I was 13 in 1969 when my father decided to give up self-employment and take a job working for a clothing manufacturer in Norwich, Connecticut. He moved to Norwich from our home in Sharon, Massachusetts ahead of the rest of the family, staying in a motel until he found the house of his dreams; an old two-story built in 1928, located on the water side of Pequot Avenue, overlooking the Thames River in New London.
My father spent his entire childhood in and around the seaside communities of Revere and Hull Massachusetts, surrounded by water and the ever-present smell of salt air. Boys like him grew up less concerned about their first car and more determined to own their first boat. He spent a great deal of time barefoot and was bothered little by the frigid water temperatures that were indigenous to the area. Cutting sea worms, baiting hooks, and ultimately gutting fish in preparation for the feed had become second nature to him. He spent the first 13 years of my life landlocked, surrounded by landlubbers. The house in New London was in part his liberation, his return to the Sea.
Located on six square miles in Southeastern Connecticut on the banks of the Thames River, New London is one of the smallest communities geographically in the state. Because of its natural harbors, deep waters, and muddy floor that's perfect for anchoring, New London became a major colonial seaport that by 1846 was the second largest whaling port in the world. Later it would be surpassed by both New Bedford and Nantucket, but New London’s contribution to the whaling industry is well documented. The Thames River begins in Norwich where it is formed by the confluence of the Shetucket and Yantic rivers, continuing approximately 15 miles to where Fishers Island and Long Island Sounds meet. The Thames is not actually a river, but an estuary of the sound. By definition: "The wide mouth of a river into which the tide flows from the sea". Even by the time we arrived, the quaint seacoast community of New London hadn’t lost a bit of its 19th-century charm.
The house on Pequot Ave. was built on a hill and had a three-foot-wide, four-foot-high concrete wall around the entire perimeter of its small, grass-covered back yard, providing a more than an adequate barrier between land and sea. Some years ago the front door was bumped-out and a small mudroom was added on, moving the footprint of the house to within just a few yards of the poured concrete sidewalk and the busy street. As you made your way past the mudroom and proceeded to step up into the galley kitchen, you remained ground level, but as you continued towards the rear of the house, past the formal dining room, the house became second story; ten feet above the ground and the walkout basement below.
The basement had been converted into a finished two-bedroom apartment and for several years was rented by students of Mitchell College. The college was across the street, occupying a good stretch of Pequot Avenue. The door to the basement apartment opened up to the backyard and there were several weather-beaten concrete steps alongside the house that the four tenants had to climb before reaching street level. The street was the only flat ground, beyond it, the elevation rose steadily for several blocks.
Both the back and the side of the rear of the house on the first floor had huge picture windows, perfect for watching submarines and ships enter and exit the port. Across the Thames in Groton, there's the Naval Submarine Base New London, the Navy's first submarine base, and the "Home of the Submarine Force". The obscurity of the night provided the perfect guise with which to watch lit, seaworthy vessels of all sorts go by our house. Submarines, Ocean liners, fishing trawlers, loaded barges nudged along by hard-working tugs, yachts, motorboats, even swans regularly passed through what was essentially, our back yard.
As you faced our house, to the left there were several similar styled homes one after another, with very little space between them. To the right was 150 yards of sandy beach and just beyond it, an older yacht club that in the dead of winter, showed it’s age and neglect. It was on that beach that I first fed the white swans by hand, learning quickly just how testy they could be. They were much more appealing from a safe distance.
Built in the attic space, the second floor towered over the water at the rear of the house. Both the closed stairwell and upstairs hallway were finished in dark veneers, thickly coated with oil-based shellac. With just a single light hugging the ceiling in the center of the eight-foot-high hallway at the top of the stairs, the dim lighting would cast dark shadows that accompanied you as you made your way towards the bedrooms. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom that had the original freestanding, white enameled cast iron tub that had worn through black in spots. The smallest room had a single, double-hung window that overlooked the water on the dormer's gable end at the rear of the house. The room was completely empty except for a full-length mirror that stared back at you upon approach.
