was discovered at night. The amount of work to put out a fire, without modern equipment, often meant every citizen had to pitch in when needed. Early residents of Keene were required to own a certain number of leather buckets, to be used in case of fire. Fire fighting was a concern for all, not just the professional fire fighter.

A tour of Keene today shows how important the horse was to daily life before the advent of cars. There are many barns inside the city, some are just attached to homes and serve now as garages for cars. Some Keene barns have been converted into apartments or homes. At one time, Keene was full of horses, conveniently located for their owners when needed.

Horses naturally avoid fire, and many a horse making loud whinnies of panic warned humans that a fire had started at night. This is perhaps why when horses were still fairly common in Keene no one mentions the ghosts of Jack and Tom. Jack and Tom served Keene as some of the last fire horses, as the horse power came to mean a motor and not an animal. 1920 was the last year fire horses were used officially used in Keene.

Today though Jack and Tom may still be protecting the citizens of Keene. People have reported awakening to the sound a panicked horse or horses, and then smelling smoke and knowing there was a fire. Keene doesn’t have many horses close to downtown, but reports of mysterious noises of horses awakening owners to the danger of a night fire persist. Of course, people aren’t sure what the sound was, only they often are quickly reminded of horses by what happens next.

One fire survivor reports what happened to him “I awoke to this loud screeching sound. I had no clue what it was, but could tell my house was filling with smoke. I got up quickly and awoke my family and we ran out of the house. We then looked up and I saw, in the smoke, the shape of two horses. Gray horses, gray like the smoke and fire. It was just the heads and front legs and then the shapes slowly disappeared as the flames grew.”

The family survived, despite not having their smoke alarms working, but the home was a complete loss. Other people report seeing the shape of two horses in smoke from other fires, sometimes even a simple backyard bon fire or leaf burning. It seems Jack and Tom can not resist a fire of any type. The description is always of seeing the shape, and more than one person noticing the resemblance to horses, before it quickly dissipates.

If you awake in the night to the sound or horses, pay attention and don’t roll back to sleep. Tom and Jack might be trying to tell you something. Also, please make sure your smoke detectors are working, because to depend on ghostly intervention for fire protection is foolish indeed.

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Robin Hood Park, and Keene’s Own Alice

Robin Hood Park is Keene is an oasis for children of all ages. In the summer there is a playground and a chance to hike trails gentle enough for even a preschooler to manage. Winter brings ice skating and many Keene children over the years have learned to skate on the water reservoir located there.

The park was founded by one of the more altruistic of Keene’s citizens, George Wheelock , as a place for generations of children to enjoy nature and the outdoors.  The original 12 acres he donate were named “The Children’s Wood”, and a later donated 83 acres were called “Robin Hood Park”.

Still, even this most child friendly of parks has a reported spirit or two still living there. The spirit of this story is, as befits Robin Hood Park, a child. Several mothers have reported stories of a small girl along the paths, dressed as if she were going to a fancy party. She peeks out from behind the trees and many large boulders in the park. While older versions of the story, from parents of the 1940’s and 1950’s, don’t find the child’s attire out of place, more modern parents do. Children now wear jeans and shorts for climbing and hiking and sneakers, while often pink, are the safe shoe of choice. The little spirit girl seems stuck in time, with her flat leather shoes and white or light color dress.

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Children seem unafraid, and she has at times been called “Alice” after the famous “Alice in Wonderland” for her peculiar garb. Alice is often times seen wearing an apron to cover her dress, which was the custom long ago to help protect a dress from stains when playing. Still, while children are delighted with glimpses of Alice, parents aren’t always so comfortable.

One mother, Elaine, told me the story of her daughter Molly. Molly was a typical tom-boy, until one day she wandered off to explore the pathways of Robin Hood Park. Elaine explained “I would sit on a rock, bring a book and just keep an ear out for her. We would go fairly early in the morning when the park was very quiet. I could always hear Molly chatting away saying ‘Hello’ to squirrels and talking to herself.”

