Steve and Ray of Damned Connecticut discuss UFOs in the state in our inaugural podcast.
If Flash is installed, you can listen below:
Let us know what you think, or if you have any questions, ideas or thoughts for the next podcast.
In this blog, we take a further look at unexplained, odd or unusual things, as well as share damned news and events, plus explore weird from beyond Connecticut.
Steve and Ray of Damned Connecticut discuss UFOs in the state in our inaugural podcast.
If Flash is installed, you can listen below:
Let us know what you think, or if you have any questions, ideas or thoughts for the next podcast.
In the past few years, the state of Connecticut has undergone some bizarre weather and events: Since 2010, we have had an earthquake, a blizzard, a hurricane, a Frankenstorm, a freak October snowstorm, floods and a bunch of tornadoes. Heck, would anyone be surprised if we were hit with a swarm of locust at this point? Seriously, it seems as though it’s “The Storm of the Century” blows through every other week here. It almost feels like The End Times is constantly upon us.
Well, as dramatic and fear-inducing as all these recent storms have been, Connecticut is no stranger to epic natural events. One of the more unusual occurrences, however, was a happening known simply as “The Dark Day.”
On the morning of May 19, 1780, the sky grew so dark all over most of New England and parts of the Northeast that “everything bore the gloom and aspect of night,” according to Our First Century, (1876) by Richard Miller Devens. Residents needed candles to see by, the birds stopped singing and all of the world seemingly came to a stop.
Here’s an image of the event from the aformentioned Our First Century.
I love that it says, “Wonderful Dark Day.” All a matter of perspective, right?
The event was so widespread that even Gen. George Washington, busy fighting the revolution in New Jersey, made note of it in his diary.
Anyway, here in Connecticut, the darkness was so pervasive that business, farming and all manner of daily chore came to a halt. Many of the deeply religious Puritan folk who had colonized the state wondered if it was a sign from God.
Fortunately, not all were so easily panicked.
From Our First Century:
The ignorant indulged in vague and wild conjectures as to the cause of the phenomenon; and those profounder minds, even, that could “gauge the heavens and tell the stars,” were about equally at loss for any rational explanation of the event.
It is related that the Connecticut legislature was in session at this time, and that, so great was the darkness, the members became terrified, and thought that the day of judgment had come; a motion was consequently made to adjourn. At this, Mr. [Abraham] Davenport arose and said: “Mr. Speaker—It is either the day of judgment, or it is not. If it is not, there is no need of adjourning. If it is, I desire to be found doing my duty. I move that candles be brought, and we proceed to business.”
The story goes that candles were brought and the legislature continued that day. After word spread of his actions, Davenport became well-regarded around the state for his courage and resolve, eventually serving as Chief Justice for the Court of Common Pleas in Danbury. Ironically, in 1789 while presiding over a case, Davenport was felled by a fatal heart attack, thus meeting his maker while doing his duty, as he apparently had wished.
Another passage from Our First Century:
In New Haven, Conn., there was a shower of rain, with some lightning and thunder, about daybreak in the morning, the rain continuing, with intervals, until after sunrise. The morning was cloudy and darkish; and the sun, rising towards the zenith, gave no increase of light as usual, but, on the contrary, the darkness continued to increase until between eleven and twelve o’clock, at which time there was the greatest obscurity in that place. What little motion of the air there was just at this period, was nearly from the south; though the atmosphere was as calm as the blandest summer morning.
There was something more of a luminous appearance in the horizon, than in the hemisphere in general; also, a most marked liveliness of tine to the grass and other green vegetation; and a very noticeable yellowness in the atmosphere, which made clean silver nearly resemble the color of brass.
At twelve o’clock, noon, the singular obscuration ceased; the greatest darkness, at any particular time, was at least as dense as what is commonly called ‘candlelighting,’ in the evening. In the town of Hartford, and the neighboring villages, the phenomenon was observed with all its distinctive peculiarities; and, by some persons, the disc of the sun was seen, at the time of the greatest deficiency of light.
As it turns out, the darkness was not a sign of God’s displeasure, unless he was sending a roundabout message by smiting forests in Canada.
In 2008, researchers examining tree rings in the Algonquin highlands of southern Ontario discovered evidence of a massive fire that had occurred there in 1780. Great columns of smoke wafted into the upper atmosphere, which affected the sky hundreds of miles away in New England. It’s a phenomena that has also been observed in the wake of large-scale natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions.
So as it turns out, The Dark Day was not The End of Times or a supernatural event. Like many illusions, atmospheric or otherwise, it was just all smoke and … more smoke.
It’s been a little while since we’ve done this, so we thought it might be fun to go through the Mutual UFO Network‘s sightings database to find recent events reported here in Connecticut.
