Legends and Lore of Stamford

Stamford, CT. Founded in 1641 this city is worthy of the legends that came from its historic past. Like most stories, they were born out of fact and have only grown into folklore as the years have rolled by. Whether they lead to hauntings or spooktacular events is clearly beside the point. It’s the story that gets me interested in learning the history behind the legend and I hope that it will for you as well!

I’ve done two of these “twisted tales” pieces in the past and have had so much fun with them, I wanted to do more! This year proved to be difficult in that I had accumulated so many different stories that I had a hard time trying to narrow down what I would actually post here and what I would save for another time. I wanted to not only tell the stories, but try to add some life back into them as well. We need to remember our past so we can preserve what’s left of it and this is one way I’m hoping, we can do just that.

Just as I’ve said in previous posts, these are but snippets. Edited down from a tremendous amount of hours of research that will hopefully get you excited to Learn Where You Live!

So let’s get to it…Happy Halloween Stamford!!!

-Thomas Reed-

1776 – Age 78

Though Death be potent as a king

And wounds with his envenomed sting

Yet Faith fresh vigor will impart

To rob the tyrant of his dart.

Stamford Harbor Ledge Lighthouse: There is something about this lighthouse that just speaks to me. It has an air of mystery and solitude to it that is quite different from other lighthouses. While Stamford Harbor has seen a great deal pass over its waters through the years, from Privateers in the Revolutionary War to ships built for military use in our now lost boatyard, it wasn’t until February 10, 1882 that our Harbor was graced with its own lighthouse. The Stamford Harbor Ledge Lighthouse was commissioned for $30,000 in 1881…put into service on Chatham Rocks in 1882…and decommissioned in 1985 just over 100 years later. In its time there were 22 light keepers and two assistants. 

One of the 22, Keeper John J Cook (k.1907-1909) loved spending Christmas at the light saying, “what more soul-stirring music could there be than that of wind and wave as they whistle and roar or moan and swish past our little home?”

As is almost a tradition of old lighthouses, the Stamford Ledge is said to be haunted by one of the old keepers. Which exact one is a mystery, but I would like to offer my  own theory. There are stories of Keeper Raymond F Bliven (k.1930-31) who never made it back to the lighthouse one night after having dinner with a friend on shore. Though separated from his wife, the keeper left the mainland for the lighthouse on August 13, 1931 to go back on duty and was found two days later by the crew of The Spruce about ¼ mile away from the lighthouse but ½ mile away from where his boat was found. His body was badly bruised including a major head injury. 

There are two versions of this story that I was able to find: 1) that it was ruled an accidental drowning after slipping off the ladder to the lighthouse and back into the boat which then capsized or 2) that it was foul play as speculated by the head trauma. Bliven was an accomplished swimmer so it was never thought that his swimming abilities could be at fault for his drowning.

However he passed, it makes it all the more curious if he is in fact the lost soul who haunts the house now? That he felt so compelled to make sure he finished his duty that he never left the area? If it is Keeper Bliven, I’m sure he, like many of us are hoping that the lighthouse gets a much needed face lift and is saved for all to see it light up our harbor once again!

-Thankful Weed-

1757-Age 15

Her blooming youth and lovely form

Could not impede the fateful storm.

The Forgotten: Deep in a wooded area of North a Stamford there lies a place, approximately 225ft by 225ft that is thought to house HUNDREDS of former Stamford residents. Known by several names in the town’s death records: Town Farm Cemetery, Town Poor Farm, Sunset Home Cemetery and Sunset Farm. But to many who live in the city, it is simply…Potter’s Field.

While the dedication stone stated it dates from 1870-1970, that is the only marker that indicates just what lies behind it, or rather, who lies behind it. 

Having stumbled upon this sacred place with a friend a number of years ago, I had no idea it was there. It lies in the woods at the edge of Bartlett Arboretum and when we were there it was overgrown with brush, trees and the like. Deciding to look further, it wasn’t until I tripped on one of the numbered marker stones that it truly hit us what this place was. Sure dedication plaques are everywhere, but when you begin to see the markers and then more, and then take note of their rising numbers well, it is both eerie and incredibly sad at the same time. The woods suddenly took on a heavy air quality, there was incredible stillness and yet you could hear every leaf that fell around us. We tried to clear as many markers we could of debris but had no idea just how large the area was and much of it (again at the time) was inaccessible.

I was so moved by this place I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know their names and give them some dignity and what I’ve learned is tragic. While there are records with some named individuals, right now, there are no complete records of all of the burials in this lot. It is also believed that some were piled on top of one another and just wrapped in a cloth or blanket as was the case with many infant deaths of the times.

