By Thomas D'Agostino
Almost a century and a half has gone by and yet no one is really sure what really happened at Newburyport's little decrepit schoolhouse in the early 1870s. Amos Currier, a former student of the school, boasted in his later years that it was he who perpetuated the haunting of the building, but according to the accounts, it would have taken much more than one living person to have been responsible for the strange happenings that plagued the little building.
Even in its day the little edifice located on Charles Street was a dingy, neglected relic with rough wooden benches that accommodated about 60 pupils. Stairs led to a garret and a cellar. The dank, musty smell of rotting timber and burning wood in the stove gave a most unpleasant odor to the room where the students sat in their uncomfortable seats while the teacher performed her duties of educating them as best she could.
The eerie events began as a rapping upon the walls, floor and even the teacher's desk. This usually started during the Morning Prayer and continued to grow louder as the prayers continued. The knocks were of varied intensity and sound but could not be explained. At first the teacher claimed it to be rats or wind but soon even the constant banging unnerved her.
During a spelling bee, a student was spelling the word, "cannot." He made it to the letters c-a-n before the rapping commenced. This time it was so loud, the teacher could see the pupil's mouth moving but could not hear his voice. One day the teacher was compelled to answer a series of knocks upon the schoolroom door. She swung the door open but found no one. She then turned the key and locked the door again but was called back to answer another set of knocks. She opened the door again and looked around but once again, saw no one. Pretending to lock the door by jiggling the keys, she held close to the entrance. The knocks commenced again and she swung the door open only to find no visible person to have initiated the raps.
Doors would open and close at random. The janitor would no sooner close one door and another would open. Sometimes all of them would open at the same time. The janitor, whose job it was to also light the woodstove in the morning, refused to enter the building alone under any circumstance. The stove was another toy for the ghost to play with. The janitor often found the stove moved from its hearth, the tools and wood scattered about. Even the long stove pipe became a center of attention for the spirit of the building. The pipe, situated above the children, would rock to and fro on its hangers to a point where the teacher, Miss Lucy Perkins, would remove the students from underneath for fear of their safety.
One morning some students sat outside the schoolhouse awaiting the arrival of the teacher when they heard the bell on the teacher's desk from within start ringing. They peered inside but could see no one in the room and even more, the door was still locked from the outside. A moment later the teacher came strolling over the hill toward the school. This event was said to have scared some of the students more than anything they lay witness to before or after.
A vent used to air the school would often open or close on its own, especially in contrast to the wishes of the teacher. No amount of tugging on the cord that manipulated the cover could keep the vent door in place. Even the heavy lid to the stove was prone to being lifted from the unit by unseen hands and gently let back down in its original place. These were just minor compared to what would happen over the next few weeks.
One day a boy screamed out in terror, “there’s a hand on the window!” The teacher looked at the partition window and spied a colorless hand pressing against the glass. Startled for but a moment, she threw the door open but no one was there. Then came the day the boy appeared to the class. He was outside of the classroom in the entryway when the pupils first saw him. Miss Perkins immediately ran through the open door leading into the entryway and indeed saw the visage of a boy standing there in full view of the students. As Miss Perkins came within a few feet of the intruder, she noticed she could see right through him. He was a boy of about thirteen, dressed in what appeared to be burial clothes but shabby at best, his face melancholy and about his neck hung a wide “stock-like” band used to keep the jaw of a deceased in place.
The figure motioned Miss Perkins toward the attic and though frightened, she followed with her usual stern composure. Once in the garret, she made an attempt to touch the ghost but it vanished as if melting into the floorboards. The ghost would appear several more times, both in the hallway and the attic where it would make much noise until entertained by the presence of the teacher.
The school committee and other authorities tried to debunk the strange events but without any luck. A pamphlet was published on the haunting in 1873 by A. Loring and Co. of Boston and by about 1875, Miss Perkins relinquished her duties at the school and the haunting had ceased. The building later became a private home and appears to have cleaned the ghost from its walls, as nothing of any significance has happened since, or at least that is what subsequent owners have claimed.