Friday, October 24, 2008

A couple of White Mountain Ghost Stories for Halloween

These are some ghost stories that are meant to be read aloud to an audience, preferable in the evening when it is dark in the hut and the wind is blowing, and part of after dinner presentations I do in the huts from time to time. There are more stories related to the events and places in this article which I may add later. I'll have to find a way to illustrate these stories, too.

“Chief Passaconway's Ride To Heaven came when 'at the age of one hundred and twenty he retired from his tribe and lived in a lonely wigwam among the Pennacooks. One winter night the howling of wolves was heard, and a pack came dashing through the village, harnessed by threes to a sledge of hickory saplings that bore a tall throne spread with furs (dog sled). The wolves paused at Passaconway's door. The old chief came forth, climbed upon the sledge, and was borne away with a triumph apostrophe that sounded above the yelping and snarling of his train. Across Winnipesaukee's frozen surface they sped like the wind, and the belated hunter shrank aside as he saw the giant towering against the northern lights and heard his death-song echo from the cliffs. Through pathless woods, across ravines, the wolves sped on, with never slackened speed, the mazes of the Agiochooks to the highest peak we now call Washington. Up its steep wilderness of snow the ride went furiously; the summit was neared, the sledge burst into flame, still there was no pause; the height was gained, the wolves went howling into the darkness, but the car, wrapped in sheaves of fire, shot like a meteor toward the sky and was lost amid the stars of the winter night. So passed the Indian king into Heaven.'"
Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, 1896

Passaconway was the chief of the Pennacook band of Abenakis. The Pennacooks lived mostly in what is present day New Hampshire. Passaconway died in the early 1700s, possibly in 1706 and some historians say he died on New Year's day, in a Pennacook village near where Manchester, NH is situated. The story quoted above of his sled ride to heaven, as it is copied here, has had a number of variations through the years but the gist of it is that on a cold, winter day he died in his wigwam and that he was more than 100 years old. A few seconds before he died it is told that a sled pulled by six black wolves came to the door of his wigwam. His body was placed on furs on the sled and then taken north along the valleys and across the ridges to the summit of Agiochooks, what we refer to as Mt. Washington.

There is a much longer story, also, of Passaconway’s illustrious life. He had an enormous knowledge of medicinal plants, and medicine in general, and posessed great skill (or luck) as a healer and his reputation reached as far as Europe. He was often visited by doctors coming from what is now Germany, and from France and Britain who sought out his expertise. Passaconway also had a reputation as a magician. One story tells of a hot summer day when Passaconway was entertaining some visitors from Europe in his wigwam. He passed around a wooden bowl partially filled with water which he then covered briefly with a piece of soft deer skin that, an instant later, he removed with a dramatic flourish to reveal the same vessel filled with ice. The ice probably came from caves on Mt. Whiteface.

The Pennacook often wintered near present day Manchester, NH, along what is now the Merrimack River. (“Amoskeag” of Manchester’s Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River is the Abenaki/Algonquian word for "weirs" or fish "traps".) The Pennacook summered in Wonnalancet (the name of Passaconway's son) at the foot of what is now Mt. Wonnalancet, Mt. Passaconway and Mt. Whiteface and also at several locations around Lake Winnepesaukee, particulary at The Weirs, near Laconia, named for the fish weirs erected there by the Abenaki. These summer camps were visited by many bands of Abenaki who came from what are now Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to socialize and to dry fish and make pemmican for the winter months. The entire region the Pennacooks traversed as they traveled back and forth from Amoskeag to Wonalancet and north to Mt. Washington they considered to be held "in common" by the tribe. Passaconway had, for most of his life, been generous to the European settlers arriving in New England between 1620 and the 1680s. As they moved north like a tide into his tribal lands Passaconway tired of them and towards the end of his life came to despise them for their greed and broken promises to respect his land and people. Just before he died it is said that he uttered a grim promise to come back to the mountains after his death and “make havoc on the white people” and to avenge their crimes against his people.

