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”.

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.

The Eternal Tenant

Ghost stories are often just that, a story told by one person to another. There is rarely any sort of proof, perhaps a fuzzy photograph or strange video. Proof of life after death would require far more than just eye witness testimony and vague photographs.

However the story that most impressed the staff at the Cheshire County Historical Society was that of one ghost, reported by two different people.

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The story is a simple one. A tenant at an apartment in an old house in town came in to try to find out about a ghost. The was a woman dressed from a long ago era that he had seen sitting in his apartment looking out the window. The tenant wasn’t afraid of the ghost. Indeed, it seems Keene is a town that accepts ghosts as simply part of the pleasure of living in an old historic home. Still, the tenant wanted to know more about the ghost. While there is no official record of ghosts, the Historical society was glad to help look up the history of the house. The tenant went home and was not heard from again.

Many years later, another tenant came to the Historical Society to find out who was the women in old fashioned dress sitting in his apartment looking out the window. This sounded familiar to the staff. Upon checking the address, it was indeed the same apartment. The same ghost, but a new tenant. Again, the tenant had no fear of the ghost, simply a wish to get to know the history of the eternal tenant in his apartment.

Keene seems a town very tolerant and accepting of sharing their homes with previous occupants.

While no other tenants from this apartment have shown up, it could be that the last tenant to check is still living there, perfectly happy to pay rent for both himself and the ghost. The mysterious woman who has a keen interest in what’s happening outside the home she’s never left, like most Keene ghosts, is welcome to stay as long as she likes.