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Living with the Ghost of Ichabod Goodwin

Ichabod GOodwin of the 19th centuryHISTORY MATTERS

Harvey Bennett is cheating a little. He has been dutifully turning the spit over the roaring fire in the "keeping room" of his South Berwick home. The giant brick hearth is huge. Three or four people, stooped over, could huddle inside it-- but not now. The flames are licking up the blackened walls toward a fragrant joint of meat impaled on an iron rod. ( Read more)


 Every 15 minutes Harvey has been turning the spit that holds the meat. He and his wife Paula are cooking a meal the old-fashioned way, without electricity or modern tools. The Bennetts have been up since five a.m. preparing the meal. They have made a barley soup in a black caldron. They have baked the johnny cakes in a beehive brick oven. But when no one is looking, Harvey has been timing himself on a digital watch.

Paula is cheating a little too. What appear in the dim light to be pewter plates are actually made of plastic. But the guests are not complaining. We’re here to celebrate the completion of Paula Bennett’s first book, Imagining Ichabod. . 

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Cover of the book Imagining Ichabod by Paula Bennett

Obsessed by the past

I’ve never seen a book quite like this. It is a memoir, intimate at times, about the Bennett’s desire to live in the past.  It is the story of two successful philatelists, people who buy and sell postage stamps for a living. They long to trade their hectic urban life in Maryland for the quiet rural life in New England. They buy their dream home, a rambling Georgian on a country road in South Berwick. For the next decade, Paula and Harvey restore the oldest part of the Goodwin House to its late 18th century glory.

The Bennetts are possessed by the spirits of the Goodwin family, who bought the property from the Spencer family around 1740. There may have been a fort here in the 1600s, at what was the  heart of  Newichawannock, an early English settlement later named Berwick. The Bennetts live across the street from the long unpaved lane that leads to the stately Hamilton House museum, now operated by Historic New England. There was a dock for sailing ships  here at the upper end of the Salmon Falls River, and a successful trading post, a tavern, and meetinghouse.

This isn’t your Amityville Horror or Stephen King kind of possession. The spirits of Ichabod Goodwin, his wife and their many descendants don’t rattle chains or leap out from under the bed. They appeared, slowly at first, through Paula’s methodical research. They materialized, bit by bit, out of letters, journals, inventories, deeds, ancient newspapers, and town records. There were at least three Ichabod Goodwins here, known to Paula,chronologically, as the Captain (in the French and Indian War),  the General (in the American Revolution), and the Governor (during the Civil war.). The most recent Ichabod was a nephew who lived at the house while attending Berwick Academy in the 19th century. He went on to become the New Hampshire governor and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln. His Portsmouth mansion is among the historic houses at Strawbery Banke Museum. 

Continue IMAGINING ICHABOD article 

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