By Deb Thomas.
Hauntings in Connecticut have intrigued a lot of people. Many of us grew up hearing stories of Lorraine and Ed Warren – those inimitable Connecticut ghost-hunters inquiring into the realm of paranormal experiences and ghost hunting excursions. Hauntings have gone on for generations and some of these stories have been passed down through family stories, or possibly—in tales around a campfire. Some of these are familiar to those of us who live in the hills and dales of Connecticut and drive the back roads; our towns have stories and our backroads have even better ones. I encountered one once, involving the remains of a haunted settlement in Northeastern Connecticut.
Sit back with your hot cider for a few moments. Turn the lights down. Turn on spooky music, if you dare. Gather ‘round and give a listen…
“Come on Deb. It’ll be fun.”
I’m not brave, but in the company of three men, and my girlfriend Lisa, I could at the very least — be coerced into going on a Halloween field trip. That’s what they called it, a field trip. Plus, at the end of this field trip there would be a party. “Got a band this year, and my dad is catering it for us,” she told me. “It’s something you’ve never done before.” That is all she would say; no more details. She and Max threw the best parties; even if I liked to tell everyone I’d been on too many of her Halloween Party scavenger hunts, and séances; I always looked forward to the events at their farm. I am not someone who loves a good demon-summoning, but a Halloween party was right up my alley, or better yet, hill. A great band and good party food was appealing. Throw in a spooky ghost story and…I’m hooked… I had two jobs, and went to school four nights a week; it seemed like a good time for a small break from the grind. When I finally agreed I was only told that it was a surprise, and not to ask any more questions. Most likely, it would be in the barn, on the farm where she and her boyfriend lived.
We all knew one another from classes at the local community college, and I knew Lisa for about 5 years, from my part time job bar tending the King’s Inn on weekends. Max and Len were rebuilding Max’s farmhouse out in Pomfret, and had only recently installed all new plumbing so they could live there while they worked. Len was a high school teacher who lived in another part of the main house with them and Max was a full time carpenter and set up his shop in the barn behind the house where there was a separate living space. The barn was a huge mid-1700’s post and beam structure that had been rebuilt to accommodate guests and I was a frequent guest because of Lisa. It was a good arrangement. Additionally, I had a house-mate; Christopher, a nurse at the hospital who shared my house and paid rent. On the side, Chris gave guitar lessons, and was pretty good at making things, too; he helped out part time with Len and Max. We were not romantically involved, but we became good friends and enjoyed each other’s companionship.
Only, we never saw one another; he watched the house and the cats when I was away, and helped out with house things. I met him at school as he was taking additional classes in order to transfer to a four-year program, and so was I. He needed a place to live, and I needed a house-mate; kismet. We all worked one or more jobs and some of us were in school, and tried to get together often. Most of the time it was at my house with other musician friends because that’s where my piano was. I was going to major in journalism, but I loved playing in a band, loved the creative energy of collaboration. So far the group I was playing with hadn’t formally arranged into a playing-out band; our soirees were built around days off; we’d all spend some time on the day together bringing something to eat, or to grill, and our instrument. Yet, we were working on it; and make no mistake – learning music and playing with others is work. The prospect of a break from the usual, and a night off from work, and not having to be a hostess though, was something to look forward to. Besides that, the party was on Halloween.
Both my house-mate and I promised to take the weekend off, not only for the party, but it was time to do some winterizing. The house had been well maintained and between all my odd-employments and school, and now a stable house-mate, I felt the big problems of home-ownership were behind me; getting the plumbing in the small bathroom redone with some updating and having a new roof. Everything else about this remarkable 1928 home was in tip-top condition. While working as a part-time photographer for a real estate company one summer I was lucky enough to find this house; I knew that I wanted it the moment I entered the front door. By the end of that first evening, I put a deposit on it, and in a few months, moved in. Because I was single, my dad and uncle cosigned the loan for me.
