Manchester storytellers share tales of Northshire vampires and ghosts

Visitors to the Equinox Hotel in Manchester, above, have described ghostly activity.

MANCHESTER -- Today, the Northshire -- Manchester and its surrounding environs -- is known mostly as a tourist destination. But once ghosts and vampires were said to roam here, and some say mysterious goings-on occur to this day.

Joe Durwin, one of the region's folklorists and purveyors of the paranormal, studied anthropology in college and finds such stories fascinating. The Northshire has a history of these tales, he said, like the 1793 Rachel Burton vampire incident and the 1819 Russell Colvin murder.

In 1789, Captain Isaac Burton married Rachel Harris, who fell ill and died a year later of consumption, now better known as tuberculosis. Soon after, Burton married Hulda Powel, who quickly showed signs of deteriorating health.

In 1793, as Hulda grew sicker, Burton's family and close friends decided to take action to save his second wife, Durwin said. It became widely believed Rachel had been a vampire, whose spirit was sucking the life blood out of Hulda.

"There was a notion in several areas of New England -- Manchester apparently being one of them -- that if someone was deemed a vampire, then disinterring their remains and torching certain vital organs would help the cause of others who were ill," Durwin said. "Rachel's newfound status asa vampire wasn't good news for Hulda. So, if Rachel was dealt with appropriately, the thought was this would save Hulda."

According to eye-witness accounts, on a frigid February morning in 1793, an unruly crowd headed to Rachel's grave. They dug it up, removed what remained of her heart, liver and lungs, and burned them on the blacksmith's forge.

"They believed the demon had been slain," Durwin said. "Unfortunately, it didn't save Hulda, who died soon after. These types of vampire spirit-slaying rituals continued in New England right up to 1891. Public backlash and outrage against them finally put a halt to it."

The next major supernatural intrigue involved the alleged 1819 murder of Russell Colvin, which spurred a debate between the presence of a ghost and an imposter.

Colvin, who was married to the expecting Sally Boorn, vanished without a trace. Sally's brothers, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, were suspected of foul play. In 1825, the ghost of Colvin reportedly appeared to Sally's Uncle Amos, claiming the two brothers killed him. This led Amos to dig up some of Russell's artifacts in the Boorn cellar -- led there by Colvin's ghost.

"After many legal shenanigans, the two brothers were tried and convicted of Russell Colvin's murder, and Stephen was sentenced to hang," Durwin said. "At the 11th hour, Russell miraculously shows up and exonerates the brothers of his killing. But then, almost immediately, he vanishes again."

For years afterward, Durwin said, a debate raged as to whether Russell's ghost reappeared to right a wrong or supporters of the Boorn brothers had conspired to employ and train a doppelganger to stand in as Russell and cast doubt on the legal process.

The case has never been solved, but has famously become known by the title of a book on the subject, "The Counterfeit Man." It's also studied in the nation's law schools, a ghoulish legacy from post-Colonial Northshire.

"These kinds of stories from Manchester set the stage for credulity in the paranormal to carry over into the present day, specifically in the haunting of the Equinox," Durwin said.

The Equinox Hotel and its related properties, a sprawling resort anchoring Manchester Village, has been in operation since 1769. It has also been home to numerous reports of ghosts and mysterious occurrences.

Joseph A. Citro, a Vermont researcher of the supernatural, has written many books on the subject, including the recent "Vermont Haunts" and "Joe Citro's Vermont Odditorium." He said he was uncertain when Vermont's grandest hotel picked up its eerie reputation, but he first heard about the ghosts in 1996 from a former Equinox employee.

Over the years, he said, housekeepers have been afraid to enter certain rooms because of unaccountable noises, rapid changes in air temperature or things that vanish and appear elsewhere.

"[A] source told me housekeepers and security staff have witnessed peculiar goings on in a certain room on the second-floor north," he said. "Ice chests, chairs and things that just suddenly appeared in the room were discovered piled up like a pyramid, stacked one on top of another. The people I talked to found the event impossible to interpret."

According to Citro, one employee recalled a hotel guest who worked for Guinness Corporation. He went into his room, put his keys on the table, then stepped out for a moment. When he came back his keys had been separated from the chain and thrown all over the room.

Many of the staff he interviewed reported odd multi-sensual phenomena on the third floor and south wing, he said. Still others spoke of self-moving furniture.

There has long been speculation on the identity of the vaporized visitors, according to Citro. Possibilities range from Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, to William Marsh -- who owned the original tavern on the site which the Equinox was later built -- and George Orvis, son of then-Equinox owner Franklin Orvis. George vanished in 1918 when heading out to the property's pond to fish or swim, never to return.

On considering the Equinox reports, Durwin spoke as an anthropologist, but left just enough room for conjecture appropriate to Halloween.

"As humans, we develop stories over generations, and then gravitate to them to help explain the world around us," he said. "That's called folklore. But the unexplained sometimes remains that way. When we can't account for it completely, well, that's just very interesting."