A Ghost Hunt on the Seacoast

By Tricia Keegan

New Hampshire Seacoast Sunday, October 30, 1988

[A ghost hunter with national credentials finds plenty to get spooked about at two 'haunted houses.']

Ghost hunter Norman Gauthier, right, and Hampton's Superintendent of Cemeteries Roland Paige visit the gravesite of Valentine Marston at the High Street Cemetery near town hall.
[Tricia Keegan Photos]

With furrowed brow and an expression of intense concentration, Norm Gauthier settles into a wooden chair at a gateleg table patinated to a warm hue. His normally infectious grin flashes briefly as he puts on the headphones and quickly checks his reel-to-reel recording equipment. Tonight Norm Gauthier is tuning into the spirit world. He's ghost hunting.

Ghost hunting with Gauthier is not just a Halloween parlor game. He firmly believes in the exploration of other dimensions, and on a recent visit to the Seacoast, he found plenty to explore.

A native New Englander, now living in Manchester, his past occupations have included private detective and disc jockey. His recently published book, "A Guide to New Hampshire Haunted Places You Can Visit", has enhanced his already strong reputation in the field.

In many years of research, he has visited over 150 "haunted houses" throughout the United States, and has gained public recognition throughout the world. Since 1981, he has been teaching adult education evening courses on such phenomena at a number of New Hampshire colleges. He lectures extensively to social and civic groups, and has appeared on network TV shows, like, "That's Incredible."

The tabloid WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, which loves to report on the "paranormal," calls Gauthier, "One of the country's leading experts on haunted buildings."

"I never charge for any of the research including the visits," says Gauthier. "It's my hobby to begin with and I consider it a broadening of my own world ... my own horizon."

He recently visited the Seacoast and although circumstances prevented any recording sessions, he interviewed past and present owners of two local homes in a search for resident ghosts.

Starting at the Marston House

Gauthier began his research by contacting Hampton Town Clerk Jane Kelley, who led him to several people familiar with the Marston House, as it is known locally.

The resident ghost in this 200-year-old cape is thought to be the spirit of an 11-year old boy, dressed in a little sailor suit and named Valentine Marston. Hampton's Superintendent of Cemeteries Roland Paige took Gauthier to the gravesite of young Valentine, born Feb. 14, 1879 - died Oct. 12, 1890.

The Marston House was originally located on Route One in the area next to The Greenery at 883 Lafayette Road and Watson's Lane in Hampton. It is presently owned by Sandy and Brian Payne, who had the house moved to 194 Woodland Road in Hampton.

The Paynes say they don't feel the presence of any spirits, but they told Gauthier of some strange incidents. Sandy spoke of having people come to her door, asking to visit the house, and regaling her with ghost stories.

Sandy says most people in town think Valentine was shot, and died of blood poisoning. Gauthier's research revealed that the boy was accidently shot while hunting.

Sandy could not remember names, but she vividly recalled the elderly lady, a neighbor of the Marston House, who was hanging her laundry on a backyard clothesline. "She turned and saw him behind her," said Sandy. Another person claims to have had pages in her recipe book constantly turn while she was cooking in the kitchen of the Marston House.

More factual occurrences were recalled by Brian Payne, owner of Payne Building Movers. Brian's company has moved literally hundreds of buildings over the years, and had a contract to move the Marston House. When the prospective buyer learned the house was reputedly haunted, she wanted nothing to do with it and the Paynes stepped in, purchased it, and moved it to its present location in the fall of 1982.

"We've moved many, many buildings and in all the years we've blown tires just a few times," noted Brian. "When we moved this house it was a load of only eight tons (up to 37 tons is common). We left the lot and a tire blew. We continued, and blew a second tire just a mile and a half down the road."

When Gauthier asked if such a thing had ever happened before, Payne said no. This was the first time he ever had two blow-outs and found it strange since it was not a particularly heavy load.

Brian said the only other incident he knows of happened to him while he was sitting in the living room. He has a mirror on the wall with an eagle about it.

"For no apparent reason, the eagle would flip upside down. Happened five or six times," Brian said.

Does living in a home that supposedly has a ghost make the Paynes apprehensive?

"No," answered Sandy Payne. "I'd like to see him. He sounds like a friendly ghost."

Memories of former owners

Former owners of the home have quite a different story to tell. "We had a lot of activity from him," recalls Lisa Clements. The Clements lived in the house at its former location from December of 1972 to August of 1977. Hampton Town Clerk Kelley described the Clements as "pretty down to earth."

When they moved in, the family consisted of Lisa, who was then about 11 years old, her teen-aged sister Geneva, their mother Jackie, their stepfather Earnest Salvatore and his son John.

According to Jackie Salvatore, the first incident occurred shortly after they moved in. The two girls shared an upstairs bedroom; the parents bedroom was downstairs and so was the bathroom.

Geneva was sick, and got up several times during the night, coming downstairs to use the bathroom. As most mothers do, Jackie was paying attention to her daughter's coming and going and finally heard her settle down for the night. Later Jackie heard footsteps going down the stairs again, and concerned for Geneva, she got up to check on her. Geneva was not in the bathroom but was sound asleep in her bed. Hearing footsteps was commonly experienced by members of the Clements family.