Move ahead quickly a hundred years, or so, after Passaconway’s death and look down though the clouds at the White Mountains and see Ethan Allen Crawford and his wife, Lucy, (just a stones throw from the AMC’s Highland Center), trying to scratch out a living in Crawford Notch as inn keepers and he as a guide and farmer. It was a spartan existence, as you can see. Over the years Ethan Crawford was asked often to guide travelers to the summit of Mt. Washington so often that eventually he decided to cut a trail from his inn to the summit that could be used for horse travel. In 1818 and 1819 he and a small party of woodsmen he hired cut a path that became the present day Crawford Path.

The most difficult part of the trail to cut was the four or five first miles up Mt. Clinton and upwards towards what was called Mt. Pleasant and is now known as Mt. Eisenhower. The men camped in the woods in tents rather than return to Crawford’s each night. It was during that time that the men working on the trail complained of being watched by something they referred to as The Presence.

What they described was a kind of prickly feeling along their necks going a little way down their spines and sometimes making the hairs on their necks tingle or stand up straight. The men became jittery when any of them mentioned this feeling or what caused it. It is kind of like that feeling we all get from time to time of being stared at and we turn quickly and, sure enough, some one is staring at us. To them the feeling embraced evil, a feeling of impending doom. Within a month of the first reports of The Presence two of the men quit and vowed never to step foot on the mountain again. Could this have been Passaconway’s ghost raising havoc, trying to prevent another violation of the Abenaki’s sacred home?

Little is heard about The Presence again until the 1930s, another 100 years towards the present. By that time Lakes of the Clouds Hut had been in existence for 20 plus years. Most of us know that Lakes was built beside the Crawford Path below Mt. Washington’s summit as an emergency shelter for hikers heading from Crawford Notch to the summit to retreat to in bad weather.

In the summer of 1900 two such hikers, Bill Curtis and Allan Ormsbee, both young men from New York City, died from hypothermia on the ridge just above the Lakes of the Clouds. They were on their way to an AMC annual meeting being held at the Summit House and were caught in a terrible snowstorm and perished a few feet from each other on the 30th of June, the middle of the Summer! They were not the first, nor the last, hikers to perish in this fashion on Mt. Washington.

Lakes of the Clouds hut grew a little bit year-by-year from a small emergency shelter to a larger building that could accommodate overnight guests who were making the loop across the Presidential Range going from Lakes to Madison Spring Hut, or coming in the opposite direction. A man by the name of Red Mac McGregor was huts manager at that time and he had a vision to build huts across the White Mountains so that hikers could hike with lighter packs and enjoy a good nights rest, a few meals, out of the rain and cold.

By the 1930 the huts were serving hundreds of people during the summer months. More and more people were coming to the mountains including people who worked there in the huts, in the huge hotels in the valleys, at the summit house, the cog railway. The mountains were filling up with people. And it was during that time that we again hear about The Presence.

Guests at Lakes of the Clouds began complaining about going down the long, dark corridor to the men’s and women’s bathrooms at night because they “felt someone was staring at them through a row of windows”. Some people said they saw a face in the windows. Some people said as soon as the went through the door of the bathroom they had the horrible sensation of someone gripping their shoulder with an icy cold hand.

More and more people made these comments. They were never solicited. No one went up to them, one of the hut croo for instance, and said “Hey, did ya feel a clammy cold hand on your shoulder when you were in the bathroom late last night?” But more and more people were mentioning it with a kind of sheepish look like, “Wow, someone here is going to think I am certifiably crazy if I say this too loud, or put too much emphasis on each word—as of I believe in ghost or some nonsense like that.”

The Lakes croos began noticing more and more people talking about The Presence in the hut, the menacing face in the window, the staring eyes, the cold hand. It is a ghost? Is the hut haunted?

The years passed, 10, 20, and more. During some of the summers there were more reports of the presence. Some years there were none. Then in the 1960s there were more reports than ever. The most common reports, that of the face in the window and the cold hand on the shoulder, were suddenly coupled with reports of footsteps on the stair case that comes up from the Lakes basement. (sound effects) Doors opening and closing. Even locked doors opening and closing.

