Why are there so many reported hauntings in this tiny state? I once heard a narrator on a paranormal show speculate that it's because there are at least three times more people dead than alive in Connecticut. In my hometown, most everyone has at least one ghost story and some have even made it to the big screen.
While this may seem disturbing to some, I find it adds intrigue to the town’s rich history and falls perfectly in line with its sometimes brutal past. This is the birthplace of John Brown, after all, an abolitionist that believed there could be no peaceful end to slavery and opted instead to burn slaveowners’ homes to the ground.
Defiance is strong in this place, perhaps even strong enough to rebel against death itself?
Living with Ghosts
The house where I grew up was very haunted. The ghosts made their presence known primarily when there was a major change – birth, new tenant, tenants preparing to move, family visiting and staying over.
Sometimes a light, radio, or television would flick on or off suddenly or you’d hear footsteps overhead when no one was home. Most prevalently, though, there was the knocker.
The knocker arrived between three and four in the morning. A loud rap would start on the door – any door within the three story, three family home. The knocking would continue until the moment the door was opened and it was revealed that there was no one on the other side.
Sometimes the knocking would start again immediately after the door was closed. Other times it would cease and start on a different door or stop altogether.
Many tenants came to my family's door during the wee hours of the morning, concerned that something was wrong or someone was hurt. They assumed one of us must have pounded on their door and awakened them. Over 18 years I saw so many people from all walks of life terrified after being awakened abruptly in the dead of night by something unexplainable.
While I had many creepy experiences and nightmares through the years, I didn’t experience the knocker for myself until I was 12. Our family expanded and we needed more space, so we began to rent the second floor in addition to the first.
On my first night in my own room by myself, I awoke to frantic knocking at roughly three in the morning. Forgetting all about the stories of the knocker that I had heard through the years, I rushed to the door thinking one of my young siblings must be hurt.
When there was no one on the other side of the door and obviously no one had beat a noisy retreat over the creaky stairs or floorboards, icy fear gripped my chest.
The knocker would leave me alone that night, but would return the next night and the night after to wake me during the small hours. I remember laying awake in bed terrified, just wishing for the noise to stop.
After nearly two weeks of nightly torment, I mustered the courage to confront the spirit when it knocked. “I know you live here, but I live here, too. We can coexist, but let me sleep!” While that wasn’t the last of the knocker’s shananigans, that was the last I heard from the entity.
Oak Avenue Spirit
Legend has it that a young girl was murdered near Oak Avenue in the 1950s. Her spirit is said to walk down the street in a shredded white dress on foggy nights with a dog leash, crying. I have no personal experience with this one, but when I read the account of it, it brought back a dream I had and raised the hair on the back of my neck.
In the dream, a young girl tried to get her baby sister out of a crib when she woke to find the house on fire. While she struggled to reach, a firefighter picked her up to get her out of the burning home. She gestured toward the crib desperately, trying to explain to the firefighter that the baby was still in the crib as her throat filled with smoke.
The dream ended with the girl weeping on the side of the road in her tattered white nightgown, the baby mobile that she had grabbed in her panic dangling from her hand in a display of agonized defeat. Could this be what others reported seeing, not a dog leash but an untethered mobile? Or is my love of the macabre getting the best of me with this one?
Phantom of The Warner Theater
The historic Warner Theater has survived its fair share of tragedies since opening in 1931. Disrepair almost caused its doors to be closed for good in the 1980s and a fire in 1999 destroyed the act curtain and caused $300,000 worth of damage to the stage, ceiling, and floor.
According to paranormal researchers, the theater is home to a number of ghosts that have revealed themselves through EVP, unexplained activity, and fleeting appearances.
The most frequently seen Warner Theater spirit is a man that passed away when he fell down the stairs and into the basement. Some accounts hold that he was a homeless man named Murph who was seeking shelter from a storm. Other accounts claim he was a theater patron named E. Frost Knapp who was seeing a show with his wife in 1934 when the accident occurred.
Apparitions at the Yankee Pedlar Inn
The famously haunted hotel opened under the name “The Conley Inn’ in 1891, fulfilling the dreams of a couple named Alice and Frank Conley. The couple poured their hearts into the 52-room inn, making it one of the most elegant places to stay in the area from the time it opened its doors until their deaths in 1910.
If speculation is true, the couple still roams the halls and rooms of their beloved inn– particularly room 353 and Alice Conley’s rocking chair.
The Inn changed hands a number of times throughout the years, expanding to include a bar and restaurant and changing its name to the Yankee Pedlar Inn in 1956. Stories of shadows seen around corners, voices, strange scents, and the frequently moving rocking chair have terrified patrons and attracted paranormal investigators for years.
In 2011, filmmaker Ti West created “The Innkeepers” based on the tales of the Inn. The story told within the film is fictional, but some of the activity experienced by the actors is based on real accounts from hotel guests and employees. The film does a good job capturing the atmosphere within the Inn and using it to add to the psychological buildup of the storyline.
House of the Devil
While I haven’t experienced any paranormal activity in my current apartment, I did receive a one-of-a-kind scare just four months after moving in. While watching television, I recognized a familiar scene and had to press pause and run to the window to confirm. Yes indeed, that was the church on my street in this movie called “The House of the Devil.”
Turns out Ti West fell in love with Torrington’s haunted history and “The Innkeepers” wasn’t the only film that he made in town. Fortunately, however, this one wasn’t based on real stories and didn’t actually have anything to do with the church. The dark beauty of the church simply made a good backdrop for the title screen.
My hometown can be viewed through many different lenses, but what sticks with me most is a deep appreciation for the mysterious and a hopefulness that even the worst of tragedies aren’t as final as they may seem. This place and its residents are resilient, they live on.