NORTH ADAMS - Does a Civil War veteran's ghost haunt the Bellows Pipe Trail? Are the spirits of railroad workers still trapped in the Hoosac Tunnel? Does the city's first mayor still walk the halls of his former Church Street mansion?
For some, the local legends, folklore and ghost sightings that permeate the forests and creaky old homes of Northern Berkshire are nothing more than stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. For the believers and the curious, these stories may be the key to proving there is life after death or truth behind tales of mysterious creatures such as Bigfoot.
Whether its belief or curiosity that draws individuals to explore haunted places, that interest has led some to travel to "haunted" locales in search of proof of otherworldly existence. In recent years, the city of North Adams has become a destination of sorts for "legend trippers" - tourists who seek out the paranormal and the unexplained - some of whom will converge over the weekend at the Lafayette-Greylock Masonic Temple, to participate in "Legend Trips: Houghton Mansion." A portion of the proceeds raised will be donated to the North Adams Masonic Association.
"North Adams is a great place with a lot of legends and haunted places- Old Coot, the Hoosac Tunnel and my favorite, the Houghton Mansion," said Jeff Belanger, author of numerous books on legends and paranormal accounts and one of the individuals behind the event. "When I was writing 'Weird Massachusetts,' I loved the tale of the 'monster of Coca-Cola Ledge.' The story goes that a monster lurks near the top of the ledge - it's one of those stories parents are happy to propagate. It's the type of tale that keeps kids away from the ledge."
He added, "A legend is a living breathing entity - it can be born and grow. If people stop talking about it, it can die. In the case of a place like the Houghton Mansion, the story behind it is tragic- there's the death of A.C. Houghton's daughter, Mary, and of her childhood friend, in the accident. Then John Widders, the chauffeur, kills himself. A few days later A.C. Houghton dies. You have people who have strange experiences at the house attribute them to this tragic event and the story grows. It ends up in books and on television. The bottom line? People want to go there to become part of that story."
Berkshire Paranormal member Joshua Mantello, who leads events at the Houghton Mansion, said many people who take tours of the building around Halloween aren't necessarily looking to ghost hunt.
"Over the last two years, I've spent more time telling the story of the Houghtons than I have ghost hunting," he said.
According to Debbie Felton, associate professor of classics at UMass-Amherst, stories that fall within the folklore genre, in general, are beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation, while ghost stories revolve around the idea that the spirit can survive death.
"It's a way to deal with the uncertainty of death," she said during a telephone interview Thursday. "For a lot of people, it's really hard to believe, that we, who have such unique personalities, don't exist after death. Ghost stories are a way of having something more reassuring that we hang around."
Other stories, like those involving Civil War ghosts, such as "Old Coot," a local soldier who returned home to find that he was presumed dead and his wife remarried, Felton said are more about "not being able to return and pick up their old lives."
In the case of "Old Coot," the story that first appeared in the Transcript in the 1930s noted the soldier lived out his days anonymously on Mount Greylock before passing into legend.
City resident Maryanne Santelli, has seen her share of the paranormal. But during the late 1970s, a tale told by some friends took on new meaning when a co-worker later inadvertently confirmed the story.
"Two of my friends were driving past Hillside Cemetery one night and saw a woman on the side of the road. She was dressed in old clothing and beckoning to them," she said in a recent interview. "When they stopped, she had disappeared. A few nights later, one of them was driving past the cemetery again and the woman appeared again."
While no contact was made with the ghostly apparition, a few days later, Santelli and her friends were eating lunch at Sprague Electric when a coworker told them how he was awoken during the night by a phone call from a psychic medium out of Arizona.
"The medium was working with a woman who was trying to contact the spirit of her great-great-grandmother who lived here," she said. "The psychic asked him to tell the story to anyone he knew and that within two days, he'd hear that someone had made contact with her spirit. He was just telling us about the phone call. He didn't intend to do what this psychic told him. My friends had just seen the spirit a few days before."
Things that go bump
The local legends of North County include some ghastly tales ...
The Bloody Pit
The Hoosac Tunnel is said to have claimed nearly 200 lives during its construction. Since its completion, tales of phantom lights, shadow figures and ghostly voices have permeated the local landscape.
The Houghton Mansion
On Aug. 1, 1914, A.C. Houghton, his daughter Mary, and family friends, the Huttons, went for a ride to Pownal, Vt. On the way there, the car left the road and rolled down a nearby embankment. Sybil Hutton was killed instantly and Mary Houghton died just hours later. The next day, the family chauffeur, John Widders killed himself. A.C. Houghton died 10 days later. Widders, Mary and A.C. Houghton are said to haunt the family home, now the Lafayette-Greylock Masonic Temple.
According to local legends, American Indians fleeing from the "Deerfield Massacre" crossed through Clarksburg on their way to Canada. The group, which included hostages, was being weighed down by the gold and silver looted from Deerfield. The tale says the silver and gold were buried near a large boulder and that anyone who has come close to digging up the spoils has been called away by a ghostly voice.
The Old Coot
According to legend, William Saunders left home in 1861 to fight for the union. A year later, his wife received word that he had been badly wounded in battle and died. Four years later, Saunders, still quite alive, returned home from war to find his wife remarried. Instead of making himself known, Saunders is said to have lived as a hermit on Mount Greylock, eventually dying alone. His spirit is said to haunt the Bellows Pipe Trail.