Elaine noticed a change one day when Molly came down wearing one of her Disney Princess outfits. “Her grandmother would send them to her, and Molly had little interest in them. I would dress her up in the costume and take a photograph to send my mom. Molly was a dynamo then, my little tornado, and wearing a dress would just have slowed her down!”

Elaine questioned why Molly would want to wear a princess dress to the park, and Molly explained her new friend “Alice” wanted her to wear a pretty dress so they could “look alike, like sisters”. Elaine knew there were usually no other children at the park so early, “I would often go then just so Molly could wear herself out, and when we went back later on in the afternoon she was much calmer playing with the other children.” Elaine, being an easy going mother, allowed Molly to wear her princess dress but insisted on her wearing sneakers.

Molly began to insist on wearing dresses for her early morning park explorations each morning. Elaine also began to hear stories about “Alice”. Elaine figured that Molly had a wonderful imaginary friend. She knew Molly had seen an “Alice in Wonderland” movie and also that she had been looking for a rabbit hole at Robin Hood Park. When Elaine began to pay more attention to what Molly was saying at the park, rather than just focusing on her book, she claims she began to grow more nervous.

“Molly had long conversations with Alice”, she shared. “They would talk about school, pets, it was all one sided, but Molly would do long pauses and seemed to be replying to direct questions from Lizzie” Elaine worried this was perhaps too much imagining, so she began to put down her book and tag along.

Elaine was intrigued when she decided to walk with Molly, and Molly painted to a rock and said the name of the rock was “Jumbo”. Elaine, laughingly replied it was indeed a jumbo sized boulder, but Molly said “No the rock is name Jumbo, Alice told me.” Elaine looked at the rock more closely and noticed there seemed to be some carving on the rock. “I took out my car keys, and scraped away at the letters which were covered with some sort of green moss.” Elaine was shocked to find the name “JUMBO” clearly carved into the boulder. Molly began to name other boulders, and each time Elaine looked she could find the faint etchings of the name carved. “I never even knew the rocks had names, or that someone had the names inscribed on the rocks.”

When Elaine asked who had told her the names, Molly would insist “Alice did, she knows all the rocks!” Elaine said she even lost her temper with Molly, sure that some adult had told Molly the names and stories of the boulders of Robin Hood Park.

Elaine decided that perhaps the early morning visits should be better supervised. Elaine talked to a few of the other parents at the park. She said some of them claimed to get a “creepy feeling” when walking the paths. Elaine said she didn’t stop going, because the park is wonderful. “ I enjoyed finding out some of the rocks have names. But I kept a close eye on Molly, and saved my reading for when she took her afternoon nap.” Elaine also still took Molly to the paths where Alice spoke to her, because she felt if Alice were a real ghost, of a real little girl, then “Alice might be sad with no one to visit her. I thought if anything happened to Molly, and she were stuck here as a ghost, I would want her to have friends.’

Elaine said that Molly still spoke to Alice for the rest of that summer, and would ask her mother why she couldn’t see Alice. Elaine told Molly to ask Alice. Molly laughed and said that Alice said she could only appear to children, and one day even Molly wouldn’t be able to play with her anymore.

The next summer, Molly went to the park in her shorts, t shirt, and sneakers, and didn’t mention Alice at all. Elaine said she asked Molly about Alice and she looked at her mother and said “Oh I must have grown up too much!”

If Alice is truly a playful,if well dressed, spirit at Robin Hood Park, I hope she finds many future generations of children to play with until they “grow up too much”.

Woodlawn Cemetery, Keep it Clean

The most haunted location in Keene is reputed to  be around the Knight Summer Chapel, which is part of Woodlawn Cemetery. A spirit of a little girl is reported, that will peek at you from behind tombstones and trees. The area is a favorite for those with cameras trying to capture photographs of orbs and other ghostly subjects.

Traditional folklore says you must never curse near the chapel, or you will taste soap in your mouth. This soapy discipline comes from a ghost that objects to cursing, and will try to wash you mouth out . This rumored ghostly punishment means that people are often around the chapel, cursing away hoping for a ghostly, if soapy, encounter.

