Rhode Island's More Popular Haunts and the Facts Behind Them

EXETER GRANGE KEEP / MERCY BROWN'S GRAVE

You can't go by an old graveyard in New England without seeing one of these odd structures called Keeps. It has been suggested the saying "for keeps" comes from the use of these places, which was both simple and two-fold. The early settlers of Rhode Island needed a place to store their dead during the often harsh winter months, since the ground often froze solid until the Spring thaw made it possible to bury their dead. Some even stored their loved one's remains in a back room or a root cellar until spring. It was also the tradition of that day for many to place their soon to be buried relatives in storage for a day or so, just in case their declaring them dead was premature; a common fear of the day. Many such keeps were equipped with a bell and rope or metal door and a heavy hammer for the purpose of sounding an alarm. The keep pictured above resides in the Exeter Grange's graveyard; a cemetery better known for being the final resting place of RI's last accused vampire, Mercy Brown.

The Exeter Grange Keep is the focal point for 98% of the strange phenomena reported coming from this graveyard, not the young girl's grave as many quickly assume. While many of those we've interviewed insist on having seen Mercy's ghost walking in the graveyard on moonlit nights or swear to have heard the young woman's mournful cries drifting out from among gravestones, we feel this is an innocent assumption and have serious doubts that Mercy is the primary ghost everyone has been seeing for all these years.

We are convinced that there is not one, but five separate restless entities, two being those of young women, haunting the old graveyard. Information gathered through numerous eye witness interviews added to our own investigations at the cemetery suggest that it is not only Mercy, but the ghosts of three unfortunates that for reasons we'll never know could not sound the alarm that would have saved them from their premature burial. The cemetery's grounds keeper would hardly go running to a family and tell them he messed up and did not hear their loved one's alarm and so they slowly starved or froze within the sealed keep.

It is they who haunt this old graveyard, mainly the graveyard's keep, more than a falsely accused vampiress.

  

NINE MEN'S MISERY

Located in Cumberland, RI on the grounds of an old monastery is a site many Rhode Islanders don't even know about, never mind visitors to our miniature state. The site's stone and mortar monument marks the area where the luck of nine militiamen evading a bloody tidal wave of Native American anger ran out. The men were found flailed (skinned alive) and hung to slowly die as their tormentors looked on. Upon death, they were beheaded and their heads placed on poles with sticks placed in their mouths to make them smile, mockingly recreating the lying white men's smiles that they had tolerated for too long. The site can be seen as it appears today in the picture on the left just as it was erected in or around 1670.The men's agonized cries and moans have not died over the years and more than one visitor daring enough to put their ear to the stones have heard the cries of the men. Police have been called more than once to investigate reports of screams coming from the woods in the vicinity of the monument. These woods have been the scene of many other gruesome deaths over the centuries as well. Instrument readings go off the scale or are abnormally high in the immediate area of the tomb and many groups have succeeded in recording chilling EVP there. If you decide to see the monument for yourself, you just might see the ghost of a little girl running through the wooded swamp...perhaps another victim of the Natives' bloody revenge for the Great Swamp slaughter of their own children. Stop in at the town library while you're there, it is haunted as well. You just might be the next person to meet the ghost of a monk that sees to it that the library stays neat and clean!

 

WEST GREENWICH MEETINGHOUSE GRANGE CEMETERY / NELLIE VAUGHN'S GRAVE

The West Greenwich Meeting House Grange Cemetery has received a lot of bad press and undue attention as the residence of one of Rhode Island's vampires. The falsely accused young woman was never tried for witchcraft nor was she a relative of Mercy Brown, and she was never accused of being a vampire except innocently within a classroom where the urban legend began not more than thirty years ago.

The true story surrounding Nellie Vaughn as told by a family member, however, is nonetheless far more chilling than her undeserved urban legend.

Nellie's story began in 1899 when she quickly developed and officially died of "intense fever" (most likely pneumonia) at the age of nineteen and was placed in the family's cemetery plot...

"There was a commotion regarding the girl..." stated (Nellie Vaughn's direct descendant's name withheld by request). "The family wished her to be placed in the community vault [keep] as the situation warranted, but neighbors and other townsfolk insisted that Nellie be buried with haste, for obvious reasons. Others wanted her body burned to insure her disease would not spread. You have to understand, Mr. Laird, that these were times when contagious diseases like Cholera, Scarlet Fever and especially Small Pox were wiping out entire communities at a time and this was a very real fear. Nellie was buried in the family cemetery within a day of her death and of course once she was buried there was no turning back. Even though the family were as sure as the could be that Nellie was dead when they buried her, the deed was done regardless. And so, like so many others in those days, so I understand, there was good chance that Nellie was buried alive!

