When History Comes Alive

Fall 2021 — Maybe it’s the season, when the veil between the living and dead is said to be thinner, or maybe I was just in the right place at the right time to enjoy a flash from the past. Either way, as someone who writes historical fiction and likes to research, I find it fascinating when both collide.

So, there we were at the Colonial Faire and Fyfe & Drum Muster at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, MA, standing in our booth in the field. We were talking shop, selling books, and trying to determine if there was interest in framed illustrations from vintage publications. Such a wonderful collection of people stopped by — many with expertise in music, art, history, and education. Some were authors themselves; others were hoping to be. We talked about our personal book publishing journey and what services we could provide through Sudbury Publishing Group.


But imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw a fellow wearing a tee-shirt that said Edes & Gill . This Boston-based company was one of the earliest printers in Colonial America, publishers of the outspoken Boston Gazette. Today they operate a print shop along the Freedom Trail, where they use plates and processes employed by Paul Revere.

Why this thrilled me, is that I mention Edes & Gill in #ToryRoof, and my main character, Sarah Sutherland (in her former life as Sarah Covington) visits their establishment in the North End and ends up writing for them. If anyone checks, they will find Sarah’s words resemble actual language published at the time. To maximize authenticity, I located a digital archive of the Gazette from the summer of 1766 and positioned my character as writing anonymously, lending to the illusion that the words could be hers.

I soon learned that our booth visitor was Andy Volpe, an artist, engraver, and presenter in his own right, who is affiliated with Edes & Gill. He was gracious enough to pose next to our sign, then did one better: he held up his hand-engraved card with an image of an old printing press.

The serendipity of meeting him convinced me that history is alive and well.

*  * *

In keeping with this realization, I joined a tour of the Mt. Wadsworth Cemetery this weekend, coordinated by the Sudbury Historical Society. It was a wonderfully organized event, featuring reenactors and descendants who told tales of the deceased at their gravesites. We had a town founder (Mr. Goodnow), a Minuteman, a Victorian artist (Florence Hosmer), a Civil War soldier (Mr. Moore), the farmer (Mr. Browne) who had donated his land for the cemetery, and one of my favorites: a socialite named Jerusha Howe who is said to have died of a broken heart and now haunts Room No. 9 at the Wayside Inn. (If you follow me on Facebook at Sutherland Series, you can see videos of her presentation).

What I didn’t expect, was an unexplained blur in my last photo taken at Memorial Park. Was it just sun flare? Movement in the lens? Or something of a more spiritual nature? Whatever caused the aberration, it has fueled my imagination.



Spirited Dwellings

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction, if you stop, look, and listen.


April 23, 2019 — I know the house he means. It sits at a corner, opposite a field. The front and side are obscured by overgrown bushes – lilacs, I think – and there’s a small window on the third floor. There’s an annex to the left, a garage or workshop it seems, which could easily have been horse stables at one time. The roof of the extension is tilted and caved in. The structure was built in the 1700s and is located on an historic road. If ever there were a haunted house, this could be it.

I hadn’t really been thinking of ‘spirited dwellings,’ when I struck up a conversation with Sam at a local networking event. He was a gregarious guy, a real estate agent, who works for a prominent company. He was eager to chat about the changing landscape in our suburban (still partially, rural) town. Someone next to us was talking about Tory Roof, so I gave Sam a quick summary – “real estate agent selling vintage home encounters a presence there.” I immediately clarified that this was not a ghost story, but that it allowed the reader to wonder, “what if.”

Sam was intrigued, so I asked if he had ever run into a haunted property, and he casually said yes. Now, that surprised me! While he was not personally involved with the transaction of said house, he was told by a colleague about unusual occurrences that took place there – unexplained sounds and the construction worker who ran out of the house, refusing to return. Sam did allow, that as a licensed real estate agent, if he were repping it, he would be obligated to reveal such details if asked.

I had never really thought about the impact of spirituality and superstitions on house buying, but apparently, it can be a determining factor. I have an acquaintance who claims to be sensitive to the deceased and insists on ‘smudging’ her premises with sage, in Native tradition, before moving in. This form of energy cleansing is also used by those following Feng Shui.