So many stories abound, that it’s hard to choose just one to feature.

This story can perhaps be representative of all the strange happenings that take place near the chapel. A group of teenagers, bored during the early evening hours, decided to go to the Knights Chapel to see if they could have a ghost wash their mouths out with soap. Keene has often been described as a lovely town but a bit dull for young people, though I’m surprised this was their best option for entertainment.  Still, what could be more fun than to test this ghostly myth, and so the 5 young people piled into a car and parked near the chapel.

The 5 were all teenagers, and 2 of them were a new couple. At first everyone just cursed away, with 3 claiming “I can feel the soap, it’s really awful!”. The taste did not stop the teens from cursing, as could be expected it made them curse even more! The only 2 that did not claim to be able to taste the soap were the new young couple.

They were teased by the others, that they were “too sweet” for the ghost. The couple just claimed they were too smart to fall for this trick. They were sure the others were just imagining the soapy taste. Finally the couple was challenged to really curse as much and as creatively as they possibly could. The couple then faced the chapel and yelled out curses and insults for almost a full minute, and at the end they just laughed and claimed to taste nothing. Their friends suggested the couple French kiss, so they could taste if there was soap in each others mouths.

What happened next at first seemed very innocent. The couple kissed deeply, embracing each other tightly. The couple kept kissing and kissing, until their friends began to joke “get a room!” Still the deep kiss continued.

The couple then began to not embrace, but instead to try to push away from each other. Soon they were using all their strength to try to break off the kiss, even digging their feet into the ground. Their deep kiss was endless, their lips locked together, as if a powerful magnetism held them together. The three friends at first thought the couple was joking, but soon were convinced by the terror in the eyes of the couple.

The friends ran over and began to physically pull the couple apart. It was only when one of the group shouted “They are sorry, we’re sorry! We won’t do this again, let them go!” that the couple broke apart.

The couple fell to the ground, exhausted and catching their breath in deep gulps. They later said they did not taste soap, but tasted ashes. “It was like eating smoke from a campfire or from hell.” They claimed they could not break apart, and were having trouble breathing. The young woman claimed she could feel as if a bony hand were holding her head in place, the young man refused to talk about the experience ever again. The group left the cemetery, and warned their friends not to bother the chapel ghosts.

“It just seemed like a lot of fun, but cursing in a cemetery is a bad idea”

So, go visit Woodlawn Cemetery, but please be respectful. If you aren’t, the residents there will be sure to let you know they like to be left in peace.

The Zombie without a Heart

Fortune tellers and psychics sometimes comment that they have a tough time in Keene.  A few have reported they have better readings outside of Keene, and that they sometimes have nightmares after attending a psychic fair in Keene.  Things go wrong, batteries run out of power, lights flicker, things they were sure they packed go missing.  Some claim their dreams are of 2 young men, that are angry at all those that cast fortunes.  Others though dream of what we would now call a zombie, a dead young man, looking for his eternal rest and also very unhappy with those that would cast fortunes in Keene.  Perhaps they have good reason to be angry, if those young men are Seth, Adam, Issac and Samuel who lived in Keene in the early 1800’s.

Seth and Adam’s brother Issac was dying. They knew this because they had recently lost another brother, Samuel, and the symptoms were the same. Consumption, or what we would now call TB, was a leading killer before the introduction of antibiotic treatment in the 1940’s.

The endless coughing, that would bring up blood, was a sure sign that death was near. Since the cause was unknown, except that it would often decimate families, attempts to cure varied widely and were almost always ineffective. Still, Seth and Adam, having lost one brother already, were willing to try anything. Desperate for a cure, they went to a fortune teller in Keene and asked for advice.

When traditional medicine fails, even today people will seek the help of alternative medicine. This however was the early 1800’s and your local doctor could often do as much harm as good. The fortune teller the young men turned to was more than willing to take their money for her bad advice. When the local doctor said there was nothing to do, the fortune teller gave the boys something to do. Hope was bought at a high price for this working class family.

