Conway – November 7, 2008 – How do we get today’s children out in the woods? Marianne O’Connor, 44, of Nashua often asks that question of herself. In the fall of 2007, O’Connor contacted the Exeter publisher PublishingWorks, Inc. with a completed manuscript of a New Hampshire outdoor travel book for families.
“We decided to change the focus to haunted hikes,” said O’Connor, a guidance counselor at the Bicentennial Elementary School, about her work with the publishers. Her new book, entitled “Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire” was released in June 2008. After all, getting kids and their families outside was the focus and what more exciting lure would there be than getting the “willies”?
As an adult, I can tell you that this book sure gives you the willies. Not only that, but the events leading to the origins of that odd term are colorfully described in chapter 14, which tells the story of the unfortunate Willey family that was killed by a landslide in Crawford Notch in 1826. O’Connor, who has completed the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers, also suggests some nice hikes near the present day Willey House site.
That last chapter is but a small piece of the scary pie that comprises this book. O’Connor traveled the state putting the pieces together for her stories, sometimes even making local random phone calls in pursuit of a thread. This worked when she was trying to expand the story of the sasquatch in the Ossipee Mountains. Not that it needed much expansion.
Originally, O’Connor, who has written a hiking column for the Manchester paper The Hippo every two weeks in the summer, and occasionally in the winter, had contacted this writer about a story I had written about the Ossipee Mountain sasquatch. I in turn connected her with Peter Samuelson of North Fryeburg, who had the actual experience with his girlfriend back in 1979.
That in itself was probably enough to make one of the most popular chapters in her book. Yet, she persisted, calling around locally to get more information. She called a quarry owner in Ossipee. The man told her that there was a Camp Gitchee Goumee in the Ossipee Mountains in the 1960s and 1970s, where, around campfires, the kids were told of a monster in the mountain range that was called the monster of Gitchee Goumee. It’s physical description was identical to Samuelson’s. This information gave the chapter a colorful beginning. Also, she suggested some great hikes in the range.
Not only is “Haunted Hikes” a book to raise the hackles of young and old alike, but it is a great source of exciting history. One of the more popular chapters for hikers is the one on the bomber crash on the side of Mount Moosilaukee in 1942. O’Connor not only tells the story with skill, but gives directions for skilled hikers to get to the crash site on the thickly forested slopes of the subsidiary peak called Mount Waternomee, and see the wreck.
As with all the chapters, there is an accurate map with the one on the bomber crash. O’Connor used GPS and tracked the route to every location in the book, and gave the information to a cartographer, who made a small map for each chapter.
Some other legendary subjects covered include the southward journey of Rogers Rangers down past the White Mountains after they raided St. Francis; the legend of Chief Chocorua; the tragedy of Nancy Barton’s solo descent of Crawford Notch in the winter; the fascinating story of the abduction of Barney and Betty Hill; and some great stories of hauntings in the AMC Hut System. All of these subjects are accompanied by appropriate hikes in the areas the stories took place. After all, the point is to get outside.
Yet it is the remaining chapters of less familiar places and events that this writer particularly enjoyed. In southern New Hampshire, tales of a ghost town, a haunted castle, of the struggles of inter-racial marriage, and of life along the Wapack Trail, all add up to real history in real places, with interesting nearby hikes. But also ghosts, naturally. Sometimes reality is stranger than a ghost story. The chapter about Bette Davis, Sugar Hill, and the Coppermine Trail to Bridal Veil Falls is one you have to read to believe.
All in all, this book is a wealth of information, both earthly and ghostly, for those interested in the fascinating intertwining of land a history. It is also a great book to have around when there is a child who needs to walk outside and become reacquainted with that land.