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.
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”.