"The story that I was told by my mother pretty well confirms this; I was eleven-years-old at this time. It involved the local constable being summoned to my uncle's farm after a man heard the screams of a woman for a moment as he was passing though the family's cemetery the night before. The man stopped and listened, but then they were gone. According to the story, early the following morning the man, still disturbed by the previous night's experience, went to the Vaughn Farm with the constable in tow. The man insisted that George Vaughn return with him to the family cemetery (on the Vaughn farm) where he was certain he'd heard the woman's screams. The men walked quickly to the cemetery, where again the man swore that he had heard the woman's screams. The cemetery was empty, save for a fresh boot print still plainly visible in the packed soil of Nellie's freshly filled grave.

"My uncle (George Vaughn) was so distraught over what he had convinced himself he had done, he was eventually driven mad and, it was rumored, eventually died by his own hand. No one ever talked it and I dared never ask. This was a family topic no one talked openly about until, and only then, when eventually the family had Nellie moved from the family plot at the farm to where she's buried now. I can assure you, though (she laughs), it had nothing to do with her being a vampire".

Imagine, if you can, the absolute terror of waking, sealed in a coffin and suddenly faced with the fact that you had awoken just in time to die a most horrific death. You begin to scream as you desperately pound and claw at the coffin's sealed lid. The pounding of your own heart fills your ears as it begins to slow with each beat. The last thing you hear is your own mournful gasp as your lungs strain for that last breath of air just before you finally lose consciousness and shiver the death rattle.

The cemetery on Meetinghouse Road is now off limits due to widespread vandalism, making permission very hard to get for legal investigations within the stone walls. To this day, stories persist of a white clothed girl occasionally being spotted walking among the stones and in some cases interacting with a passerby. Until the graveyard is safe from destructive fools and reopened again to investigative groups the stories will have to remain just that. Then again, perhaps this is one case that needs closure.

Rest in peace, Nellie Vaughn . . .

Many thanks to P.R. (May 30, 1887- February 3, 1988)

 

DOLLY COLE

The dense forests that straddle Tucker Hollow Road and Ramtail Road in Foster, Rhode Island, have been the setting for more than one story involving the restless dead. Ghosts of mill workers who died in a kiln explosion and the haunted graves of plague victims are commonly found there among the ruins and forgotten gravesites scattered through these woods. Yet, of all these haunting, no name has earned itself a place among the Fraternity of the Restless more than the ghost of an 1890s murder victim named Dolly Cole.

Fact mixes with fancy, maybe even fantasy, as is inherent with Urban Legend and many researchers have fallen victim to this. Like Nellie Vaughn, Dolly was never a vampire, nor can it be confirmed she was ever a prostitute...neither was Dorothy Ellen Cole. Confused? Wait, it gets better.

The fact that a pair of women's assaults and deaths were, albeit briefly, mentioned in the newspaper at all, even remotely, is an oddity in itself to be sure. Seeing all attention was on events unfolding in Fall River, Massachusetts, and a young lady named Lizzie Borden at this time. To make matters more confusing, the Cole that haunts Tucker Hollow Road in the same town is completely unrelated to the case of Dorothy Cole. However, as with all stories told and retold over the decades, misunderstanding and embellishment has melded well the two women and their cases into one of Rhode Island's more famous eerie urban legends. For the paranormal investigator visiting the sites in question, sense can finally be made of the reported phenomena that takes place in the areas affected by the spirits of these two brutalized women.

Of the murder of Dorothy Cole, the only surviving records of the crime is found in the local newspaper of the time as fillers. Briefly mentioned in the first article is the fact that the body of a young woman was discovered near Ramtail Road in Foster, RI and that foul play was strongly suspected. The victim's obituary, found in a following edition, identifies the woman as Dorothy Cole, 27, of Foster, RI. The trail ends there. No other entries were ever made as to whether the murderer was ever brought to justice and it is highly doubtful that anyone ever officially was. Lizzie had the spotlight and by the time the dust from that trial and its aftermath settled Dorothy's little publicized murder had long faded from any "public" concern. She has been documented as haunting the bridge which still bares her name and that immediate area.

