Rhode Island Ghosts

This Week’s Prompt: 98. Hideous old house on steep city hillside—Bowen St.—beckons in the night—black windows—horror unnam’d—cold touch and voice—the welcome of the dead.

The Resulting Story: FORTH COMING

This prompt was tricky—the experience of research in this case was very similar to a much earlier attempt to track down a specific name. A brief internet survey for a haunted Bowen Street turned up a restaurant in Texas—here we have  a rather polite ghost, who turns the lights off at around midnight when she wishes to be alone. Fittingly, the article doesn’t record any particularly nasty acts of violence or misery inflicted upon Mrs. Bowen or her family.  The timeline isn’t quite right either, so I began my search elsewhere.

There is another Bowen Street, that seemed more likely—Bowen Street, Providence Rhode Island. As the home  I first consulted my existing material on Rhode Island—which included a number of haunted places that I will go over in a moment—but found nothing on Bowen Street. Internet searches again revealed nothing on the street, except a ghost tour and a number of apartments. I did, however, find another haunted building and the Lovecraft story that this prompt is based on. And that is the ominously named Shunned House, on the Benefit Street.

The plot of the Shunned House is a plot based on obsession with a strange and unfortunate house. The narrator and his uncle attempt to discern the nature of the century old curse, bringing with them some exceptional weaponry and scientific equipment. When they spend the night there, however, they are visited by strange lights, ghastly faces, masses of mold, and other bizarre sights. I will not spoil the final twist of the story, but it is an unusual ghost story in that it lacks the blood, pale visions.

It is possible that our prompt instead served as the basis of The Unnameable or The House in the Mist. Either way, we are back among the lands of the dead, and the Shunned House begins us in a rather strange position.  We can find one of the historic sources of the Shunned House with the Stephen Harris House. The House was constructed over the graveyard of French Huguenots in the eighteenth century, a sure recipe for a haunting.

The actual Shunned House—the Stephen Harris House in reality—has a similar origin. It is built atop a Hugenot graveyard. A wealthy merchant, Stephen Harris, and his wife built the house, and afterwards became horribly cursed. Ships began to sink, children died, and other tragedies.  The legend goes on to say that Mrs. Harris eventually went mad, no doubt in part with grief. Most famously, when she was confined to the attic, she was heard shrieking in French—a language she didn’t know.  The house stayed in the family, falling into decay and decrepitude as the house failed to sell. By the 1920s, the street had become a slum with the haunted and crumbling house on the hill.

This is of course not the only haunted house in Rhode Island. As I’ve alluded to before, all places are haunted in the end. One along the ghost regards a Mr. Jackson. He was traveling with one Captain William Carter in the winter 1741, intending to take some furs to Boston. The captain murdered Mr. Jackson for his furs, and stuffed his body beneath the ice at Pettaquamscutt Cove. The body was eventually discovered by an eel fisher, and the good captain was brought to trial for it.

However, Mr. Jackson was not at rest. Nearby indigenous settlements were so harassed by the ghost, the village was moved to avoid him. The roads nearby then reported Mr. Jackson’s presence up until the mid 1930s—well into Lovecraft’s day.

More haunted locales, however, are also common. There is the story of the Ramtail Factory. A dispute between the owners and the night watchmen over pay resulted in the night watchmen threatening that to get the keys, they would have to take them from a dead man. Shortly after, the owners found the factory locked—and breaking in, found the watchman dead inside, hanging from the pull rope of the bell. The bell rang out every night at midnight from  that day forward. Removing the rope would not stop it—and removing the bell lead to stranger mischief, such as running the factory at full speed or turning the mill stone backwards against the water.

Smith Castle

Smith’s Castle, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

A house in Wickford, built by one Richard Smith in 1639 was reportedly more haunted then could be believed. Smith’s Castle, as it is sometimes known, has a long history. Among these many ghosts were a group of indigenous people—the exact nation is not recorded—who had been captured by the settlers. In a fit of drunken cruelty, one of the settlers cut the head off a captive, sending it tumbling into a clock. Another was tarred and feathered before dying. The house had further misfortune, being the site of a suicide later on and a number of other tragedies—a mass grave for forty soldiers is nearby, and one of the owners was beheaded and placed on a pike after King Phillips War.