Because I was raised in a family of house builders, I had some knowledge of a house’s most important needs, plumbing, wiring, and a good roof. Its plumbing and wiring were in excellent condition, and the roof was less than five years old. The fireplace with its woodstove insert had been well maintained – with the brickwork of the chimney carefully tuck-pointed the summer before I moved in and given the safety seal by the stone mason. The furnace and chimney had been cleaned; I burned a lot of wood courtesy of my dad and uncles who cleared trees all the time for building. There were always trees under big tarps, seasoning for the year ahead. I only had to put in several hours of limbing and stacking wood, every other weekend or so, and then borrow my dad’s truck to bring home as much as I needed. I kept a cord of wood in the basement and one cord of wood at the edge of the driveway – there was just enough space to pull into the garage under the house. Doubly good that my house mate Chris and I were home on this rare Saturday off to attend to house things, and brought back and stacked two cords of wood before noon time. Pure energy and the expectation of a good time fueled the quickness with which we tackled the chores.
Yet, Chris had not been as eager to go at first; having a weekend off was a rare deal, and my vagueness on details made him think it’d be better to stay home and have an evening to himself. I told him it was supposed to be a costume party but not to wear the costume, but to bring one, instead. Lisa and Max told us to ready at 3 p.m. dressed in layers, waiting for them on their way home from last minute errands. They also told us to wear insulated boots as there was some walking through the woods for the field trip part. Gloves, hat, long-johns. And flashlights.
While we were waiting on the porch, I thought about the chores I’d accomplished on my own, and then with Chris’ help – that had made living here such a good idea over getting an apartment. Putnam’s older homes were such beauties. My bonus was living next door to Gertrude Chandler Warner; author of The Boxcar Children series. She was a wonderful neighbor and we’d become good friends. She liked to tell me about story ideas, and even better she was a great listener. I saw her usually on Sundays. Last week she urged me to come by early on the “Samhain Sunday,” the day after Halloween. She was going to tell one of her fabulous Halloween stories.
Earlier that afternoon, I checked off a few more winterizing things on my to do list; take off the screen door from the back door, and turn off the outside water; check and check. Finally, just before I took a shower, the last thing I did on my list that day, was to retrieve three snow shovels from the garage rafters, and put them near the entrances to have handy. It had already threatened snow once; late October brought more than Halloween trick-or-treaters to my door before.
The two cats Chris and I now shared, benefitted greatly from Chris coming to live there. It was a great older home, and he’d outdone himself with making swinging, magnetized cat doors with windows; one in the basement stairway door, and the other one, as an access to outside. The bigger of the two longhaired cats was a singing cat– Mercutio; Tio for short. He liked to warble greetings, and, his comings and goings. Tio was adept at punching one paw through to open the door and then his big, dark head accompanied by an elongated, “Miao,” as he entered. The singing began on his way up the stairs. He was fond of the basement. The old coal burning furnace had been converted to an oil burning furnace; and it was heavily insulated and kept the basement toasty. Until I could afford a new furnace this one was not bad. The old coal hopper became a great root-cellar-cold storage for potatoes, apples, carrots and wine from another uncle. Those cat doors made life simple for us not to let in cold air. Chris was easy-going but not a slacker; he liked helping out too. I hoped we could do this for a long time; I wasn’t ready for any kind of involvement, but it was so nice to have someone there to count on.
The other cat-door Chris created allowed access into the house directly from the back walkway into the kitchen where in its prior life in the 1930’s — had been the old milk-delivery cubby hole. It was a sweet little door made with weather resistant redwood and cedar, with its own shingled overhang. It was quite nicely done. Insulated from the breezes by virtue of again, a strong magnet, however, both cats used a litter box in the basement when the weather was bad. Tio was happy to do so rather than get his luxurious, silky, black fur wet. My other cat, Mercutio’s brother, was of course named, “Romeo,” as handsome and as fastidious about wet paws as Tio. They were good companions on my late study nights and weekends. Additionally, they liked to follow me in the woods up the steep hill behind my house. Chris was good with them; he liked that they were quiet and didn’t require a lot of attention. It would be my second winter in the house and it was going to be a warm one thanks to the wood and the cat doors.
