Thursday, November 9, 2023

HGB Ep. 512 - Old Stagecoach Inn

Moment in Oddity - Cannibalistic Funerals

Over the years we have covered different funerary practices, some heartwarming and others that are a bit bizarre. One such practice that falls into the latter category was performed by a group of prehistoric people called the Magdalenians. This ancient society practiced cannibalism as part of their funerary rituals. The Magdalenian remains being studied lived between 11,000 to 17,000 years ago in Northern and Western Europe. There were 25 sites where funerary behaviors were identified, 13 of which had evidence of cannibalism. Researchers say that based on the evidence found, it appears that the behavior was indeed funerary in nature, rather than supplemental to their diet. As could have been the case due to a harsh winter or something similar. The dead were clearly consumed and even the bones of the deceased were fashioned into usable items. Larger bones were found to have been broken open to access the marrow. Although evidence shows that the culture consumed large animals like deer and horses, the remains of the humans show careful preparation and even engraving on some of the bones found. From society to society there can be a wide variety of funeral practices observed, however consuming a deceased family member, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - First Patented Bra

In the month of November, on the 3rd in 1914, the United States issued a patent for the first over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder. Our female listeners probably look forward to getting home at the end of a long day and removing this article of clothing. However, during the early 19th century the corset was the usual undergarment women still needed to wear. 19-year-old socialite Mary Phelps Jacob first created a bra to avoid wearing her corset. During the time, corsets were incredibly uncomfortable not only due to the tightness hindering breathing but the garment also limited the wearers freedom of movement. Once the bra was created, most women just wore them around the house after removing their corsets. However, once World War I began the call for metal needed in the war efforts, the metal previously used in the restricting corsets was pulled for the military needs. At that time the bra really took off. Well, we still like to take them off after a long day, but just think about the corset alternative. Mary Jacob, who changed her name to Caresse Crosby, never did gain a large profit from her creation. She sold the patent to The Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut for the current equivalent of $21,000.

Old Stagecoach Inn

Stagecoach stops have a knack for being haunted. This isn't surprising due to the amount of activity that these locations experienced throughout history. The stagecoach was the best form of transportation across land before the railroad stretched across America. The Old Stagecoach Inn in Vermont served as a stagecoach stop as well as a tavern. Eventually, the building became a private residence and a former owner named Margaret Spencer might still be here in the afterlife. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Old Stagecoach Inn! 

Do you know why a stagecoach had that name? Because they traveled in "stages" of 10 to 15 miles. The Old Stagecoach Inn is located in the center of Waterbury Village in Vermont. In 1763, the land that would become Waterbury was granted by a charter from King George III through Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire. This was the Winsooki River Valley, which had been home to the Mohican and Pennacook people, tribes that were Algonquian-speaking. James Marsh was the first white settler in the area, but he was soon joined by other settlers who named the town after their original hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut. This was a strategic location for travelers going from Montpelier to Burlington or from the Mad River Valley to Stowe. Waterbury would be a perfect place for a stagecoach stop and Waterbury's first lawyer, Dan Carpenter, set out to do just that. Or it could have been a man named Mr. Allen. Or was it Mr. Parmalee? Tracking down who built this location is difficult. 

Whoever the original owner was, it is clear from paperwork that construction was done by Horace and Henry Atkins and it was completed in 1826. This ran as a a tavern and inn that was quite plain and done in the Federal style. The Main Street was turned into a toll road because of all the travel and was named the Winooski Toll Road. There was an Anti-Masonic Movement that started in 1826 and it formed America's first third political party, the Anti-Masonic Party. The catalyst for the movement was the disappearance of William Morgan who had been a bricklayer. Morgan had belonged to the Masons and apparently had written a book revealing many of the organization's secrets. Members were sworn to secrecy so this was big no-no. No trace could be found of Morgan and rumors started circulating that the Masons had murdered him. The Anti-Masonic Party put up their first presidential candidate, William Wirt, in 1831 and he managed to only win the state of Vermont. The party declined after that, but this win is an indication of how unwelcome Masons were in Vermont. So for them to have a meeting, they had to seek out back rooms in place like taverns. So the Old Stagecoach Stop became their meeting location. This was the King David Lodge.

