Haunted graveyards ... abandoned asylums ... things that go bump in the night ....
The state has a long history of strange happenings and supposedly supernatural events. In the spirit of Halloween, here are some of our favorite ghost stories and haunted places from across Connecticut, sure to send a chill down your spine.
Many of these stories have been written about in greater detail by our friends at Damned Connecticut, where there are even more local legends, spooky spots and supernatural tales.
Reports of otherworldly phenomenon spanned the decades at Phelps Mansion in Stratford. First, in 1850, the home’s occupants, the Phelps family, began being beset by all sorts of unusual events including strange sounds, objects randomly moving through the air and furniture overturning. Despite intense scrutiny from professional investigators and skeptical journalists at the time, no culprit was found. One popular theory was that the house was being haunted by the spirit of Goody Bassett, a woman who in 1651 had been hanged as a witch near the property. After 1851, the hauntings stopped disturbing the Phelps family and the house apparently went back to normal for more than a century. In the 1970s, after the house had been converted to a nursing home, staff and residents reported hearing strange noises and having odd experiences. Renowned local ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren were called into investigate but could find nothing definitive. After sustaining damage in a fire, the house was demolished in 1974.
In November of that year, a small bungalow-style home on Lindley Street in Bridgeport (below) was thought to be under attack by supernatural forces. What made the case so notable is that the seemingly inexplicable events were observed by a large number of reliable witnesses in addition to the home’s owners Gerard and Laura Goodin (who claimed not to believe in the supernatural), including more than two dozen firefighters, police officers and other investigators. Reports included couches and chairs spontaneously moving across the floor, disembodies voices being heard and tables and a refrigerator levitating. Hundreds gathered in the street to glimpse the happenings and, of course, the Warrens got involved. Ultimately, a few weeks into the investigation a police officer witnessed Marcia, the Goodin’s 10-year-old daughter who had been adopted six years previously, trying to knock a TV over when she thought no one was looking. Marcia confessed to faking the whole thing and the haunting was declared a hoax but some witnesses were not convinced and remembered seeing things when Marcia was not in the house or that a 10-year-old girl couldn’t accomplish, i.e. levitating furniture. Cue: Twilight Zone music.
TIP: Phelps Mansion is long gone; the Lindley Street house is now a private residence.
The White Lady
One of the most well-known apparitions in the state, the White Lady allegedly haunts the 300-year-old Union Cemetery in Easton (above), located at the junction of routes 59 and 136. This specter of a woman in a long white gown has gained its notoriety in large part due to extensive investigations of the cemetery by Lorraine and Ed Warren, who are among the dozens who claim to have seen, photographed and even video recorded her as she’s floated among the tombstones. Others have purportedly seen another entity here called “Red Eyes,” which is exactly what it sounds like—a pair of red eyes glowing in the darkness.
Although there’s no evidence whatsoever, the most popular legend is that the White Lady is the ghost of a woman who was murdered and then had her body dumped in a sinkhole behind the Easton Baptist Church, adjacent to the cemetery. And being a free spirit, there are those who believe that she also haunts nearby Stepney Cemetery in Monroe, which coincidentally is now the resting place of Ed Warren.
TIP: The cemetery is strictly off-limits after sunset so if you decide to visit after dark, rather than encounter the White Lady, there’s an excellent chance you’ll run across the Men in Blue as the Easton police are very active in patroling it.
On the large, pink granite grave stone of Mary E. Hart in New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery is the inscription: “The people shall be troubled at midnight and pass away.” It’s a quotation from the Bible (Job, chapter 34, verse 20). According to the rest of her epitaph, she died at midnight on Oct. 15, 1872, after “having fallen prostate,” so it makes sense. However, subsequent fanciful stories about the quotation and her demise have arisen, including one in which her aunt had a dream that Mary had been buried alive; when they dug up the coffin, they allegedly found that Mary was still dead but her fingernails were bloodied and the coffin lining had been shredded as if she had tried to claw her way out! In addition to accounts of seeing her spirit wander the cemetery, there are classic urban legend-like tale of a woman matching Mary’s description getting picked up at night while hitchhiking and when the driver returned later to see if the young woman had gotten home alright, they would discover that they had given her ghost a ride.
