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Haunted Houses

10/31/03 12:00AM By C.B. Johnson
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(Host) Commentator C.B. Johnson likes to poke around in old houses. It's an activity that often leads to one particular question - especially right now.

(Johnson) This is the time of year when folks ask me, "Have you ever found a haunted house?" And although I've heard quite a few haunted house stories over the years, I have yet to find any convincing evidence to support them.

The stories usually involve the feeling of an otherworldly presence by one or more observers and some sight, sound, or moved artifacts that announce or confirm this presence. If the experiences take place in an old house with a good story about its inhabitants filled with intrigue, blood, or sadness the house will be called "haunted."

Of course the evidence is always a matter of testimony and usually something readily discounted. I mean many of us confront mysterious moving objects when we search for our car keys, and suddenly slammed windows and doors for some homeowners is just part of living in an old house. And the Salem witch trials of not so long ago confirm just how malleable human perception can be in matters relating to spirits.

Still, people seem compelled to make up ghost stories about certain types of houses. Thanks to the cartoonist Charles Adams and the movie Psycho, French Second Empire style houses with those slanting Mansard roofs are the hands-down favorites, although any large Victorian from the late nineteenth century with a tower and lots of elaborate trim will do. Score extra points for a large lot on the top of a hill, so you can imagine lightning flashing behind it! Shard Villa in Salisbury wins big in this category. It even has a mausoleum on the front lawn!

The Bowman mansion in Cuttingsville on VT 103 also has a mausoleum - and a sad story. Built by a grieving John P. Bowman for his daughter who died in 1879 and his wife who followed in 1880, the prominent "Egyptian" style tomb features a life-size marble sculpture of Bowman on the steps grieving outside. In his right fist is a hole which he had filled daily with flowers from his cemetery greenhouse which still stands nearby.

But even modest homes can generate a ghost story. Mine supposedly has a ghost called "Old Rubbernose." The story goes that one afternoon in the 70s two children saw something in their bedroom, the window in that room often slammed shut, at times the family all felt a "presence," and small objects around the house turned up in odd places. A boyhood friend of a former neighbor told the family it must be "Old Rubbernose" whose wife ran off with the local cobbler and whose nose was nipped off by a horse. He ordered a rubber mail-order replacement nose that never fit properly and local kids used to throw snowballs at him or otherwise try to startle him so his nose would fall off.

I haven't met him yet, but Old Rubbernose is welcome to shut windows at my house any time. And come to think of it, maybe he hid my square-rule. Happy Halloween.

This is C.B. Johnson on the Vermont Vernacular.

C.B. Johnson is a photographer and cultural resource consultant living in Calais, Vermont.
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