Even though the Paris Hill Historical Society is now closed for the 2017 season, we’ve still had some interesting things happening. Much of what we have to tell is eerily appropriate for Halloween as it relates to some of our history’s recorded mysterious or untimely deaths and tales of lingering spirits right here in our village.
In early October, we had a visit to the historical society from Dr. Martha McNamara, Director of the New England Arts & Architecture Program at Wellesley College. The reason Dr. McNamara was visiting is because she is writing an extremely in depth biography of Pedro Tovookan Parris, who was an ex-slave adopted by Virgil D. and Columbia Rawson Parris of Paris Hill’s Parris House. Recently, we at the historical society found detailed information regarding Tovookan’s untimely death of pneumonia in 1860 in the personal diary of Arabella Rawson Carter, sister of Columbia Parris, daughter of Old Brick’s Samuel and Polla Rawson and wife to Timothy Jarvis Carter who served in the United States Congress for short time before his death at a very young age in 1838. Timothy Jarvis Carter had witnessed the death by duel of a friend and colleague, fell ill himself shortly thereafter, and died young in Washington, DC. The nature and cause of his death is still debated; some suspect a complete break down from the stress of witnessing his colleague’s death but the historical record is not clear. The Carters resided in The Old House, next to Old Brick, catecorner to the Parris House.
But, back to Tovookan and Dr. McNamara’s research. What we found in Arabella’s diaries were poignant accounts of Arabella “watching with” and visiting the dying Tovookan as he weakened from the pneumonia that would take his life. She describes the use of “plasters” on his chest to try to help ease his breathing, but when he finally succumbs she writes a touching account of how very much he is missed by all and how quickly his burial took place because of his body’s fast decomposition. Tovookan was just twenty nine years old and his grave is directly behind the Parris House in the Knoll Cemetery.
Want to know more about Tovookan, his life, his times, and his many talents? Dr. McNamara has agreed to present a program for us during our 2018 season, so stay tuned to our Facebook page and our website for upcoming announcements.
Tovookan’s adoptive father, Virgil D. Parris, fared better in life and lived into his 60s. However, an odd thing happened – again, according to Arabella Rawson Carter’s diary – when Virgil passed away in 1874. Arabella recounts that when Virgil passed away, his body was too large for the coffin the family had purchased in Paris and that his son, Percival, had to make an impromptu trip to West Paris for a larger one!
Several owners of the Parris House have suspected that Tovookan, or possibly other previous occupants, are still occasionally present in the house. Stories of the unexplained at the Parris House include hearing footsteps in the attic and lullabies being sung in an upstairs bathroom. Doors with solid latches on them have been opened by unseen hands in front of residents whose arms were full of groceries. Unusual scents have been noticed by not only the homes’ owners, but by guests of the fiber art studio there as well. Two house guests who describe themselves as psychic claim to have actually seen or heard Tovookan. Perhaps the strangest reported incident was the presence of a green glowing orb in an upstairs bedroom. Paranormal or somehow explainable? These are mysteries.
The Parris House is not the only home on Paris Hill with stories of the unexplained attached to it. Mark Kikel, present owner of Lyonsden, was kind enough to relate some stories past and present about his home. As most of you know, Lyonsden is at the northern corner of Hannibal Hamlin Drive and Paris Hill Road and was the home of the colorful Harry Lyon, navigator on the Southern Cross, the first airplane to cross the Pacific Ocean. It’s been said that Harry Lyon used to actually shoot at the clock tower/church bell just across the road on the green. Mark tells us gunshots have been heard in the wee hours of the morning, only to find nothing upon investigation. At one time the house also belonged to Simeon and Emilene Cummings. Emilene seems to make herself known by the unexplained scent of gardenia between the kitchen and dining rooms. Interior chain locks sometimes deploy when no one is inside the house and objects from upstairs find their way downstairs. Paint color sample cards left lying on a counter at night were reduced to a single one in the morning, perhaps Emilene expressing her preference. Even the Lyons’ cat, Patsy, is suspected to still roam Lyonsden. The sensation of a cat jumping on to the bed, curling up next to you, and purring, when there are no pets in the house, has also been reported.
Paranormal activity is, of course, unproven and controversial, but whether it is real or the result of our interpretations of experiences we can’t immediately explain, one thing is sure: ghost stories are the stuff of a community’s history. Fall River, Salem, and Concord, Massachusetts are quick-to-mind examples of New England towns whose ghost stories are inextricably linked to their documented histories and historic homes. Paris Hill is no different. We have our documented history and some Halloween worthy stories that have grown out it. If you have a Paris Hill ghost story of your own you’d like to share with us and our community, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today Halloween on Paris Hill is all about the hordes of delightfully costumed children who come to our doors seeking candy and a friendly word. We may never know if those who came before us are looking on.