The CT Files: Hannah Cranna, 'The Wicked Witch of Monroe'
When discussing witches, Salem, Mass., may come to mind but in Connecticut at least nine people were hanged for “familiarity with the devil” by 1663, almost 30 years before Salem’s hysteria. The first person here to be put to death for being a witch was Alse Young, who was hanged in Windsor in 1647; in all, 35 people were tried with 29 convicted. Consequently, the specter of witchcraft was very real in 1783, when Hannah Hovey—who would become known as “Hannah Cranna, the Wicked Witch of Monroe”—was born.
Very little is known about Hannah’s early life—and even much of her later years—other than she lived in the Stepney area of Monroe. However, it’s the secondhand stories of her alleged deeds that fanned her legend.
She married Captain Joseph Hovey, and they lived on Cragley Hill, close to present-day Cutler’s Farm Road. Nearby was a large rock with a cut that looked like a cloven footprint, a sign to some that Hannah was in league with Satan. When her husband died unexpectedly, some said that Hannah had a hand in it—the story goes that during his evening walk, Captain Hovey somehow became disoriented and fell off a cliff. Not believing that the captain could have been the victim of such an odd accident, the neighbors whispered that he had been bewitched by Hannah.
After being widowed she picked up the nickname Hannah Cranna. Aside from rhyming, “Cranna” is Scottish for “rocky or lofty place”—maybe a nod to the Satan-stamped rock?
Hannah never remarried, dressing in widow’s black with a long skirt that flapped in the breeze. It’s easy to see how an eccentric woman in dark clothes who resided alone in the forest could easily be “transformed” into a witch. It didn’t help that she was not above using her bad reputation to intimidate others. Supposedly, her house was guarded by an army of snakes, the birds on her property were invulnerable to hunters and her witch’s familiar (a supernatural creature assistant) was a rooster named Old Boreas that only crowed at midnight.
Many tales sprung up about Hannah’s “powers,” most likely exaggerations of mundane events. One featured a trout-filled stream that ran through her property that she forbade anyone to fish. When one daring man landed a forbidden prize, Hannah appeared and cried, “Curses upon you and your fishing!” Now in real life, the cranky old lady probably chased the trespasser away, but in the lore of Hannah Cranna, after incuring the witch’s wrath, the angler never caught another fish!
Another anecdote involves two men who stopped their cart in front of her home. Seeing Hannah, they jokingly asked for a magical display. “Before you pass yonder tree, your wish shall be granted,” she replied. The men laughed but when they went to leave, their oxen would not move and the wheels came off their wagon—cursed by the witch! No doubt many mocked Hannah, and all it would take is one case of “misfortune” to befall a detractor for such a story to blossom.
It appears as though a few locals grew tired of her antics and formally accused her of witchcraft. She was arraigned on charges of consorting with the Devil, although the case never went to trial. Unlike earlier times, more enlightened heads prevailed.
Hannah lived quietly until late 1859, when Old Boreas died and the legend makers went into overdrive.
Some believed that the end of her familiar was a sign to Hannah that her own demise was ’nigh. Supposedly, after a heavy snow, a neighbor found the nearly 80-year-old woman looking haggard. “The spirits have called and it won’t be but a short time before I will be in the great beyond,” Hannah said, according to popular accounts. “I have a wish to make that must be carried out. I am not to be buried until after sundown and there must be ample bearers to carry my coffin from the house to the grave. Obey my wishes if you would avoid trouble and vexation.” She died the next day.
With the snow deep, it was too difficult to honor Hannah’s dying wishes. Her coffin was loaded on a sleigh and it started off for the graveyard but after a short distance, it fell off. Spooked, the neighbors put it back on the sled and a few brave souls sat atop it. They set out again but soon the sleigh began to inexplicably shake, throwing everyone off.
That was enough. Rather than incur the full wrath of the witch, the coffin was carried to the cemetery. The sun had already set, so it was quickly buried. The neighbors then returned to Hannah’s house only to find it engulfed in flames—a fiery exclamation point to a fun story, although it all seems unlikely.
So what really happened? A Connecticut winter could cause the death of an elderly woman and since her headstone—a replica of “witch” (above) still stands in Gregory’s Four Corners Burial Ground—lists 1859-60 for her death, she probably died alone over the winter and was not discovered until spring, when she would’ve been buried.
However, some say that Hannah Hovey’s story isn’t over yet. It is told that on certain misty nights, the specter of an old crone will suddenly appear in the middle of Spring Hill Road, which will cause a driver to lose control of his car—and life—as he crashes into the gravestone of Hannah Cranna.
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