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Weird Dead People for Halloween



If you’re going to dress like a weirdo on Halloween, make sure it’s someone we know. Following is our unique list of crazy people from Seacoast history who you can be for Halloween. Included are Hermit Benjamin Lear, the Chicken Man, Molly Bridget, the Demented Man of Eliot and more.




VISIT Portsmouth Halloween Parade web site


Once each year you are allowed to parade through the streets of Portsmouth acting as insane and tasteless as a Republican running for re-election. That day is Halloween, a holiday recently reclaimed by adults. My theory is that, if adults must wear costumes on Halloween, they should dress up like people from Portsmouth’s past. That way we can teach local history to our kids at the same time.

Back in my day kids wore the outfits while adults hid in the shadows looking at their watches. And there weren’t a lot of options. You had your basic caveman, princess, devil, Lone Ranger, Frankenstein, vampire, witch, Wolfman, musketeer, fairy or cat. Beyond the age of eight it was decidedly uncool to spend more than 10 minutes preparing the costume, which led to an annual population explosion of hoboes and tramps, created by quickly applying burnt cork to the face for a five o’clock shadow and pillaging the rag bag under the kitchen sink. Simple, effective, cheap. The costume was merely the means to obtain a bag of candy.

But no more. Preparing for Halloween has become, like most Ameriicanized holidays, a competition fit only for the strong, the resourceful, and the wealthy. Watch out kids! The grown-ups are back, and they don’t play the game for Sweet Tarts.

The scariest adult Halloween party I ever attended was my own. Some guy – at least I think it was a guy – came to the door in a mummy outfit. He never rang the doorbell; we just found him standing there, arms hanging limp, his body completely wrapped in yellowed gauze. There was one greyish eye, it seemed, way back inside the bandages, half shut, half bloody. What we could see between the bandages, here and there, looked soft and wet and nasty. He smelled bad. He never spoke, not once all night. He never drank or ate.

Three hours later the mummy man was still sitting on the sofa, breathing that same wheezing gasp. We guessed he had not bathed for a week, and eaten nothing but tuna without brushing his teeth in order to develop that amazing aroma. Each time he stumbled into a new room, it was empty in minutes. The mummy was the last guest to leave, and we debated dropping him from a third story window just to see if he was already dead, when he suddenly rose, wheezing, and limped away. I still don’t know who it was. Except for a six-foot man at the Disney Store dressed in a giant Winnie-the-Pooh costume, I’ve never seen anything more frightening.

Which got me thinking that there may be a way to turn this sick new adult dress-up trend away from the dark side and into the light. For historians, you see, there is no Halloween. Like morticians, we live perpetually, happily, among the dead. So why not provide Seacoast-area adults with a DIRECTORY of local characters ideal for Halloween depiction? That way, we all learn a little about our heritage while dressing up like idiots. Kids can play too while trick-or-treating. When people coming to the front door ask, "And who are you supposed to be?" just train your children to recite a bit of history. For starters, I’ve provided you with the following data.



In 1905, according to the local newspaper, a crazed-looking unshaven man kept showing up at the home of a family in Elliot, Maine demanding dinner. This costume requires a very hungry look and you arrive carrying your own salad fork.

Poor Ruth Blay of South Hampton was sentenced to death for killing her own child and was hanged in Portsmouth in December 1768. She was declared innocent at the last moment, but too late. Sheriff Thomas Packer had done the deed and gone home for lunch. Local mobs hung him in effigy. Ruth Blay imitators should wear a noose around the neck, carry a realistic-looking doll and do a lot of accusatory finger pointing.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich tells us of the Portsmouth boy who, imitating some chickens, once leaped off a barn roof and landed on his head. He was never quite right after that and was often seen to scratch the ground with his foot, cackle and peck at things. He always wore a few chicken feathers in his cap.

Not a scary character, Aldrich described Nicholas Newman of Portsmouth as cross-eyed, very short and bowlegged. The last of the Portsmouth town criers, he carried a gigantic bell and had a booming voice. Newman walked sideways through town like a land crab shouting "Hear All! Hear All!" Wear a three-cornered hat and throw in some salacious local news.

Another evil figure in local lore, this ghostly murderer from the Isles of Shoals reportedly wore a bloody apron and carried a butcher knife. That is, of course, because Phillip Babb of Smuttynose Island was actually a butcher and very likely harmed no one. But a big rubber blade and an apron smeared with ketchup still cuts most viewers to the heart.

The infamous "Portsmouth Hermit" born in 1720 who, one author tells us "vegetated 82 years" wandering around the city. He was often seen gnawing from a large slab of meat that he carried with him. This character is especially suited for males with long facial hair, but is not recommended for vegetarians.

Driven from town to town, Molly Bridget was staying at the Portsmouth almshouse in 1782. Testing to see if she was truly a witch, the locals burned a few pig tails in the fireplace there. Molly suddenly died on the spot, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that she was indeed a witch. At her burial a storm arose, further convincing your enlightened ancestors of her evil origins. You can pick up large greasy dried pig ears at any store that sells doggie chews, although the tails may be hard to come by.

This fictional character comes from an 1848 ballad by Portsmouth poet James Kennard, Jr.. Jack Ringbolt was a dying sailor who refused to be buried on land, so his friends wrapped his corpse in a blanket and buried him in the Piscataqua River. Ringbolt’s body reportedly refused to sink, began burning like a torch and hovered above the water as it disappeared over the horizon. For this costume you will need an old mummy sleeping bag (with a hole cut out so you can walk on tip-toes). Rig up some lights so that your head appears to glow like a halo. Carry a portable tape recorder under the costume that voices muffled messages like "Trick or Treat!" since Jack’s corpse did not move its mouth when speaking.

hate to see Karen and Anethe Christiansen, the 1873 Smuttynose Murder victims, exploited any more than they already have been. But Louis Wagner was a bad man and he deserves to be remembered as a monster. All you need is a knit fisherman’s cap, a hatchet and an oar. Locals will quickly identify Louis if you speak with a German accent.

Why not put a positive role model among this bloody mix? As chief of the local tribes, the sachem kept the peace for the first 50 years of European occupation. He wore a cool leather hat like an upside-down funnel and a bear's head around his waste like a hip belt.

The ever-popular 14th wife of the pirate Blackbeard was left on White Island to guard her husband's treasure, which she reportedly still does. Legends seem to favor her costume as a diaphanous gown that does not blow in the breeze, so be sure to starch it down flat. Just repeat "He will come back!" endlessly, and Old Shoalers will get the message.

Residents of Dover will recall that their early leader Richard Waldron cheated the local Indians. They took revenge during the famous Cochcecho "massacre". For those into gory makeup, the natives cut off his nose and ears, which they put in his mouth before slashing him across the chest and forcing him to fall on his own sword. Waldron was 74 years old so make-up is tricky on this one.

In 1682 George Walton's house in New Castle was pelted repeatedly with a shower of rocks. Most amazingly, the rocks fell from inside the house. Objects like the cooking spit and candles flew all around the house and up the chimney as attested to by many witnesses. For those who don't like all the fuss and expense of this silly holiday, here's the solution. The Rock-Throwing Devil, although he did grave damage to the Walton's house, was never actually seen. So if you don't see me at your Halloween party, look again. I'm the one in the Rock-Throwing Devil suit.

Copyright © 2006 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

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