By 1848, stagecoaches were giving way to the railroad, which arrived through central Vermont that year. There were still people taking the stagecoach on north and south routes though. The railroad was a boom for Waterbury, which attracted people who needed a place to stop on their way to new hotels being built in the mountains at Stowe, Vermont. There was a stable barn in back that had been painted lead black for a time, possibly in mourning for President Lincoln. In 1898, the electric trolley came to town and that was the last nail in the coffin for the stagecoach. It was out of business after that. The trolley would run until 1932, when people started using automobiles mostly.

A family named the Carpenters had owned the Old Stagecoach Inn for a time and they sold it to the Henry family who were very prominent in Waterbury and it came to be known as the Henry Farm. By 1890, the inn was mainly known as "Miss Annette Henry’s Home" because she kept the inn as a residence. Annette had been born in Waterbury as Margaret Annette Henry in 1850. Most people called her Nettie. Her family was very wealthy and she was described as high spirited and she was quite the character. She always wore her hair up in a bun, revealing her high cheekbones. She was very different than most women in town. Nettie loved to smoke cigarettes, which at the time was considered a sin in the town. She would often have her chauffeur take her for long rides so she could smoke in private. He claimed that she also seemed to like to chew tobacco and he often would notice tobacco stains at the corners of her mouth. Later in life, she lost her hearing and would carry an ear horn so she could hear people. She also wore a dark celluloid eyeshade in her elder years. So you can imagine she was quite the sight.

In 1903, Nettie married a rubber baron named Albert H. Spencer. The wealthy couple not only had the Waterbury inn, but also a house in Newport, a suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and apartments in Paris and London. They decided to refresh the inn and update the look. The narrow profile of the Federal style was kept, but Queen Anne Victorian elements were added like a gable above the roof line, clapboard sheathing and a decorative chimney. The couple also added a third floor for an upper floor apartment, stained glass around the windows, a framed tapestry in the front hall and wood paneling throughout. The couple meant to keep the house as a private residence, but they were rarely there and eventually it reverted back to a hotel. In 1907, Albert Spencer died in London and rumors started swirling about Nettie Spencer's life. People claim that she and Albert had been having an affair before they married and a child was born out of wedlock. When Nettie returned to Waterbury, the local women snubbed her a bit perhaps being jealous over her having become a part of international high society. Some stories claimed she was active in bootlegging when Prohibition started.

One might think that Nettie caused some of her own troubles as well by flaunting her automobiles around town. One was a Lincoln Phaeton, which is an extraordinarily cool looking car. If you aren't familiar, it looks a lot like Cruella Deville's vehicle. And she made sure that it got noticed because she regularly told her driver to "Step on it!" If he responded that it wasn't safe for them to drive so fast, she would retort, "I’m paying you to drive the way I want." And she always made sure that he stopped before they got too close to the railroad overpass when a train was coming through because she didn't want to "get any of that shit on the car" referring to the smoke and cinders. Nettie was domineering and tight with her money - let's just call her thrifty - but she also could be generous as long as people followed her directions to put the money in the bank "immediately." A woman who had been a little girl in the 1930s remembered calling on Mrs. Spencer to see if she would buy bags of candy to fund a club she belonged to and Mrs. Spencer had invited her in to sit in a gold chair. Apparently, Nettie often invited the young girls in town to sit in her gold chair that many were lead to believe was solid gold. They all commented that it was like sitting on a throne. 

In November 1927, the Great Flood of Vermont occurred and hit Waterbury fairly hard. Three days of rain caused the Winooski River to flood and it was so powerful that it carried away barns, bridges, livestock, houses and even railroad tracks. Waterbury had a flood plain which helped, but houses in lower lying areas were carried off and debris piling up on one end of Main Street cause much of the property there to flood. At the Old Stagecoach Inn, waters rose to the second level, but the house survived and was repaired. It took months for the rest of the town to recover and for bridges to be rebuilt.

