Legend has it that in 1834, in the sleepy village of Woodstock, the eldest son of the Corwin family fell ill. His skin paled. His appetite disappeared. And by day, he barely stirred from his bedchamber. Six months after he was buried in Cushing Cemetery, his younger brother was struck with the same affliction. Prominent physicians Dr. Joseph Gallup and Dr. John Powers of the Vermont Medical College examined the boy, searching in vain for a cause or cure – till rumors of vampirism spread.
Fearing that the elder son was rising from the grave to drain the life from his brother, the townspeople gathered at the cemetery. Shovels scratched at the earth, digging deeper and deeper till a trowel hit the coffin with a thud. The coffin lid was pried open. There lay the body of the eldest Corwin son, but for the townspeople, it was not enough.
“Vampire panic” was alive and well in New England, and they were all too familiar with methods for dealing with the undead. Turning over a body in the grave was the most innocent of solutions, but many resorted to burning the organs, inhaling the smoke or consuming the ash from the organs, or decapitation. But for the villagers of Woodstock, examining the heart was the only way to be sure. When an autopsy showed Corwin’s heart contained fresh blood, it was removed, taken to the village green, and burned.
Today, the legend is alive and well in Woodstock, but as there’s no record of the Corwin family in town history, the question remains: is it all just a scary story?
A documented account of an 1817 outbreak of the wasting disease, tuberculous – also known as consumption – seems to indicate yes. Dartmouth College student Frederick Ransom of South Woodstock died of TB on February 14th of that year.
According to Daniel Ransom, a younger brother who was three at the time of Frederick’s death, the family had a susceptibility to tuberculosis, which resulted in loss of appetite, a wan appearance, weakness and fatigue – all the hallmarks of vampirism.
“It was said that if the heart of one of the family who died of consumption was taken out and burned, others would be free from it,” he wrote. “And Father, having some faith in the remedy, had the heart of Frederick taken out after he had been buried, and it was burned in Captain Pearson’s blacksmith forge.” (Source: New England Historical Society).
Sadly, the countermeasure failed, and Daniel’s remaining family succumbed to the sickness – but the fear of vampires as the true culprit lived on, stronger than ever.
Other Spooky Sightings Around Town...
According to Richard Adams, guide for the Woodstock Inn & Resort’s Family Friendly Ghost Tours, there have been quite a few run-ins with phantoms that haunt our historic halls:
A hearing was halted mid-session at the Windsor County Court House when the door behind the judge’s bench swung opened and closed. A pause came over the room. Seconds later, the jury room door, too, swung open and shut on its own accord. A moment’s peace settled in the room until the doors banged open again in reverse. The judge at the bench looked out to the people within the court room and uttered one word: “ghosts.” When left alone in the building, clerks have sworn they heard voices and footsteps filling them empty halls…
Phantom cocktail parties have peppered the past of old Bentley’s Restaurant, with chairs, glasses, and even money straight from the till flying into the air. One reported witness ran from the room, locked the door, and refused to ever set foot in the restaurant again. Others have seen a young girl sitting on the stairs to the upper floor, running, laughing, and disappearing into nothingness when pursued.
Employees at the Woodstock Historical Society knew that the museum’s antique piano was not to be touched, so when one saw a woman seated at the bench, playing, she reached out to stop her – and the woman vanished like a wisp of smoke. It took the museum director over an hour to calm the shaking employee.
Want to uncover more of Woodstock's storied past? Then reach out to the Woodstock History Center!
And if you're a guest of the Woodstock Inn & Resort, you can sign up for a Family Friendly Ghost Tour that'll take you through the village Thursday evenings at 7:30 PM.