That afternoon, and just before we got ready for the party, I got fresh batteries from the freezer. I am fond of hiking and I had good gear; headlamps for just the occasion. Boots were ready to go. I felt good about the chores, and marked items off the list on the bulletin board. Still had to put winter tires on my car, but not this weekend.
After we got picked up by Max in his silver “Maximus Woods – Woodworker at Your Service” van, we got out to the farm around dusk and saw Lisa was busy at work in the barn stringing lights.
It’s the time of day in late October when twilight is forestalled by a lower sun on the horizon. The darkness oozes out of the trees and pavement. It becomes still most days around this time; like a velvety, grey gauze blanket slowly settling on nearly bare tree branches, and muffling everything as it eases ground-ward. This is when all the shadows melt into one another and night begins. The lights looked inviting in the barn; it was 3:30 p.m.
The farm driveway was still empty except for Lisa’s dad’s catering truck being unloaded. Just as I began to get out of the van, Max told us all to “hold up.” This is when Lisa’s dog, Frid, named after the actor who played Barnabas Collins in the Dark Shadows soap opera, ran out of the barn to greet us. She’d dressed him in a cape with short bat-wings; yes, she has an amusing sense of humor. The party wasn’t supposed to start until 8 p.m., but now was the time Lisa announced we were to put on blindfolds. “Why? And, Where’s Len?” I asked. At the same time, a costumed, masked bandit took my wrists and said to put them behind my back. I laughed at the idea, but realized this is what Lisa meant by something I hadn’t done before. “Come on….handcuffed?”
“Yep,” she smirked. “You’ll love it. Just go along with the plan—don’t be a loser!” Chris scowled at me as the masked driver clinked Chris’ handcuffs closed.
She and Max and each pair or group would be driven to the designed field trip drop off point by yet another friend we later found out; it was not only a field trip to an undisclosed destination, it was to be an orienteering field trip. Well, Lisa’s take on the new sport. We’d be let off at an unknown point on a map, given a compass, and a topographical map. Since it was Halloween, we were to find the pumpkin in the woods and carve it, then follow directions to the “meeting place,” where someone would be waiting at 7 p.m. to bring us back to the barn. Without breaking the pumpkin. “Len is going in another car with a friend. No more questions!” she told us. Then she said goodbye, and said one more thing before slamming the door closed, “Bara-hack,” she said, croaking out this ancient name, “You’re going to BARA-HACK!” And laughed out loud as wickedly, and wildly as possible.
Within ten minutes, my best guess —- the unfamiliar driver, dressed up in costume as a skeleton chauffeur, who up to that point had strict orders not to tell us where we were going, slowed down to a point along the backroad. I could feel Christopher’s anger boring a hole into my head. He was a quiet person naturally, but this was the worst. We’d been blindfolded, but I used Chris’ shoulder to work down my bandana. “Hey, I’m sorry for this,” I told him. “But, you could have jumped away any time, you know?” Still silence. The van stopped, and the guy came around and opened the side door, and Chris just stood there, looking at me like he was going to vaporize me on the spot. The handcuffs were removed and Chris’ blindfold, and then the driver handed us a map, and a bag with what felt like – carving tools. I took out the headlamps from my pocket and we put them on. The driver said something like, “Have fun!” in a menacing, evil voice. See you in a couple hours on the other side….if you’re lucky……” and roared off in the magical silver van.
“That was Len, you know,” I said. “Len is on my crap list for Christmas forever, after this.”
Chris just looked at me; but within seconds, burst into laughter. “Come on Deb…It’ll be FUN!” I was starting to really like him more than I thought possible. It was better than having him pierce my flesh with ray-gun eyes.