By the end of World War II, Nettie was approaching 100 years of age and her mind was starting to go. She needed constant supervision. A night nurse who took care of Mrs. Spencer said, "She had two favorite pastimes—singing hymns and smoking. We would share a hymnal, rock and sing with gusto for ten or fifteen minutes. She would then have a cigarette or two, and we would start all over again. She would smoke her cigarette down to the very tip and then flick it as far as she could. It delighted her to see me scamper after it. It was an old house, and I was afraid of fire. I would rush and pick up the butts and place them in a saucer. She, however, thought I was collecting them to take home to my husband and accused me of it nightly." Eventually, the need for constant care lead to Nettie moving to a nursing facility in Massachusetts. She died there in 1947 and was brought back to Waterbury where she was interred in the Spencer Mausoleum at Hope Cemetery.

Nettie's former home and undergone many changes through the years, not only to the architectural styling, but also the grounds. Much of the land that the former farm had sat upon had been sold. C.B. Norton bought the property in 1948 and used it for two businesses. He ran his office for agricultural implements  out of the house and then he and his wife rented out rooms, some of which they had converted into apartments with their own kitchens and bathrooms. Mr. Norton died in 1972 and the place basically became a run-down boarding house with many of the clientele being mentally ill people who were getting out-treatment from the nearby asylum. This was the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane and was also known as the Waterbury Asylum. It was built in 1890 by several architects in three styles: Late Victorian, Colonial Revival and Classical Revival. This facility was built to alleviate overcrowding at the Vermont Asylum for the Insane in Brattleboro, Vermont. Waterbury Asylum was originally intended to house the criminally insane, but through the years started allowing people with addictions and other mental illness to be admitted. One of the longest running superintendents was Dr. Eugene A. Stanley who was a big proponent of eugenics and he supported forced sterilization. The term "Waterbury" was used as a derogatory term for years to indicate that someone was acting insane. The hospital closed in 2011.

Mrs. Norton tried to do her best after her husband passed to keep the boarding house going and she eventually was forced to sell what little land was left on the property. Mrs. Norton passed away in the early 1980s and the once grand home was a wreck leaving the town wondering what to do with the property. They knew they didn't want to demolish it because of its historical value, but finding someone who not only had the money to refurbish, but also wanted to refurbish wasn't easy. That is when Bostonians Kimberlee and James Marcotte found out about the property. Kim had grown up in Waterbury ans was very familiar with the location. They decided to renovate the building into a country inn and take it back to its former glory. Jim was well-suited for the job as he was a contractor that specialized in restoring old houses. Kim was a decorator, which was a plus. The couple partnered with the Historical Society and got a small business loan and set about to restore the place in 1985. They gutted a first floor room and transformed it into a library and bar. The stable barn and back house were transformed into five efficiency suites for long-term stays. A commercial kitchen was added and original handhewn beams were exposed. Period antiques were added along with crafted knicknacks. It took two years to complete and opened for business in 1987.

There was a lot of hope for success here, but the recession in the 80s and a need for the Marcottes to split their time between the inn and their business interests in Boston caused the couple to shutter the business in 1992. The inn stood empty for over a year. Another ray of hope came in the form of a father and son, John Barwick and John Barwick, Jr. They both were businessmen in New York City looking for a more relaxed way of life. When they approached the Small Business Administration to say they wanted to take over the inn, they were met with skepticism. They had no experience as innkeepers. The SBA finally agreed and the sale was closed on September 2, 1993 and the Old Stagecoach Inn opened for business again on September 25, 1993. The father and son had filled the place with antiques they had collected over 50 years and they opened at prime time, foliage season. That first month was a booming success. The inn runs primarily as a bed and breakfast and all the reviews we read rave about the gourmet breakfast, service and the rooms. The Barwicks were able to buy back the original expanse of land in the rear of the property adding to the beauty of the property. This is the perfect place for hosting private luncheons, parties and weddings.

