Fright Night: Strolling through Fairfield's haunted history
The falling temperatures weren't the only thing giving Spooky Stroll participants the chills Friday night as they visited sites of historic Fairfield hauntings and legends, a spectral prelude the celebration of Halloween.
Guided by docent Jill Littig, the annual tour set forth early Friday evening from Fairfield Museum and History Center, where ghoulish treats like candy "lady fingers" and "eyeballs" on a candlelit table set the evening's theme.
Two dozen children and their parents, many dressed in costumes, participated in the tour.
Annmarie Fetcho and her 10-year-old daughter Raeann, of Fairfield, were among them. "When Raeann came home from school, she said she wanted a Halloween weekend," Fetcho said. "We looked online and found the Stroll. It sounded cool."
The first stop was Town Hall Green, established in 1639 amid the four original square blocks of the Fairfield settlement.
"People came here to practice, see friends and gossip," said Littig, who then led them to nearby St. Paul's Episcopal Church. As she explained that there had been an old jail on the site until 1850, when it burned down, there was a "klunk klunk" sound on the underside of a pair of steel Bilko doors. Emerging from below was a neglected prisoner, portrayed by Fairfielder Christine Sander, who joked about being fatigued from being down there for the past 200 years.
Over at the historic Sun Tavern, which once hosted George Washington, the Fairfield Museum's Walt Matis greeted strollers in the guise of Sam Penfield and related the story of Penfield Reef Lighthouse keeper Fred Jordan, who perished in the choppy waters off Fairfield's shoreline near the light in December 1916, while rowing ashore to see his family. Jordan's successor was said to have seen Jordan's ghost in the lighthouse a few days later, and reported finding a logbook opened to an entry that described Jordan's passing. While Matis told the tale, lights flickered and screams were heard from within the tavern behind him.
From there, the group walked to the lip of a large depression in the ground that was once Edward's Pond. In the late 1600s, women suspected of being witches were tested here. The suspect's hands and feet were tied and they were tossed into the water. If they sank, they were pure and not a witch. If they floated, they were impure and a witch. Of course, the catch with that logic was that a non-witch would likely drown while proving their innocence, said Littig.
Along Beach Road, the tour stopped across from the Isaac Tucker House, which during the Revolutionary War, was occupied by patriot Jonathan Maltbie. When British troops came ashore to burn the town, they tossed a lighted torch into the house. Mysteriously, it simply appeared to burn out. The invaders tried a second time and, getting the same result, decided the house was haunted. In reality, a servant girl had been hiding in the structure and had extinguished the torches. The house was one of the only ones to survive the destructive fires set by the British.
At the Old Burying Ground, Littig produced a long cardboard makeshift coffin and asked everyone gathered to whisper a "bad thought" into it. When they were done, Littig exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, this is so heavy!" and, with that, carried it farther into the historic graveyard established by the Daughters of the American Revolution. There, Littig handed it to Walt Matis, who now had been transformed into a black-shrouded resident gravedigger.
Matis set the box aside, to be "buried" later and, with the aid of a flashlight, read a spooky tale from a large weathered book.
The reading put a cap on the tour, leaving little ghosts and goblins to ponder all that they had seen and heard on the "spirited" take on nearly four centuries of Fairfield history.