Haunted northern RI, Part II: The Swamp, The Town Trader & The Cemetery Ghost

Charlie Wilson, owner of The Town Trader, says he sometimes shares the space with the ghost of Lydia Slocum.

Editor’s note: The below content is the second installment of a series on local ghost stories, offered as part of our Fall Guide. Read Part I here. A printable pdf of the complete guide is available here, and can be accessed through the “Fall” tab, where it will remain through October 31.

In part II of our series on haunted northern Rhode Island, get the details on three allegedly ghostly stops to add to your tour this Halloween.

The Black Swamp 

Where: Willie Woodhead Road, Glocester 

The Legend: Eerie rumors of a legendary rural corner of Rhode Island caught the attention of two of the state’s writers of weird tales. In September of 1923, H. P. Lovecraft and C.M. Eddy sought to visit the Black Swamp of Glocester to see for themselves where alleged weird goings on happened under acreage of the canopy of tall old trees with roots treacherously tangled in moist ground. 

Was it true that some who ventured into the town’s murky woods close to the Putnam, Conn. border never came out again? Lovecraft called his and Eddy’s purpose for seeking the mysterious Glocester woods “a quest of the grotesque and the terrible.”

Was there any basis of the whispers Eddy had heard of a Grendel-like creature of mythology lurking in the forest, or some sinister, mysterious force doing in those who dared step into the dark?

The History: The stories of the Dark Swamp date back to when colonists were settling the area. It is said that the newcomers were warned of the swamp and its curse by the natives of the area. Henry L. P.Beckwith in his 1979 book Lovecraft’s Providence & Adjacent Parts states the Black Forest was “rumored to be the lair of “IT.” Whatever “IT” may have been…” 

Such rumors seem to have been what brought imaginative Lovecraft and Eddy to Glocester.  Lovecraft’s impression of Glocester was of “a veritable  bucolic poem – a study in ancient New-England village atmosphere.”But Lovecrat and Eddy never did find their mysterious woodland location.  Instead, the duo spinners of strange tales talked with residents of the town and visited their homes. However, Lovecraft and Eddy’s venture to Glocester is still written of one hundred years later, and one reason is each writer penned a short story supposedly influenced by the Black Swamp. “Black Noon” is the title of the unfinished tale by Eddy. He wrote it 1967; the same year he died. The introduction of Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space” is also said to have been inspired by the Black Swamp. 

Get there: Trails through the area known as the Dark Swamp can be accessed via a cul-de-sac at the end of Willie Woodhead Road and are part of the Durfee Hill Management Area. According to a blog by one hiker, after entering the trail, one can head toward the swamp by bearing to the right and following the blue blazed North South Trail headed south. Starting looking for a trail on the right at about 9/10 of a mile into the hike and take it, followed by an almost immediate left the blog at trailsandwalksri.wordpress.com explains. Continue straight, passing a spur trail on the right, and the trail vanishes into a field of ferns. There, you will get your first glimpse of the Dark Swamp with its near black water covered with a twisted brush. A GPS device is recommended as most of the trails are not marked and there are many side trails. Hunting is allowed and blaze orange is required during hunting season.

The Town Trader

Where: 1177 Putnam Pike, Chepachet 

The legend & history: When Charlie Wilson purchased the property at 1177 Putnam Pike in Chepachet that he later established as The Town Trader antique shop, he says he found the building has an unexpected inhabitant – and she wasn’t a shopper. 

Wilson says he saw the specter of a woman long passed away.

“I didn’t believe in ghosts until it happened,” Wilson said.

In 2005 Wilson bought the circa 1690 building known as the Lydia Slocum House – the long dead woman Wilson says he’s since seen. Ziba Slocum, a prominent lawyer who served as Rhode Island Attorney from 1887-1888, was born in the house, and another resident, Charles Carlton, served in the Spanish-American War of 1898. 

Wilson renovated the building, “bringing it back to the old way.” He lowered the ceiling that had previously been raised. He also dissembled an old building in Pascoag to use in the renovation.

The front area of The Town Trader building is the most historic, and was a trading post in 1690.

The newer part of Wilson’s building is dated to 1780, when it was a home inhabited by Lydia Slocum and family. Wilson says he encountered the supernatural in the upstairs of the building. 