And this is a location that isn't shy about their haunting. They proudly talk about it on their website and they provide journals for guests to write down their experiences. John Barwick wasn't much of a believer when he bought the place, but he is less skeptical now. There are claims that a rocking chair will rock on its own, sometimes in what appears to be an agitated manner. Furniture moves on its own. Housekeepers claim to get help from someone unseen who strips the beds and neatly folds the sheets. Despite the help, some of the cleaning staff is reluctant to work alone upstairs. A paranormal investigator and psychic walked through the inn and said that there seemed to be a strong energy field in the building. Using dowsing rods, he found the the strongest sensations came from Rooms 2 and 8. Interestingly, most of the ghosts stories center on Room 2, which had been Nettie's room.

The Old Stagecoach Inn website shares the following story, "It was a busy summer weekend and all rooms had been booked, although the reservation for room three had been canceled unexpectedly the previous evening. Mr. Barwick had taken the cancellation himself, and he alone knew about it. So here it was, Sunday morning breakfast was being served, and the dining room was still mostly full. Mr. Barwick was helping the waitress by keeping the coffee urn and orange juice pitcher full, and by removing dishes. As he was standing at the dining room entrance, two people came down for breakfast. They were unfamiliar to him. He had registered all the other guests and chatted with many of them, so he had a pretty good idea who was staying there. He thought perhaps this couple had come in off the street looking for breakfast, which occasionally happens. But it was odd that they had come down the stairs instead of through the side door.

To make sure, he asked if they were guests of the inn.
“Yes,” they replied. “We’re all in room three.”
“How many of you are there?” Mr. Barwick asked.
“Three,” they answered.
“Three,” said Mr. Barwick. “That room accommodates only two. Where did you all
“Oh, we managed,” they replied. “We couldn’t find a place to stay. This was the only one.”
Still puzzled, Mr. Barwick asked, “Well, what time did you come in?”
“Oh,” they said, “it was around two-thirty this morning.”
“Well, who let you in?” asked Mr. Barwick. “Why, it was a lady, an older lady. Very nice.”

More puzzled than ever, thinking it might have been one of the other guests who had been unaccountably awake at that hour, he now asked, “What did she look like?”
“Gray hair, kind of in a bun, and wearing a long dress,” they replied.

That didn't match any of the other guests. But even if she had been a registered guest, it would have been highly unusual for someone to have unlocked the door and allowed three people to come in for the night. And how could she have known that the room was available? After the newcomers had been seated and their orders taken, Mr. Barwick queried the other guests as they left the dining room, to see if anyone had any knowledge of the incident. No, no one did. He thought for a long time about this. There was probably a logical explanation, but he couldn't think of it then, and still can’t think of one now."

UM1997 wrote on TripAdvisor, "So we head back to the Inn and get ready for bed. It had been a long day of walking around and sightseeing so we were all beat so everyone fell sound asleep. Around midnight, I woke up because I just had a strange feeling that something was in the room with us. I sat up and looked around the room and didn't see anything, but you know when you just get that creepy feeling and all the hair stands up on the back of your neck? Yeah, that's what I felt. There were also some really old pictures on the bureau that didn't help my feeling of uneasiness. I figured that I just had a bad dream that woke me up and since my parents were still sound asleep, I tried to push it out of my head and go back to sleep. I think I stayed awake for a few hours after that still looking around for something to pop out at me." 

The inn keeps a journal of guests' personal experiences. This picture was snapped at the inn:

We imagine a character like Nettie Henry Spencer would be hard to tamp down even after death. She seems like a prime candidate to be a mischievous ghost. And this inn was a part of her life for many years. One would think she would want to be around now that the place has such new life within it. Is the Old Stagecoach Inn haunted? That is for you to decide!

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