My father lived in the house alone for three months until my mother arrived. My sister and I stayed with our grandparents in Sharon.
It was early afternoon in mid-October, just after my mother arrived that there was a knock on the front door. Dressed entirely in black and with a kerchief covering her unkempt graying hair; a short, sixty-year-old woman claiming that she once lived in the house, asked politely if she could come in. My parents let her in, and without hesitation, the woman walked straight to what appeared to be a familiar spot in front of the picture window at the rear of the house. With her eyes transfixed over the Thames, she told how her own husband had a small boat tied to the dock that he frequently used for fishing. She continued speaking without once wavering from her stanch gaze, explaining how he had ventured out one clear day and never returned. She went on to say that the Coast Guard conducted an extensive search, but he was never found. It was at that point she broke away from her distant stare, and looking directly at my parents she declared, “This house is an unhappy house-". She then made the same line back to the front door she made coming in, having seen and said all that she wanted.
After playing my last Pop Warner football game in Farmingdale, Long Island in early December, I went straight to New London. My sister stayed with my grandparents to finish her senior year at Sharon High.
Although my bedroom furniture had been moved to what was supposed to be my room at the top of the stairway, I stayed downstairs in a small room next to my parent's bedroom. I had become accustomed to sleeping on a fold-down couch in Sharon and I went onto another one in New London. They're very different than pullouts. I would unhinge the back from the seat by first pulling it forward and then pushing it back to where it would collapse, creating a flat surface for sleeping. There was no avoiding the split that ran the entire length, and it took some getting used to.
There was a heavy wooden door that opened out into the living room, revealing the stairway that led to the upstairs. It looked much like any ordinary closet door and was always been kept closed. I used to go upstairs a lot and frequented the small room at the end of the dark hallway in order to procure the best view of the Thames the house had to offer.
At first, we thought nothing of the door leading to the upstairs being open every morning… Or, that of the three vacant bedrooms upstairs, whose doors my mother always kept open to prevent the air from becoming stagnant, only the one to the small bedroom with the view of the Thames was found shut… We joked about "The Ghost". My father eventually grew curious and put a hasp with a padlock on the door leading to the upstairs. The next morning it was wide open and the door to the small bedroom upstairs was closed. It happened repeatedly…
The previous owners only lived in the house for a very short time before putting it back on the market. The married couple, who were in their late fifties, were both tall and thin, and during the sale of the house had very little to say, appearing oddly stoic. They did divulge that they purchased the house for investment purposes, having planned on the income from the apartment rental, but it had become too much work. They only moved a couple of blocks down on Pequot Ave., into a newer, but smaller home on the non-water side of the street. After some extraordinary things began to happen my mother gave them a call. When pressed on why they sold so soon they would not elaborate, but said, “Strange things were happening”. They were occasionally seen taking brisk walks past the house, but remained very tight-lipped…
I went to school in Norwich and drove in with my father every morning. After the last bell at Kelly Junior High, I would catch a bus ride to the YMCA in downtown Norwich where I hung out with inner-city kids who were at the Y as often as I was, playing pick-up basketball every afternoon. At night, the 4 on 4 full-court games got pretty competitive and I thoroughly enjoyed my teammates and their fast-paced, “run and gun” style of play, new to me at the time.
Some days my father picked me up late afternoon, and at least a couple of times a week he would stay at the Y to play paddleball with his co-workers, giving me an extended stay. The small family-run diner across from the Y provided some basic nutrition and was a welcome food break between day and night.
That night it snowed hard and I remember visibility was brutal. We stayed at the Y late and after a slow drive, we arrived home just after 10:00. My mother had been home alone. I didn’t find out about the events of that evening until after we moved… Seems my mother got comfortable in a captain's chair watching lit submarines and tankers make their way into port through the windblown snow. The view was nothing short of spectacular during a squall. All of a sudden, a white shape appeared to jump out of the house and began dancing fifteen feet over the water. The whole time it was looking directly at my mother. She described it as having a head, torso, short stubby arms, and male in its appearance. She was petrified. She turned on every light in the house and sat in the kitchen away from the windows, anxiously awaiting our return.
