October 31 is Halloween in America, a holiday when the weird and eerie sides of life are invited into our homes - mostly in the form of children dressed in scary or unusual costumes, demanding candy. But aside from this, weird and eerie tales have a long tradition in American storytelling in various regions of the country.
The tiny state of Vermont, in northern New England, is famous for its maple syrup, its pleasant village life, and its picture-perfect mountain scenery. But according to Vermont novelist Joe Citro, author of Cursed in New England and Ghosts, Ghouls and Unsolved Mysteries, the Green Mountain State also has a darker side.
"We have a whole spectrum of weird tales. Monsters, ghosts, even vampires," he said. "Probably the oldest New England vampire story occurred in Manchester Vermont. In Manchester."
And in Woodstock, Vermont, a vampire was allegedly killed and buried in the village square. And Mr. Citro offers another source of Green Mountain vampire stories.
"There is a fantastic, venerable story from the northern reaches of Vermont about how the wretched and poor hill farmers got through the grueling Vermont winters," he says. "They had devised kind of a folk remedy where they could actually freeze the elderly and infirm and put them to sleep like hibernating bears over the duration of the winter. And then, with another secret process, thaw them out and wake them up come spring."
When a reporter asks Mr. Citro if that is the true source of the vampire legends, he says he doubts it. "I think I the freezing the elderly is maybe a bit more rooted in old time burial practices," he explains. "When people died in the wintertime, the ground was too frozen to bury them. They would actually store them in vaults until spring when the ground softened up. So I think some creative Yankee yarn spinner [storyteller] just came up with the idea of sticking them in the vaults and then, rather than burying them, waking them up!"
One story well known to Vermonters and tourists alike involves a covered wooden bridge in Stowe, Vermont. It's called the "Emily Bridge," and it's named for a young woman who hung herself from its rafters one midnight in 1850 -- allegedly because a lover she had arranged to meet and run away with -- didn't come. Some locals says that her spirit remains there getting angrier and angrier as the decades pass.
Mr. Citro says that, to his knowledge, more people have reported strange experiences at Emily Bridge than any other place in Vermont. "From people's hats being blown off on windless days to cold spots on warm days [and] warm spots on cold days." Mr. Citro adds that, in the old days, people used to complain that animals crossing the bridge would sometimes "be scratched by unseen claws."
Mr. Citro has also interviewed people who have been directly involved in weird Vermont occurrences, one of the strangest of which took place in Dummerston, Vermont.
"A man who owned the Honeymoon Valley Farm came out to milk the cows one morning and found that twenty-six of his twenty-nine heifers were dead," says Mr. Citro. Subsequent examination proved that the cows had been killed by electricity, but no source of electricity has even been discovered. "What's even eerier is that one of the reports said the calves were in a half-circle, the feed still in their mouths, implying that the deaths had come suddenly. There was no sign of a struggle."
Recently, Mr. Citro interviewed the farmer and his wife about the occurrence. The couple reported burying the animals in a large pit. "They just dug a hole and pushed the bodies in and covered it up. But no grass or corn or anything would grow over the spot where they buried the cows," Mr. Citro reports. When asked his own opinion of the tale, he said "There is no doubt that something happened. The question is, What happened?"
A reporter asks Joe Citro to explain the appeal these strange, often macabre accounts hold for him. "On the surface," he said "I think it's because I grew up in Vermont with a father who was quite interested in the local ghost stories and local murders and so forth. But I think on a more psychoanalytical level, I am looking for some proof that we're more than just meat -- that there is a spiritual dimension to us, and that there is mystery."
Joe Citro easily admits that some mysteries can be solved, "
the ones that interest me the most are the ones that cannot be explained."