As always, if you are interested in this subject, we highly recommend poking around MUFON’s website and looking through the cases in Connecticut.
Here’s a sampling of recent Connecticut events as reported to MUFON. Obviously, we can not attest to the accuracy or veracity of the reports. Still fun to read, though!
• July 29, 2012, Woodbury — A silent red triangle-sphere craft hovering with a white orb hovering around it.
From the full description of the event: Upon looking to the north/northwest direction in the night sky, 2 visible and unidentifiable lights were present 1.) red triangular/sphere shape hovered around unlike any identifiable aircraft I’ve ever seen, it made no noise and no other identified aircraft were visible at this time. Beside the red craft seemed to be a white light sphere/orb, smaller than the red craft beside it (my roommate claims that the white orb was originally the same as the red craft beside it and dimmed to a white orb before I made it outside.) It is unsure weather the sighting was one craft or two crafts attached.
• July 29, 2012, Killingworth — A giant V-shaped craft with white-blue lights moving silently over the countryside.
From the full description of the event: As I proceeded down the road the object became invisible behind the trees. Seconds later it came into view to my left, it was HUGE. It was right triangle or V-shaped and it appeared to be jet black in color but with three evenly space white-blue lights which were brighter than bright car lights, but much easier on the eye. It hovered over the trees above in complete silence.
• Aug. 25, 2012, Bristol — Five silent orange lights with yellow centers flying in formation.
From the full description of the event: The object seemed to be moving slowly and steadily toward the northwest. I couldn’t tell the elevation exactly but I estimated it to be over 500 and less than 1000 [feet] in the sky. As I watched it moving toward my direction I could see a that there was a second ball identical to the first to the right and a little further back. Same elevation and same speed and same direction. Now I stood there watching these objects for about a minute or two, the first object was traveling behind a pine tree. I could see it go behind the tree so I looked away to the second object and saw a third identical ball same distance behind the second as the second was to the first. Same speed, same elevation and same direction.
• Sept. 6, 2012, Stamford — A long bright line in the sky near sunset that may have been a saucer- or cigar-shaped craft.
From the full description of the event: I noticed this white streak in the sky just sitting stationary. I’m a constant sky observer, so at first I thought it was a chem trail line. But then I realized the line wasn’t getting any longer … I realized right away this was a craft. I ran inside to get my camera, which took all of 1 minute, by the time I ran back out it had moved considerably farther away. At first the “line” from my distance was like the length of a foot, when I came back out it was 3/4 less in size … Right after I took the picture I saw it fade off to the point where it was no longer visible to me.
Sept. 12, 2012, Milford — A line of 10 glowing orange fireballs moving in vertical formation near Silver Sands State Park.
From the full description of the event: … immediately saw a large formation of orange glowing fireballs coming from the South West toward the park. I yelled for my room mate and he came out and saw the same formation. They were in two vertical lines and moving more toward us. I told my roommate to get his camera but then the objects began to get duller. By the time he came out they had really faded.
• Oct. 4, 2012, Lisbon — Bright orange glowing orb hovering close to the ground.
From the full description of the event: It was across the street in a vacant lot next to a fairly newly planted tree, which wasn’t much taller than 15 feet. It appeared the orb was approximately halfway between the ground and what would have been the top of the tree, it just hovered in the same spot for a while, glowing an orange color.
• Nov. 24, 2012, Bolton — Two glowing orbs moving quickly in different directions across the night sky.
From the full description of the event: While driving over the bridge that crosses over 384 on route 85/Bolton Center Road, we noticed a white, glowing penny-sized orb to our left, which would have probably placed it nearly above the highway. This object hovered and made no noise that we know of. After crossing the bridge, curiosity made two of us look back, at which point the orb seemed to shrink to nearly a pinpoint, which we realized meant that it had ascended upwards … A second object was observed by all of us directly ahead/in front of us, no more than a mile away. This object was also a glowing white orb, but basketball-sized. It descended below the tree line pretty much on route 85 itself. We drove along route 85 to see if we could find it, but to no avail.
• Dec. 24, 2012, Naugatuck — A group of lights moving together and changing formations.
From the full description of the event: My son pointed out five lights in the sky moving together. They became three lights and change position from 3 on top and two on bottom type formation to a triangle formation as they moved away without sound. There was a low ceiling and it began to snow about 15 minutes later.
• Dec. 28, 2012, Monroe — A bright, blue-white object that hovered for a while before zig-zagging across the sky.
From the full description of the event: It started out very white and bright then it changed to blue-white and appeared to get brighter. The object then appeared to ascend slowly getting dimmer as it continued to move in a zig zag pattern to the east. No sound or FAA lights observed. The object then went out or disappeared. Total time was about 5 min.
• Jan. 1, 2013, Westport — Silent, glowing yellow/orange blimp-sized object moving faster than jet. Moving under cover of clouds.