The fortune teller gave the young men a cure that was gruesome, but she swore it would work. Seth and Adam were to dig up the body of their recently deseased brother Samuel. They were then to take out his heart, and feed it to their ill brother Issac. The brother Samuel the fortune teller claimed was not at rest. His spirit was still alive. If they family could feed that spirit, via the heart, to Issac, he would regain his strength.

The fortune teller claimed that Samuel had cursed the family for not curing him, and that only by destroying his heart would his spirit rest and leave not claim the life of his brother. If this was not done, each brother would die off one by one, and the spirit of Samuel would haunt Keene forever.

The brothers followed the fortune tellers directions, digging up their brother from his grave in the middle of the night, to try to hide it from watching eyes. They were shocked to find their brother’s body looking as if they had just buried him. Some versions of the story even claim that Samuel looked even better than when he had been buried an emaciated corpse, Samuel looked like the fit and strong young man he was before his illness.

The brothers worked quickly, cutting into the body and retrieving the heart. The heart itself was not withered and dry, but was plump and wet. The brothers then reburied the body, and went home to make a meal for their sick brother of the heart. When the brothers cut into the heart, fresh liquid, perhaps blood, spurted out.

Sadly, the cure did not work, for Issac soon died. The brothers were angry, the fortune teller had not only taken their money but she had caused them to desecrate the grave of Samuel. They went to demand their money back from the crooked seer, but could find no sign of the fortune teller. The small hut where the fortune teller lived was empty, but it looked as if it had been ransacked with the small bits of furniture smashed and broken and the plates broken and smashed. The brothers were accused of having attacked the fortune teller, as she was never seen again, but they always claimed someone else with a grievance had cheated them of their revenge.

The brothers prepared Issac for his burial much as they had done for Samuel not long before. The night Issac had died, a frost had come and the ground had frozen. As is traditional even today in parts of New Hampshire, Issac’s body was put in a grave vault to await a thaw when the ground could be opened to receive his body.

It was then that that the problems started for Keene. Young men walking late at night would feel a sudden chill, and turn around to find another young man following them. The young man appeared to be normal, except there was a hole in the middle of his body. Since streetlights were not around, the descriptions are based on what could be seen from a carried lantern or just the moonlight. Also since many of these young men were returning from taverns, the stories were treated as a joke.

There was one young man, tipsy enough, to challenge the man with the hole in his chest. The brave ,but drunk, man claimed he was then attacked by a demon, that tried to “tear out my heart!” The sightings stopped soon after this, and people wondered were the stories just imaginings or had something else happened?

Spring and a thaw came and Seth and Adam were preparing to oversee the internment of their brother Issac. When the body was brought out from the grave vault, to the surprise of everyone, Issac’s body was found to have been mutilated. Where his heart should have been, was a gaping hole. The brothers quickly buried their brother, and the story remained buried in family legend until now.

Did Keene have a zombie? Looking to replace his own stolen heart? Also why was the body of Samuel so fresh? It could be the cold chill of Fall weather, preserving his body, or was Samuel one of the New England vampires of legend?

Fortune tellers of the time were known to recommend such remedies for curing illnesses. There are many written accounts of this happening all over New England, but this family story of what happened next is especially chilling. Let’s hope Samuel continues to rest in peace.  Even if fortune tellers and psychics of today may still be haunted by the brothers!

The Blood Stained Floor

The history of Keene is like that of any older city. There has been crime, fortune tellers, bars, gambling, and tragedy mixed in with commerce, churches,education, pride and growth.

All cities have a dark side, and perhaps hidden in a home is an unwritten story that is part of the past history of almost all towns.

The home is older, but perhaps only 1920’s. It is currently empty, though there are plans for it to be rented out soon. I met the owner, a man in his early 40’s, at the front door. Mark assured me the home was ”safe”, but wanted me to see the bloody floor. I had assured him I was fine with just hearing his story. My goal is just to document ghost stories as folklore, not prove or disprove them. Mark still insisted I needed to see the floor. It seemed important to him that I believe the story of what his family went through.

