by Denise Brown courtesy of Scott Wheeler
My children swear I didn’t tell them about the ghosts before we settled into what I’ve come to learn is one of Lyndon’s most famous haunted houses. Maybe that’s true. Their father had died, and I was eager to move from Connecticut, and didn’t feel that a few spirits lingering about should deter us. But in truth, I didn’t put much stock into the stories the realtor told me anyway.
The old house had stood empty for several years. The shutters, those that remained, were broken and askew; the shrubs overgrown; one door was boarded up against the weather. Dark stains on the ceilings signaled the roof needed serious repair. The heat and electricity were off, and the air that hung in the dusty rooms was as bitter cold as that outside. But I fell in love with Cahoon Farm moments after I walked inside. It felt like I’d come home. I hadn’t really.
Cahoon Farm, built in 1798, had stayed in the Cahoon-Hoffman family for two centuries. You could say it still has, given its historical importance and our occasional nighttime visitors. Over our five years here, I have come to think that at best we’re sharing the property. But I think that’s true for anyone who purchases and attempts to preserve a historic home. We become caretakers of the past.
The previous owner, Horty Hoffman, was an historian herself, and in the early seventies had lovingly and authentically papered and appointed the old homestead, and conducted numerous house tours and field trips for students from the graded school. I don’t try to keep pace with Mrs. Hoffman’s efforts, but it has been a pleasure now and then to open our home to visitors, reporters, and students. And while many are intrigued by the ornate woodwork in the formal parlor, the wide pine planks in the hall, or the spacious symmetry of the rooms, the first thing almost everyone asks is, “Have you seen any ghosts?”
Quite a few people have over these two centuries.
We should begin at the beginning, with the story of Daniel Cahoon, Sr., who in September of 1811, was gored to death while rescuing a child from a bull. Ol’ Dan’l was laid out in an upstairs bedroom known as the Green Room, and it’s his ghost who is said to be heard tromping up the stairs some evenings. And what he’s looking for is also the stuff of folklore—a wine cellar supposedly boarded up by his grieving widow, who was convinced it was a potent drink that brought about her husband’s demise. People have been searching for that cellar ever since. And so has Dan’l, according to legend.
In other stories, overnight visitors have been awakened by ghosts: one supposedly played a bit of tug of war with one guest’s blankets, and another held his head in his hands and mourned the drowning of his young son. Clayton Homman, Dan’l’s descendant who rarely talked about ghosts, is said to have seen one himself by his bedside—a young woman in old-fashioned dress. Some have heard music playing and glasses tinkling in the parlor that once held the first piano in Lyndon. A young couple dressed for a wedding—the woman in white, a man in top hat and black jacket—showed up one morning in that upstairs Green Room, which at one time could be expanded into an area fit for ceremonies and balls by lifting up a retractable wall.
I suppose skeptics and psychologists could have a field day explaining away such sightings as the products of over-stimulated imagination or worse. And I don’t want to give the impression that these sorts of things happened regularly in this old house. In our five years, we’ve experienced relatively few mysterious happenings: an electric fan that turned itself on several times, for example, sudden volume changes of the television set, or doors that open and shut by themselves. Things that go bump in the night. All manner of occurrences that could be explained away as power surges, or the creaks and groans that accompany the settling of an old house.
But I have one story to tell. See what you think of this. Shortly after I moved into the house, I decided to have the kitchen countertop replaced. The morning this work was completed, I was standing at the sink, running a dishtowel over the new counter, happy with the job. And I saw a figure float by the kitchen door. She was a bit taller than I, all draped in what seemed to be black lace. And my immediate thought was, “There’s the widow of the house checking on the new widow of the house.” I stepped into the hallway, but she was gone.
A few weeks later, a good friend came to visit. Late in the evening, her daughter went downstairs to get a glass of water from the kitchen, and in roughly the same area of the hall, she saw a woman standing before her. The following morning, she sketched her for me, describing the very figure I had seen: a woman of the same height, the same lace covering head and hands.
I’d not said anything to my friend or her daughter about the woman in black.
A few years later, I decided to replace the worn linoleum in the kitchen. And the morning that job was completed the lady returned. Only this time I saw her floating by the doorway all in white radiant. Perhaps at peace.
Why would a ghost come to visit my kitchen? The history of Cahoon Farm offers an explanation. At one time, what is now the kitchen was divided, and inside of it was a small, sealed-off room. In that room, the family kept a patient—perhaps someone chronically ill, perhaps someone insane. It’s uncertain. But in that tiny cell, the family member was cared for and kept safe.
It seems to me that the lady ghost must have had a deep devotion to the loved one in that room. She returns whenever something pulls her energy back, some change she needs to investigate, or the appearance of a visitor of whom she is unsure.
“Weren’t you afraid?” I’ve been asked, upon telling the story. Of course I wasn’t. Not at all. And neither was my friend’s daughter. We all had someone watching over us with such tenderness and concern, while we are alive to appreciate it. (Visit the Cahoon Farm website at http://www.cahoonfarm.com)