A strange marker of the dead, attributed to indigenous people, are scrub pines.  Each scrub pine that rises, according to local folklore, represents an unnecessary death. One farmer swore to remove each and every one of these pines that grew up in his field every year—and was warned against it by the living. Pushing on, despite the miraculous growth of some pines over night, the farmer met his end when one of the pines collapsed and fell on him.

A number of places in Providence have specific hauntings, but I’ve yet to locate sources for all of them in folklore—the best list I found was here.  As always, a haunted place is often the site of violence or death. Murders, abuse, and others result in restless dead seeking redress. Cruelty calls to the dead. In our prompt we have a second layer of the dead—one that separates it from a number of these stories. For, from Mr. Jackson to the night watchmen, most ghosts want their domain vacated. They drive people out. But here we have the dead beckoning inward. The dead welcoming, if invisible. The dead are calling.

And nameless—and I think this is key as well to the horror at play here. Most ghost stories remember the name of the ghost. Names are sometimes repeated, represented, or changed but almost all are remembered. The dead here are not only nameless but numerous—perhaps recalling the Huguenots at the Shunned House, who are known as a mass but forgotten as individuals. If anything, the strange beckoning dark reminds me of another house.  A house…well. I have spoken on that house.

H Blue

I think for this story, weaving the weighted, overgrown and ancient house with the image of new life from the scrub pines might be the most fascinating route. The manifestation of ghosts and others in new life and new knowledge is a form of a horror we haven’t done yet—at least not exactly. Plant life in particular—or in the case of the Shunned House, fungus—has a clear connection to the dead. The underworld is often connected with cycles of seasons and other patterns. Persephone and Hades, as an archetypal story, connects food and vegetation with the land of the dead as does the Maya Hero Twin story.

The other bit of lore I find fascinating about the Shunned House, connecting it to a similar collapsed manor story we wrote, is the notion that the haunted house is trapped here, in this family. The curse cannot be gotten rid of, because no one will buy the land and there is nowhere else to go. Roots laid too deep to be entirely removed from the family line.

What haunted houses have you heard of or visited? What ghostly shapes have you seen, beckoning from the windows?

Bibliography

Bourgaize, Eidola Jean. Supernatural Folklore of Rhode Island. University of Rhode Island, 1956.

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Down Below

This Week’s Prompt: 29. Dream of Seekonk—ebbing tide—bolt from sky—exodus from Providence—fall of Congregational dome.

The Research: Rhode Island and More!

There were less of us when I woke up. The lower part of the ship had a great gash in it when I woke up. At the end of the ship, leering out of the waters, was a misshapen man with spindly arms and legs attached to a corpulent bag of flesh. There was a white man’s captain cap atop his ball of blue flesh head. His teeth were stained with red blood and strains of gore. The midsection of a man was in his hands, like some bloated brown fruit.

I rose to run slowly, feeling the iron around my feet pulling me down ever so slightly. Following the chain with my eyes, I saw it’s end in a broken off leg near the monster’s maw. The beast, were it aware of my wakefulness, could with a twist pull me down into the oceanic depths. Slowly, I retreat. Step by step I withdraw upward. The pale demon tilts its head at the scratching of the iron on the wooden floors.

Breath flows easily as the creature resumes it’s putrid feasting. I test the links of the chain as the steps are at last in view. They are, sadly, firmly in place. I search about for something, anything to break it with. And there, against the supports, is a solution. A well worn blasting spear the men had carried, to be safe from pirates. Attached to it’s end is a long dagger that, with effort, could pry me free. With a bit of work, I figured I’d pry myself free. I flung my self down toward the support, grabbing the butt of the spear.

The cutting causes sparks and scratches. I move slow then swift as the bone crunching below overwhelms around me. Escape drives me more certainly then shock can hold me. It takes some sawing, long enough for the energy to start slowing. At last I cut through, and slip free from the first set of fetters. The clack of the chain on the floor gives me away, and the beastial thing turns to me.

It roars and I run, wet sloshing steps behind me. I run up to the deck, turning to see blue arms stretching out from below, spider fingers clawing about about for a lost fly. I stumble backward, overboard, onto a sandy shore. Chunks of blue rock shine in the sunlight. In the distance, the green starts to form on hills. The old island, from what I can see, is several hundred feet away. As I stair, there’s a sudden flash. Lighting on a clear day, dashing down from nowhere and scattering trees on the island. What could it be?