Mark said he bought the home as a “flip” about 4 years ago. “I was going to do most of the work myself, I grew up doing this kind of work. I figured, a year, at most two, I’d make an easy profit.” Things didn’t quite go as planned. “My wife got pregnant, and then she couldn’t work. I had to take as much overtime as I could at my job to make up the income. We gave up our apartment and just moved into the home while I worked on it. It was slow going. I worked on the bathrooms and kitchen first so we could use the place.  The bedrooms were just ugly, so they were going to be last.”

Mark claims as soon as they moved into the house, his wife started having nightmares. She would wake up at night, claiming she heard “women crying”. Mark said he figured it was “just being pregnant”. Mark decided with the baby coming, he might cheer his wife up if he skipped some of the downstairs, and worked on the baby’s room.

Mark explained, when you work on a room you work from the top down. The last thing you do is remove old carpet or refinish a floor. The nursery was stripped of ugly wall paper and repainted when Mark decided to tear up the old carpeting. “It’s like the lottery” he explained “you don’t know what’s going to be under there, but you hope it’s good wood flooring you can refinish”.

Mark found good wood flooring, but he also found a lot of deep brown and black stains. “There were some spots where it looked like it had been a lot of something, I dunno, like it had dripped all over. It wasn’t like those crime scene splatters, this was a lot of dripping.” He found one area near the center of the room had the worst of the stains. “There was this old coconut matting under the carpet, that had a lot of stains, but the stains in the one area of the wood flooring were really deep. I refinished the floor anyway, but I bought a rug to cover the stains in the center of the room.”

Still, Mark’s wife kept having dreams about woman crying and also, began to see things. She kept seeing a middle aged woman out of the corner of her eye and also an older man. Mark described it as “almost there” and “she knew when they were around, they let her know.”

Mark’s wife felt sorry for the crying women, but she wasn’t afraid of them. The older man and middle aged woman scared his wife. Mark hoped once the baby came his wife would calm down. He said he didn’t begin to get worried until he went and started to clean out the crawl space attic. “I found stuff up there I didn’t like”. Mark showed me some of what he had found and later brought downstairs. I saw what seemed to be doctor’s equipment from the 1920’s. there was a green metal folding table, some old clamps and what appeared to be surgical instruments. There were also some lights with large metal bowl like shades.

Mark said he then figured the room had been some sort of doctors office, though he thought it was odd to have a surgery in a bedroom rather than on the first floor. Mark said he was talking to one of his neighbors, asking about the equipment, when his neighbor told him an old rumor about the house.

The rumor was that at one time, abortions had been performed at the home by the couple that lived there. Mark said he felt a chill go through him when he heard this. Mark assured me he and his wife aren’t against abortion. “I know that my wife’s pregnancy was a real surprise for us, we wondered how we could afford just one baby. I can’t blame someone, long ago, how did you keep having kids? There wasn’t much choice back then. I wondered though about someone that would perform abortions. My wife, it wasn’t the women that upset her, it was that couple. I decided not to tell her the rumor.”

Mark said he knew the last thing his wife needed was to hear anything about abortions or confirming her anxieties while she was pregnant.  “We had to live here”, he points out, “I didn’t have the money to move us.  I still didn’t believe anything was going on.”

The baby came, and Mark said things just became worse for his wife. She insisted the baby sleep in the room with them, and seemed afraid to leave the baby with a sitter. “My mom, her sister, family wasn’t allowed to babysit, my wife had to be with the baby in the house. It was only when we took the baby outside the house she relaxed. She talked to her doctor, and thedoctor thought maybe she had some of that baby depression. He put her on some pills, told us to put the baby in the nursery, get out more.”

When the baby was put in the nursery, Mark would find his wife sleeping on the floor near the crib in the morning. “She would swear she didn’t remember how she got there. She would sleep walk.” Still Mark just thought it was baby blues, until the one night he awoke to hear his wife calling out his name.

