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“Things That Go Bump in the Night-a fireplace story” by Ben Jacques

As we approach Halloween, the days getting shorter and the nights longer, I recall a story about the early settlers, told by Silas Dean. Dean was the Stoneham town clerk in the 1850s, but the event could have occurred a century before that.

As Dean tells it, it happened one night in an old house “a few rods to the northeast” of the Matthews farm. Although some in the village thought this “ancient house” to be haunted, a family lived there–parents, children, and perhaps grandparents.

On this particular evening, the father was away and not expected to return home until late. After supper and chores, the mother and brood gathered around the fireplace. All of a sudden, they were startled by a loud noise.

Before we go any further, consider that in their time, the nights were dark. We do not know dark anymore, as we are flooded with electrical lights in our homes and on our streets. Even our cell phones cast a pale light about us.

For this family, a few candles would have sufficed to light their way into the envelope of darkness, as they retreated from the hearth. Opening up the door or shutters would perhaps have provided a faint light on a clear moon lit evening — but in other words– it was as dark as the inside of a thief’s pocket!

Back to the mother and her children huddled around the fire, trying hard to dispel whatever rumors that they had heard about their house being haunted. Suddenly, Boom, than another boom then another. As Dean tells the story: “It came stamp, stamp, down the garret stairs; it then came to the entry stairs, which led to a lower door, and with increased force came pound into the entry below.”

For what must have seemed like an eternity, the family huddled together, until, late that night, husband and father returned. Opening the entry door, he found sitting on the floor before him, “a good lusty pumpkin.”

Earlier that week, the family had harvested their pumpkins, which they had hauled up the stairs to the attic for storage.

Was it the ghost that disturbed the pumpkins in the garret, sending this one crashing down to terrorize the homesteaders? Silas Dean, perhaps with tongue in cheek, remarks simply:

Whether the house was ever afterwards haunted, is not known.”

We can be sure, however, that this little tale of things that go bump in the night was told and retold around fireplaces for years to come.