Every locale has its own lore—a mythology surrounding the history of its communities. In New Hampshire, things are no different, and our urban legends have become particularly important thanks to the long, lonely winters our ancestors endured without entertainment technology. Cold, dark days inside were passed by the telling of stories, leading to the development of a diverse and detailed folklore. From passionate love stories and unidentified creatures to mysterious disappearances and wrongful executions, New Hampshirites are heirs to a vast array of supernatural stories, just lurking in wait to terrify future generations.
Now one of the more popular destinations in New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee found its moniker the same way any good place-naming happens: A romantic occurrence in long ago days. In the 16th century, a Native American tribe on the north shore was led by a chief named Wonaton, whose greatest love was his daughter, Mineola. Mineola was desired by all the young men in the region, but it just so happens she fell in love with the chief of a tribe residing on the south shore, named Adiwando. When Chief Wonaton learned of his daughter’s forbidden love for a great enemy, he attacked the young man viciously. Mineola threw herself between her love and her father, begging him to spare Adiwando and allow them to be wed. Finally convinced, the chief gathered the entire village for a wedding, which was to take place in the center of the lake, between the lands of the two warring tribes. The day of the nuptials was stormy, threatening the tribespeople who had gathered in their canoes to witness the event. Suddenly, brilliant sunlight burst through the thick cloud cover and surrounded the canoe carrying Adiwando and Mineola’s canoe. Chief Wonaton declared it a sign from the Gods, and claimed the lake as Winnipesaukee, meaning “Smile of the Great Spirit.”
Despite the 17th century frenzy in New England for hunting witches, the story holds that only one such woman was ever found guilty of witchcraft in the state of New Hampshire. Eunice “Goody” Cole was convicted in 1656 after having been accused by her neighbors in Hampton. Goody was sent to a Boston prison, but was released after several years due to failing health and returned to her hometown of Hampton, where she was given a hut to live out her days. After her death, Goody’s ghost was blamed for multiple travesties in the area, including the sinking of a ship that claimed the lives of eight locals. Some report having seen a ghost-like woman wandering the streets of Hampton, inquiring where she can find a memorial for Goody Cole.
In the late 1800s, a refuge for orphaned and difficult children was constructed in Portsmouth, named the Chase House. Tragically, a young girl hanged herself in her bedroom, and has haunted the Chase House ever since. Reports of a child screaming have plagued the building, where doors also mysteriously come unlocked and ceiling fans switch on and off without prompting.
After the Cocheco Falls Mill in Dover was almost destroyed by a fire that also killed several millworkers, the location became ripe for rumor. Since then, the building has been refurbished and transformed into offices and apartments. The restored building, however, is plagued by a persistent haunting: Lights turned on and off, strange voices, and a whirring similar to that produced by the machinery used in old fashioned mills.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Ruth and Thomas Colbath lived happily in Carroll County, New Hampshire. On a normal day in 1891, Thomas left the homestead to run errands, and never again returned. For 39 long years, Ruth faithfully waited for her husband to come home, always leaving a lantern burning for him to find his way. Finally, Ruth passed away in 1930, never having the reunion she had so patiently hoped for. Three years later, Thomas casually returned to the Colbath home, unharmed and seemingly not having been detained or harassed during his absence. Thomas allegedly claimed to have gotten lost all those years past, and had been too embarrassed to return home after initially losing his way and going missing. Thus, the story of Ruth and Thomas Colbath became one of the earliest prime examples of woman’s hopeless romance, and of man’s inability to ask for directions.
Deep in Coos County backwoods along the Canadian border, strange creatures known as “Wood Devils” have been tracked and spotted for centuries. Similar to the Sasquatch characters found in other parts of the United States, Wood Devils are slim, tall, covered in grey hair, and notoriously difficult to spot. The peak of their popularity was in the 1970s, when hikers and other such outdoorsmen reported seeing both the animal and its huge footprints with some regularity.
Also known as America’s Stonehenge, Mystery Hill is a 4,000-year-old monument in Salem, New Hampshire. While the exact origins of the site are unknown, much like those of its European counterpart, the stone formations are said to create an accurate astronomical calendar, including differentiation for solstices and equinoxes, as well as provide a True North orientation. The site itself is comprised of stone chambers, walls, and monoliths. While the origin story of Mystery Hill may never be uncovered, many have speculated as to its genesis. Some claim that Native Americans held the site sacred, while others insist migratory Europeans brought their knowledge of construction and astronomy to our New Hampshire woods, only to leave behind their mysterious formation. Further complicating the discussion is the broad variety of languages that have been found carved into the stones, ranging from Ogham to Phoenician to Iberian Punic Script.
Native to small town Danville, the Danville Devil Monkey(s) haunts and terrorizes the local population. Legend holds that the creature is like a grotesque monkey, with horrifying claws and teeth like knives. What would usually be dismissed as hyperbolic rumblings of small town New England becomes further complicated based on upstanding witnesses. In 2001, the chief of Danville’s fire department reportedly came across the Devil Monkey. In the two weeks that followed, 10 others claimed the same. All reported the same visual experience, as well as the same haunting, howling noise emitted from the beast. Since then, nobody in the town of Danville has reported seeing the Devil Monkey, and legend holds that the creature moved on to the less populated White Mountains in search of solitude.
Myth engulfs both Archer’s Pond and the forest that surrounds it. While stories are varied and range from plague deaths to misguided teenage love, one of the most pervasive is the story of Polly. Polly lived in the woods with her husband, where they struggled to survive both the elements and their crushing poverty. Polly longed to buy a new pair of shoes to protect her feet from the snow, ice, and rocky terrain. Her husband refused, insisting they barely had funds to keep the couple alive. Despite his protests, Polly bought a pair of cheap shoes, and upon being discovered was brutally decapitated by her husband. Overcome by grief, the husband hanged himself exactly one week after having taken an ax to his wife’s neck. Legend holds that the ghosts of both Polly and her murderous husband roam the woods around Archer’s Pond, never finding eternal rest.
In Portsmouth, the South Street Cemetery is generally recognized as one of the city’s most haunted locations. Its paranormal reputation centers around the wrongful execution of young schoolteacher Ruth Blay, who was sentenced to death in 1768 after one of her students reported her for infanticide. In reality, poor Miss Blay had a stillborn baby after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Confused and wracked with grief, Ruth buried the baby under the floor of the schoolhouse, not knowing that a student was watching. The day of her hanging arrived, and the city of Portsmouth was abuzz with rumors of an impending pardon from the governor. Portsmouth’s sheriff, not eager to have a conviction overturned, or to delay his lunch break, moved the execution to take place earlier in the day. Minutes after Ruth was killed, her pardon arrived via messenger. Local myth says that the ghosts of both Miss Blay and her deceased child haunt the South Street Cemetery, disrupting the peace that they themselves were denied.