Executive mansion ghost tales stir spirited discourse
A portrait of former NH Gov. Styles Bridges is shown at the Bridges House. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
CONCORD - Sometime after Maggie Hassan is sworn in as the state's next governor, she may come across things that hint of some freeloaders occupying the state's executive residence.
The state's outgoing first lady, Susan Lynch, last week passed along some stories alleging strange goings-on in the Bridges House in East Concord. Tales of towels and tablecloths found out of place, piano music played with no musician present and female voices heard in empty rooms have some people saying they think the historic house is home to one, possibly two ghosts.
"They seem to be more mischievous than malicious," said Lynch. "They seem to move things around, unplug lights, and people have heard the sound of two women laughing. There appears to be a lot of activity in the master bedroom of the house."
The Bridges House, at 21 Mountain Road, was built in 1836 by Charles Graham. Although considered the official residence of the state's governor, few executives have actually made it their home.
Gov. John Lynch and his family have remained in their home in Hopkinton during his four terms in office. Gov.-elect Hassan has said she and her family will continue living in their home in Exeter after she takes the oath of office on Thursday. Republican Gov. Meldrim Thomson of Orford and Democratic Gov. Hugh Gallen of Littleton were the only two governors to have officially taken up residence at Bridges.
The house recently underwent an extensive renovation and expansion, paid for through donations and grants. It opened to the public this holiday season as a show house, spotlighting state treasures, art and furniture from New Hampshire craftsmen.
Mrs. Lynch said many of the contractors working on the house related unusual occurrences.
"I almost think the work may have stirred things up there a bit," said Lynch. "There was an HVAC worker who said he heard women laughing in the master bedroom while he was working in a closet there.
"Another one had a brand-new power tool refuse to start when he tried to use it in the basement, but it would start in other places. Then he was able to start it, and it cut out about halfway through cutting a pipe. He looked over and saw the plug pulled from the wall, even though there was plenty of extension cord coiled on the ground. He didn't pull it out of the outlet himself."
"The ghosts, whoever they are, don't seem interested in causing any damage," said Cindy McLaughlin, a Friends of the Bridges House board member and head designer for the home's renovation project. "I'm sure they could if they wanted to, but they just act in a mischievous way. I have spent a good amount of time in the house the last few years, and I can tell you they are there."
McLaughlin says she has noticed something odd in the house on a few occasions.
"I was in the master bedroom, and this cold chill just came over me," she said. "It's not like a cold breeze, but just like the cold descends on you, sapping your energy. You can feel it happening. Another time, I heard the sounds of a woman walking across the bedroom while I was on the floor below, but there was no one else in the house."
Monogrammed towels play a role in some stories.
"There are towels in a bathroom which have the initials of Dolores Bridges on them," said McLaughlin.
"We'll find them in the tub and across the room near the toilet when no one has been in the house. We put them back in place, and they move again. And they are always positioned so the letters are facing down, so you can't see them, like it's done purposely."
"I have heard the stories," said Bridges House Executive Director Kenneth Moulton. "I haven't encountered any ghosts myself, but I know that quite a few say they have. It's an interesting part of the history of the house that not many people know about."
McLaughlin said she and others wouldn't be surprised if the unexpected laughter some say they have heard resembled what might have been characteristic of the mother of Sally Clement, Gov. Bridges' second wife.
"I don't know her first name, but there are stories that she didn't get along with Gov. Bridges' third wife, Dolores," said McLaughlin.
"That could explain the monogram towels always ending up face down. Some say Dolores enjoyed playing the piano, which could explain that playing briefly by itself. But the truth is we really don't know.''
There are those, however, whose personal experience does not support suggestions the house is haunted.
Peter Thomson, coordinator for the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency and son of Gov. Thomson, can't recall any scary stories from his days in the house.
"My family probably spent more time there than anyone, but I can't say I have heard anything about a ghost," said Thomson.
"I'm sure if my parents had seen anything, they would have shared it with me, but they never mentioned anything. There were times I would stay there, and I never saw or heard anything like a ghost."
Ray Burton, who has served on the state's Executive Council since 1977, also hasn't heard any ghost stories involving the Mountain Road property.
"I have been on the council for 34 years, and now it's on to my 10th governor," said Burton.
"I've spent a lot of time in that house and attended a lot of events there, but I can't say I've seen anything while I was there," he said.
Marc Goldberg, a spokesman for Hassan, said the incoming governor was unaware of the stories.
With any change in leadership, there is uncertainty over what the future may hold for the Friends of Bridges House, ghosts or no ghosts.
"We are taking a wait-and-see approach," said Moulton. "We expect to hear in the next 30 to 45 days what the governor-elect's plans for Bridges House are."
Fundraising efforts are expected to continue, and both Susan Lynch and McLaughlin have expressed a desire to remain on as board members.
"I have a lot invested in this project," said Lynch. "I'd like to see someone else take over as president of the board, but I want to stay on."
"Governor-elect Hassan believes the renovations made to Bridges House impressively reflect the beauty and rich history of New Hampshire and feels that the space will serve the state well for official functions," said Goldberg. "The governor-elect and her husband, Tom, plan to continue supporting the preservation of the historic house by working with the nonprofit Friends of Bridges House."
McLaughlin said she has been too busy in recent months to hire anyone to look into the veracity of the ghost stories. With the prep work done on the house for the season, however, she has made initial contact with a Massachusetts company about possibly coming in sometime soon.
"It's not just one person saying something strange has happened there," said McLaughlin. "It's more like 12 or 15 people. It's an interesting story, and it would be great to know if they are actually here."
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Paul Feely may be reached at email@example.com.
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