Other fabricated legends have sprung up about the grave including suggestions that Mary was a witch, and as such, there’s always a college student, who on a dare, decides to spend the night at her grave only to be found dead the next morning—another victim of Midnight Mary!
TIP: Evergreen Cemetery is open to the public during normal visiting hours. Mary’s tombstone can be found on the east side of the cemetery, near Winthrop Avenue.
Ghosts of the Shoreline
The rocky Connecticut shoreline is studded with historic beacons, and it seems as though each one has its own ghost story. Here are two of our favorites:
Unlike some of the other haunting tales, the Penfield Reef lighthouse off the Fairfield coast can document its tragedy—on Dec. 22, 1916, keeper Fred A. Jordan drowned when his boat capsized while trying to row to shore in a storm. Subsequent keepers reported seeing a gray, phosphorescent figure in Jordan’s old room and around the lighthouse in addition to hearing phantom footsteps. Also, there is a story of a yacht that ran into trouble around the reef but was guided to safety by a strange man in a rowboat, as well as another report of two boys being saved by “a mysterious man who appeared from the rocks” after their canoe capsized; when they were safe, the good Samaritan disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Apparently, keeper Jordan is still standing watch, ready to help those in distress.
One of the most “famous” ghosts of Connecticut is “Ernie,” who legend has it is the soul of a former keeper of the distinctive New London Ledge Lighthouse. Built atop a concrete pier in New London harbor, the red, three-story building has been protecting sailors for more than a century. The story goes that in the 1920s or ’30s, the keeper (possibly a man named John Randolph) was so distraught that his wife ran off with the local ferry captain that he jumped from the roof to his death. Although there’s no evidence of this story, visitors have nonetheless reported strange happenings, from doors opening and closing randomly, unexplained knockings, bedsheets flying off of beds, cups moving around, electronics spontaneously switching on and the foghorn sounding on its own. Oh, and the ghost of a tall, bearded man in a rain slicker has been seen.
TIP: During the summer (June-August) Project Oceanology offers 2.5-hour tours, including time inside the lighthouse. And since it is a lighthouse sitting smack dab in New London harbor at the mouth of the Thames River, it can always be viewed by boat.
Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, had a healthy skepticism when it came to spirits—although he was fascinated by ghost stories and occasionally attended seances, he was quick to ridicule adherents of Spiritualism, decrying those who claimed to contact the dead as frauds.
He also seemed equally skeptical of ghosts, but apparently no one told the ghosts who are now claimed to wander the halls of his former residence (now a museum) on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. Over the years, employees and visitors have claimed to see the apparition of a young woman in a white dress—believed to be Susy Clemens, who died in the house of spinal meningitis in 1896 at age 24. Some have also had clothes tugged by unseen forces and heard the laughter of children as well as other peculiar noises. The house has also been investigated by SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters” team, although nothing definitive was recorded.The Mark Twain House regularly offers “Graveyard Shift Tours,” which features an after-dark tour of the house that provides a historical perspective regarding Clemens and his experiences with the supernatural.
There have also been suggestions that visitors can occasionally smell cigar smoke in the billiards room, one of Samuel Clemens’ favorite places and one of his favorite hobbies.
TIP: The Mark Twain House is open to the public throughout the year—for a schedule of “Graveyard Shift Tours,” visit marktwainhouse.org.
After more than a century of hosting performances by Lionel Barrymore, Harry Houdini, John Phillip Souza and Red Skelton, the big star now at the historic Sterling Opera House (above) is “Andy,” the supposed spirit of a young boy. Paranormal investigation teams—including SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters”—claim to have captured all sorts of paranormal phenomena at the long-abandoned vaudeville theater including EVP (electronic voice phenomena, when supposedly otherworldy voices that can’t be heard under normal circumstances are heard during playback of recordings on electronic devices). Others say they’ve heard the voices of children, seen shadowy figures and the hand prints of a child in the dust.
