By Jamie Kimmel
Vermont is rich with ghost stories and legends including tales of frozen cities, ghost ships, weird creatures lurking in the forests, and strange organ sounds emanating from beyond. From Brattleboro to Burlington and beyond, there are more than just every day roaming ghosts. Read about unique wanderers from the other side as they send a chill up your spine and make your hair stand on end.
Or perhaps you will want to visit the Green Mountain State in search of why so many have remained in this beautiful yet mysterious region so long after their mortal tenure on earth. Turn by turn directions will take you right to the haunted location. Either way, you will enjoy the journey through Haunted Vermont –- whether in person or just from your favorite armchair.
Excerpt from the book:
Dummerston: Among the Undead: One of the First Recorded New England Vampire Cases
Many people still wonder in awe about the legends of the New England vampires. Even more noteworthy, is the difference between the different locales. On the one side, you have the rural farmers of Rhode Island who, in some cases had not yet discovered that the actual cause of their affliction from beyond the grave was treatable not more than twenty miles away from their pastures. On the other side, there are the Vermont vampire cases.
The families recorded in these following accounts were intelligent, well-bred people, some founding fathers of their towns. Yet, they embraced the notion of the undead that gripped them their fear, causing them to defy all rational thought and reasoning. Their dilemma led them to espouse strange beliefs and superstitions even the backwoods folk of the Ocean State would never consider as a possible symptom that took their families to an early grave.
Read on and let this account, one of the first recorded cases of vampirism in New England, be the threshold to a world where superstition and strange cures for what they truly believed was the work of the undead, became very real. If all the dates are correct, this case took place in early 1793, just about the same time Isaac Burton of Manchester was having his own dilemma with the supernatural.
Vampire Not Used Back Then
Of course, the term “vampire” was probably not used then, at least not in the outspoken respect. It was more than likely whispered within the secluded corners f the village store or tavern or kept within the panes of the homes afflicted with the dreaded sickness then called consumption. The word vampire made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 1734. From there it seems to have been introduced to the colonies when the Hartford Courant reprinted the dictionary in 1765 with the word and definition of “vampyre.”
Lieutenant Leonard Spaulding was a celebrated war hero and first representative to the Vermont Legislature. In 1756, he married Margaret Sprague Love of Providence, Rhode Island. He served at Crown Point in 1758. He fought in the French and Indian War, and later, the American Revolution. Spaulding later settled in Putney around 1768.
His house burned in 1771 and from there, he moved to a farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. He remained there less than one year before removing himself and his family to Dummerston. He was wounded in the skirmish at Westminster on March 13, 1775, but this did not stop him in his cause for the freedom of the colonies from British rule.
While he fought the revolution, his wife and sons, Reuben and Leonard Jr., tended to the farm. During the Battle of Bennington in 1777, it is reported that Spaulding’s wife was in the garden picking vegetables for dinner when she heard the distant roar of cannons.
Others had heard the noise as well but construed it to be thunder from afar. No one was aware of the famous battle that raged but forty miles from the Spaulding homestead until later. It was also a surprise when the family later found out that Spaulding was fighting in that battle as well.
Lt. Spaulding represented Dummerston in the General Assembly in 1778, 1781, 1784, 1786, and 1787. He is quite a notable figure in the history of Vermont. There is another history that he is also noted for, the dark legends of vampires that once roamed the countryside of New England.
It seemed that fame or prominence held no credence in regard to the curse of the vampire. Several of his children died of consumption at a young age. Mary died on May 12, 1782, at the age of 20 years. Sarah died on October 27 of the same year at the age of 19.
Esther followed them in July of 1783 at the age of 16. Lt. Spaulding was the next to succumb to the wasting disease. On July 17, 1788, he died at the age of 59. As per request, Lt. Spaulding was buried in a graveyard east of what is presently known as Slab Hollow.
The burial ground is known as Burnett Cemetery just west of Route 5 and Schoolhouse Road. This was due to the fact that the resting place of his children had turned into a bog and burial was out of the question. There is a marker to his memorial at the far end of the aforementioned burial yard.
It was less than two years after his death at thirty-one-year-old Betsey followed her father and brothers to the grave. Then it was thirty-two-year-old Leonard Jr.’s turn on September 3, 1792. This is the death that suggested a demonic force was at work.
Some scholars state that it was John Spaulding, twin brother to Timothy, who sparked the vampire notion with his death on March 26, 1793. (There are claims that it may have been Josiah several years later but, as before, no exact names have been penned in regards to what sibling was the actual catalyst that sparked the need for the exorcism.)
Around this time, another of the Spaulding daughters became ill with the same disease. There was now talk of a much-needed exorcism. The Spaulding boys were all very healthy, large in stature, and strong, yet succumbed to the wasting illness quite rapidly and without much of a chance of survival. All but two died under forty years of age.
The townsfolk, although not outwardly uttering the word vampire, knew what was taking the family one by one to their eternal rest. The locals seemed utterly convinced that there was a hungry spirit of the undead among them.
There was also a strange superstition that reared its head at this time. It was claimed that if a vine or root grew from one coffin to the next of the family members who died of consumption, and was buried side by side when the vine reached the coffin of the last to be interred, another would soon die. The only way to overcome the curse was to break the vine, dig up the body of the body of the last one buried, and burn the vitals. Hence the vine was cut, the last Spaulding to be interred was dug up, and the vitals were cut out of the body.
They, in turn, were burned. The daughter, strangely enough, recovered from her malady and went on to live a long healthy life. It does not state the daughter, but we can guess that it may have been Anna, who died January 13, 1849, at the age of eighty-one years, nine months and six days. Reuben and Josiah both died young as well.
Reuben, on January 20, 1794, at the age of twenty-eight years and Josiah on December 3, 1798, at the age of twenty-seven. Margaret Spaulding lived to be ninety-four. She died May 21, 1827, and is buried next to Anna although there is no stone marking her plot.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence in this case that suggests, as far as I am concerned that it might be Vermont’s first recorded case, is the aspect of the vine. In no other cases that follow does such a remedial ceremony take place.
It does however, first show up in 1784 writing from Willington, CT, where it is mentioned that a foreign doctor prescribed such remedial steps to stop the demise of members from the family of Isaac Johnson. Perhaps in the cases that followed there was no vine or root growing across the coffins, or they were not buried exactly side by side.
There was, however, a recently interred loved one that when dug up, was a bit more suspect than the others. This would lend to the notion of quickly dropping the vine theory but keeping the vampire one as later cases had the same protocol in removing the vitals and burning them. If this had happened as a later example, chances are they would not have used the vine as a catalyst in their plight.
Then again, we know little about the actual fear and feelings they had concerning the fact that one of their own might have been a spectral ghoul rising from the grave in the dark bowers of the night to feed upon their own flesh and blood. Let’s continue our tour of the ghosts and other strange phenomena that Vermont holds.
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Thomas D’Agostino has authored several books on the subject of the paranormal throughout New England including, Haunted Rhode Island, Haunted New Hampshire, Haunted Massachusetts, Pirate Ghosts and Phantom Ships, and Abandoned Villages and Ghost Towns of New England.Tom has been a paranormal investigator for over 29 years, having been on over 1,000 investigations, many written about in his books.
Arlene Nicholson is a professional photographer and well trained in darkroom development of pictures. She has helped many groups in discerning what is paranormal and what may be natural defects in the film or developing process. Both Tom and Arlene have investigated countless places and have found some compelling evidence that the paranormal realm does exist and is always ready to show itself. Their ghost stories and accounts have been written up in many publications and heard on radio and television.