Mark found his wife standing in the nursery holding the baby, and Mark swears he finally saw the couple for himself. “There were these dark shadows, near the crib. The one shadow, it seemed to be reaching out toward my family. I just lost it.” Mark shares he didn’t feel scared, he felt this huge black anger overtake him. “I just yelled at them to leave my baby alone, and ran over and picked up the crib. I picked up this heavy crib and just threw it. Everything went all over the place, it was crazy. Just crazy.”  Mark said he still can’t explain his anger.  He just knew all at once that he believed his wife, and he had to protect his family.

Mark says he packed up his wife and baby, and they  went to stay with his parents. His wife and baby have not been back to the house since, and they are renting a new home. “We’re renting a new home, it’s only about 10 years old. I’m done with old homes, I don’t know what happened here, or what is happening, but I’m done with this place.” Mark is finishing the renovations as he can, getting the home ready to rent until the housing market picks up again. “Then I’m selling this, I’ll get what I can out of it. I have to make back something.”

I asked if he’d be selling to a young family, maybe a family with baby. Mark shakes his head. “I have to take care of my family, so I’m not going to promise anything. I hope maybe the next family is Catholic or something, or they can get some of those ghost people to figure this out. I’m not doing that, I’m just telling you as I want someone to hear this story. There is something bad here. It’s not my problem now, but it’s like a war story. Do I believe in ghosts? I don’t know what is in this house, I just know my family isn’t coming back.”

I looked at the nursery. The crib is still half broken resting on its side, but the rest of the baby furniture, clothing and toys are gone. Mark rolls back the light beige area rug that covers most of the floor. Sure enough there are dark stains. Mark shows me where he gouged into the wood, to see how deeply the stains went. He suggests maybe “Some of that crime scene stuff, maybe that could show if it’s really blood. I don’t care anymore.”

Mark reports his wife and child are doing well now. Everyone finally sleeps through the night.   Mark says he’s going to install wall to wall carpeting in the old nursery soon.

Beware of Anna Banks, cat, dog or demon

Beware of Dog

There is a lovely house near Gilsum street, with a small printed sign in the window near the front door that says “BEWARE OF DOG”. The sign is slightly faded from the sun.  If you ring the doorbell you will not be greeting by a barking dog, maybe.

The house is home to yet another Keene animal ghost, but just what kind of animal this ghost is depends on who you are. If you are a friend, you will meet Anna, a lovely jet black cat of very undetermined age.  If you are a foe, beware.

A lovely family lives in the small white house, mother, father and 2 young children. They are the second generation owners, the mother Nora, grew up in the home. “There was always a black cat when I was growing up. When my parent bought the house, they were told that a cat came with it. So, when my parents moved in, Anna the cat was already here.” She assures me she isn’t sure if it’s the same black cat, but every since she was born there has been a black cat at the home. When one of the Anna’s gets old and dies, soon enough another black cat shows up. “This has only happened twice since I’ve lived here, but my mother said it happened once also before I was born also.”

Nora said she asked her mother for more details about the black cats associated with the house. Her mother claimed that when the house was bought, the cat was “part of the package”. Nora’s parents liked cats, though they probably would not have picked an all black cat. The cat was a bit standoffish but good pet, until one day the cat grew thin and died. “Mom thought the reason the cat came with the house was that Anna was pretty old already. The family probably thought the cat would be happier not moving.” Nora’s mom buried the cat in the backyard, and to her surprise found another black cat, this one not more than a kitten, sitting in the backyard near the old cat’s grave a few mornings later.

The cat was thought to perhaps have been dumped by someone that heard the family had lost their cat. “Plus,” Nora said “not everyone wants a black cat. Mom figured someone knew she’d accept another one.” This cat was also named “Anna” for no reason anyone can remember, as have all the other black cats. Oddly enough, each death of a black Anna has brought a new Anna to the home “usually within a week.”

Nora tried to trace the history of the black cats, she wondered if it extended even farther into the history of the house. She found old photographs of the home, and sure enough, in many of the photographs dating back to the 1890’s, there is a black cat. One elderly neighbor remembers a black cat named “Anna” at the home in the 1940’s.