From the full description of the event: Thought it was commercial jet at first but was about 10 times brighter than jets navigation lights and did not flash strobes like jets at night … it traveled a little faster than corporate jets that fly by house for Bridgeport airport. It was fairly low in sky passing behind trees and eventually lost sight in North east sky.
One of our favorite subjects here is the legend of The Old Leather Man. We’ve written a bit about him, including the controversy in 2011 when the Ossining Historical Society decided to move his remains to a “safer” place in Sparta Cemetery (away from New York’s Route 9—and the old grave was about 5 feet from it, no exaggeration) and wanted to do a DNA analysis on anything they found to help identify him.
Well, as many of you know, Ol’ Leathery had the last laugh: After all the controversy, once the grave was exhumed, there were no remains to be found, just a few coffin nails.
Still, the Old Leather Man’s grave has been moved, and in July 2012, we paid a visit to Sparta Cemtery to see his new digs for ourselves.
The cemetery is one of the oldest in the area, established in 1764 and home to many of our soldiers killed during the American Revolution. And it certainly looks the part:
Old crumbly graves and high grass, with lots of mature trees all around. The entrance is nearly overgrown, and if you’re driving the average speed on Route 9, there’s a good chance you’re going to sail right past it.
We drove up the short drive (past where the old marker used to be) and parked under the lone tree in the middle of the cemetery, and immediately realized that we had absolutely no idea where the Old Leatherman’s new grave was. There’s no signage in the cemetery, so we started wandering around, and after stumbling past an old wall that had been shattered by a cannon ball from the HMS Vulture (the ship Benedict Arnold escaped on after his West Point plot was exposed), we finally decided to use our brains.
Deciding that Old Leathery was probably the cemetery’s most popular attraction, we followed the grass that was tramped the most (and most likely offered the least amount of ticks), and sure enough, it lead us to our target.
As you can see, it’s hard to miss the stone once you find it. To make it easy for the rest of you—it’s about 40 yards to the right from the cemetery’s entrance via Route 9, about halfway up the hill. Here’s another shot from back a little farther:
As you look at the above images, there’s a flagpole that’s a few feet to the right, which should aid you in finding the grave.
As you may have noticed in the closer shot, there’s a bunch of items on top of the stone—
We don’t know about the necklaces or dog, but there’s a story that children used to leave old pennies on fence posts for the Old Leather Man, and then when they would go back after he passed, they would find the pennies shined. We left a few that were in our pockets—we’ll see if they’re shiny on our next visit back!
If you go, as with visiting any cemetery, please respect the others who are interred here. And as mentioned, it’s a site rife with history, so take extra care when moving about the grounds.
Okay, let’s have a little fun here — people love Top 10 lists (that’s why Letterman still has a show, right?) so here are some of the most popular haunted places in the state as determined by the visitor traffic on our website and my general knowledge of Connecticut. If you’re looking for Connecticut ghosts and paranormal activity, look no further! And if you want to read more, just click through for extended stories about these places.
The Top 10 Haunted Places in Connecticut
1. Union Cemetery, Easton — The home of the infamous White Lady, this 400-year-old grave yard has been popular with ghost hunters for decades, ever since Ed and Lorraine Warren started regularly investigating it. Consequently, it’s one of the best-known haunted sites in the state, and a place to which everyone who claims to be interested in paranormal activity eventually makes a pilgrimage — the true mecca of Connecticut’s haunted cemeteries. Most visitors also pair it with Stepney Cemetery at the other end of Route 59 in Monroe, where Ed Warren is laid to rest.
2. Dudleytown, Cornwall — If you were going to rank the most famous of Connecticut’s haunted places, you could say Union Cemetery and Dudleytown are 1 and 1A. Once declared “the most haunted place in Connecticut” by — who else? — The Warrens, Dudleytown has also been called “cursed,” “damned” and “demonically possessed.” Stories still abound of weird sightings and odd experiences in and around the remaining foundations of the former settlement, even if the legend of the curses has been thoroughly debunked. Of course, the Dark Forest Entry Association that owns the land aggressively keeps visitors out, which only helps feed the reputation of Dudleytown. Still those who dare to venture there report an unnatural stillness and feelings of terror.
3. Remington Arms, Bridgeport — Thanks to the constant repeats of Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” investigation, this has become one of the most popular haunted sites in the state. A former munitions factory in the heart of Bridgeport, the property — which has seen its share of tragedy and death — has been abandoned for decades and has fallen into utter disrepair. As such, it is truly looks like a place where bad things would be seen, and between its dark history, the dangerous conditions and its location in a troubled neighborhood, it’s easy to see why people are afraid of this place.
