Ghost Town

Ghost Town

Darkness has just settled over Milford’s Hotchkiss Bridge when a lantern begins bobbing across it. The city’s early settlers landed near here in 1639. The harbor beneath the bridge once bustled with boat-building, rum-trading and other salty business, the young man holding the lantern says, claiming that the history and drama of the docks combine to create the ideal conditions for a haunting. “It helps explain why folks see disembodied orbs of light, white and gold, just floating along the riverbank… right over there… late at night,” he whispers with a dramatic nod to his right.

When I signed up for this Spirits of Milford Ghost Walk ($18 in advance, children four and under free), I assumed the creator of the venture, Cindy Wolfe Boynton, author of Connecticut Witch Trials: The First Panic in the New World and wearer of many other hats, would be leading the 90–minute, 1.15-mile excursion. But this is her night off, so it’s Clayton Simses carrying the torch. A college student well-read on subjects including the occult, religion, history and English literature, he, like Boynton, has his Milford history down, and he doesn’t lack her skill at delivering spooky storytelling and paranormal flourishes.

Halloween-season scarecrows and goblins hang from the lamps along Broad Street and outside local businesses as Simses gracefully weaves history and folklore. There are three kinds of spirits, he says as we begin our tour: Human spirits that “carry on the personalities of when they were alive”; “residual” energy replaying a hostile or traumatic event; and inhuman spirits—“your demons… the ones you want to stay away from.” With so much energy in our midst—good, bad or indifferent—Simses tells the 30 or so adults and children following him to “imagine a bubble, gold, silver, any color,” surrounding us and repelling any negative unseen powers. So we do. Mine is orange.

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Wearing our invisible shields, we continue along our route, stopping just beyond eerily empty ship cradles at Milford Boat Works to hear about Charles Island, thrice cursed according to Simses. First, he says, a Paugussett chief decreed that anything erected on the island “will not stand.” Then the pirate Captain William Kidd cursed the treasure he buried there so that no one who finds it “will live to take it away.” Finally was a group of mariners who, the story goes, also hid cursed treasure on the island.

Some of us carry electromagnetic field detectors that Simses handed out, devices that light up when they sense energy, or ghosts. As we continue onto High Street, the detectors start to blink, and I think I see one flashing red as we approach the Milford Historical Society’s Eells-Stow House, believed to be Milford’s oldest. The house prompts Simses to tell us about Captain Stephen Stow, who in 1777 offered to care for Revolutionary War soldiers left by their British captors to die of small pox on Milford’s shoreline. Stow died along with many of them but “liked his house so much that he comes back and visits us every once in a while.”

We salute the brave captain, then soldier on. We come to the former Rainbow Gardens (now Founders House) restaurant, where, we’re told, a server was gathering items in the attic when something tapped her on the shoulder once, then again. She turned, but no one was there. Then hats flew from a nearby stand, pelting the waitress and sending her running.

After Simses has told us more, shown us more than I dare relate, we reach the old Milford Cemetery, when the night feels its darkest. Standing before headstones, our guide explains that a man accused of witchcraft in the mid-1600s is among those buried here. Then he paints a vivid picture of one, possibly two, mysterious women in white he says have been seen here on many occasions. One is visible around dusk, “as if she’s lulling these restless spirits back to sleep,” he tells us, adding that when night arrives, a different woman in white appears, frantically moving among the headstones as if searching for someone.

As we leave, heading back to our cars, I hear a father ask his young son, “Didn’t you see her? That woman in white?” I laugh softly before catching myself, stopping and turning back toward the cemetery. I think he’s teasing, but then again…

Spirits of Milford Ghost Walks
Timing and other details:…

Written Jill Dion. Images, the second featuring Clayton Simses, provided courtesy of Spirits of Milford.

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