As chronicled on Web sites such as Shadowlands and Ghost Traveller and TV shows like “Ghost Hunters,” Rhode Island is rich in ghost lore, with apparitions that include Colonial settlers, Narragansett and Wampanoag warriors, Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers, Victorian women and spirits animated as recently as the age of disco. Some of them are named Patrick, Barbara, George and Banquo. Edgar Allan Poe is reportedly still strolling down Benefit Street in Providence some nights, pining for his lost love, although he is also spotted in Baltimore, where he was buried, which is difficult to explain, even with the low air fare on Southwest from T.F. Green to Crab City.
They are dressed in red capes and black dresses, wearing military uniforms or war paint, the same wardrobe night after night, year after year, suggesting that fashion is somewhat lacking in the afterlife version of The Gap. Not all of our ghosts manifest themselves in figural form, though. Some are orbs. Some are blue lights. One in Warren floats around as a grayish-blue cloud - not far from seven heads sometimes seen hovering over seven poles near the Kickemuit River.
They can alter the weather, creating cold spots or gusts. Some can shove and grab with invisible force. Most make noise in typical ways - slamming doors, shattering china, rattling silverware and turning on radios. In some parts of Rhode Island, ghosts are still making the sounds of previous centuries, an aural spectrum that includes cannons firing, horses galloping and carousel music.
In addition to our resident spirits, Rhody also hosts phantom ships, trains, horse carriages and horse-and-rider varieties of transportation ghosts, making a kind of RIPTA for the eternally restless.
The ghost at the Roger Williams University Theatre in Bristol has been dubbed the aforementioned Banquo. It is thought that he is a former farm hand who froze to death in the hayloft of one of the barns on site, before they were converted into the theater. The Cumberland Monastery is crowded with ghosts, including a monk who moves books, a phantom horse rider on the trails and a child in the swamp. One punctual spirit appears upon a lake in Foster each year on the opening day of trout season.
Eerie voices have been caught on tape recorders and unexplained objects have been captured on videotape, but so far there are no reports of Rhode Island ghosts Tweeting or posting on Facebook, suggesting two possibilities: 1) Ghosts are creatures of analog, not digital: or 2) The phenomenon of social media is just slow to catch on in the spectral market.
What is your favorite Rhode Island ghost story?
From Rebecca Solnit’s “Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” published in 2000 by Viking, on page 7 in the chapter “Tracing a Headland: An Introduction”:
I became in the 1980s an antinuclear activist and participated in the spring demonstrations at the Nevada Test Site, a Department of Energy site the size of Rhode Island in southern Nevada where the United States has been detonating nuclear bombs – more than a thousand to date – since 1951.