The road was just a road. We both knew we weren’t far from Max’s barn – it hadn’t taken that long to get here. No sign of compass direction from any signage, or our surroundings; no cars went by. For a moment we stood there bewildered, but then looked at the map and saw that there was a bright florescent arrow painted on a tree trunk with the iconic Max Woods’ dragon head logo. That was our sign, and we entered the forest. Every hundred feet, another glowing arrow. I almost expected to see Max’s head pop out of the bushes. They really planned this one out. No doubt, Len would tell us that his high school classes helped with the special effects.
Then it occurred to me; I really did know the place where we were going—Bara-hack. Left to grow into wild it is a wild-place. Well known to people in the area, it was rumored that you could go onto the property and still hear sounds of the people who used to live there. The sounds of ordinary farm life in the late 1700; children, people talking, cows, dogs barking, and wagons coming down the road. Local people also tell ghost stories. Scary ones. “Be careful if you ever go there,” warned one old timer I met from my next door neighbor’s ghost story gatherings. He was from the neighboring town of Woodstock. “There are things in the woods on Ragged Hill that can’t be explained.”
The original settlers – Obadiah Higginbotham and then Johnathan Randall around 1780— came to the Ragged Hills section of Pomfret; originally from Rhode Island, and started up a small factory in the woods, making spinning wheels onto which flax was woven for linen making. They named the property Bara-hack, meaning, to break bread, in their native Welsh language.
And though it was good property, when their families began to marry and move away, little interest was left in keeping the wheel making mill in production off the road in the woods. It was told that in less than one-hundred years, the residents of Bara-hack either died or moved away. All that was left were some foundations, a bridge over a mill pond, and a cemetery. That was the popular version of what happened.
Yet, there were some old folk tales, who reported a tale of a kidnapping and later, a haunting. Angered that the white man had encroached on their lands, one tribe of Nipmuc Indians refused to give way and threatened to take women and children of those who cleared land and built cabins. The story goes that the Nipmucs have haunted the area since.
This folk-lore legend says that normally a peaceful indigenous family to the area, the Nipmucs and their family groups were led to smaller and smaller regions around the northeast corner of Connecticut. They grew weary of always being uprooted. At first, the natives tried to be good neighbors by becoming Christians, and living in “praying towns,” and comply by moving away from the place of the flat land by the stream. For a long stretch of time, the newcomers and the Indians got along. However, as the fresh settlers from Rhode Island came, and then others, more land was taken from the Nipmucs. The elders of the tribe decided to scare away the newcomers with chantings and crazed whoops in the woods. A few family chickens and then pets went missing. The Nipmucs’ war cries at night got closer to the settlement. And one night a child went missing in a snowstorm. The Nipmucs were reported to have taken one of the white daughters, and others said it was the settlement people who took a Nipmuc daughter. That’s what the actual trigger was for all the ghost stories, when the families began to move away.
The spirits of both Native Americans and the Bara-hack child were supposed to still haunt the area. Strange lights in the settlement graveyard were seen. Voices and shrieks in the woods all around were heard from those hiking in the woods. People reported seeing ghostly apparitions hovering over the ground in the cemetery there. Ghosts of the children looking for their parents. Ghosts of the parents bereaved by the loss of their children. But did I believe it? I told the folk-lore story to Chris as we walked into the forest looking for a pumpkin. It seemed absurd, that we were driven to a haunted woods and supposed to find our way in and out and carve a pumpkin along the way. Yet it was exciting and slightly delicious to be actively involved in some spookiness. I could hardly wait to see what kind of comedy and hilariousness awaited Chris and I in the woods ahead.
Yet, it was getting colder and we kept fumbling with the map, looking for the stream on the east, and the low stone wall to the west, as we went down what became a wide path. It became obvious to both of us that the map was written for daylight, when you could actually make out things like stone walls; at night, with only our headlamps, it was pitiful going. We wore warm enough clothing, but there was that bite in the air that warned of snow. There was a tremble in the ether of the woods hissing that danger was there. Danger and the electric dagger feeling of the kiss of a blade on a grind stone; sparks flying all around. What if we got lost?