4. Fairfield Hills State Hospital, Newtown – The first of a trio of former abandoned “insane asylums” on the list, Fairfield Hills was closed by the state in 1995, and in the ensuing years has grown into a popular destination for ghost seekers as well as urban explorers. Like many former hospitals for the mentally disturbed, tales of cruelty and abuse surround the facility, which when combined with stories of odd happenings in the network of underground tunnels here — which have since been filled in — have helped forged its reputation, which was exacerbated when an episode of MTV’s “Fear” was filmed here. Plans to demolish the buildings and develop the 700+ acres keep starting and sputtering, but eventually this hospital of horror will only be a bad memory.
5. Seaside Sanatorium, Waterford — Another former “unrest” home for those seeking mental convalescence that has been abandoned by the state of Connecticut and is now in serious decay. A once-beautiful Cass Gilbert-designed edifice overlooking Long Island Sound, the sanatorium was built with the idea that the peaceful view would provide remedy. Unfortunately, patient abuse and a high suicide rate resulted instead, the perfect storm for departed souls who may never find peace. This place has been in the news since the governor swooped in at the last moment — for reasons yet to be explained other than her own vain desire to have a “legacy” — to block a sale to a private developer that had been years in the making, severely hampering plans for demolition.
6. Norwich State Hospital, Preston — The third member of the neglected state facility trio, Norwich is in lockstep with the others: long history of reported patient abuses and torment, closed down by the state a few decades ago, allowed to rot and fester, resulting in eventual hauntings being reported. This one has also been a political football, its fate bouncing between the state, the town of Preston and developers. Like the others, there are also plans to demolish it and replace it with something less creepy, but also like the others, it currently stands as a beacon for spirits and spirit hunters.
7. Bara-Hack, Pomfret – A former 18th-century settlement where all sorts of odd sounds, disembodied voices and laughter as well as supernatural sights have been reported . Like Dudleytown, Bara-Hack is currently on private property, but that (unfortunately) doesn’t stop unwanted visitors exploring the ruined foundations and home remains in search of the spirits of days gone by.
8. Little People’s Village, Middlebury — Another place like Dudleytown in that its reputation, although thoroughly debunked (it’s a former roadside attraction, not a home for pixies built by a madman), it still draws purveyors of the paranormal. Aside from the general creepiness that comes with finding a decrepit tiny village out in the woods, there is the “curse” of “The Throne” (sitting on it will bring death within seven years), reports of all sorts of weird lights and the rumor of fairies.
9. New London Ledge Lighthouse — Famously haunted by the supposed ghost of “Ernie,” a former lightkeeper, this lonely landmark in New London harbor has been investigated by paranormal groups from around the world, including T.A.P.S., aka “The Ghost Hunters.” A very active site, with all sorts of rappings, moving objects and random noises.
10. Gunntown Cemetery, Naugatuck — Even though there is no one particular legend associated with this cemetery that dates back over two centuries, there are all sorts of unusual phenomena that have been reported here. A virtual cornucopia of paranormal activity has been recorded here, everything from EVPs and disembodied voices to ghostly figures and disappearing dogs and children, as well as inexplicable feelings of dread.
11. Mansfield Training School, Mansfield — Originally built in 1917, this multi-building campus was designed as a refuge for the mentally ill. Set in bucolic eastern Connecticut, it seems as though it should’ve been an idyllic retreat; instead, there were allegations of abuse and neglect of patients. Since it was closed in 1993, there have been subsequent reports of spirit mists and orbs here, as well as experiences involving unexplained voices, sounds and shapes. A recent episode of “Paranormal Witness” investigated the haunting claims here and uncovered even more dark stories.
12. Undercliff Sanatorium, Meriden — Another of the creepy abandoned state mental hospitals, Undercliff Sanatorium has also been closed for decades, but that hasn’t stopped the ghost stories. Some allege to have heard the voices of children, both laughing and crying, while others have claimed to have seen the shadows and spirit of children in the windows of the now-empty buildings. One unsubstantiated story says the spirit of one resident who was attacked and murdered by his fellow residents still walks the now-closed grounds.
13. Poli Palace, Majestic Theatre and Savoy Hotel, Bridgeport — Despite having been closed for more than 40 years, this 13-acre, three-building complex right in the heart of Bridgeport still stands. Now an abandoned, dilapidated shell of its once-glorious self, some say more than the ghosts of vaudevillian memories tread the floorboards, be it the lost souls of two men murdered in the hotel or other dark energies that come with possibly being built on a Native American burial ground. Shadow figures, EVPs and many orb photos have been allegedly witnessed here.
14. Sterling Opera House, Derby — Unlike many of the other haunting sites in the state, the group who owns the Sterling Opera House has openly embraced their possibly paranormal history and has done extensive investigation of the facility, including having had multiple research teams come in, including SyFy’s famed “Ghost Hunters.” Multiple spirits are believed to be haunting the structure, including the entity of a young boy who is called “Andy.” Tours of the opera house, which is undergoing renovation, are offered from time to time.
