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  • Correspondent photo by Eric Stanway

    The Country Tavern in Nashua is reputed to be haunted.
  • Correspondent photo by Eric Stanway

    The top floor of The Country Tavern is supposed to be the most haunted. Is it an orb or just some light on the right side of the photo?
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nashua restaurant seemingly haunted by ghost of captain’s wife

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a first in a series that will explore haunted venues in the New England area throughout October.

It’s that time of year again when the first icy fingers of winter pull the leaves from the trees, when the farm stands are loaded with huge orange pumpkins, when the stores are filled up with superhero costumes and bags of candy corn.

In short, it’s the season of Halloween, when the ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged thingies and things that go bump in the night command our attention.

Over the next five weeks, I’m going to take you on a journey to some of this area’s most haunted spots.

When writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft referred to New England, he used odd and arcane words such as “eldritch” and “hoary.” That isn’t without good reason – as the area first settled by Europeans, this place has hundreds of years of dark and twisted history. There are echoes here of ancient atrocities, of souls lost in torment, doomed to wander throughout the centuries.

Our first trip takes us down the busy thoroughfare of Route 101A, which winds through Milford and Amherst on its way to Nashua. Now an area thronging with traffic and businesses, this used to be farms and fields, stretching as far as the eye could see.

It was here, back in 1741, that a certain Captain Ford, a seaman of English extraction, built his house and moved in with his wife, the vivacious 22-year-old Elizabeth.

Allegedly, there were problems right from the start. For one thing, Elizabeth’s husband was many years her senior; second, his voyages could take him away from home for months at a time.

On this particular occasion, the captain had been at sea for about a year. Upon his return, he was horrified to discover that his wife had given birth.

The captain immediately flew into a homicidal rage, locking Elizabeth in a closet for a couple of days. Upon releasing her, he told her that he had killed the child and disposed of the body.

Understandably incensed, Elizabeth attacked her husband. In the fracas, he stabbed her to death, and tossed her body into a well behind the house.

What became of the captain isn’t really recorded, but the legend of Elizabeth, wandering around the house in search of her lost child, lives on.

The residence was converted into a restaurant in the 1980s and now exists as The Country Tavern. The change in venue hasn’t slowed Elizabeth down one bit, however, and she’s still as prominent a fixture in the house as ever.

As ghosts go, however, Elizabeth is pretty benign. Sure, she likes to move dishes around occasionally, but there’s hardly any malice in her paranormal pranks.

“I’m actually a bit of a skeptic,” said John Randall, manager of The Country Tavern. “So, I’ve never seen anything here that would lead me to believe in ghosts.

“On the other hand, there have been so many other people who have experienced things that I just can’t really throw it out.”

Randall says the ghost of Elizabeth Ford has excited a great deal of attention from the local media and paranormal investigation societies.

“We’ve been here for 15 years, and the stories go back many years before us,” he said. “We had one of these investigation groups come in here at night with their recording equipment and infrared cameras, and they said they found a lot of things.”

A Telegraph story from several years ago by Judith M. Bennett recounted an experience by former restaurant Manager Bonnie Gamache, who was also initially a skeptic.

“I make no bones about it that I thought this ghost business was a bit of bunk at the beginning,” she said at the time. “But one day a family from Virginia, who used to live in this house, came in to eat and spoke fondly of Elizabeth playing with their young son. The son, now a 35-year-old attorney, was with them and corroborated all this. I began to believe it all then.”

Randall says the “hot spot” of the haunting is in the bathrooms and dining room of the upstairs section of what used to be the barn.

“Some of the staff will see a shadow up there or something brushing by them,” he said. “One customer was seated for dinner and actually saw the salt and pepper shakers moving across the table.”

Although deteriorated by the centuries, the sites of the crimes are still clearly visible. The apple tree, where Captain Ford allegedly buried the baby, was extant until relatively recently.

“That apple tree was as old as the house,” Randall said. “It was such a centerpiece of the property that the previous owners did all they could to preserve it. They put cement in the base of the tree where it was rotting out, and tied it down with cables.

“Then, about 10 or 11 years ago, a storm came through and blew the whole thing down. You can still see the stump and the cement base, though.”

And what of the old well, where Elizabeth was said to have been dumped after her murder?

“It’s still out there, next to the road that leads out to the airport,” Randall said. “It’s covered by a plank, and pretty much filled in. But you can still see it.”

Among those who have encountered the ghost, she’s described as a girl in a long, flowing white dress and blond hair. Occasionally, she has been observed gazing wistfully out of the barn windows into the yard, where her baby was buried.

Randall took me on a tour of the grounds, where I shot some photos of the remnants of the apple tree marking the grave of the child and the site of the well where Elizabeth’s remnants are said to lie. Then we went into the upstairs dining room, the area where the haunting was said to be at its most intense.

There, I shot four photographs of the room. The first three were completely clear, but the fourth showed evidence of “orbs” – that is, spherical blobs of light generally associated with psychic phenomena.

If you look at the photo, you can see two of them, one directly in front of the beam and the other a little to the right.

I’m not necessarily claiming that this photo is evidence of ghosts. I didn’t take the photo with that intention. However, it’s interesting to note that we were discussing Elizabeth Ford immediately prior to taking the picture. It’s tempting to think that she was, perhaps, putting in an appearance for our benefit.

Eric Stanway can be reached at www.EricStanway.com or Eric.Stanway@yahoo.com.