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Front Page News

October 28, 2015


Mysterious Happenings In Pittsfield: 

Two Stories Of Witches And Ghosts

Submitted By Larry Berkson


Halloween is upon us, a time of ghosts, goblins, gremlins, wizards and witches. From Pittsfield’s very beginnings they have been a subject of fear, curiosity, and interest. There have been believers and doubters and certainly several mysterious happenings in our community.


Writing about the early years of the Pittsfield’s history, historian Henry L. Robinson claimed that the “people of this town . . . believed in witches as firmly as they believed in their creator.” He tells the story of “Aunt Patience” who was troubled by witches getting control of her butter churn, so one day she placed a hot file in it. She then set out to find the witch. About a mile down the road she found a woman with a burnt arm and she knew she had found her witch.  


On the other hand, there were nonbelievers. John Swett, the famous California educator from Pittsfield, claimed that his grandfather Thomas Rogers Swett, a town founder, “was a sturdy disbeliever in witches, ghosts and devils. . .  .


Before beginning two tales of witchcraft in Pittsfield, it should be pointed out that a descendant of one of the alleged witches hanged at the Salem Witch Trials lived in a long since removed house below the Metcalf Place and across from the Barton home on Dowboro Road. On July 19, 1692 Susannah (North) Martin was convicted for committing acts of witchcraft and executed. She had a son John who had a daughter Mary. Mary married John Peaslee and had a son Jacob who married Huldah Brown. They had a son Elijah. It was Elijah who settled on the Dowboro Road. He was a farmer and tanner and served as a selectman in 1788 and 1790.


The first alleged witch reported in Pittsfield lived on Tilton Hill. Her name was Sarah Walton, whose sister married John Kirby, an early school teacher on the hill. Nothing further has been learned about her.


The Little Red House on the Canal

Perhaps the most repeated early story of witchcraft in Pittsfield began in 1835. There was a little red house that stood on the island between the canal and the river by the old grist mill on Joy Street. It was owned by James F. Joy, son of pioneer Cotton Mill owner James Joy. James F. was born in Pittsfield and became a renowned corporate railroad attorney in Michigan, associating with the likes of President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. He wrote an article for the New Hampshire Patriot explaining the mysterious happenings in the Red House, and claimed that “the occurrences were witnessed by many people ‘whose veracity would not be suspected.’”  Mr. Joy claimed that many of the events were witnessed by six or eight spectators and that “there can be no doubt of the truth of these things.” They happened “in a family of unblemished and unsuspected character.” Another writer noted that hundreds of people came from miles around to see the sight, some from as far away as 30 or 40 miles. Many, he claimed, visited the house with a determination not to believe the occurrences but “became convinced of the fact that meat, bread and dishes did fly without any visible agency.”


Peltiah Priest, who was employed in the Joy Scythe Factory nearby, his wife, a servant girl and another family lived in the house. One evening Mrs. Priest arose from asleep and ventured to a far part of the house. She heard footsteps following her and someone whispering. But no one was there. The following day began the saga of a mysterious door latch in a small room with only one door. Over the latch was a button of wood attached to the door by a screw through one end. By turning the button it would hold the down the latch, locking the door. Many things were deposited in the room so access was needed frequently. However, it kept locking with no one inside and the room had to be accessed through an outside window. At first it was thought that the screw had come loose so it was tightened so that it would be hard to turn with fingers. It did no good. Then a nail was driven into the door at the side of it but it was repeatedly either drawn out or broken off and the whole or part laid on a shelf on the opposite side of the room, and the door fastened shut. 


The next morning the chairs and tables were turned directly upside down. Crockery fell from the cupboard, passed over the heads of spectators and crashed, broken on the floor. The beds were made but as soon as the mistress of the house turned her back they were thoroughly disarranged drawn into a circle in the middle of the bed. 


These events were repeated for several days with other strange occurrences. One time Mrs. Priest laid out the silverware in preparation of the evening meal and the minute she turned her back they were scattered all over the floor. Plates on the table fell onto the floor as well. In one instance, a pile of plates with two large ones on the bottom, sat on the table. One of those on the bottom slid out without a sound and fell on the floor. It happened again. 


A pie crust had been prepared and when Mrs. Priest turned to another part of the room to get the filling, it disappeared, never to be found. She cut a loaf of bread and when she turned away it mysteriously was thrown into the garbage can. 


And then there was the incident of failing light in the basement. The servant girl was sent to the cellar to get some potatoes, with a candle lighting the way. It went out and was relit several times to no avail. It kept going out. The lady of the house then tried it, and again, was not successful. She then lit a glass lantern, but that flame went out also. Finally she got the potatoes with no light.


In the end an old white haired man talked with Mrs. Priest about the happenings. As the conversation finished he arose and stated that they would occur no more. He then went into the pond and knelt down, seeming to pray and immediately disappeared. Some people attempted to track him in the snow but no footprints could be found. 


For years the place was known as the “Witch-House,” and was one of the oldest in town. By 1901 it was unfit for habitation and was finally torn down, the remains being fed into the boiler of the Cotton Mill. 


The Frank Ehrhardt Place

Let us now come to a more modern tale of strange happenings in Pittsfield. In 1949 Frank Ehrhardt retired from a career in police work in New York City and moved to the Daroska Place in Upper City. The family lived quietly in the 125 year-old farm house until January 3, 1971. Then, for three days weird things began happening. Neither Mr. or Mrs. Ehrhardt believed in ghosts, or were superstitious. And their neighbors, not the Ehrhardts, were the ones to report the events to the newspapers.  


By way of backdrop, legend has it that 10 year-old Elizabeth Blake drowned in a well nearby in 1843. A headstone was placed nearby, apparently marking the gravesite. It was removed and placed in the Ehrhardt’s barn. It was after this that the strange events began happening. 


First, a pack of chewing gum flew across the room, opened, and spread out on the floor.


Second, a bar of soap was found in two pieces, half turned up on the piano and the other half crushed in the hallway.


Third, bobby pins appeared in a flower pot.


Fourth, nuts appeared on a bed upstairs along with medical tablets. Then they began falling on the bedroom floor.


Fifth, small coins seemingly scattered themselves all over the floor.


Sixth, the toaster, refrigerator and stove broke down.


Seventh, and most mysteriously, Mr. Ehrhardt’s shaving brush kept traveling from the bathroom to the hall. Sitting in the reading room, they heard a noise, investigated, and saw the brush in the hall. Mrs. Ehrhardt picked it up and placed in on a shelf in the bathroom. Later they heard a louder noise, and again investigated. Once again, they found the brush in the hall and returned it to its proper place. Then they heard a noise for the third time, this time sounding like someone slammed the brush to the floor. They put it back on the shelf and then it disappeared completely.


Finally, when a friend of theirs, Catholic Priest Father Hector Lamontagne, was visiting, they ate some chocolate candy in the kitchen. They went into the living room and upon their return the remaining chocolates were melted on the radiator. They then went out on to the porch and found that the latch had been taken off of the screen door. The screws and parts were neatly arranged on the floor. 


Father Lamontagne blessed the house but the strange happenings continued. One explanation was that the Ehrhardts were Protestants, not Catholics. 


The Ehrhardts also allowed a man who claimed he could capture the “spirit” and move it away, do a rather strange thing. He placed bowls of spaghetti around the house, under the drain spout and in the attic. This did not work either. Finally, Miss Blake’s headstone was placed back near the well and the poltergeist-like events stopped as mysteriously as they had begun. 






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