My sister Dee lives in New England…that enchanted region of witches, ghosts and legendary goblins. New England is the quintessential setting for a Halloween tale. This one is true and experienced by someone close to me, so it is a special favorite of mine.
Dee works at a preschool and daycare in Hampstead, NH that is a converted residence which was originally built in the early half of the 1800′s. When the house was converted to a school, there were additions made, but the original part of the house stayed essentially the same. The original home was a small one, with a main living area in the front half of the ground floor and a stairwell that separated the front of the house from the rear. One set of stairs led up to two bedrooms on the second floor, while a second set led down to an old root cellar that is now used to hold the preschool’s furnace. The back half of the ground floor, behind the stairs, contains a small kitchen and a room that is known as the “bitching room”. I admit that when I heard that, I thought that I too could use a room in my house reserved specifically for bitching, but apparently the true purpose of the bitching room was for the birthing of the original homeowner’s hunting dogs.
About 1870 the house suffered through a fire, during which a seven year old child named Agnes was killed.
My sister has worked for this preschool for over five years. The ghost stories attached to the building preceded her by many decades. When Dee first started working at the school and was told the story of Agnes and her haunting, she thought the other teachers were trying to haze her with these scary stories. My sister is made of sterner stuff, however, and she thought the tales were a little tame for hazing purposes. After she worked there for a while, though, she came to realize that the stories had some truth to them. And although they seemed kind of lame when they were recited in a crowded lunchroom or a loud play yard, when she experienced the same things when she was the last one closing down the facility…they didn’t seem so lame.
Within a couple of months of my sister being hired, the director of the school sponsored a “Night of Pampering” for the staff. One room was set up as the “Room of Comedies” and they had a little theater set up, with popcorn and drinks, and a large screen t.v. that was airing the “Best of Saturday Night Live”. Another room was set up with cosmetologists giving some of the teachers makeovers. Nearby was an area that they could get a manicure or a massage. Back in the bitching room, the director had set up a psychic, so the teachers could get their fortunes told. The bitching room is Agnes’ favorite spot. Perhaps in life the little girl spent happy times there with the puppies. My sister said that the school’s director admitted to placing the psychic there as a test, to see what they could learn from her about the ghost. It worked. When she was first settling into her appointed area, setting out her tarot cards and crystals, the psychic told the director that she could feel a great coldness and a definite mischievous presence, like that of a child. The cold the psychic mentioned also hit home with the director…the bitching room is often noticeably colder than the other rooms in the building.
The staff isn’t sure if it’s a coincidence that the activity picks up in autumn, specifically around October and Halloween. Or perhaps that was the time of year the fire occurred? The teachers obviously have to wait until all of their students’ parents have come to collect them. Often times, one or two parents may run late, causing a teacher to have to stay later than the others. After the kids are gone, it is the routine for each teacher to tidy their own classroom before leaving for the night. Then, the last teacher left goes through the building turning off the lights before locking up and leaving. Almost all of the teachers have been in the position of being the last one to leave, at one time or another. And almost all of the teachers have reported tidying their rooms, walking out to either put some materials away or to turn out lights in other room, and returning to items scattered on the floor of the previously tidy room they had just left.
Many times teachers closing up the school are fooled into thinking a co-worker has returned when they hear noises like footsteps, papers shuffling or doors shutting. When they go to investigate however, they only confirm that they are the last person remaining. Needless to say, the closing procedure on those evenings are much more hurried than on other nights.
Sometimes, the closing teacher will have an uneventful time locking up the building, only to notice as she climbs into her car for the ride home, that a light had turned itself on in the previously darkened school. Seldom is it that the teacher feels compelled to go back in to turn off the recalcitrant light.
Perhaps the creepiest things that happen to the teachers are the toys that turn themselves on in the room, just as the staff member walks through to turn off the lights. The teachers tell themselves that it must be the vibration of their footsteps that jiggle the toys’ switches into the “on” position, but the odd thing is, they don’t experience this phenomenon at any other time of the day….only on lonely evenings when dusk sends lengthening shadows across the empty classroom floors.
Maybe that is the only way that little Agnes knows how to ask the teachers to stay a while….stay a while and play.