The alternative is back into the sea, where ghosts and serpents dwell. And around me feet fetters of steel still remain. So I march ahead, hoping beyond hope to find some release or at least relief on the strange island. I made out a great dome over the shore. I’d head there first, see if in the house of the gods some release could be felt. The island is like a dark green hill rising out of the desert, with a glimmering dome shining as a lighthouse for lost travelers.

I nearly collapsed after scaling the limestone walls along the shore. The trees a few feet away were dark, thickly rooted things with pale green leaves. I slouched against one to rest, the sun high in the sky as I took in deep breathes. I stare wistfully over the valley and the ebbing tide. From here, it seems almost still. Every now and again some movement disturbs the sand or sea, but it is only a flicker or ripple on a lake. My eyes grew heavy, and bit by bit I began to fall away.

When I awoke, the sky was red. The sun had finished it’s journey west, it seemed. I was dizzy as I tried to stand, pulling myself up by the branches. The stars would come soon, and I would rather not learn the ways of the wood by night. No, no, I’d make my way through now as best I could. There was a foul smell in the air, a feeling of doom rising from the earth. The wind was more like waves of water pushing at a swimmer than the cool gentle breeze I had hoped for.

The city was dimmly visible through the trees, so I again made my way towards human civilization. At least, I wanted to believe it was human. The things on the ship and shore seemed certainly strong. Perhaps some had returned, or made their way up the shore in search of prey. But that sort of thinking is what damns a man to a lonely and forgotten death.

As I mulled it over, I saw something run in the woods. Short and pale, it flickered between the trees. Then again it came, another thing rushing, scampering and small between trees in the shadows of the setting sun. Pale and white as the moon, it goes again and again. I hold still for a moment, curious and afraid. Slowly, I grab a large fallen branch by the roots of an aged tree.

“Hello?” I ask carefully, waiting with bated breathe for the invariable out cry. There is a noise, a crack of branches above me. I raise my eyes to the heavens, and a small girl looks down, dressed in all white. She is as pale as flour, and smiles showing a pair of viscous fangs. Drips of red blood drop down. Another child falls onto the branch next to here. He is dressed in the black of white men on sunday. His face is dour and grim, but red lines flow from the edges of his pale lips.

They dropped down, screeching like struck cats. I whacked the girl as hard as I could, before the boy pounced on me. He tried to bite down on my arm, but I managed to pry him off before he got anywhere. I toppled over as the girl gripped my legs, having recovered from the blow. I began to crawl back, kicking as best I could with my iron fetters. There was a crunch and the strange girl went back a bit. As the two recovered, I took my moment and started again toward the city in the dark. The sun was gone now, the stars and moon shining down.

I heard the children howling as I ran. More figures moved in the forest, pushing me onwards. But as the city roads came into view, by some Providence, they began to slow. In fact, after passing a few houses, they stopped entirely. In Providence, there was not a sign of the strange pale men and their bloody maws. At first I thought the city was abandoned, that some strange plague had swept through or some terrible rain or drought had driven out all the inhabitants. But I found them.

I found them gathered in a crowd before the church. They were a pitiful lot. Their clothes were not only ragged, but clearly had once by greater and more beautiful. Red jackets stained with mud and wear, broken banners of doubled crosses. At their front was a man dressed in black with a tall hat, holding a dimly lit torch.

He was saying something, waving his arms in wide gestures. The crowd seemed eager when he pointed east and shook his fist. I did not understand a word of it. But his face grew red, and he grew louder and louder. The man in black began to bellow, now turning his attentions to the heaven. It lasted for but a moment. And then his rage vanished and became pleeding. He collapsed to his knees, a supplicant to some unseen king, and spoke softly. I began to back away, fearing the crowd lead by a man who threatens and begs with the same breath.

As I considered where I might hide, amonst the woods or houses, there was a crack like thunder. I turned towards the source, the great shining dome of moonlight above the towns temple. The crowd stared silently as it began to buckle and break. Smoke black as basalt began to billow out, green light shining within the church. A fire must have begun within, but the noises that came rushing forth were not of crackling woods or breaking bones. No, a shrieking rage came roaring from the dome. Innumerable hands came forth, with axes and spears and guns. Out came a ghastly host, born on raven wings, with a hundred arms and a hundred faces, with women and men in equal number. The apparition towered over the crowd, it’s eyes glowing red through the miasma around it.

I knew then this was what kept the sea and forest at bay. This great unclean thing, with jaws and limbs to rend earth and sky. As it descended down onto the crowd, there was a sudden silence. All was undone in that moment. I hid on that island for years, untouched by that strange thing. The sea eventually returned, the strange woodland people went back to the earth. But the dome remained broken, and the ground before the temple was forever stained red.