TIP: The Sterling Opera House is located in downtown Derby. It currently is not open to the public, although tours are sometimes offered around Halloween.
The Doctors Are Out . . . .
Connecticut has more than its share of shuttered mental health facilities, where, although the actual histories are benign and the vast majority of patients were tenderly cared for, movie-inspired imagined cruelties and struggles make for fertile ground that’s ripe for supposed hauntings.
Five of the best-known in the state—Fairfield Hills Hospital in Newtown, Seaside Sanatorium in Waterford, Undercliff Sanatorium in Meriden, Mansfield Training School in Mansfield and Norwich State Hospital in Preston—are all in varying stages of decay, and it’s the combination of abandoned, ivy-covered and crumbling institutional buildings set on overgrown collegial campuses that draw amateur ghost hunters and paranormal research teams.
Each has its own peculiarities and tales: The buildings of Fairfield Hills were connected by a series of creepy underground tunnels (that are now all filled or sealed); a rusting playground sits empty in front of the once-grand Cass Gilbert-designed main building of Seaside Sanatorium, a chilling nod to its original mission of treating children with tuberculosis; the Mansfield Training School was founded in 1860 as the Connecticut School for Imbeciles, and now sits on the quiet and nearly forgotten Depot Campus of UConn, and has been featured on multiple paranormal investigation shows.
TIP: All the buildings on these properties are strictly off-limits; portions of the grounds at Seaside, Mansfield and Fairfield Hills, however, are open to the public.
The Vampires of Connecticut
Long before Twilight or “True Blood,” a vampire craze of a different kind swept through the state. In the mid 1800s, the Rays of Jewett City were beset by tuberculosis, then known as consumption. Over the course of nine years they lost multiple family members to the mysterious disease that seemed to eat slowly away at the living. The first to die was 24-year-old son Lemuel in 1845; less than four years later, family patriarch Henry B. Ray was felled by the same disease; he was followed to the grave in the same manner by 26-year-old son Elisha, only two years afterward. Three years later, in 1854, eldest son Henry was stricken with the ghoulish seeming symptoms of the illness.
Panic set in. Perhaps inspired by superstitions brought to New England by sailors from Europe, the family came to believe that the deaths were being caused by their dead relatives rising from their graves during the night and feasting on their blood. Dracula would not be published by Bram Stoker for more than 40 years (in 1897), and the vampires they envisioned were not debonair aristocrats; instead they were thought to be zombie-like, walking corpses. To fight this apparently supernatural force, drastic measures were taken.
According to newspaper accounts of the time, the decomposing bodies of Lemuel and Elisha were dug up and burned immediately. Although it appears the body of Henry Sr. was spared. It was believed the incendiary action did the trick—history does not record a specific date for young Henry’s demise, so it’s thought that he survived his affliction.
Perhaps stranger still is that Lemuel and Elisha were not the only “vampires” in the neighborhood. In the 1990s, a nearby burial site of the Walton family was discovered when children playing at a Griswold gravel mine unearthed a skull. When the site was excavated by archeologists, it was found that one of the bodies, known as J.B., had been decimated by consumption, and apparently had been dug up after it was buried, had its head removed, what was left of the skeleton faced down and its femur bones crossed over the chest. Though the practice was apparently fairly widespread in parts of New England, J.B.’s skeleton provides the only archeological evidence of a New England vampire exhumation.
TIP: Several of the Ray family members are interred in Jewett City Cemetery (above), which is open to the public from dawn to dusk.
The Melon Heads
Growing up in Connecticut, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard whispered stories about a group of giant-headed mutants who lived on the outskirts of your town, a band of inbred freaks who were ready to prey Deliverance-style on whoever was careless or unfortunate enough to wander too close to their decrepit house or backwoods compound . . . .
