Gusty, chilly, moonless, dead leaves crunching underfoot and the occasional owl hooting in the distance. It was perfect ... for the spectre of things that go bump in the night.
That's just what Fairfield Museum and History Center's Walt Matis, the program and volunteer coordinator, and docents Rob Wallace and Mary Ellen McLean were hoping for as they led intrepid souls Sunday though the historic heart of Fairfield around Town Hall Green.
Stops on the "Legends and Hauntings Walking Tour," in its 15th Halloween season, included the Old Burying Ground, Edwards Pond, the Sun Tavern and the Victorian Cottage.
"This has become a community anchor that brings people in who like to hear the stories," said Matis. "Halloween is a national, even international experience; we're trying to bring it home with stories and legends that have basis in books, articles and diaries from Fairfield Museum's collection. We'll leave it to the group to decide if they are true or not."
The trio, costumed in early Colonial outfits and carrying lanterns with burning candles, first led the group to the Old Burying Ground on Beach Road , where, in front of a gravestone marker for Andrew Ward, they began to spin tales of local lore.
One account told of Gold Selleck Silliman, a militia brigadier general during the American Revolutionary War era. He owned a store on Old Post Road, where he and his family also lived. Often, the family's servant would hear strange tappings and moanings and refused to sleep by herself. Years later, after the family had moved to another residence, Silliman returned to the dwelling, where he found men digging under old sections of the house. Startlingly, the men found a set of bones belonging to a small child. The discovery was never explained.
The oldest cemetery in Fairfield, the Old Burying Ground was established in 1639, Wallace said. It encompasses both "burials with no stones and stones with no burials. "Many of the stones with no burials were moved from Trinity Episcopal Church in Southport," he said.
He pointed out the artwork that can be found on many grave markers. Earliest markers show a skull and bones; those from later years are decorated with cherubs. Wallace also shared a disturbing cemetery trend occurred during the Victorian era. At that time, it was not uncommon for people to be buried prematurely, often after suffering a fit that put one in a trance-like lifeless state. To avoid a premature burial, a Bateson Revival Device was developed. Essentially an iron bell, it was mounted on the lid of a casket just above the deceased's head which the so-called deceased could ring to alert a passerby that the occupant was, indeed, not dead.
According to town archives, common causes of death during the 1700s and 1800s included smallpox, tuberculosis and scarlet fever, though more bizarre deaths have been recorded: two men in a bell tower were killed by a lightning bolt; an inebriated man drowned after falling in a ditch; a woman fell down a flight of stairs, and a man who was pulverized by a train after his foot became stuck between the rails.