SKELETONS ON NEW MILFORD’S MOST HAUNTED STREET

14 Nov

Bank Street Coffee House, 56 Bank Street, New Milford, CT. Skeletons had a very successful event here on Sunday, October 24, 2010. I read from the collection’s short story “Romancing the Goat.” The charming establishment is for sale! Wish I could buy it. It’s such a neat place. I’m hoping when I get some time to do research on the street at the Town Library I can find out which building stood here during the “Great Fire.”

The town of New Milford, where I grew up, certainly had its share of ghost stories and urban legends. There was The Witches’ Circle—a spot in a huddle of five giant evergreens that was always cold, even in summer (imagine that!), and if you stood in it at midnight, a witch came out and told you how you were going to die. There was Lovers’ Leap, reportedly haunted by the spirits of suicidal Native Americans (or self-sacrificing Native Americans, depending on who was telling it), and they screamed every time the moon was full (or every time a bad boyfriend drove by, or some other variation).

And then there was Bank Street, which was at the heart of the town’s “Great Fire” on May 5, 1902. From the New York Times coverage of the event: “Almost without exception the buildings composing the business portion of the town are wooden structures and flying sparks and the rapidly spreading flames soon gave the town the appearance of a roaring furnace. Young’s Hotel was the first building to succumb to the flames, and the wind which was changing, quickly spread destruction in all directions. At 10 o’clock it was impossible to reach New Milford by telephone.” I would like to get up to the Public Library and do some research on the fire, as there doesn’t seem to be much written about it that’s immediately available.

The front door and signs. The shop is a hub of activity of all kinds, and when you open the front door, it smells awesome—like Grandma’s kitchen when she’s been baking pumpkin pies and sugar cookies. The couches are comfy, and the heavy old tables give the place a rustic feel.

Probably because of that, the town’s teens invented much of their own history, which went something like this: tons of people died! Some parts of the burned buildings were still intact so they incorporated them into the new buildings and they even used the scorched wood! And now those buildings are loaded with angry ghosts! The younger sister of the guy who sells popcorn at the Bank Street Theatre told me there’s a burned-out hotel room that they never demolished (?) on the top floor and the lights are always going out in there! My sister’s babysitter told me the books at the bookstore fly right off the shelves! At the music store the guitars play by themselves in the middle of the night, I swear, my brother’s girlfriend’s best friend swears by it!

Whether or not any of this is true? I have no idea. No one could have died, for all I know, and since the buildings were all wood (most of them, anyway), I find it hard to believe people would rebuild using burnt lumber (if there was even any left). But as kids, we took this as gospel. And the stories certainly were enough to send chills up the spines of every middle-school girl at a sleepover party.

Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World’s first public signing was held at Bank Street Coffee House, right in the heart of that purportedly-haunted district. Because of all the stories about the street that honestly had terrified me as a kid, I thought it’d be a perfect match!

Below, photos from the event. Enjoy!

The Skeletons table.

Long-time New Milford residents Robert and Pearl Carlson were the first to buy copies that day! It was great to see them.

Me at the table, enjoying a cup of coffee before I read a portion of “Romancing the Goat” to the house’s patrons. One of the afternoon’s coolest moments (and there were many) was a teen who came up to get the book with her Mom—and I found out her name was Olivia. In Skeletons’ first story, “Doing Blue,” the character’s name is Olivia—Livvie, for short. I made sure to give her a few extra “Doing Blue” postcards to share with her friends!

Jim West, left, and I used to volunteer together at TheatreWorks New Milford backstage. We share a love of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and he came down for some coffee and brought me some cool stuff: a Creature T-Shirt, an issue of Rue Morgue featuring the autographs of Julie Adams and Ben Chapman (the guy in the creature suit)--and a Burger King Creature toy STILL in its packaging. Totally cool!

Me and the T-shirt! I can’t wait to wear it.

Bank Street Coffee House has a Community Bookshelf, so I donated a copy of Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World. I set it on the shelf next to the Disney book Eeyore’s Oops and Downs. Kinda thought that was appropriate!

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