Halloween decorations would not be complete without the jovial grin of a skeleton. Many spooky late night tales include ghosts in the attic and skeletons in the basement. There is just something fascinating about the human skeleton and the mysteries of the afterlife. This is a perfect time of year to share a true story about skeletons.
In a tale reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, or Scooby Doo, the town of Amherst has a mystery that includes skeletons in the basement.
Amherst is a historic Colonial town dating back to the early 1700’s. In 2003, a most gruesome discovery brought the much needed renovations of the town hall to a complete stop. A skull and part of a well preserved skeleton was discovered under a corner of the foundation by the construction crew. As required by state law, the office of the coroner was called. Scientists would be the ones to help solve this mystery.
Archaeologists, Kathleen Wheeler Ph.D. and Alexandra Chan Ph.D., from Portsmouth determined the bones belonged to an adult female between the age of 20 and 29 with African morphological characteristics, and a young child around the age of 3-5 years of age. Both appeared to have lived around 1740-1774. Scientific and historical research was done with the hopes of learning the identity of the young woman and child.
And, there were more. During the excavation, the scientists also revealed other skeleton remains. They recovered a molar tooth, two skull fragments with five pieces of unidentifiable bones which belonged to another individual.
In August of 2007 and after careful studies, the remains were reburied in “a dignified manner” in the cemetery right near where they were discovered. It is important to share that the Old Town Cemetery is right behind the Town Hall, so why weren’t these individuals buried in the cemetery? According to old burial customs during the Colonial era, witches and others possessed of the devil could not be buried in consecrated ground, so they were buried outside of the walls of the cemetery.
The haunting questions remains – who was this young woman? Who was the child by her side? Who were the others? How did they get there? What other secrets does the old historic town hold?
After all of this time, we may never know. May they rest in peace.
Susanna Hargreaves is an educator and writer in Amherst. Her collection of historic and ghostly tales of Amherst will be out soon. She is grateful to the keepers of the Amherst Historical Society, Amherst Heritage Commission, Amherst and the New Hampshire State Libraries, and New Hampshire Archives for protecting our precious history.