Lisa Clements, however, claims to have actually seen the Valentine ghost. "It happened when I was about 15 years old," She remembers. Her bed was situated so that she could see into the hall. "One night I woke suddenly, looked into the hall and saw a little boy, no hat, but with slate blue eyes, a little sailor suit, with red piping," she continued. "We stared at each other for a few minutes. I was so scared I could not move. I couldn't make a sound. Then he walked right through the second floor window. That's when I screamed. I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs. I realized it was Valentine and knew he would not hurt me, but to actually see him was very frightening."

Jackie Salvatore remembers another time when she and her sister were inside the house and her husband and brother-in-law were out in the yard. Several times the women heard the door open and close, yet no one came in. Later they were all sitting in the living room listening to old pipe organ music obtained on a visit to the Hammond Castle.

"Suddenly there was tremendous banging on the back door. When I went to the door no one was there. My brother-in-law got very upset and did not want to visit after that," laughed Jackie.

Subject of a Seance

During the time the Clements family lived in the house, Winnacunnet High school history teacher Russ Charron taught a class called Symbols, Facts and Fashions.

"It was an attempt to teach U.S. History with a little bit of sugar on it," says Charron, who still teaches at Winnacunnet.

Just before Halloween, the class talked about superstitions of the season. The subject of seances came up, and so did the Marston House.

Someone suggested a seance, and Charron remembers saying, "Yeah, sure, right ... if we have a seance, the whole class goes."

Charron continued, "Well, they wanted to go and I didn't know the first thing about it, but one of the girls in the class did."

The entire class went to the Marston House and held two seances in the evening. The first was in the living room with about 15 students, teacher Charron and Jackie Salvatore present.

The statements of Jackie Salvatore and Russ Charron, remembering this incident from over 10 years ago and interviewed separately, correspond.

The students sat around in a circle with a large, fat candle in the center.

"There were no weird incantations, no witchcraft sort of stuff," says Charron. "All she (one of the students) said was, 'Valentine Marston, if you are present, give us a sign.' This was in October and there were no windows open, no drafts in the room."

Charron and Salvatore both remember the candle would not flame very well and kept flickering. The request was repeated several times and suddenly the candle flamed up straight.

"A kid screamed and the candle stopped burning," said Salvatore. "When the flame flared up, it cast a three to four foot shadow, totally out of proportion to the candle, against the wall. Each time something happened in the house, we would explain it away, but I could not explain that away."

After a break, the class held a second session in the downstairs bedroom where Valentine supposedly died. This time one of the students, a young girl, did not want to sit in the circle and sat alone on the middle of the bed. Jackie Salvatore sat in a corner where she could see both the girl and the circle. One of the students took a jack-knife out of his pocket and set it on the windowsill before he joined the circle.

This time there was no response as they sat in the circle and waited. Giving up, everyone stood and prepared to leave. The student could not find his jack-knife.

A search of the room turned up the jack-knife under the bed. Salvatore remembers it being in the center of the bed and Charron remembers it being toward one end, but they both agree the knife was moved under the bed, although no one touched it.

"No one went near the window," said Salvatore. "There was no sound of anything being dropped from the windowsill to the floor ... I saw the girl on the bed all the time and she did not move."

"There are wooden floors, but there was no sound of anything falling," Charron remembers. "It was interesting. I'd never say whether I believe in ghosts, but there are strange things that can happen. You never can tell."

After his interviews and research, Gauthier was convinced he'd encountered a legitimate phenomenon at the Marston House.

"This is one of the most fascinating pieces of research I have come across in the 150 or so places I have done to date," he said. "I have run across apparitions before, but this is the first ever where the presence was experienced both inside and outside the building."

"When you think about it, though, it makes sense," he continued. "In dealing with young people it is certainly conceivable, since they spend an equal amount of time outside as well as inside. Valentine could go back and forth between the old site and the present house -- there are no maps in the spirit world. He could be both playing in the yard in a joyful adventure, and also visiting the home he was born and brought up in."

The ghost of Annie Merrill

Gauthier's Seacoast search led him inland to the town of Stratham, where he visited an antique home of undetermined age (assumed to be close to 300 years old since thatched roofing was found when the roof was repaired years ago).

Ruth Conery owns this home on the corner of Frying Pan Lane and Bunker Hill Avenue and has lived there since 1953. The house was reputedly haunted by the ghost of Annie S. Merrill, who died at the age of 21, committing suicide by hanging herself in the woodshed connecting the house and barn.

This ghost was never seen by the Conery's, but her presence was felt in many ways and physical evidence of Annie Merrill's existence was found in the caves of the roof when it was rebuilt.

The Conerys found a tiny diary with cryptic notes, an envelope addressed to Mrs. Frank E. Berry, Stratham, % Edgar Smith, four colorful calling cards (one for Annie Merrill and three in the name of Frank E. Berry), and finally a suicide note written in verse. The diary has notations from 1878 to 1882.

By piecing together notes from the diary and the suicide poem, Ruth Conery tells the tale of a young girl still in love with a man who jilted her.