It was in 2006, and he was in the attic late at night reading a book when he experienced “an awful chill.” 

Then “from right out a nowhere,” came, “a white silhouette.” 

Wilson says encountering Lydia Slocum’s ghost, he felt a sense of calm.  

“She doesn’t scare me,” he said.

Since then, he has been visited by Lydia a few times “when it’s real quiet and late.” 

Wilson thinks she hangs around the old homestead because of tragedy that struck her family. She married at 17 and had four children – only two survived.  Of the young boy and girl who died, one was age six and the other nine. It’s said one of Lydia’s youngsters suffered from small pox and the other from diphtheria.

Tragedy struck the family again when Lydia died of consumption at age 36. Her ghost is around because, “maybe she didn’t want to leave her two children,” speculates Wilson.

Lydia’s family line survived. In 2006, Wilson brought descendants of Slocum to Chepachet. The descendants shared the family history, including from a family Bible.  Lydia’s descendants inhabited the building into the 1950s. 

Wilson says more than once he’s been asked by customers if the store has a resident ghost. 

“I feel a presence,” some of these customers reportedly said to him.

Get there: The Town Trader is open 10-5 daily, closed Tuesday. At Christmas The Town Trader and other businesses in Chepachet participate in candlelight shopping with costumed carolers – just the type of scene Lydia Slocum might have appreciated. Maybe the specter will make an appearance for holiday shoppers.  

The Ghost of Hannah Franke   

Where: Log Road, Historical Cemetery #108, Burrillville

The legend: The apparition is around night and day, say those who have stumbled upon the supernatural sight of a near-transparent woman wandering a wooded section of North Smithfield near the borders of Smithfield and Burrillville. Author and ghost expert Tom D’Agostino, who lived for several years in Burrillville and was raised in Smithfield, says it is the ghost is Hannah Franke.  He and wife Arlene Nicholson are the authors more than a dozen books including Ghosts of the Blackstone Valley, Haunted Rhode Island, and their latestStrange New England. The couple conduct, “hands-on interactive paranormal experience where you are the main investigator,” at allegedly haunted places such as Tavern on Main in Glocester and the famous Colonial Inn in Concord, Mass., according to D’Agostino’s site diningwiththedead1031.com.

The legend: As D’Agostino tells it, the legend begins when Franke was working for the Walmsleys. John Burke was a peripatetic peddler who came to town and fell in love with Franke. He would visit the Walmsleys and bring gifts for the worker. 

Brothers Thomas and Amasa Walmsley apparently didn’t approve. John and Hannah had to meet in secret. He gave his love a beautiful shell necklace. He proposed to her. She accepted.

On September 18, 1831, Hanna had packed her belongings and was ready to leave and be wed. D’Agostino explains the Walmsley men pretended to approve of the impending nuptials; for, they, “were nice and cordial,” towards the couple and celebrated with them with drinks. Then hell broke loose on the couple as they traveled along Log Road at Horsehead Trail. Thomas and Amasa Walmsley were said to have ambushed the couple and beat them. John broke free from the attackers to try to lure them away from Hannah. 

But the perpetrators caught up with John — and beheaded him.

D’Agostino says there is an apparition at the site where Hannak Franke & John Burke were buried.

Then they went after Hannah and attacked her. She somehow got herself to a tree, that according to her beliefs, was a place of peace. Then she died. The two men went back for the bodies and buried them at a hidden grave in the woods in what is now known as the Burke-Frank lot near Nichols Pond.

Amasa was seen walking around in a blood stained shirt; he gave excuses for the blood. 

However, a sister of his told on him.

Thus ends the tragic tale, says D’Agostino, adding that Amasa was convicted of murder. His brother Thomas was also arrested. He died in prison, explains D’Agostino. 

Amasa Walmsley swore his innocence because, he said, he was intoxicated, and the murder supposedly stemmed from an alleged theft. He was hanged June 1, 1832, in the public square in Providence, and as many as 15,000 people watched. 

D’agostino says people walking in the woods have glimpsed the ghost of Hannah. He thinks the ghost is possibly searching for the shell necklace that was torn from her neck. 

Get there: Historic Cemetery #108 is located on Log Road in Burrillville between the turnoffs for Bayberry Road and Laurel Woods Drive.

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