15. The Yankee Pedlar Inn, Torrington — For more than 120 years, this 52-room hotel in downtown Torrington has welcomed guests—and ghosts, according to some. A few of the rooms have been alleged to house spirits, including Room 353, where the inn’s original founder, Alice Conley, purportedly died; her rocking chair is in the lobby, and has allegedly been witnessed rocking on its own. In February 2012, the horror movie The Innkeepers—filmed on location at The Yankee Pedlar, and loosely based around its alleged story—was released.
Honorable Mention: A few places that just missed the cut include Deep River Public Library, Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery, Carousel Gardens, Pettibone Tavern (now Abigail’s Grill), Huguenot House and the Daniel Benton Homestead.
So any others worthy of inclusion on this list?
PS: If you have haunted house pictures or videos, share them at our Damned Connecticut Facebook group page.
That’s right—this blog was voted the Top Connecticut Travel Blog for 2012! Who knew, right? Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote for Damned Connecticut, and we’ll do our best to continue to bring you everything weird, unexplained or unusual that this state has to offer!
Historian Michael J. Bielawa’s latest book is Wicked Bridgeport, “a precarious path through the unforgettably macabre and scandalous misdeeds of Bridgeport.” From pirates and mobsters to bizarre murders and attempts to reanimate the dead, he uncovers some of the most unusual and evil events in the history of the Park City.
He recently took a few minutes to answer a few of our questions about the book via e-mail.
What inspired you to write Wicked Bridgeport?
Thanks for the opportunity to discuss my book, Wicked Bridgeport, and Connecticut’s paranormal history. It’s a pleasure being interviewed by Damned Connecticut. You have a fascinating and incredibly well-researched website.
Every New England town, every village green, every harbor, owns a litany of legends and folklore. Bridgeport is no exception. I grew up right on the shores of Long Island Sound, in both Bridgeport and the Lordship peninsula of Stratford (the place had actually once been an island separated by a creek on one side and a massive saltwater marsh on the other). Sure our towns are documented in history books; Colonial days and the Industrial Revolution, especially about the armament factories and how Bridgeport workers helped win both World Wars. But when I was a young teen I’d walk down to the beach, stare out at the waves and wonder. Whatever happened to our local folklore? Once there were pirates and paddle-wheelers and oystermen. What happened to the stories, which I was positively sure, were whispered at night near the chimney or around old-time bonfires?
My research started with a love of pirate lore; which, in turn, introduced me to a love of reading. Edward Rowe Snow wrote a story entitled, “The King of Calf Island.” I stumbled upon it when I was in 5th grade… it was all about his search for a lost treasure. Secret codes and old ruins on an island; how could an 11-year-old not be hooked? Later, visiting the Stratford [CT] Library I found an entire shelf of Snow’s books. (Who would have thought that a library could be so “boss”?) Years afterward I discovered that Stephen King haunted the same library when he was a kid, too. Strange karma.
Let me backtrack a little; maybe there’s a reason for connecting with the unknown. I was born in the Mohawk Valley, in the old mill town of Amsterdam, New York. The Iroquois, Black Robes, Revolutionary War, Erie Canal… a lot of history right on the surface of things. Years later I would mull over the mystical spirits at work in the Valley. Shakers started here. Joseph Smith founder of the Mormons, too. I associated the Mohawk River region with the same mind-expanding beliefs and fringe religious groups that folks nowadays associate with the West Coast during the 1960s. It all started in the Mohawk Valley and moved west to California. It was only later, much later, I found out that this region of New York State is referred to as the Burned Over District. The name came about because of the burning spiritualism experienced by everyone being converted by evangelists.
Perhaps being born into this realm’s inherent mysticism, or maybe because once I did move to Bridgeport at 3 years old I took to traveling with my grandparents back and forth from the Connecticut shore to the Mohawk Valley… gazing out through the car’s back window thinking about all those little villages and hills and forests off to side of the road. One couldn’t help but imagine what took place in those woods and fields and abandoned farm houses and factories… or what phantasmagoria might be taking place just a few paces from the car. My grandfather was great at entertaining me with ancient fables and mythical creatures on all those drives through the New England and Berkshire countryside. We here in New England have our own decidedly rich folklore. I decided to grasp, or at least attempt my best to preserve, the stories around my Connecticut home that might otherwise be forgotten.
Why did you choose to focus on the era [late 17th through the late 19th century,] that you did?
While outlining Wicked Bridgeport I had a lot of material to choose from. I consciously focused attention on the most bizarre, and frightening, stories while keeping in mind the preservation of our maritime heritage. Bridgeport has had a huge impact on the nation’s history as a whole. The stories I selected show, just a little, Bridgeport’s far-reaching influence. The characters in this book were household words over a century ago.