Of course we’re talking about the Melon Heads, an urban legend (we think!) that has been told all across Connecticut. In most versions of the story, there’s a Melon Head Road somewhere in town—for example, in Shelton, it’s Saw Mill City Road (above); in Trumbull, it’s Velvet Street (also known as “Dracula Drive”); in Milford, it’s Zion Hill Road; in Hamden, it’s Downs Road; and so on. All usually are quiet, unassuming streets—sometimes unpaved in sections—that wind through the more woodsy parts of town. The Melon Heads themselves are rumored to be everything from a group of escaped mental patients to a lost colony of inbred mountain folk. And of course, everyone has a friend’s uncle’s cousin’s sister’s brother who swears that they saw the Melon Heads one dark night and barely escaped with their lives. Never mind that almost all these “encounters” seem to involve bored college kids (and alcohol) out on a dare.
So where did the stories start? Some speculate it may have started when someone afflicted with encephalitis (swelling of the brain) was trying to live away from prying ignorant eyes, and the stories grew out of that. Others think it could’ve come from isolated pockets of Melungeon peoples, who were descended mixes of Native Americans and Europeans, who were shunned from “proper” society—and from “Melungeon,” you could get the slang of “Melon head.” The fun is that no one knows for sure—until they become a victim of the Melon Heads. Then it’s too late.
TIP: Almost all of the Melon Head roads across the state are “normal” public thoroughfares, so visit at your own risk!
The Most Haunted Place on Earth?
Any discussion of haunted Connecticut almost always begins with Dudleytown, the “village of the damned” that has been proclaimed as one of the most haunted locations on the planet by every “expert” from the Warrens, who declared it “demonically possessed,” to movie ‘ghostbuster’ Dan Aykroyd. Stories abound of the abandoned town tucked away in the forested hills of Cornwall, supposedly once inhabited by eternally cursed descendants of Englishman Edmund Dudley, who was beheaded for treason. Allegedly generations of Dudleys have come to bad ends, either dying prematurely, being murdered or just going insane. Consequently, the tainted ground has been home to all sorts of alleged paranormal experiences, from spirits and unexplained phenomena to hexes and demonic dalliances, drawing legions of amateur ghost hunters.
Except almost all of the “history” has been fabricated and all the tales of woe have been thoroughly debunked by competent historians. Yes, a few members of the Dudley family were part of the small settlement here in the 18th century (hence the name), but they were not in any way connected to Edmund Dudley, nor did any of them go insane. Many of them moved away in the natural course of things as easier-to-farm lands were cultivated in the Midwest and the region’s iron industry faded. There were occasional accidental deaths, just like in every other village in the state, none of which had “supernatural” causes. In fact, many of the “cursed” stories didn’t appear until the publication of a poorly (if at all) researched 20th-century history of the area that that has been greatly embellished over the years. In short, there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Dudleytown is “cursed” more than any other abandoned settlement in Connecticut history.
But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a bad story.
For the record, there is absolutely no trespassing in the area that was Dudleytown as it is on private property and is heavily patroled by local and state police, who will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute uninvited visitors. The settlement is long gone and is now just a peaceful forest.
Love Never Dies?
The Daniel Benton Homestead in Tolland was built in 1720, and was home to six generations of Bentons for more than two centuries.
However, the ghost story here revolves around Daniel’s grandson Elisha, a patriot and soldier in the Continental army who captured during a battle of the American Revolution. He was placed on a prison ship where he unfortunately contracted smallpox. He was soon traded for a British prisoner and sent home where he was reunited with his true love, a local girl named Jemima Barrows. Against her family’s wishes, Jemima cared for Elisha, but he soon succumbed to his illness. Sadly, Jemima contracted smallpox from her love, and died a few weeks later. However, because the couple were not officially married, per traditions of the day, they were buried on either side of a carriage path.
All sorts of unusual supernatural activity has been reported here, including unusual lights, disembodied cries, strange knocks and shadowy figures moving about the homestead at night, including one spirit of a young woman in a wedding dress. Likewise, the shade of a soldier has been spotted roaming the grounds at night, perhaps looking for his lost beloved.
