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.

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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.