On Oct. 15, 1872, 48-year-old Mary Hart collapsed at noon in her New Haven home and died exactly 12 hours later, at midnight. She was buried in the city's Evergreen Cemetery.
The next night her aunt had a vivid dream that Mary had been buried alive. The coffin was dug up and reopened. The corpse's fingernails were bloody and the inside of the coffin was shredded from Mary's trying to scratch her way out.
At least that's the legend. There are others: That she wanders the neighborhood around the cemetery at night, that she is a witch and that a midnight visit to her grave will doom the visitor to a horrible death.
Maybe they're all true. Hart's pink granite gravestone reads, "The people shall be troubled at midnight and pass away." Spooky.
Evergreen is still an operating cemetery, all 85 acres open to mourners from dawn to dusk. People are discouraged from wandering around in the dark. But that restriction hasn't stopped "Midnight Mary" from wandering through the imaginations of ghost-hunters when the witching hour approaches. It hasn't stopped visitors, either, who want to see if Evergreen's resident ghost makes an appearance at midnight.
The season of Halloween is prime ghost-hunting time, when spook seekers head to Connecticut places rumored to be haunted. Graveyards, which would seem haunted by definition, are popular destinations, and a few in the state are legendary for their eerie atmospheres and ghost sightings. But beware before venturing out: Some of these spots are closed after dark, and at least one is on private property.
Evergreen general manager Dale Fiore isn't a superstitious man, but even he had a Mary experience one blustery night years ago.
"An alarm was going off one winter night. ... I went by the garage, the crematory office. There was no police presence. That was strange. The clock on my radio said 11:59. I heard a sound. I said, 'Let me get the hell out of here.' A branch fell near my car. I hit the gas. My wheels were spinning on the ice. I got out of the gate exactly at midnight." The gate he drove out of was on Winthrop Avenue, near Mary's grave.
The cemetery is on Ella Grasso Boulevard, near Exit 45 off I-95. Mary's grave is in the back, in the historic section of the cemetery, near the Winthrop Avenue fence. People who visit the graveyard during the day can get a map. Those who skulk about at night are on their own.
Little Peoples Village
Little Peoples Village is a crumbling, vandalized collection of little buildings just over the Middlebury town line in Waterbury. Local fright lore tells a variety of crazy stories: an unbalanced man built tiny dwellings to house the tiny voices in his head, a woman who saw fairies demanded that they be housed, and other spooky urban legends.
Middlebury Municipal Historian Robert Rafford says the site's real story is "much more mundane than folklore would have us believe." Little Peoples Village was built in the 1930s by a bored gas-station owner on Middlebury Road, he says. That road, which used to be one of the major roads between Waterbury and Middlebury, was bypassed starting in 1928 by the construction of other, busier roads. With all the traffic he used to depend upon diverted away from his station, he had little else to do but build a tiny village – houses, churches, a lighthouse, some with electric lighting -- complete with landscaping.
During World War II, our little home builder abandoned the village and his forsaken gas station because he got a better job. As the tiny village fell into disrepair and the locals forgot about the gas-station man and his quirky hobby, stories of hauntings and spooky auras became commonplace. "Over the years ... fantasies about the village have become magnified, and, who knows, perhaps there is some truth to its haunting," Rafford says.
The land is privately owned. Those who visit the site are trespassing, and Rafford said the owner cites safety concerns.
Other Haunted Spots
>>"The White Lady" is the queen of Union Cemetery, a centuries-old graveyard in Easton. Sightings of the spectral woman in a nightgown and bonnet have been reported by many people. Legend has it that she is fond of wandering along Route 59, terrifying motorists, and sometimes strolls over to Stepney Cemetery in Monroe. Another spook associated with Union is "Red Eyes," described as, of course, a pair of red eyes. Both hold court at the cemetery next door to Easton Baptist at the intersection of routes 59 and 136. Like other haunted sites, this is closed after dusk, and police take notice.
>>Gregory's Four Corners Burial Ground at Spring Hill Road and Trefoil Drive in Trumbull holds the grave of Hannah Hovey, or, as her headstone reads, Hannah Cranna. After Hannah's husband, Captain Joseph Hovey of Monroe, died under mysterious circumstances, rumors flew that Hannah was a witch. She became quite a pest, harassing her neighbors for free food and wood. Legend has it that sad fates befell those who made her angry and happy ones those who were kind to her. Allegedly, she predicted her death the day before it happened, and her house burned down during her burial. It is said that Hannah's ghost is fond of wandering Spring Hill Road. The graveyard is open to the public.
>>Great Hill Cemetery in Seymour is known locally as Hookman's Cemetery, because it is believed that the graveyard is haunted by a ghost called The Hookman. Nobody knows for sure who "The Hookman" was, but it is said that he haunts the cemetery, causing cars to stall and making creepy noises.
>>Some people visiting Gunntown Cemetery on Gunntown Road in Naugatuck, a burial ground established just after the Revolution, have reported hearing the laughter of children and music coming from the woods, or seeing a man with a lantern leading a horse or a black dog that none of their companions could see.
Spooky Guided Tours
>>The Mark Twain House, 351 Farmington Ave. in Hartford, hosts popular Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours every October that stem from legends of hauntings at the historic home. One sighting is vividly remembered by the Twain's assistant curator Mallory Howard, who started out at the Twain as a tour guide. "I was leading a tour, and I saw this person float by, an apparition of a woman. My heart was pounding. My hands were shaking. I couldn't talk," Howard told The Courant. "I know what I saw, but I don't know what it was. Was it a ghost or not? I don't know." The tours are Oct. 2 through Oct. 30 from 6 to 10 p.m. $22 adults, $15 children. Reservations required. 860-247-0998 and marktwainhouse.org
>>North Cemetery: Brave souls will be led through the stones of North Cemetery, 80 N. Main St., West Hartford, by a dearly departed guide, who will tell his or her own tale on the journey. Oct. 23, 24, 25 and 30, from 6 to 8:45 p.m. Rain date: Nov. 1, 5 to 7:45 p.m. $9 for children 17 and under; $13 for adults. Not recommended for children under 10. noahwebsterhouse.org and 860-521-5362, Ext. 21.
>>Grove Street Cemetery: Guided tours of the New Haven cemetery are Saturday at 11 a.m. and Sundays at noon through late November. Free. grovestreetcemetery.org
>> Cedar Hill: Hallowed History Lantern Tours on Oct. 30 from 6 to 9 p.m. on the only night the cemetery is open to the public after dark. Visit the final resting places of some of Cedar Hill's notable and not-so-notable residents. $15, reservations required. 860-956-3311 and cedarhillcemetery.org.
>>A Haunting at Mill Hill: Lantern-lit tours through Mill Hill Graveyard, 2 E. Wall St., Norwalk, on Oct. 23 and 24 at 6, 7:30 and 9 p.m. $14; ages 8 to 12, $9. Appropriate for children 8 and up. Information: 203-846-0525 and norwalkhistoricalsociety.org.
>>Witches and Tombstones Tours: The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield offers an up-close and creepy examination of all things macabre Oct. 24 and 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission for the 90-minute tour is $13 a person. Reservations strongly advised: webb-deane-stevens.org or 860-529-0612. Please note: Tours include walking on uneven ground and the use of stairs.
>>'Spirits at Stowe: An Otherworldly Tour': Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford is offering tours in October on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Halloween night. Explore Stowe's involvement with the paranormal and learn about investigations by the Syfy Channel's Ghost Hunters. The 55-minute program recommended for ages 12 and older. $18 per person. Reservations required: 860-522-9258, Ext. 317 and harrietbeecherstowe.org.