The trees are going hot orange and pumpkins to match are sprouting around. The local MacIntosh apples are on the shelf, and the farm stands are offering apple picking times. But the New Haven Museum is focusing on spooks. During October, in this 375th birthday year for New Haven, the historical society is giving over to the macabre.
Last night was the kick-off, with Mike Bielawa discussing his new book Wicked New Haven.
The ol’ story goes:
“Is this Hell?” the boy asked.
“No, son,” his father replied. “It is only New Haven.”
That the oft-repeated quip is on the New Haven Museum walls demonstrates just how low a city’s self esteem can go. Bielawa uses it to wander into New Haven’s wicked past.
The book has a definite water-y theme, with its share of pirates using Connecticut coves as covers and cursed captains and haunted ships and hellish crimes and supernatural legends. Bielawa focused on one cursed captain, the supposedly beloved Captain Parker J. Hall whose temper also got him in a lot of trouble, and his haunted ship, the Robert P. King.
Sailing in the early 1890s, Hall refused to give in to mariner superstition, painting his boat blue, which was notoriously bad luck, and thrusting a knife into the mast, another no-no. While hauling a load of cement from Augusta, ME to New Haven via the Hudson River in 1894, Hall’s crew of two, Portuguese brothers, turned on and attacked him. The siege ended badly for one of the brothers, murdered, or killed in self-defense, depending on your point of view.
After that, no sailor would stay on board the schooner overnight, for all the shrieks, weird laughter in the rigging, and voices calling, “kill him!”
Whether the haunting comes from that mutiny and murder, or from the schooner’s history as a slave ship, a whaler, and battle ship during the Civil War, we can only speculate while telling the tale on a dark October night. The remains of the Robert P. King are on display in Mystic in the Ship Carver’s Building. We need to go hear for ourselves. Field trip!