At the age of 17, (diary notation says "received my En. ring Dec. 18, 1878") Annie became engaged to Frank Berry. He apparently broke the engagement and married Mary S. Jewell on October 15, 1881. Town records confirm this, and on that day, Annie noted in her diary:

"FEB Married, Oct. 15th, 1881. May your pathway ever be strewn with flowers is the wish of a friend."

References to death begin in Annie's diary with a notation on Jan. 3, 1882, with a poem saying:

"Shall we not meet in heavens bright home
where parting words are never spoken
and love is not a brittle band so lightly broken."

Ruth Conery conjectures that Annie may have been pregnant, although no such reference exists in the diary and other documents. The diary notations do indicate that she continued meeting Frank Berry secretly in the neighboring orchard even after his marriage.

Parts of Annie's suicide poem seem to confirm the fact that she was jilted, yet still in love with Frank. Tattered and faded from age, it says in part,

"O the love I fondly cherished
From the heart I deemed so true
proved to be so cold and cruel
God alone its meaning knew.

But that heart I wish no sorrow
may it be from sin stain free
God is just and He will deal with him
As He has dealt with me ...

Let my ring be on my finger
For it was his pledge of love
And the night he placed it here
God looked on us from above ...
If you ever speak do tell him
That in death I prayed for him

Prayed that I one day might meet him
In a land that's free from sin
Tell him that the day he left me
Life to me was but a blank
Light, love, hope, joy, it vanished
Vanished with my darling Frank."

Ruth Conery's daughter, Virginia Conti, remembers living in the home as a young girl. Her bedroom was on the second floor.

"I always had to have the door shut from the room next to my bedroom or I could not sleep," said Conti, who was four years old when she moved into the house. The room she refers to is thought to have been Annie's room.

She talked about mysterious occurrences, the most common one involving a door to the pantry, leading to the woodshed and outdoors. It would open and shut of its own accord on a regular basis.

"I saw the door open by itself," noted Conti. Ruth Conery also remembers vividly the door opening and closing. "It never bothered me or my husband," she said. "My husband would just look at me and say, 'Oh, Annie's out tonight." It happened more in the early evening."

Activated by children

The presence of small children seemed to activate the ghost of Annie Merrill. "My nephew, who was two weeks old, visited and was not able to sleep. He just screeched and hollered," mused Conery. "He never wanted to sleep upstairs ... and there was a plastic tub that we used to give him a bath. We'd hang it on a hook in the pantry and it would keep falling off. So my husband put it on an L-hook ... didn't change a thing. It still kept falling off."

Ruth Conery is now widowed and one way she makes money is to babysit neighborhood pets. She has as many as five dogs at a time and considers herself knowledgeable regarding dog behavior.

"We used to sell Christmas trees," she recalls, "and once some regular customers brought a collie dog into the house to visit. He wandered over near the stairs. Every hair stood straight up and he turned and cowered under his master's feet at the kitchen table."

She continued, "We had a deaf dog when we first moved here. She would go over to the stairs and stand there as if she heard something." Virginia Conti also remembers the dog acting very apprehensively.

Ruth Conery recalls that within six years after moving into the house, the activity from the ghost of Annie Merrill became very strong. It continued through the years, but after the material was discovered in the roof, the activity stopped.

Was Annie's ghost satisfied once her story was known? Did she really haunt this house, her home and the site of her suicide? "Most people in town tend to believe it is true," says Ruth Conery. Gauthier is also convinced, and he believes the spirit of Annie Merrill is finally at peace.

"Without a doubt this is the saddest haunting experience I've had so far," he said. "It is always a tragedy when a young person takes her own life. Annie's spirit appears to have been in turmoil because of the tragic events in her life. It seems to me that once the diary and poem that she had hidden were found, and the story came out, this certainly helped put the soul to rest. This seems to be proven by the fact that no experiences have been reported since the material was discovered."

Gauthier's conclusion may be correct, but his own experience has shown there are no established ground rules for exploring other dimensions, and everything is open to interpretation.

(Tricia Keegan is a freelance writer and real estate agent living in Stratham, NH.)

Hampton Town Clerk Jane Kelley reviews town records with ghost hunter Norman Gauthier, as he begins his research into the Marston House.
[Tricia Keegan Photos]

The Marston House, moved from its previous location corner of Watson's Lane and Lafayette Road to this site on Woodlawn Road in Hampton, is thought to be haunted by the ghost of a young boy killed in a hunting accident In 1890.
[Tricia Keegan Photos]

Ruth Conery shows Norman Gauthier the diary and suicide note of Annie Merrill.
[Tricia Keegan Photos]

The home of Ruth Conery, at the corner of Bunker Hill Avenue and Frying Pan Lane in thought to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who committed suicide In 1882.
[Tricia Keegan Photos]

This material from the late 19th century was found during roof repair at the Conery home. The picture in the center may or may not be Annie Merrill, whose ghost was thought to haunt the house. The photo is surrounded by tattered calling cards that belonged to Annie and her estranged lover, as well as Annie's suicide note/poem.
[Tricia Keegan Photos]

For more on Val Marston click here.