What was the most surprising story you discovered during your research?
It’s a tie. First is Captain George M. Colvocoresses’s strange demise. The man is a naval hero. He was found shot dead over on Clinton Street. The little lane doesn’t even exist anymore; it’s now buried under I-95. Some say his death was a suicide, others state that the poor fellow was murdered. Witnesses, medical reports and legal shenanigans create a fascinating whodunit. The Captain’s story is definitely a Victorian Sherlock Holmes tale; with a touch of the supernatural.
Then there is Dr. George Porter. After the Civil War he relocated to Bridgeport. His story is so incredible it wouldn’t even be believed if it was labeled fiction. But it’s one hundred percent fact! Porter, a battlefield surgeon, had a direct connection to a White House cover-up in 1865. What’s more, later in life he was involved with attempts to reanimate the dead. It’s New England gothic at it’s best; very dark and very real. I love symbolism and hidden meaning and such things in what I read and what I write. With “The Strange Notebook of Dr. George Porter, Reanimator” I wanted to celebrate H. P. Lovecraft and how he painted themes of New England horror, so I had fun with the title of one of his novellas, but with a twist, “Herbert West—Reanimantor.”
Yes, one of the most morbid and bizarre stories is that of Dr. George Porter, who experimented in human re-animation—can you talk about that chapter a bit?
It’s strange just how this chapter came about. There was a brief article in an 1888 Bridgeport newspaper mentioning how police officers at the local jail were afraid of patrolling the prison yard at night. Seems they sensed something lurking in the dark. Scary stuff. Those few paragraphs are what led me to research (or rather, re-remember Dr. Porter’s story… I can’t claim to have discovered what was already once so well-known) Doctor Porter’s galvanistic experiments. Additionally, the man was a scholar, war hero, explorer, gifted orator and patriot entrusted by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton with a secret mission, dealing with the disposal of John Wilkes Booth’s corpse. What a story! I’d love to expand Porter’s tale into a novel.
Talking about the craft of writing, how much time did you spend researching Wicked Bridgeport?
I am always happy when people who’ve read the book come back and tell me how impressed they are with the variety of sources I was able to uncover (oh, and they like the stories too!!). A lot of books nowadays, especially ones dealing with the paranormal, lack original research. They merely beat an old broken drum reusing material that was already hackneyed 20 years ago.
It’s a love of researching, thinking like a detective, that allowed me to apply a lot of information that was never, or hardly ever, mined. Back in the early 1970s… wait, probably even earlier. I remember the phone company put out a phonebook one year when they listed Connecticut towns and included a few sentences highlighting a strange fact about the place. I was a kid and wanted to learn more about these bizarre locales. I clipped the little squares (I hope after my parents were done with the phonebook) and read and re-read the paragraphs. I started collecting strange stories from newspapers and pouring over brittle histories. It was just a little bounce from that point to start interviewing older folks from around town, or visiting/calling Historical Societies.
When I was about 15-years old I called the police department to discuss skeletal remains found on Ferry Boulevard in Stratford. I could hear the little beep emitting from the recording device they were using. After 30-plus years of this kind of leg-work I’ve collected and collated a lot of bizarre information. I store it in an old-antique wooden chest, a pirate chest of stories. I contacted The History Press with my idea for the book. I was lucky. The editors loved the concept. It was merely a matter of 10 months to get the finished manuscript on paper.
Why do you think there were so many unusual murders in the Park City?
Every murder, I suppose, is naturally unnatural. Why so many slayings in Bridgeport? Rail lines, the old Post Road, a vast harbor full of ships… folks coming and going. Back in the day there were lots of transient factory workers. Bridgeport is definitely one of the largest cities in New England. The Park City owns a lot of love stories as well as business opportunities (legal and otherwise), so emotions run high. Sadly, shake these ingredients together and the result will sometimes beat a path to serious crime, luckily, only once every now and then.
Would you consider Bridgeport a haunted hotspot?
The Bridgeport area is one of New England’s greatest haunted hotspots. The place is a portal to another dimension. Hey, the city’s down county neighbors merit mention in Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone. But another way to see Bridgeport is to step back and consider our town’s long-standing familiarity with Spiritualism. We are a lightning rod for New England Romanticism.
Was the first rule of The Suicide Club “You don’t talk about The Suicide Club”? Have you heard of anything else like it in the years since the story in your book?
Sadly, throughout the Nineteenth century, Suicide Clubs were whispered about more than one might think. Life was beyond difficult. Crushing physical labor in the fields and factories, the lack of good medical care, financial burdens, poverty, over-crowding… debilitating stress was the norm. Ironically, suicide was a fact of life. The newspapers were filled with sensational suicides. Maybe Yellow Journalism subconsciously empowered readers to fight the good fight, struggle and survive. Bridgeport’s secret Suicide Club was divulged so the story became better known than the other morbid organizations. It’s one of the few instances when such a thorough study of a “13 Club” has been made public.