As for Dolly Ellen Cole (aka The Foster Witch), who resided on Tucker Hollow Road, the area has changed little in over the years. It is still dirt and can be treacherous to the unaware and inattentive driver even in good weather. Off the road to the west of a gate onto an area sportsman clubs restricted land is a foundation which still betrays the horror that occurred there generations before. The foundation's stones still show the charred traces of the highly suspicious fire that claimed the lives of Dolly Cole and her family. Located nearby is a stream and the small, hidden, swampy valley where Dolly Cole had fetched water regularly, perhaps even to fight the fire before finally dying. It is there and within the thick woods in this valley that many have claimed to have seen and heard the ghost of Dolly Cole. It's a story mostly related between hunters, but an eerily similar one. Each telling of when they suddenly meet up with a light brunette, long haired woman dressed in old-timer men's clothing. She always appears very much alive until she vanishes into thin air the second your eye turns away. Many credible witnesses have insisted that they had spotted this woman standing either near the swamp, by the stream or in the immediate vicinity of the house's foundation hole (not the bridge, sorry...wrong Dolly, an area that bares her name to this day, sometimes singing or humming a tune. She was not "evil" as some publications assume, just misunderstood. She had a gift, as do many who can openly admit it today. However, in Dolly's day to be gifted was often enough to be warranted being labeled a witch. The reality that her herbal remedies and unique insight and such had probably helped an accuser's family member didn't matter in the end. Her family has passed down the true story about their ancestor and how ignorance, hypocrisy and superstition resulted in a horrible tragedy off of Tucker Hollow Road.

For the record, ironically the large nearby pond is not named for either ill fated women but another woman, , yup yet another Dolly, who once owned the land and died at 97 years old.

SAFETY WARNING: The land where Dolly Cole and her family used to live, is buried and where sightings are occurring is heavily posted private property. This privacy is strictly enforced by the owners who form the nearby sportsman's club, the local police and by DEM (Department of Environmental Management) enforcement officers; several of whom are members as well. This is for the sake of your safety in not falling victim to a terrible accident as these woods are REGULARLY used for the shooting and archery sports all year round! It can't be stressed enough how vital it is to your safety that you clear any visits with the land owners, The Cranston Fish and Game Association, to avoid legal issues and serious danger. As many have discovered the hard way, when you are caught trespassing you will be arrested and fully prosecuted. If you attempt it at night, you may be mistaken for a poacher! As with any investigation take the time, do it right and get permission before going on this property!

 Fingernail Freddie

That monstrous fiend of seven "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, Freddy Krueger, may have been born in legends told around the campfires of Camp Ker-Anna in Cumberland, near Diamond Hill Road--quite a distance from the cinematic setting of Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio. The oral stories about Fingernail Freddie go back at least to the mid-nineteenth century and, reflecting the vagaries of an oral tradition, Freddie is frequently intertwined with another local villain. A former camper told it this way: "He was a guy that lived in the woods and because he lived in the woods for so long, his nails grew really long. And he didn't like all the noise the campers made, so they used to say, 'Don't make noise at night, because Fingernail Freddie is gonna come in and claw you with his fingers, with his nails.'" In some versions, especially in the more detailed variants of the legend, Fingernail Freddie is known as Hot-Shot (or even Ha-Cha) Charlie. Another former camper (and counselor at the camp) related this story:

"Hot-Shot Charlie was a man named Charles Torrie (I'm not sure of the spelling) who lived in the area of Camp Ker-Anna in the 1800s. He was a homesteader with his wife and two daughters and he had a small log cabin and plenty of fields to grow his food. And he was always troubled by vandalism from kids who would come from the city on weekends. They'd let his cows out and knock over his crops and give him a lot of grief. So Charlie finally got himself a shotgun and filled it with rock salt. The next time the kids came, he fired at them and hit them with the rock salt. Of course, it burned and hurt--and they decided to get even. They went back and set Charlie's cabin on fire while he was out in one of the barns. When he saw the flames, he went running into the cabin, knowing that his wife and two kids were in there. He tried to save them but couldn't, and he was severely burned. His face and much of his body was so badly disfigured that he stopped going into town and became like a hermit. To get his revenge, if any kids go into the woods near his house, he kills them. "He lived just a little bit north of the camp property. There's still a foundation. If you look, you can still see it, all covered over and buried. No one's sure exactly where Charlie stays, but he lives in the forest. He's out there somewhere, always lurking and waiting."