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Yankee Mystery Files

Newburyport's Haunted Schoolhouse

by Ned Brown

Yankee Classic from Mysterious New England, 1971

It doesn't take much to distract a young student from his lessons -- certainly not the best efforts of Newburyport's most bell-ringing, stool-rattling, door-knocking, wind-blowing ghost on record . . .

No one ever knew the real story of Newburyport's famous haunted schoolhouse of the early 1870's.

Amos Currier was said to have boasted in later years that he was responsible for all of the eerie doings which terrified teacher and pupils in the little one-room building on Charles Street; but no schoolboy could have been responsible for the more baffling phenomena recalled.

The school board held inquisitions and columns of reports were printed about them; but some things which happened would have baffled even the most astute of today's sophisticated scientists.

You can read exhaustively about the haunted school in the yellowing files of local newspapers in the public library; but a compact account is preserved in a "tract" published by Loring of Boston and selling for twenty cents a copy. Unusual news stories of the time were frequently given this journalistic treatment and pamphlets could be bought at book shops and newsdealers.

The little pitched-roof building, locale of soul-shuddering incidents, was described as drab in color, with green blinds, "and not in the best condition outwardly."

The door posts were soiled, the weather boards were scratched, characteristic of many school buildings, and a broken fence bordered the bare yard.

The entryway and classroom were described as close and stuffy, with the familiar scent of southern pine that haunts the nostrils of those who attended the humbler schools of the era.

There was said to have been nothing peculiar about the rude classroom; no niches to give echoes, no mirrors to refract the light; no closets where one could be secreted; and no objects outside the windows near enough to cast shadows within.

It was a primary school for boys, with seats for about sixty pupils, a raised platform for the teacher's desk, and chairs for a few visitors.

As far back as 1870, people became cognizant of disturbances in the Charles Street School. It was reported that certain unaccountable sounds had taken place from time to time, but the incidents attained no prominence in the community because of their rather common character.

While the children were murmuring their morning prayers, a thundering knock would sound on the floor; then it would come upon the wall, then near the teacher's desk. On one occasion the sounds were so rapid and powerful that the teacher could not hear the children recite their lessons.

One child was spelling the word "cannot." He pronounced the letters c-a-n, but the noise which had been going on for such a long time suddenly increased, and the voice was completely drowned. The teacher could see the boy's lips moving, but could hear nothing.

A day or two later a series of raps was heard on the outer door. The teacher went to admit the expected visitor. She found no one; closed the door and locked it. The raps were instantly repeated. The teacher returned to the door, but found no one.

Then the phenomena became all the more inexplicable.

In an open space, in front of the pupils' desks was a tubular stove. It had a cover which could be raised by a wire handle. The handle was at times seized, as though by invisible fingers, and raised upright, and the cover was lifted bodily several inches above the burning coals; and after keeping its position in mid-air for some minutes, it was lowered again and restored to its place. The janitor of the building, an ordinarily courageous man, finally refused to enter the building in the morning, unaccompanied, saying "the noises and disturbances were too much for him."

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