The exploits of P.T. Barnum while he was alive are well known, but lesser known is what happened to him after he died—why do you think there were attempts to steal his body?
People all over America, the world, know P. T. Barnum. Everyone hears about his connection to the circus. The Grateful Dead sing about him. There is much more to the Barnum story. A political figure, a fervent Abolitionist, a temperance man, a newspaper editor, Barnum did it all. Fact is, his work in New York preserving the marvelous in his expansive “museums” has a greater history than the circus. With all his fame, and business and individual interactions, he was bound to have detractors. When Barnum died in 1891 his own voice was silenced and his enemies had the upper hand, and their hands picked-up a graveyard shovel. Hardly anyone remembers the attempt to steal Barnum’s corpse. Wicked Bridgeport provides an in-depth examination of the events surrounding the cemetery desecration.
What’s your favorite story from the book?
As I became engrossed in writing each story, that particular one became my favorite. Maybe it’s that way with most writers. To fulfill that one narrative, you have to really delve into the research, your notes, thoughts, and place all your creativity into the specific material you’re pounding away on. Then after an outline and two re-writes I usually found the story to my satisfaction. It’s a long process. I had to wrench myself from one piece in order to begin composing the next. It was like starting over from scratch. Eventually the next chapter began coming together. Focusing total attention on the page in front of you… I had to force myself to step forward from that chapter, in order to begin the next, and on and on.
So, with all that said, each of the stories in Wicked Bridgeport became “favorites.” Still, in thinking over your question, I’d have to say I devoted a lot of research to lending a possible solution to the unsolved James Beardsley murder. Beardsley is one of Bridgeport’s many heroes and another reason why we’re called the Park City. James donated a sizeable amount of his landholdings to ensure Connecticut residents would have a beautiful natural setting to enjoy. He was brutally killed during a robbery in December 1892. During my research in Bridgeport, Hartford and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I believe I uncovered those parties responsible for Beardsley’s murder. Certainly this is theoretical. But the facts now printed in Wicked Bridgeport, I feel, may finally help solve a century-old murder.
Is there a story you would’ve liked to include in the book that you couldn’t?
Dutch Schultz, the gangster. Good Lord I drove my wife Janice and brother Matthew crazy with my stories about the Dutchman! Matt even went so far as to say “I’ve never seen you so animated about a subject, and you get totally hyper about everything about history.”
During Prohibition Schultz had been one of the most powerful crime barons in America. He’d also collected millions of illegal dollars overseeing the numbers racket out of Harlem. During the waning years of his empire, in the mid-1930s, he set up headquarters in Bridgeport, CT. Why not? He had friends here; the city was near New York. There was nightlife. It was a perfect place to call the shots.
Well, Dutch started calling for the assassination of New York prosecutor Thomas Dewey (as in that mocking “Dewey Defeats Truman” photo). The rest of the country’s crime bosses couldn’t tolerate that kind of notoriety. So they ordered Schultz to be taken care of; in a permanent way. Dutch left Bridgeport, I don’t know why he’d ever leave his safe haven, and next thing you know, he’s collecting lead in a New Jersey chophouse. Murder Incorporated caught-up with him and that was the end of Dutch.
My questions concern the very real cache Schultz was said to have on-hand during his summer in Bridgeport. Every treasure hunter in America is aware of the ongoing search in New York’s Catskills. Supposedly that’s where the Dutchman hid his multimillion dollar bankroll. Maybe someone found something? Maybe not. But I keep wondering why a wanted criminal would take a chance and cross state lines to bury trunk-loads of loot when securing them right here in the Bridgeport area would be a smarter move. I’d like to throw some light on the Dutchman’s treasure in my next book about Bridgeport.
Which leads to the next question… Do you have any plans to write another book? On what subject?
Wicked Bridgeport has attracted a really strong following. I enjoy meeting individuals and audiences and discussing history as well as ghost stories. Lots of people ask about the art of writing. It’s all good. From the get-go people were interested in a city where true crime meets the paranormal. There are so many creepy and fascinating stories about Bridgeport that a second volume, a “Wicked Bridgeport: The Sequel” is already in the works. Ghosts and gangsters and murders, oh my.
Thanks again to Mike for taking the time to answer our questions!
So a week or two ago, when we heard (via the Damned Connecticut Facebook page) that there was a new oddities shop in Wallingford, we were excited. We’ve been saying that the state needed a place—or two—like this. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, “Open it and they will come.”
You can now count “us” along with “they.”