At first, we walked maybe a thousand feet in silence, then the terrain started to go downhill as nightfall completely absorbed us. Our flashlights were on and focused ahead, and then, out of nowhere, came a sharp-ear splitting scream. I jumped out of my skin and into Chris’ arms. “Oh NO,” he said, looking at me. “Our wacky friends are out in the woods doing this. Don’t fall for it. Let’s keep going north.”
“Where is north?” I asked, and we both turned the flashlights at the compass on my arm, which I wore like a watch. “This way, and look ahead—“ said Chris. Up ahead maybe a few hundred feet more, we could both see lights; orange lights. “Oh wonderful; they are up there waiting for us, probably pounding the ground with laughter.”
“Well, you know Lisa….”
Up ahead then, the lights were not orange but looked like they were the same color and glowing, like the florescent arrow on the tree way back. As we approached them these lights began moving and flickering. In an instant, one swift gust, the wind picked up and the snow came down. At the same time, we both heard more screaming, screeching; a howling of the wind and its echoes through the forest. It was all around us and we were unable to move in any direction. The snow came at us in sharp sheets, blinding us. We moved to face one another and we put our arms around one another defensively. There was snow, moaning snow, wailing snow; it was blasting and pushing us from every compass point. I was afraid.
It is said that wind-driven snow in a blizzard white-out, takes you by surprise and within seconds you are disoriented, frightened, and unable to move in any direction. It is that same feeling, when you are just about to encounter anything that isn’t in your otherwise normal world. You can’t quite put your finger on it. You can’t identify it. You can’t move and, you can’t see it, but you feel a presence; something pressing on the web of pressure all around you, like invisible elastic strings holding back the wall of another dimension. It is something heavy, and oppressive; black and palpable all around. And in the second before it appears THAT’S when you know you aren’t dreaming. Something was coming. We held on to each other tightly.
Within a heartbeat, there was a brief lull and we saw the orange lights ahead again, and Chris yelled to take his hand and run. “RUN,” he yelled over his shoulder. “RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN.” He held on to me, pulling me as he went along the path, tripping here and there on loose gravel and leaves, only able to see a few feet ahead due to his head light’s weakening beam.
And then we both saw it. Up ahead, a cloud at ground level-whirling like a snow cyclone with the shape of a human, a hideous twisted human figure ballooned upwards, screaming with a caterwauling scream we hadn’t heard before. It was a cry. A long shiver of a cry, twisting and circling above the figure—a banshee’s cry which turned into a cacophony of high-pitched and razor-sharp screeches. The figure rose in the light from my head-lamp. It smashed into the branches of the trees and flung them all around. It called out; not in a malevolent way, but in the way of loss, and ensuing chaos. The way of a great keening. The wraith threaded the trees, and there was a pulsing drum beat racing towards us with a thundering boom! BOOM! And, then —- just like that, after letting go of one last blast, “WHERE’S MY CHILD!” the voice bellowed—it was gone.
Ahead, now with only the beam of the light on my headlamp, we saw a small clearing and another arrow just as I scanned the area. At the base of the tree trunk the glowing arrow pointed to a large ten pound pumpkin. We were in the middle of a cemetery. The headstones were leaning into the earth. “What do we do now?” I asked out loud. We were worn out.
“We get the hell out of these stinking, rotten, awful woods. Believe it or not it is six-thirty and our ride will be showing up soon. And for the record, I am never going on a field trip with you again.”
We hardly said anything, gathered the tools, and Chris picked up the pumpkin and we ran and then slowed to a walk – in the direction of the arrows on the trees, which were closer together now. Within a minute, we were back on a paved surface. Chris set down the Jack o’ Lantern, and we took out the paper bag with the spoons and knife and set out carving a pumpkin in the middle of the night, on the side of the road. Its face turned out to be a large gaping hole for a mouth and two round, empty eye sockets. Just like what we saw. I put my headlamp into it hoping the silver van would be along soon. It was almost over, the whole weird hiking excursion into the woods, into the ghost story, into the nightmare of Bara-hack—was almost over.
