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The Haunting of Hibbard House

GUEST HOUSE IN HISTORIC BATH, NH (continued)

After an hour lost on country roads we found the sturdy old place at dusk, and set about exploring. The modern aluminum restaurant oven, giant brick oven and ancient iron cook store dominate the kitchen. The dining room was set for eight. There is an old uptight piano in the great hall that leads to the wide central staircase that dwarfs a settee and a working wind-up Victrola. All four of the large rooms downstairs have working fireplaces, trimmed in black marble that, according to an old brochure, were installed as a memorial to the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. There is a speaking tube in the master bedroom that once trumpeted commands to the servants downstairs. Old Christmas decorations, remnants of the defunct bed and breakfast, are piled in the barn. There was fresh rhubarb, green beans, blueberries and summer squash ready to be picked in the garden out back.

NH Rep/ Harry HIbbard House in Bath, NH / (c) SeacoastNH.com

The Hibbard House is a brooding thing, dark in a way that makes it difficult to photograph, but it did not seem haunted to me. I wandered the place un til the wee hours, since my brain is set to a writer’s clock and felt, with the exception of a few cobwebs, nothing eerie or ill at ease.

The next morning, by sheer coincidence, was the 50th anniversary of the Bath Volunteer Fire Department, the one next to the burned out house. Events for the weekend – highlighted by a vintage clothing fashion show and a watermelon seed-spitting contest -- were painted onto a bed sheet and posted on the railing of the combination town hall, post office, grange and library. That building, the Congregational Church and the Brick Store are the dominant structures in the Lower Village.

Later in the day the town held the biggest parade in four years. About half of the 700 local residents seemed to be in the parade, and the other half watched. The procession moved up Route 302 from the tiny green common, past the Hibbard House to the fire station and back. We met The Jolleys, an entire family dressed as clowns. Executive Councilor Raymond S. Burton, a Bath resident and one of the most powerful men in the state, cruised by in a vintage yellow convertible sporting NH license plate Number 1. There was a jazz band, a polka band, a rock band, a school band and a band of highland bagpipers. We all went back to the church for a ham and bean supper.

The house was not haunted as advertised, but it has every right to be. Harry Hibbard, for whom the house is named, was a United States Congressman from the great state of New Hampshire prior to the Civil War. His close friend Franklin Pierce used to stay here, legend says, in the very bedroom we selected. When he was president, Pierce tried to appoint Hibbard to the US Supreme Court, but the Bath lawyer declined. Locals say he went crazy, but the official record only says he was very ill. I’ve been digging into the story ever since, but history seems to have closed in around him. Harry’s wife Sarah donated a lot of items to the New Hampshire Historical Society. We walked up the hill one day and found their graves. The official record from the "NH Bench and Bar" says they had no children, but there is a tiny tombstone next to theirs.

Barn at Hibbard Guest House in Bath, NH / SeacoastNH.com

Harry Hibbard, the record says, set up his legal practice in Bath in 1839 when the town was a mining and manufacturing center. In 1844 he successfully prosecuted a trial against a man named Comings (or Cumings) who murdered his wife. His skill as a courtroom attorney, even at the age of 28, was spectacular, and he was soon speaker of the NH House, before packing off for his career in Washington DC. One account I found says that Mr. Hibbard’s face turned as white as that of the convicted man when the sentence was handed down. Tim has suggested the murderer, or maybe Hibbard’s restless soul is at the root of the strangeness that goes on inside the rambling old house.

We saw no flaming auras in our brief visit. My spirit was at peace here among the empty rooms in the sleepy village tucked against the weary old Amonoosuc.

But then, I should mention the "incident" that happened here last May. Susie Harvey, who owns the house, was sitting with a friend in the parlor when they got up to refresh their tea. As they did, a car doing a reported 80 mph flew off Route 302 by the fire station, crashed through a telephone pole and plowed directly into the granite foundation of the Hibbard, filling the parlor with splintering glass and flying shards of wood. The driver, an elderly man, lay motionless in the car. "A dead man just hit my house!" the owner told the 911 dispatcher, but suddenly he revived. He’s okay now, Susie says, and stopped by the other day to say hello.

During our visit, four months after the accident, a carpenter finally arrived to fix the damage. He pulled the powerful beams back into place, reset the window frame, patched up the clapboards and plastered the wall just a few feet from the black marble fireplace.

Some might say evil spirits are at play here. But I say, heck, the guy survived. Somehow the driver, who had been drinking and was reportedly morose, missed a number of sturdy trees, traveled diagonally through the Hibbard House yard and struck the building 25 feet from the road. That sounds more to me like a miracle.

We’re going back to the Hibbard House in a few weeks with a few friends. The place is calling me, and not in a Stephen King kind of way. I don’t think this place is haunted – just lonely – and has many more tales to tell.

OUTSIDE LINK: Contact Tim Dubuque at HibbardHouse.com.

Copyright © J. Dennis Robinson and SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved. 

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