On one occasion the Lakes hutmaster was up late one Sunday night finishing the hut report and sitting by himself at the table in the kitchen where he was kept company by the hut cat. They were both serenely sitting there with the wind blowing outside and the gas lamp hissing quietly when they both heard the downstairs basement door open and close (sound effects) and them someone coming up the stairs. The hutmaster turned to look and there was no one there even though from the footsteps a person, someone, should have been standing right there at the top of the stairs. He turned and saw the cat’s eyes were bugged out and its hair was straight up with his back arched and with an expression of terror it was looking right where the sound had been. The hutmaster jumped over the table and ran into the croo room slamming and barricading the door behind him. The cat was left to its own devices.

On September 17, 1967, the last cog railway train of the day jumped the track, as it was on its way down from the summit in the early evening. It fell off the trestle and slid down the mountainside, across the rocks, for a ways before coming to a stop. Several people were killed. Emergency personnel including state police, game wardens, doctors and other rescuers, rushed to the scene. The hotel on the summit was still open but because of the accident everyone was down on the side of the mountain and the hotel was empty that night

Chris Kreilkamp was the hotel manager that summer. On the night of the accident he was alone in the hotel. He did the usual things like make sure the stoves were off in the big kitchen, the window were closed and locked, all those safety things that have to be checked and rechecked, and then he put all the day’s money in the big hotel safe and locked it. Chris, as the manager, was the only one on the mountain with the combination to the safe. He turned off the lights and went to his bedroom in the old part of the hotel.

A few hours into his night’s sleep someone banged on his bedroom door. (sound effects) It was really loud knocking. He woke with a start, his heart thumping. He thought it was someone about the train accident so he jumped out of bed, turned on the light, and opened the door. There was no one there. He looked down the corridor. No one. “Impossible,” he said to himself and got back in bed. A few minutes later he heard footsteps in the hall and the banging on the door. Louder this time. He ran to the door. No one! He freaked and hid under the covers. The next morning when he went into main room of the hotel he found the safe with the door wide open. On the counter by the snack bar all the money that had been in the safe was stacked up in denominations. All the pennies were stacked together, all the nickels were stacked, the dimes, quarters, and all the dollar bill, too, were stacked by ones, fives, tens, twenties, up to the few 100 dollar bills that had been in the safe.

To Chris’ horror the exact same thing happened the next night. The accident scene was still drawing investigators and reporters but there were few people around. It was late in the season for tourists. Chris went to bed and again he heard the loud footsteps, the banging on the door, his heart thumping, and still no one was there. The next morning the safe was open again, the money stacked on the snack bar counter. He immediately called the hotel owner on the phone and told him one of his favorite aunts had died in Bayonne, New Jersey and he had to leave immediately.

Roughly a year later an AMC construction croo was completing some renovations at Lakes of the Clouds. It was early September and the Lancaster Fair was going on and since it has been a long tradition for everyone who lives in the North Country to attend the fair the construction croo took it upon themselves to slip away from the hut for a night, run down the Ammy and attend the fair. One of the croo didn’t feel like it. He wanted to stay at the hut. The croo joked with him saying anyone who is foolish to stay at Lakes for a night all alone will go insane. He said he didn’t believe them, didn’t care, and didn’t want to go with them and he stayed at the hut that night.

The Construction Croo stayed at Pinkham that night and didn’t arrive back at the hut until 10 the next morning. They yelled George’s name (the guy who stayed behind) quite a few times but got not answer and they thought maybe he had really gotten scared being there all alone and gone up to the observatory to spend the night. They worked for a while and then one of them went into the croo room for something and there was George crouched down in the corner with two butcher knives, one in either hand, trembling like a leaf and mute as a stone. They helped him up to the summit later in the day and he was taken home from there by car. Several years later he agreed to be interviewed and said staying alone at the hut that night was the most terrifying thing he could imagine. He refused to divulge any details. He vowed never to step foot on the mountain again.

