A bit about the Keene Ghost Census

Keene Ghost Census

 

The title of this book “Keene Ghost Census” was inspired by an attempt in 1894 by William Thomas Stead and members of the Psychical Research Society to conduct a census of ghosts by conducting interviews with the living. One of the conclusions reached was that 10% of people have the ability to experience ghosts, though of course the Psychical Research Society and William Thomas Stead were firm believers in the existence of ghosts. While Stead and his followers conducted their census in England, the team that worked on this book felt that Keene also deserved a ghost census. We were tired of reading paranormal or historic books, that repeated the same old stories over and over again. We felt Keene had to have more than just the same few stories and decided to ask the public for their ghost stories. What we found is that it is almost impossible to write an account of every suspected ghost in any given area.

 

The first problem is that there is no real agreement on the definition of “ghost”. Ghosts could be the spirit of the undead, trapped here on Earth. Ghosts could also be simply a memory or imprint of an occurrence that took place at one time, both violent and also happy. A bump in the night to some Keene residents means the cat has knocked something over. To others it means the ghost is out and about. Reported ghost we found could be evil, happy, friendly, lonely or just the product of an living person. Ghosts were reported to be violent, ghosts were reported to be helpful. If nothing else, what living humans define as “ghost” covers quite a broad spectrum.

 

The most interesting result was the number of animal ghosts reported. Keene is a very animal friendly city today, so a few animals ghosts should have been expected. Also, the people of Keene aren’t interested, in most cases, in getting rid of their ghosts. Many ghosts were reported where the person wanted their ghost story documented, but not reported in a book form. The living human was afraid someone might try to exorcise the ghost that was a more than welcome member of their family. Sharing your house with a spirit in Keene is not uncommon at all. One family reported “She was here long before we were, we just tolerate her moods as she hates a thunder storm, but she’s a part of the family and we would miss her if she were gone.”

 

The stories reported here are of course unproven. The stories chosen for the book include those where there were multiple people reporting, often without knowing the other had reported the story. We also those that were just too interesting not to report. The stories should be considered folklore, not proof of life after death.

 

Names have been changed and some locals are not given. The reason is that while a family may be fine with sharing a ghost story today, tomorrow they may wish to sell their home. While Keene is tolerant of ghosts, a new home buyer may not be. We did not wish to inflict any monetary or mental anguish on any of those kind enough to share their stories with us.

 

The census is far from complete. There were ghosts we heard tantalizing hints of, but that are jealously guarded by those that are busy ‘investigating’ them. We also enjoyed hearing so many stories that were family secrets, but not ours to share. Respecting the privacy of the living was our number one goal, while also giving Keene a richer documented ghost folklore history. We hope these stories will give the ghost enthusiast a better appreciation for the ghost lore of Keene, instead of just the the same old stories currently in numerous New England ghost guides and books.

 

Please enjoy the “Keene Ghost Census”, and get to know your other neighbors. Some are friendly, some are not, but all are part of the rich history of Keene.   

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!

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.