Activity at local haunt causes headaches for Stowe Hollow neighbors
On some still summer nights, you can hear strange sounds coming from Emily’s Bridge.
Shuffling footsteps. Rustling clothes. The shouts of youths. Maniacal laughter. A whistle, or maybe just the wind?
For residents of Covered Bridge Road in Stowe, these disturbances are a constant source of sleepless nights. But the culprit’s name is probably not Emily, the jilted teenage lover whose specter is said to haunt the famed structure. More likely, it’s a late-night reveler come in search of Emily’s spirit — or simply in search of some fun.
Ghost hunters have long been drawn to the supposedly haunted bridge for the promise of a fright, creating a minor annoyance for residents. But lately, an explosion of people who would apparently rather have a beer (or seven) with Emily than a séance is keeping residents up late, they said.
“There’s definitely a problem,” said nearby resident David Jaqua, who noted an increase in late-night partiers and street racers at the site.
“The cars gun the engine going up that steep hill, turn around in a driveway — sometimes with someone on the hood of the car — and then do a ‘Dukes of Hazard’ through the bridge,” Jaqua said.
For the most part, residents say the ghost hunters, who usually show up at the bridge between midnight and 3 a.m., are respectful (absent the occasional scream). But the partiers are getting to be too much.
“It seems like there’s just something about the acoustics of the bridge that make it shoot those sounds right into our bedroom window,” said Julia Rodgers.
Rodgers and husband Tom moved to the neighborhood last fall. The couple loves the bridge (they even had their wedding photo taken there), but last Halloween they learned that peace and quiet in the area can be hard to come by at night.
“It was out of control,” she said. “The winter was quiet, but we’ve been calling the police every few weeks in the summer.”
In response, the Stowe Police Department has upped nightly patrols in the area, but they haven’t found much, Chief Don Hull said.
“The people we see up there are usually just tourists or ghost hunters, and they’re usually not drinking,” Hull said. “We’re not finding anyone doing any criminal activity.”
Emily’s story is the stuff of local legend and outside intrigue. Iterations of the tale claim Emily was a teenage lover in the 1920s who was supposed to wed a gentleman on the bridge; when he didn’t show up, she hung herself from the rafters. Another version claims Emily’s man didn’t show up at church for the wedding; the heartbroken bride, in a fit of anger, sped away by carriage and accidentally plummeted to her death in the rocky brook by the bridge. In other variations, the vehicle was a car instead of a carriage, though only a few wealthy families in Stowe would have owned a car in the 1920s. In still other versions, she just jumped off the bridge.
If that last version were true, ghost hunters are frequenting the wrong bridge, said Barbara Baraw, director of the Stowe Historical Society.
“It was probably the other bridge, the one at the intersection of Gold Brook Road and Gold Brook Circle,” which is much higher, Baraw said.
In fact, the historical society has no known record of a woman named Emily killing herself on either bridge, and ghost hunters have for years drawn a blank in historical records.
“It’s probably just one of those wonderful stories we have in Stowe,” Baraw said. “It’s a great story, but it probably didn’t happen.”
Baraw has heard numerous theories about where the story started, with some claiming the ghost began to appear in the 1930s; others say it started in the 1970s.
Many attribute the story to Nancy Stead, a long-time resident of Stowe and a columnist for the Stowe Reporter, who has claimed that she started the rumor several decades ago.
According to Stead, in the early 1970s, tales of witchcraft were becoming all the rage. One day, while sitting around a pond with Hazel Carlson, Stead and Carlson decided to come up with some witchcraft of their own to scare the kids swimming in the pond.
“The girls were buzzing about witchcraft and covens (gatherings of witches), and we said we should probably tell them about this bridge, and this girl Emily who died there,” Stead said. “Each of us would add our own line to the story, and boom, it just took off and went crazy. But it was just made up.”
Regardless, Emily’s story continues to be one of Stowe’s claims to fame. Joseph Citro, Vermont monster and ghost expert, even called Emily “Vermont’s most famous spook.” Ghost hunting websites around New England, including emilysbridge.com, are filled with spooky tales of run-ins with the stricken sprit. There is even a Wikipedia page. Some residents contacted for this story were wary of “fanning the flames” by continuing to publicize the spot.
Apocryphal legend or not, the bad behavior on the bridge is getting out of hand, neighbors say, and they hope to come up with some solutions.
Rodgers said part of the problem is people not knowing it’s a residential neighborhood. The few homes near the bridge are partially blocked by trees and bushes, and visitors from out of town may not even realize people are sleeping nearby.
On Thursday, June 27, a group of 10 residents from the neighborhood met with Town Manager Charles Safford and Hull to hash out a plan.
“The bridge is a tourist attraction, which is fine and we hope everyone enjoys it, but we also ask that people respect that there are neighbors and minimize their impact on them,” Safford said in an email last week.
Hull said part of the issue is the layout of the land near the bridge, which can make minor noises like a car door closing or people having a conversation echo, making the situation sound worse than it is, he said.
“We are finding a lot of people from out of town up there, but it’s not illegal to be there unless you’re standing on the bridge obstructing traffic,” Hull said.
Residents and the town are working on ways to encourage people to visit the bridge respectfully, like adding historical signs, or posting notices discouraging bad behavior.
“We basically want to make it very hard for the people that are causing the disturbances to come to the site, but make it easy for the people who just want to visit and enjoy the bridge,” Rodgers said.
“We’re trying to be practical with it, because you know, we were all kids once,” Jaqua said.
Follow Nathan Burgess on Twitter: @SRNathanBurgess.