This particular corpse was bloated to the point of nearly consuming another post! Still, I wanted to maintain some brevity. What did you find in Seekonk?
Next week, a new prompt:

30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

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Rhode Island and More!

This Week’s Prompt: 29. Dream of Seekonk—ebbing tide—bolt from sky—exodus from Providence—fall of Congregational dome.

The Resulting Story:Down Below

This prompt brings us to another of Mr. Lovecraft’s loves: Rhode Island. In particular Providence, the city where Mr. Lovecraft is interred. Rhode Island was a place of particular fondness to Mr. Lovecraft, a native of the region as he was.

KingPhillipsWar.png
That said, let us proceed. Seekonk is a town in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It’s history, from what I can understand as a non-expert in the region, is marked mainly by conflict between settlers and the Wampanoag, a group of Massachusetts natives. Notably there is the instance of King Phillips War, a conflict that ended the way most conflicts between European powers and indigenous populations goes. King Phillip (real name Metacomet) had the privilege of having his head removed and stuck on a pike outside an English settlement. Grizzly.

Hanton City.png
Seekonk is also near another interesting location: Hanton City. Hanton is an abandoned town, founded during the revolutionary era by…someone. It is still uncertain who, with theories ranging from runaway slaves to loyalists in the war. Now, with the term “exodus”, I am inclined to think of slaves. I bring Hanton up not only as an oddity, but as a place as abandoned as Providence appears to be

CongDome.png.
Pinning down the Congregational Dome has been tricky, as two different churches have congregational domes. However, where I to pick one, I think I would stick with the 1700s possibility. That would mean the Central Congregational Church, pictured below.
That all being said, what is happening in our story? Well, the language of the prompt clearly points to something divine in nature. The term exodus is loaded in Western works, conjuring immediately the book of Torah. There is, also, the fact that Providence is the site of our story. Yes, it is the capital of Rhode Island, but the name brings divine insight to mind. The Congregational dome is a holy object, and it’s fall is…ominous in the most literal sense of the term.
That brings us to the two omens: the ebbing tide and the bolt from the sky. What these means, I cannot say precisely except that they are common symbols. If I was to give them anything in particular, I would have the ebbing tide reveal some sea stones best abandoned, or some wrecks best lost. The sort of thing that haunts a lot of the North East in Mr. Lovecraft’s work.

I was able to only find one good source on Rhode Island folklore, and that from the 1950s. Still, it has a few elements that may be useful. Rhode Island has an apparent history of witches with cases ranging from a child named Sarah during the revolutionary war to an unnamed woman in 1892. Witch stories abound, particular in North Kingstown. Silver buttons were said to disrupt such spells. But a witch is not divine enough to call an exodus, nor do they lead to the sea.

220tonshi

A contemporary of the Palatine

The Sea Tales are just as extraordinary, however. The Palantine, a German vessel, has been seen off the coast for over a hundred years shining out from the night. Ghosts from the old harbor call out at night for help, but ghosts are wont to do that. At least one captain, cursing the world as he drowned, became an ogre down below, and assailed ships from beyond the grave.
Of all these folk tales, vampiric and ogrish elements seem the best. Perhaps a number of ghosts, trapped as wrecks, begin to emerge as the ocean ebbs back. Perhaps dark creatures come forth. But why? And what is our story in all this?
It seems clear that the travel and exodus is itself the story. We would do well then, to begin in Providence. Some warning will come, as always precedes divine wrath. In all likelihood a mad prophet will come, not be believed, and then become leader as the omens grow. I suspect there will be no survivors of this incident. Given the wreckage at Hanton, I would think they escaped a slave ship. Perhaps, actually, the ship has run aground with the ebbing tide.

Surviving the walk to the ‘island’ proper then becomes key to the story. Beasts and ocean creatures must be contended with along the new beach, and then there are the panicky colonists on the island that must be avoided or reasoned with. I think this certainly has promise, with the danger of a new land and the growing threat of holy retribution. The Congregational Dome, I think, ought to fall last. As a climax, with some horror revealed beneath it or flying out of it. What is lurking in there, I don’t know?

I found all of my Rhode Island folklore here, from this lovely blog. If you know more horror stories of Rhode Island and providence, please share them! Maybe you’ll find a strange corpse in the deep!

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