Shadowland opened on North Colony Road in Wallingford last September, the realized vision of owner Eric Morton, a lifelong collector of the odd, weird and rare. When we arrived, Eric was behind the counter, happy to chat. We quickly learned all about the store and how passionate he is about “damned”-type subjects, and how much he loves to support the local Wallingford community, from other businesses to arts organizations (he’s the lead singer of The Curse of Her Flesh) to charities, such as the nearby Trail of Terror. He also supports Connecticut artists and other groups, you know, like us.
As you can see in the gallery below, the shop definitely has the vibe you’d expect for a place that sells oddities and curiosities—weird tchotchkes and offbeat works of art hang on the walls, while the shelves are stocked with everything from voodoo doll keychains and animal skulls to demon statues and preserved bugs—heck, there’s even a totem pole on one table. Books, DVDs and CDs are also available, covering everything from Aleister Crowley to UFOs, as well as local damned-type subjects. A number of vintage games and collectibles are also on display, as are animal-bone sculptures and mobiles that Eric makes himself.
The store’s stock rotates pretty regularly—I was outright bummed when Eric told us that he had just sold a Feejee mermaid a few hours before we arrived. He’s plugged into the antiquities market, and goes to estate sales a few times each week in quest of new items.
As you can also see, if you visit, don’t plan on staying the day as Shadowland isn’t the biggest store in the world—although it’s certainly bigger than the famed Obscura in New York City … for now. (Obscura is moving into a new building soon.) Like many object dealers, Eric has items that he doesn’t have on display and plenty of connections, so if you’re looking for something, just ask.
Eric has plans to expand, but like any small business owner, he’s trying to do in economically viable phases—i.e., like most of us, he’s not a secret billionaire with unlimited funds to do whatever he wants. Although if he was, Shadowland would be an amazing place—he mentioned how he’d love the place to look like a cave filled with everything from full-sized coffins to tanks with flesh-eating beetles.
As Eric said, “I wanted to open a store that I’d want to walk into.” We’d say, “Mission accomplished.”
We’ll be back.
Steve recently forwarded me this story about how a few lakes in Texas have receded so far due to extended drought conditions that old ghost towns are now being exposed. Other interesting items have been discovered, including “a prehistoric skull, ancient tools, fossils and a small cemetery that appears to contain the graves of freed slaves.”
Of course, Connecticut has a history of lakes with interesting items belong them. One of our favorites is Gardner Lake in Salem where an entire house sits on the bottom, the result of an ill-timed transport across a pond that wasn’t quite frozen all the way through.
Although thousands enjoy the beauty of that state’s largest lake, Candlewood Lake, very few realize that it’s one of the largest man-made lakes in the state. Even fewer realize that when it was created, a lot of interesting things were left in place, and today still sit on the bottom of the lake.
In the mid 1920s, Connecticut Light & Power Co. decided that it wanted to build a hydro-electric, and settled on the over 5,000 acres of narrow valleys in Brookfield, New Milford, Sherman, Danbury and New Fairfield. Plans were approved in 1926, and for the next two years, the massive engineering feat was undertaken by 1,400 laborers. According to historian and scuba diver Ray Crawford in this story at the Housatonic Times online, thousands of acres of woodland was cleared, the Rocky River was dammed and water was pumped over from the nearby Housatonic River to help flood the area. By 1928, the lake had been created.
Apparently, in the zeal to get the project done, people who lived in the projected flood area were often forced to leave large possessions behind.
“When Candlewood Lake was created in the 1920s inhabitants were relocated elsewhere, but many of the buildings in the valley were left standing and a considerable amount of personal property, including a great deal of farm equipment, was left behind. The roads that connected modern day Brookfield and New Milford with New Fairfield were not torn up before the valley was flooded and Scuba Divers, with the aid of either of the two local dive shops in Brookfield, can investigate remnants of the pre-lake era, even following the roads underwater. Divers have noted highlights that include Model T Fords, plane wreckage from craft that have hit the lake since its creation, and covered bridges from the pre-lake era.”
A small village by the name of Jerusalem was also buried under the waters; it included a grist mill, a school and a few homes. Many homes were burned down to the foundations before the water came, although the foundations themselves were left.
In short, there’s a treasure trove of forgotten history sitting under the waters of Candlewood Lake. Keep that in mind next time you’re floating along on its surface.
Hey, it’s our TV debut! We didn’t embarrass ourselves too badly, although Ray never shuts up! (Damned Connecticut’s Ray Bendici, not Ray Sawyer of Dark Angel Paranormal Investigations, who, for the record, got his own half-hour spot with Len.)
Thanks again to Len Fasano, Fletch and the entire “Forum” crew for having us on the show to chat about Connecticut Curiosities as well as haunted places around the state. We had a great time!
Some of the subjects discussed:
Thanks again to Len, Fletch and everyone for inviting us down, taking the time to talk with us!