The Benton Homestead is currently not available for tours due to recent storm damage, but the grounds are open through October.
Screams on the Silver Screen
The Haunting in Connecticut, released March 2009
The movie tells the terrifying tale of the Campbell family who moves into a Southington Victorian with a disturbing history. The home was once a funeral parlor and the previous owner’s clairvoyant son was a demonic messenger. Inexplicable things begin to occur and in the end, the family burns down the house to destroy the evil entities. A scary story for sure, though not necessarily a true one.
In reality, the Snedeker family moved into the Southington house in 1986. The basement of the home was once a mortuary, but that’s where the truth starts to blur. Lights turned on and off randomly, inanimate objects moved, foul odors were detected and unseen forces were felt. Their son allegedly saw apparitions and became possessed by demonic spirits, which got Ed and Lorraine Warren involved, and a priest performed an exorcism. Much of the Snedekers’ claims have been challenged, and assertions have been made that the boy was struggling with drug addiction, which would explain some of the claims.
The house’s current owners have not reported any disturbances.
The Innkeepers, released March 2011
Opened in July 1891, the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington (then named The Conley Inn) was the dream of Frank and Alice Conley, and welcomed thousands of visitors. Today, the Yankee Pedlar looks much like it did originally, though a little worn. Over the years, stories have circulated about odd occurrences—a popular tale is that the spirit of Alice Conley, who supposedly died in Room 353, still roams the halls checking on guests; her favorite rocking chair sits in the lobby, where it’s been said to move on its own.
When horror film director Ti West stayed at the inn in 2008 he was inspired to make a film—The Innkeepers, which transforms the rather innocuous ghost tales into a heart-pumping narrative of two inn employees turned “ghost hunters” on the eve of the building’s closure. In reality, the inn remains open and you can stay there to experience the paranormal yourself.
Annabelle, released October 2014
A prequel to the popular horror film The Conjuring, Annabelle tells the frightening tale of a doll (in the film, a porcelain-faced demon, and in real life, a possessed Raggedy Ann doll) that inflicts terror on anyone who touches or provokes it. In the movie, a young family is terrorized by the doll, tries to be rid of it and yet is unable to do so.
In reality, the doll is kept in a blessed case at The Warrens’ Occult Museum in Monroe. Ed and Lorraine Warren claimed the doll has caused harm, and even death, to those foolish enough to touch it. Annabelle hasn’t wreaked havoc in years, but remains feared.
Annabelle is a fright fest, but the storyline deviates greatly from the tales of the doll’s terror. The Warrens were greatly involved in The Conjuring, which is based on their real-life case with Annabelle, but the sequel is completely fabricated.
(Editorial note, October 2021: In just six years since this article was published, "The Conjuring Universe" has expanded from two films to eight — with more on the way — and is now the second-highest grossing horror film franchise of all time.)
Again, for more on these and other supposedly haunted spots in Connecticut, visit our friends over at Damned Connecticut.
(This article was originally published on a different platform. Some formatting changes may have occurred.)
RELATED: More ghost stories from the archives
From October 1977, “Stalking Witches and Boogeymen” visits several self-proclaimed mystics living in suburbia.
From April 1972, “In Search of the Supernatural” profiles Connecticut’s O.G. ghostbusters, the late Ed and Lorraine Warren, still the most famous paranormal investigators in the world.
As recounted in “Bewitched” (October 1988), dozens of Connecticut residents were tried for witchcraft decades before the more famous trials in Salem, Mass.
A writer reflects on her affection for the reputedly cursed Charles Island in Milford, in “My Lifelong Love Affair With a Haunted Island” (July/August 1972).
We received a quite chilling reception when we first visited Cortlandt Hull and his Witch’s Dungeon museum of movie memorabilia way back in October 1984’s “House of Horror” (this month we pay a return visit to Hull at his new, expanded showplace in Plainville).
These and more articles from Connecticut Magazine's history can be found at connecticutmag.com/archives