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Mudgett: Emily's Bridge

10/31/12 7:55AM By Jill Mudgett
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(Host) This Halloween, historian and commentator Jill Mudgett is thinking about Emily's Bridge - a covered bridge in Stowe that's said to be haunted by a ghost named Emily - and perhaps the most haunted spot in all of Vermont.

(Mudgett) Legend has it that Emily died on the bridge - possibly by accident, possibly by her own hand after the end of a love affair. And the bridge is said to be a location for strong paranormal activity, sometimes even voices or ghostly apparitions.

In recent years Emily's fame has reached to the internet, on scores of websites featuring the paranormal. But I'm a historian, not a ghost hunter, so I know when those websites claim that the first recorded mention of Emily was in a high school paper written in the late 1960s, they're referring to a book written in the early 70s by a local historian named Bob Hagerman.

Hagerman's book was on Lamoille County bridges. He aimed to cover the essential aspects of each bridge. For the old covered bridge on Gold Brook Road in Stowe, that essential something was the well-known Emily.

Image courtesy of The Vermont Historical Society
Emily's Bridge, circa 1980
Nearly 40 years earlier, a man named Bigelow had published a book on Stowe that discussed the bridge but didn't say boo about any ghost. Back then there was no ghost - at least not one that people talked about.

So for source material on Emily, Hagerman turned to a UVM student named Susan, who granted Hagerman permission to reprint sections of a high school paper she had written on Emily's Bridge. In the copy of her paper at the Vermont Historical Society, Susan described different versions of the ghost story, and chose as most plausible a mundane one in which no one had been killed. When I called Susan, she said she hadn't believed in the ghost herself and that while her fellow teenagers often visited the bridge in search of thrills, most of them didn't believe the legend, either.

In a puzzling twist, most internet sources claim that the teenage author later admitted to consulting a Ouija board instead of conducting neighborhood interviews. Further research took me to a 1978 newspaper interview on microfilm in which Hagerman explained that one of Susan's friends eventually confessed that the two girls used a Ouija board to conjure part of the paper.

And it wouldn't be surprising if the two teenagers had consulted one, even if they didn't really believe in ghosts. The Ouija board went mainstream after Parker Brothers acquired it in 1966. What's more, in the late 50s and early 60s, books, movies and TV were full of ghost stories. The Nancy Drew mystery "The Haunted Bridge" was still popular. "The Twilight Zone" was just one of the spooky shows on TV. And Stowe kids certainly knew about the fate of poor Ichabod Crane at another dark and desolate bridge.

So the story of Emily's Bridge is about a young woman who met a tragic end. But the story of the story is about another young woman named Susan - and an old high school paper that lives on as the stuff of ghostly lore.

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