A Childhood Ghost Story2019-01-13 07:18 pm Updated 4 years and 2 months ago
As an author of supernatural fiction, my stories often have a ghost or two as part of the storyline. As such, I am often asked if I have had my own ghost story. Well that answer is YES; and here is one of many.
I was born in New York City in 1953. We moved to Brooklyn in 1957, actually the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, (the setting for my first book of the same name). We lived there for several years until I was nine years old, when we moved to Beverly Massachusetts.
Above is a photo of our home in Beverly. It is located at 142 Hale Street and still stands to this day almost exactly as it did when I lived there. My family resided on the first floor of the main house. My bedroom windows were the two windows you can see to the left of the front door.
According to local history, the land on which the house stands, in fact many of the homes on Hale street, were once part of the Hale Estate. The Hale family was quite well to do in the early 1700’s and was part of the founding of Beverly when it broke off from Salem. The street was named after them. The Hale Estate is also known as the Hale Farm and is currently open to visitors. Hale farm is located at 39 Hale Street. My old address is about a mile away from the main residence.
The Hale Farm was built by Pastor John Hale who served as the head of Beverly’s First Parish Church until his death in 1700. He is buried in the Abbot Street cemetery. According to historical documents, Hale played a role in the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials and later wrote a book, “A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft,” in an effort to explain what had happened. That book was written at Hale Farm. In his book, Hale voiced his regrets for what happened at the trials and apologized to those whose lives were affected.
Many of the houses around Hale farm were built for family members, as was the home at 142 Hale Street. The original house was built for Robert Hale the middle son of John and his first wife Rebecca. Robert became a doctor. He married Elizabeth Somerby Gilman and raised a number of children including Rebecca Chipman; Col. Robert Hale and Henry Hale. Robert and his family lived in the house until his death in 1702.
The home remained on and off in the Hale family until 1835 when the original structure burned to the ground. The current main structure was built in 1900 with the addition being added sometime thereafter.
When the Farina family took up residence, the house contained sixteen rooms with eight bedrooms and five full baths. The house had been divided into four separate apartments. The main house contained two apartments, ours on the first floor and a second apartment on the second floor. The expansion also contained two apartments one on each floor.
The backyard was a child’s paradise. The yard was large by any standard and encompassed nearly 11,000 square feet. For a kid from the city this was huge! There were trees along the property line on one side, a small carriage house on the other and nothing but open space in the middle. The far back end opened onto a side street that led to a park. For me and my brother this was a dream come true. We lived there for four years.
During that time, there were many strange events that took place in and around the home. There were noises at all hours of the night. We often heard foot steps in the hall leading to the second floor. Logic said it was the upstairs tenants, but for two years the upstairs remained unrented so there was no one there.
My father would often hear the foot falls and run into the hall expecting to catch a trespasser, but there was never anyone there. Sometimes he would stand in the hall and watch the stair well. Although it remained empty, he would still hear the foot falls climbing the stairs.
Now the skeptics reading this will say, “it was an old house. Creaking and settling sounds are completely expected. There were no ghosts.” For the most part I would agree with you except for the following event.
One summer day in July 1963, my father decided it was time to trim out some of the old trees that were growing along the property line. There was a stand of white birch trees along the property line that extended from the back of the house all the way to the road at the end of the property. There must have been over 100 trees in all. Many were dead or dying, choked out due to the density of the stand. Some of you may know the white birch as a tree that is about six inches in diameter, grows very straight and was used by Indians for building and other items for use in the home. Later its bark was used as a sort of paper.
My father enlisted my help in cutting down some of the trees. Now this was a time long before chain saws and so my father got out his trusty axe and we began to cut the trees down one by one. I remember it was a Saturday morning when we started. The day was not too hot, and the sun was hidden behind some light clouds. A perfect day for hard labor.
Since the trees were not very large, it didn’t take too long to fell them. We first attacked the dead trees, cutting them down low to the ground and hauling out the debris into the center of the yard for later disposal. My father got me to help by promising a bon fire when we were done.