A Quick Night Swim in Lakes of The Clouds

One hot summer night in 1970 several of the Lakes croo decided to go for a quick swim in the larger of the two Lakes of the Clouds. The moon was almost full and it was a calm night with no wind. The trio swam to a large rock near the center of the lake and sat there talking. Then one of them dove in and swam around a bit then climbed back on the rock. Then another dove in. He stayed under for some time, long enough to make the others wonder if he was okay. The lake is only about 10 feet deep in the middle but they were a little concerned. Suddenly he erupted upwards exploding above the surface, thrashed his way back to the rock and climbed out quickly. “The weirdest thing just happened,” he said. He explained that after he dove and was about to kick upwards to return to the surface an icy cold hand grabbed him by the ankle and held him under the surface until he felt like he was going to drown and then it released him.

Through the 1970’s reports continued of footsteps coming up from the basement and walking down the length of the corridor in the west wing of the hut. But as the hut gradually got larger to accommodate the growing numbers of hikers needing space the reports of ghost-like phenomenon subsided. There are hardly any anymore which is sad because if it was the ghost of Passaconway then it means he has given up and feels defeated.

Other Huts, other Ghosts

Mizpah has a ghost story that involves a young woman who drowned in the Dry River while making a river crossing when the river was high and fast after a lot of rain. The story has it that her body was brought up to the hut and left in the basement overnight wrapped tightly in a plastic covering. In the morning the body was found in a different location and there were scratches in the plastic made by her fingernails meaning she was still alive when they wrapped her in the plastic and tried to claw her way out. The real story behind this is quite different and her body was not taken to the hut.

A now famous story involves what might be the ghost of Red Mac McGregor. You remember that Red Mac was the first Huts Manager and had first worked at Carter Notch Hut in the early 1900s as a young lad. In fact he had been hut master at Carter a couple of summers. On a cold winter night in 1976 the first winter caretaker at Carter, Joe Gill, was fast asleep when he was brought to sudden consciousness by a loud crash and someone holding a flashlight pointing straight at his face and blinding him. He bolted upright asking who was there. No one answered him. He waited a second or two to see if anyone would move or say something and then he go up. He found that the flashlight was lying on the bunk opposite his and facing him. He had no idea where it had come from or how it landed exactly in that position.

Joe went out to the dining room to find the front door wide open and a wind blowing snow into the room. He closed the door and went back to bed. He woke to another crash shortly after he had fallen back to sleep. He found the front door was open again. This time he slid one of the long, oak trestle tables against the door and went back to sleep.
He woke to another crash. The door was open and the table had been pushed aside. He closed the door again and pushed the table back against it and took four 8 penny nails and nailed the table to the floor in front of the door and went back to sleep.

As soon as it was light Joe put on his pack, un-nailed the table, opened the door, and headed down the trail. He was still a little shaken by what had happened at the hut. He went straight to Pinkham and had breakfast. He was feeling a little out of it. One of the Pinkham croo asked what was wrong and he demurred preferring not to expose himself as a believer in ghostly phenomenon. Then the croo guy said: “You probably haven’t heard but Red Mac died early this morning.” Joe looked at him blankly for a second and then asked “Do you know what time he died?” The guy replied, “Yeah, around 1 am. Why?” Joe said, “No reason” and continued to eat his eggs remembering as he ate that it was exactly 1 am that he had been wakened by the loud crash and the flashlight shining in his eyes.

Written (compiled by) by Alex MacPhail 2008

1 comment:

Joey Driven said...

Hi, Alex. Thank you for your work on the Natural History of the White Mountain Region. Last year I began to research the Abenaki and Agiochook _not as very forth coming a google search as I guess indigenous sources are scarcer than deserved. I'm writing a screenplay in which a main character has Abenaki heritage. And I'm writing an essay on Agiochook. I read your bio and extended bio and this nice blog on Passaconway. Looking forward to reading your writings.