In talking about belief systems, Sam described one instance where prospective buyers refused to close on a purchase because the house number was foreboding according to their culture — to the point where they approached the town board to see if the number could be changed. (It could not, for emergency response reasons, so the sale fell through.) Sam also noted a situation where a sale was left pending until extended family could arrive to cleanse and bless the property, after which the sale went through without a hitch.

Knowing of homes with a history is not unusual in New England. My mother-in-law lived in a huge, antique, one-time farmhouse, that after WWI became a dormitory for nurses who worked at a local sanitorium. That explains the many small rooms on the upper floors.  Yet in all my time there, I never sensed a ghostly presence – just a keen awareness and respect for the past.

I recently ran into a woman who lives on a quiet lane in a house that used to be a candy factory, and I just learned that the basement of a local restaurant contains a working fireplace because it once was a speakeasy.

Much like the inn described in Tory Roof, Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, a few miles away, contains a room where guests leave notes in the walls to document their experiences while staying overnight. Here are some fun facts about its haunted reputation.

While I’ve never encountered anything ghostly there, I always feel a profound sense of the past, especially if I happen upon a muster of the Sudbury Militia in the old tavern (above). It’s like stepping back in time… which is what Sarah Sutherland does.  

Nearby, Stone’s Public House, located adjacent to a railroad track in Ashland, MA, is listed on the Ghostly Register. I’ve experienced several hair-raising sensations there — the feeling of being watched by the stern John Stone painting, the vivid, frightening dream which followed that night, and the smell of cigar smoke on a crisp autumn evening. Here’s some background about its spirited past. 

The Old Manse, in Concord, MA, (below) home to legendary writers such a Hawthorne and Emerson, is situated very close to North Bridge where Colonial troops marched to battle at the start of the American Revolution.

The docent claims there is a presence who rocks in the chair in the sitting room. Apparently others have stumbled upon other unexplained occurrences. (Hmmm, do I detect a Tory roof?)

Maybe a love of mystery was ingrained in me because I grew up in an old house in New York state that had a trap door in the ceiling, above a second-floor porch (inspiration for that scene where Mr. Randolph props open the access door in Tory Roof) … but I never, ever, saw what was up there. I was told as a child, it was too high to reach, and for some reason, I bought that excuse. Years later, I still wonder…

Fact is, that building had a colorful past which tangibly infiltrated my present. Imagine my excitement, when I found an 1873 ledger from the general store, once housed on the ground floor.

This worn, yellowed, water-stained book — beautifully scripted with brown ink — was tucked into a recess in the stone foundation of the basement, apparently having survived a fire that occurred long before my family arrived. It’s since been donated to the Amenia Historical Society.


While Tory Roof and Silver Line don’t dwell on the spooky aspects of vintage settings, I do have fun creating scenes that toy with the imagination.

From Tory Roof: “Downstairs in the dining room, the brass chandelier glowed; candles now replaced with small flame-shaped bulbs. How grand this room must have been hosting long-skirted women and powder-wigged men. A clavichord stood near an ornate Oriental screen. ‘Wonder if it still works,’ Sarah mused, pressing a key only to jump back as a clarion note rang out. Sarah was comfortable here and didn’t want to leave…”

From Silver Line: “Armed with his backpack, Jared headed toward Bay State Road for a scenic walk to the main campus. Sunlit brownstones stood in a pristine row just as they had done for hundreds of years. Hydrangea bushes, morphing from summer white to late season pink, were crammed into small gardens pressed behind wrought iron railings. A trim woman in fluorescent green yoga pants ran by with her dog in tow. In the shadows, he could see another woman, too – a figure dressed in a high-necked, cream-colored Victorian gown, standing on the stoop, sipping tea.”


For objectivity, before finalizing this post, I asked a different real estate agent, a woman who has her own real estate firm, if she had ever encountered a spirited dwelling. While she couldn’t recall anything she had represented, she did allow that a friend of hers was convinced, years after purchase, that she wasn’t alone in her house.

It’s certainly not for me to say where fact ends and fiction begins, but as a writer, I can tell you that it’s a lot of fun walking along the line where they blur.