“Anna, or rather the Anna’s” laughed Nora a bit nervously, “is very shy. She’s always a she, and she likes only certain people.” While I was visiting, I was delighted when the current Anna came over and allowed me to pet her. Nora smiled and said “Do you own a black cat?” I told her I now own a calico stray, found on the streets of Keene, but at one time I had owned a black cat named “Othello”

Nora just nodded her head, “She really likes people that own or have owned black cats. We joke she’s a demon cat, but we can’t help but like having her around.” Nora then shared other peculiar things about the Anna cats. “For one thing, if the cat goes in the yard, all the other animals leave. You won’t find birds or squirrels around. Even dogs and other cats leave her alone. None of the Anna’s have ever been in a fight. Anna seems to like to be alone.  We just never have had another pet, Anna seems to be happiest alone and I’m busy enough with 2 children.”

 Still, who needs a dog when you have Anna cat? Nora points out clearly this is just what she’s heard from others, but people claim that her family must own a black dog. “I’ve gone away, and some of the neighbors say they heard our dog barking in the middle of the night. I know we don’t have a dog, but they swear they’ve heard ferocious barking and even come out to see if everything is alright. Once a couple of teenagers were seen running away from the house. We think maybe they were going to break in, but they heard this dog barking and left.”

 Anna the cat just looked at me for more petting, as if proud of her barking abilities. “We even get those door to door religious people”, Nora pauses, then decides to share the rest. “If I’m upstairs busy, I sometimes hear barking, and I’ll look out and it’s those Bible people, you know who I mean.” They quickly leave she said when they hear the “demon dog”. Nora assures me to her it’s only a quiet barking and growl. Nora says that the door to door salesman of anything from candy bars to religion must hear something much more frightening than she does judging by their quick exit from her front door. Nora says even if Anna is a demon and not a ghost, she seems to have the best interests of the house in mind.  Nora also joked since her daughter is a Girl Scout, Anna never growls at those that stop by selling cookies.

 Nora started putting up the “Beware of Dog” sign years ago if they were going out of town. “I want to give anyone wanting to break in here fair warning. There aren’t any ‘Beware of Demon Cat’ signs that I can find. I can find joke ‘Beware of Cat’ signs, but I need one that really means stay away!” Nora assures me the sign was just put up for my visit, so I could see “I really have one!”  Anna seemed just fine with my visit, especially as I brought her one of my hand knit cat nip mice.

Anna the black demon cat seems happy to stay near Gilsum street. “Black cats may be scary to others, but we enjoy taking care of her” Nora assures me. Her mother has heard rumors that the first Anna was saved on Halloween eve from children intent on tormenting it, by a fortune teller that used to live in the area named “Anna Banks”.

 Nora isn’t so sure, “That would have had to be a long time ago! Long before this house was built!” But perhaps the spirit of one of Keene’s most famous fortune tellers, Anna Banks, still resides in the shape of a never ending series of black cats. If so, Nora and her family say any new Anna cats will always have a welcome home with her family.

Arch Street Tunnel, Skull Speeder

Arch street is known as a quiet drive to and from Keene for those wishing to avoid Route 9. Going to Keene you pass Stonewall Farm, and then pass under the old railroad bridge, through an arch tunnel. It’s a bit tricky, you have to slow down as there really isn’t room for 2 cars to be in the tunnel like opening at the same time. Still, it’s a popular short cut to get to the high school or west side of town.

It is not popular with everyone, as many people have reported they avoid driving there. The reasons given seem to be all concerned with safety. Certainly ,in winter, the slope of the street near route 9 is a reason for concern. It becomes slick quickly in a snow or ice storm and is best avoided then.

The concerns reported though all center around the railroad bridge tunnel. People seem to feel there have been a lot of “deaths” there, and that there is something that makes them feel very uncomfortable about driving there, even in the daytime. I drive this road often, and found most people are very careful when approaching the tunnel, and slow down carefully. It does appear to be an area you would want to be very careful, but certainly not someplace to avoid.