By noon, we had cleared about a ten-foot section. We had much more to go, when my mother called out from the kitchen window. The window looked directly onto the back yard, the perfect vantage point to keep an eye on my brother and I when we were alone in the yard. “Time for lunch, you woodsmen need some food and drink. Wash up and come in, lunch is ready.”
We waved to my mom, indicating we heard her. We had been working another tree and were almost done. Not wanting to stop in the middle of the cut, my father decided to take this one down before we broke for lunch. We only had a few whacks to go to drop it, so my father drew the axe and hit the tree three or four times and down it came. We left the tree where it fell, and my father buried the axe into the freshly cut stump.
Taking a handkerchief out of his back pocket, my father wiped his brow, made sure the axe was tight in the stump and we headed off to a lunch of tuna on rye with sour pickles and iced tea.
The four of us sat around the kitchen table. My father and I, having cleaned up, were starving. I remember scarfing down a half sandwich and reached for a second one when my mom said, “some one is hungry. I’ll make a few more.” She got up to make another sandwich or two. Her work station was directly in front of the sink which had a commanding view of the back yard through the kitchen window, so if some one came into the back yard my mother would have noticed right away.
Mom finished making the sandwiches. We devoured them, finished a pitcher of iced-tea, then we put the dishes in the sink. Our lunch chores done, dad and I headed back outside to cut a few more trees down before we quit for the day.
We headed back to the stump where we had left the axe and it was gone! Someone must have come into the yard and stolen the axe. My father was livid. No one touched his tools without permission. We looked around the yard for a few minutes with no success. Everything was exactly as we had left it, save for the axe. It was gone.
Muttering to himself, he headed to the small carriage house on the other side if the yard. Since he kept his yard tools in the carriage house it was always locked. My father reached into his pock drew out his keys, still muttering to himself, opened the Yale padlock. He put the keys back in his pocket, worked the lock free from the hasp and opened the door to get his spare axe.
- he opened the door, he stopped in mid action. There, on the inside of the door, buried a good inch into the heavy oak panel was the axe! He threw open the door wide and stepped into the carriage house expecting to see...what? I’m sure he had no idea what to expect. The door was locked when we got there. He had the only key. No one could have opened the door, hung the axe in the door and closed it again; then lock it, all without notice or a key. We were dumbfounded.
My father pulled the axe out of the door, checked it this way and that; muttered some profanity to himself then proceeded back to the stand of trees to begin cutting them down.
As we reached the location of the last tree we cut down, something caught my eye. There on the ground, very close to the tree stump we had just cut was an odd-looking stone.
I called my dad over to have a look. He got down on all fours, and with the axe handle and his bare hands cleared the ground away from the stone. After a few minutes he had a large section cleared out and he sat back on his hunches. Wiping his now sweaty brow he called me over to have a look.
There, in the section he had just cleared, was a large flat stone about twelve inches long and four inches wide. It was obviously hand worked and seemed to have something carved into the surface.
My father took out his handkerchief and worked the surface over and over until he could see lettering. It looked like an H with some indistinguishable markings about the stone. It was obvious the stone had been there a long time and weather had taken its toll.
- father then crawled around the base of some of the other trees to see if there was anything unusual there. Sure enough, as he worked away the dirt and debris with the axe handle, he found three other stones all with similar size and writing. Brushing away the surface of the stones he was able to make out the more of the lettering. Looking at the stones and figuring some of the letters on each we were able to put the puzzle together. The name HALE was etched on the stones. It was barely visible, but it was there. We had uncovered a family burial ground.
My father stood up, brushed the dirt off his trousers, wiped the sweat off his brow with the now very dirty rag and said, “Well we’re done here my boy. Looks like someone doesn’t want us mucking around in the family burial plot.”
Now my father was not very religious, but he was superstitious. He was not about to disturb the dead given what was already going on in the house. We picked up our tools, carried the dead wood we already cut down over to the back of the carriage house and never cut down another tree on the property.
So that’s my personal story, one of several I will share, so stay tuned and check this site often for there is much more to come.
Phil Farina January 12, 2019.