I wasn't told about the strange activity when we got home and I went right to bed. When my mother told my father what had happened he didn't believe her. He told her it had to be a mist, the snow, her imagination… It was after that night that my mother began ringing the doorbell before entering the house. The doors continued their unexplainable behavior…
Not long after, during Christmas vacation, I went back to Sharon to spend the weekend with my friends and my sister traveled to New London with a girlfriend. That night it snowed. She and her friend secured good seats in front of the picture windows and watched lit submarines return through the storm. Her friend fell asleep on the living room’s hardwood floor, which had been made comfortable with a scattering of quilts and pillows. My sister stayed up and watched…
All of a sudden, while the rest of the house lay sound asleep, a white shape with a head, torso, and stubby arms jumped out of the house and started dancing fifteen feet over the water. My sister darted into my parent's bedroom and immediately woke them up, alerting them to the supernatural events taking place in the next room… She had never heard my mother's story. My mother’s eyes bulged and she turned to my father and said, "See, I told you something’s out there!" They told my sister to go to bed, but she didn't. She claims the shape disappeared into the house and that she saw the handle to the door leading upstairs turn, watched the door open, and that just moments later she heard the door upstairs slam shut.
We moved out a few weeks later after finalizing on a house in Norwich that was nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood, miles from the sea. Although the well-kept hedgerow at the rear of this house didn't approach the extraordinary views we had encountered in New London, we were all very content with our safe return aground.
Recent photo of Pequot Ave. Our old house is to the left of the beach and has a light brown roof.
My father carried two mortgages for almost a year. He had the house sold once to a well-to-do gentleman who strangely was married to a woman my father knew in High School. They left a substantial deposit and the house was all but sold… Just weeks before the scheduled closing, the man called to tell my father his wife had suffered a severe nervous breakdown requiring that she be hospitalized indefinitely… He said to keep the deposit; $10,000 was a large sum of money back then.
We eventually sold the house, but not before the basement flooded. An engineer was brought in to determine the cause, but even after a lengthy investigation, he had no plausible explanation… After the new owners moved in, we took our motorboat down the Thames and anchored in the water at the rear of the house and just stared at it for a while… I knew he was watching from the small attic room on the second floor. I was scared; I thought something was going to happen to the boat…
A year later, while attending high school at Norwich Free Academy, my freshman English teacher brought in a copy of The New London Day that featured an article about a house bulit in 1890 that was recently declared a ghost house. It was #347 Pequot Ave. We were #352. My mother and I drove back to see where this house was in relation to ours… It was a larger, three-story house, higher up on the hill, diagonally across from ours.
Recent photo of 347. The white house down the hill and to the left is 352.
The four-year-old boy who lived there was found up in the attic late one night. When asked how he got up there he said, "An old sea captain with one arm brought me up". Each time he was found up in the attic the child had the same explanation. Chandeliers swung, pictures would not stay on the wall, and their cat was found dead on the front stoop after it was seen flying down several flights of stairs as if it had been kicked…
Experts were called in. The first thing they did was research the history of the house and they discovered the original owner was a sea captain with one arm who despised cats. He spent months at sea while his wife waited at home for his safe return.
The family that owned the house at the time included a man, who was a submarine captain and also spent months away at sea, his wife, and their four-year-old son. The experts discovered that the original owner died at sea and went on to presuppose that his spirit must have remained at the house to watch over his wife. He apparently stayed in the house even after his own wife passed and wouldn’t show his presence until the man of the house was away at sea.
It was believed that the ghost of the 'one-armed sea captain' was a good spirit whose only purpose was to protect the woman of the house while the man was away. The family at 347 accepted his presence, understanding he had only good intentions. The article went on to describe that when the submarine captain would return from the sea, the ghost of the 'one-armed sea captain' would disappear. We believed it was then that he went across the street to 352, and upstairs to the small room at the end of the dark hallway in order to procure the best view of the Thames the house had to offer…
(Of course it's fucking true!)