My own odd experience with this road happened when I was pulled over for speeding. My family jokes that I was born driving like a “grandmother”. My fear of speed was learned at a young age when I was told what a speeding ticket would do to my insurance. I was informed by my family that if I got a speeding ticket, I would have to pay for all my car insurance. Since I knew I could not afford that I began my life long habit of driving slightly under the speed limit at all times. This annoys people, so I even have learned to pull over every now and again to allow people to pass me. It’s a habit I can’t break.

Only for some reason I did break the habit one day while driving by stonewall farm. I even zipped through the tunnel, without even stopping to check for traffic. The Keene Police were even confused, “you didn’t even slow down!” was the first comment from the officer that pulled me over. I blamed it on day dreaming, I was obviously not drunk and ,while confused, apologized. The officer let me off with a verbal warning. He joked people just seem to like to speed up on the road for no reason. Still, he did say “You have to be careful here, I don’t know what it is, but people drive different here.’

At the time I didn’t think much of it, other than being shaken up for being pulled over. The main worry was my simply blasting through the tunnel, as that was an error in driving judgment I would not expect even the newest 16 year old with a learners permit to make.

As stories began to come in about the bridge and the road, and I found the police officer was correct, people do drive differently on this road.  There are over 50 stories detailing mysteries concerning speeding and also skull like features on both drivers and ghostly apparitions near the tunnel.

The stories almost all include a reference to be feeling ”uncomfortable” or ‘finding myself speeding’. One story that stood out took place in the 1950’s. This was from an older woman, that walks with a cane and felt like so many people, it was time to share her ghost story.

Helen was a teenager and she jokes that she never liked Mike until he got a car. Mike lived next door to her in Keene, and she never had time for him. “His parents had money, I thought he was spoiled. When we graduated high school, he went to college and I had to get a job.’ Still, when Mike’s parents bought him a brand new Chevy for a Christmas present his freshman year of college, Helen jokes she suddenly found Mike “Very interesting!”

Mike wanted to show off his new car, and Helen finally agreed to a date with him. “I know our parents didn’t like it, which made it even more exciting!” They went out a few times during his school break, and even wrote to each other while he was at college. Finally summer came, and Mike was back.

“It was really all about the car” Helen shared. “I felt like a million bucks driving around with Mike, my parents didn’t have a car nearly as new or nice. No one I knew did. He was just a kid, and he had this incredible car. Mike was nice, but he really was just a spoiled kid. Still, we were having fun upsetting our parents and just driving around.”

Mike did get his share of speeding tickets, but Helen insists she made him slow down a bit when she was driving with him. “I wanted to be seen, not in a drag race. So when I was in the car, he kept things under control.” Except the one night he didn’t.

Helen explained that night they were returning from a party in Brattleboro Vermont. It was around midnight and Mike turned off onto arch street and instead of slowing down, he went faster. Helen told Mike, even before the end of the slope near Rt.9 “Mike too fast, slow down now!”. She says she was mad, not frightened.

Mike didn’t slow down, he went faster. Helen became even more angry “I thought he was just showing off, trying to scare me.” She says she hit him on the arm and he turned and smiled at her. It was then, she says she saw he wasn’t Mike anymore. The face lit up from the dashboard lights was that of a skull. “He was a grinning skull, it just looked at me. Then the car went even faster.”

Helen wasn’t wearing a seat belt “We just didn’t do that, it isn’t like things are today!” She looked up and saw the RR bridge tunnel ahead. She was desperate, so she opened her door, and rolled out into what she hoped was the soft side of the road. She broke her leg in several places, and is left with a limp today from the surgeries she needed to fix the breaks.

Mike hit the bridge, he lived Helen assures me, but his hospital stay was much longer than hers. She said the passenger side of the car, what she calls the “Suicide seat, that’s what we called it as more people die in that seat than any other in a car!”, was crushed. “I would have been dead if I hadn’t jumped”.

Helen refuses to drive the road. “If I have to get to Stonewall Farm, I won’t go through the tunnel. I’ll drive around. But I won’t go near that tunnel!”

There were other stories about skulls and demons associated with this stretch of road. Helen’s was the most dramatic. Still, is it just an open area where it’s easy to daydream and forget to watch your speed, or are there other forces trying to control drivers that decide to take the scenic route?