When going through the causes of death of those recorded, you will find victims of accidents, “exhaustion” (perhaps an early name for heart ailments?), influenza and even a murder or two. Some were folks who had no family to care for them and no money for a proper burial and so would end up in the Field. And of course the saddest of them all, the little ones. So many babies and children now lost under the numbers.

An unsolved murder from 1976 also plagues the land adding to its mystery and unsettled feeling in those deeply rooted vines. And most unfortunate, many of the markers are now lost due to those looking for souvenirs found in the woods by those not understanding what it was that they took.

Are these lands haunted by those looking for recognition? Are their souls resting or waiting for their time to sleep in peace? All I can say is that while I was there, there was an uneasiness to the air, a silent scream of many underneath my feet that seemed to pierce the quiet air with “please don’t forget us.”

During my research for this piece I was so happy to find that this year, some folks began a project to bring closure to the lost and discarded souls. To clean up the area and give them proper stones and put names to all the numbers…as much as is humanly possible. How wonderful it is that after all these years there are those who still care to help those they never even knew?

Maybe when it has been completed, those ‘forgotten’ can finally rest easy knowing that they are now being remembered.

Personal Photo

-Sarah M. Bishop – William H. Bishop-

1853 – Ages 33 & 42

Wrapt in the shades of death

No more that friendly face I see

Empty, ah empty every place

Once filled so well by thee

The Clawman of Stamford: On August 28, 1933, Army Air Corps Pilot Captain Ernest Emery Harmon took off from Washington D.C. headed for Long Island. Due to heavy fog in the area, he was set off course and wound up in coastal Connecticut over Stamford. He was last seen circling low over Turn of River area before the aircraft went down in a group of trees. Captain Harmon was thought to have been thrown from the plane as his body was found ⅛ of a mile from the wreck which was about 300 ft from Long Ridge Road. Captain Harmon was 40 years old.

A seemingly straightforward obituary of a soldier, yes? An accomplished pilot who passed away too young due to the weather and instruments of the time. But the story takes on a stranger turn…

Just like in the movies, urban legends live and breathe and become great tales to tell at sleepover and around fire pits. And this one is no exception! Hooked yet? You will be!

For out of this plane crash was born the legend of…The Clawman. This story made its way to Stamford decades ago and from what I understand, the crash aspect was thought to be fiction. The story goes that a plane had crashed in the 1930’s and a possible survivor was never found. However there were rumors of sightings of a man walking along the streets in the area who had a makeshift hook for a hand who would go around and claw at doors at night. This story has a second version in that if young couples went up to the reservoir to make out, they were targets for the clawman. There were reports of the sound of scratching on car doors during make out sessions and one couple took off so quickly after hearing it that when they got home, they found a claw stuck in the door handle having ripped off the offending arm in their haste!

Being me, I had to look this up and that was when I found the actual crash story. The true urban legend born out of a factual story is itself part of the folklore that makes us who we are.

Now I’m not saying there is or isn’t a Clawman…who am I to judge? But maybe, just maybe the next time you decide to go up towards the reservoir or the dark North Stamford roads at night for a drive with your best girl, you stop. Turn around. And  maybe hit a movie at the Avon or show at the Palace instead. Because they are not spooky places…or ARE they???

1950’s Postcard

Those are stories for another time kids! Thank you so much for reading and please see the links below for some extras you might be interested in.

Special note: The epitaphs I’ve included between stories are genuine poems taken off of the stones of those buried here in a few of Stamford’s 47 cemeteries!

My thanks especially to the residents of Stamford who once again gave me enough story ideas to last through the next decade and to Ignacio Laguarda for including WOTM in his own Halloween piece for CT Insider!

Until next year…Keep it Spooky Stamford! 

~~~

Bonus Story Links for you:

Twisted Tales of Stamford (WOTM Halloween 2018)

The Stranger Side of Stamford (WOTM first in series 2015)

Unearthing the Mysteries at the Hoyt-Barnum House  (WOTM archaeological dig of the oldest house in Stamford 2016)

Want to learn more? Need a gift idea? Help support WOTM?

Clark’s Hill Cat

Stamford Sports (Images of Sports)

Stamford ’76: A True Story of Murder, Corruption, Race, and Feminism in the 1970s (referred to in Potter’s Field segment above)

A Maritime History of the Stamford Waterfront: Cove Island, Shippan Point and the Stamford Harbor Shoreline (American Chronicles)

Story of the Early Settlers of Stamford, Connecticut, 1641-1700, including Genealogies of Principal Families

#wotm #keepitlocal #learnwhereyoulive #halloween2019

#stamfordct #stamfordlighthouse #pottersfield #clawman

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