But, there are details to tell you. Always details; details.
The van showed up, out of nowhere in a ghostly, eerie fog, with crazy Lisa and Max hooting and hollering at the both of us, saying we look like we’d… “….seen a ghost.” Max reached for my hand; the look said it all – “tell them nothing.” The party was a riot of fun when we got back to the barn where there was warm food, good music. We’d put on our costumes too; we were dressed as ghosts; just sheets with holes. Later, Chris adorned us with our headlamps. Tension between us eased up and we were able to enjoy the remainder of the night, dancing, laughing, and careening into everyone because the eye holes were not so big. Our pumpkin did not win first place, but we enjoyed setting it outside with the others. The night had been so weird and now here we were; enjoying ourselves at a Halloween party. It seemed surreal.
Agreeing that no one was going home in the now dense fog, plus we were all too tired; the few of us remaining after most of the company left – slept over in the big farmhouse. Exhausted, Chris and I made up an air mattress in front of the woodstove, blasting away the cold.
The temperature had fallen to below freezing, and finally, just before the lights were turned out as Lisa and Max went up to bed, we saw snow coming down through the windows. A white downy shroud had blanketed the farmhouse and porch. In a flash, the sound of the wind became fierce and hollow, I buried my head under the covers, hanging on to Chris like before. Rising on the wind and rolling throughout the woods behind their house, the pitch rose higher and higher into the night sky. You know………..just like a ghost screaming in the woods on Halloween.
1. Bara-hack–from the website at: https://connecticuthistory.org/eerie-remains-of-an-18th-century-settlement-in-pomfret/
Welsh Roots Inspire Name of New Community
Obadiah Higginbotham and Jonathan Randall both settled the area in 1790. Though not the first owners of the land, they were the first settlers in the area. Randall, who involved himself in Rhode Island politics, purchased his land in 1776. Higginbotham, a deserter from the British army, purchased land next to Randall two years later. In 1790, the Higginbotham and Randall families relocated to Pomfret from Cranston, Rhode lsland. Both families were of Welsh descent and the name Bara-Hack is Welsh for “breaking of bread.”
Higginbotham set up a waterwheel and small mill along Nightingale Brook and the two men, operating as Higginbotham Linen Wheels, began producing flax wheels (a type of spinning wheel) for sale to neighboring communities. Settlement in the area lasted less than a century, however. The eventual deaths of Bara-Hack’s founding families, the decline of business, and the exodus of residents ended life in the small enclave. By the turn of the 20th century, the village was uninhabited.
2. A lot can be found on the web about Bara-hack. There is a lot of nonsense too. Please be wise if you read more. There is also a not-so-state-of-the-art video taken on a tour of Bara-hack, to be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UnHGAFrpN8 titled: “BARA HACK The Lost Village 10 13 12”
3. “It is believed the Higginbothams moved to Connecticut sometime before 1780, as did the Randall family. There may also have been some sort of familial connection between the two families because there is a Randall-Botham Cemetery in Pomfret. At least two of their daughters and Dorcas are buried there – Phebe died at age 19 and Rhoda at age 30. Dorcas died at the age of 100.” From the website: https://digging-history.com/2013/12/04/ghost-town-wednesday-bara-hack-connecticut/
4. Although I did hike on Halloween with someone on the land of the Bara-hack settlement, it was a long time ago when people were ignorant of ownership, like we were. Also, the tale told to me then was from a Pomfret native who has long since passed. A lot of folk-lore gets handed down and changed slightly through the years, yet, I never heard about the Nipmuc connection ever again. People who owned the property then seemed less concerned about preservation, as well. It is a good thing to remind ourselves that while many people continue to hike through there, the landowners at present have and will call the State Police if they encounter any trespassers there without permission. Be respectful; it’s a historical gem to have the remains of settlement there. Ghost story, or not.