Friday, October 26, 2018

A matter of historical record: Windham’s tales from the crypt

By Walter Lunt

Stories of paranormal activity in Windham’s oldest burial ground are nothing new. A great many residents say they believe the Anderson Cemetery is haunted by the spirits of the town’s earliest settlers. Located off River Road near the Parson Smith House, the ancient family style graveyard cradles the remains of numerous early founders including Smith, Hunnewell and Anderson.

The Anderson Crypt at the Anderson Cemetary
Distinctive among the many monuments and headstones is the ominous, yet dignified Anderson crypt. The historian Frederick Dole writes that its front “is said to be a facsimile of the Washington tomb at Mount Vernon.” The door, once secured by a combination lock, is now sealed with angular slate-like stone, fitted together like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. On either side are door-sized tablets, engraved with the names of several descendants of Abraham and Lucy Anderson who are interred there.

This was the setting when two Windham town councilors (one former, one current) and several companions decided to explore the historic burial ground. Carol Waig, Dennis Welch, Welch’s son, Shawn and four others entered the cemetery one chilly afternoon in the fall of 2013.

“We’d heard all the (ghost) stories, but that’s not why we were there,” recalled Waig, a Windham town councilor from 2010 – 2015, “…we were taking in the history.”

As dusk settled in, the first hint of something awry became evident.  There was a “chill” in some spots, Waig said. They encountered “ice-cold spots” as they walked the paths between headstones and monuments. “Then, we’d go back (to those spots) and they were not cold.” The group stopped to inspect the so-called “den,” A three-sided mound, open in front, and topped with grass, once a receiving tomb that stored bodies until warmer weather permitted digging. “There was (no unusual activity) there.”

Their final stop was the front of the Anderson crypt. Welch (a current town councilor), explained how Shawn began reading aloud the names of the Andersons listed on the tablets. As he read, the group heard low-level “knocks,” seemingly from within the crypt. Dismissed as environmental noise, Shawn continued. And so did the knocking – only louder, and almost in cadence with the reading. Finally, there came a very loud noise, definitely from within the tomb.

According to Waig, “it sounded like a car door slamming shut.”

At this point, Welch said he looked into the faces of his six companions. They all suggested the same thing: time to leave. And according to both Welch and Waig, who shared identical stories in two separate interviews, they lost no time returning to their vehicle.

As stated earlier, the story is not unusual. Scores of visitors to the Anderson Cemetery claim to have had similar experiences. In addition to the cold pockets and the mysterious knocking, paranormal investigators have reported other shuddery activity, such as the presence of orbs (light-emitting disks), strange mists, apparitions and dark figures lurking among trees. One report, unsubstantiated, involved a visitor who claimed to have been frightened out of the cemetery by a “spirit” that followed him home and trashed some of his furniture. He is said to have hired an exorcist.

A humorous reminder. No admittance to cemeteries after dark
Maine Ghost Hunters, a paranormal investigation team, reports a similar experience at the Anderson crypt several years ago. Noting animals had burrowed into the grass covered roof, the lead investigator concluded, “While we were all quite entertained by the possibility that these knocks may have been in response to our (attempts to communicate), the more likely and far more reasonable explanation would be “animal related.” The team also observed that the origin of some “pretty eerie howls” and other noises might be the natural and physical environment in and around the cemetery – “the wind can grab the trees and react with the dips and hills of the cemetery.”

Polls conducted by the Associated Press and Gallop reveal that just 34% of Americans believe in ghosts. The National Science Foundation calls the practice of paranormal investigation “pseudoscientific.” And science historian Brian Regal describes ghost hunting as “an unorganized exercise in futility.”

Still, cemetery “victims” insist that, despite the lack of scientific evidence, what they experienced was real.

Asked if they had theories on the origin of the knocks at the Anderson crypt, Waig and Welch were both circumspect.

“I’m not really a believer,” said Welch, “but that really happened – not just to me but (to my companions). I can’t explain it and do not try to explain it.”

Waig, who experienced yet another unusual encounter at Anderson about a year later, speculated “There may be things out there…sitting in purgatory, crying out for attention. I have a strong faith in God (and) I don’t believe in demons. People are afraid of what they don’t know. I regret not staying (at the crypt). We might have found an answer.  

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