Blizzard of ’36 Kills 2 in the Berkshires

The blizzard of 1936 began with light flurries on the morning of Friday, January 17. Over the next 72 hours, it would dump around 20 inches on Berkshire County, with high winds producing vast drifts that crippled travel and left two locals dead.

January 18, 1936- Berkshire Eagle

The 3-4 inches that fell in the first 24 hours was full of promise for local ski slopes, and trains brought hundreds of skiers from New York and Springfield. Record-setting crowds of over a 1100 utilized Bousquet’s (still quite new) rope tow on Sunday.

Snow crews had been diligently attending to the gradual snowfall, amounting to a few inches over the course of Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday evening, though, the precipitation increased more rapidly than expected, dumping 12-14 more inches across the region, with high winds piling drifts several feet high in some places. North County travel in particular became impossible for many, and some who had been at social events that ran late Sunday evening found themselves unable to get their parked cars out. County Commissioner Fred Purches and about 50 other people spent the night taking shelter in a car barn in Adams after attending a banquet. By Monday, the tally of cars that had been abandoned in high drifts numbered in the hundreds.

The blow was blinding. In Pittsfield, fifteen plow trucks worked city streets while the state cleared highways, both augmented by a literal army of workers from Roosevelt’s social programs of the era. Every available worker from the Works Project Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the federal farm-to-market project were dispatched by the hundreds. Statewide, some 50,000 WPA workers worked the storm. In the town of Adams alone, 500 workers turned up to the town garages from Sunday to Monday. Everything that could be used as a shovel or plow was brought to bear on roads, sidewalks, and railroad tracks over-taxed by the extra runs set up to transport skiers to the Berkshires.

20 people died in the storm across New England, most from auto collisions, and a few roof collapses. The two local casualties were of a more grisly nature.

In the complete white-out, 63 year old Ned Persip of the Pittsfield Coal Gas company never saw or heard the oncoming train as he worked valiantly to clear a switch on the spur line there, and they never saw him. The top of his head was said to have been sheared clean off.

In Adams, 13 year old Walter Kondel perished while walking with his brothers in the snow drifts at the Valley street sand bank. Walter was buried under several feet of heavy snow when the embankment collapsed. He suffocated as his two frantic brothers attempted to dig him out. It was over thirty minutes before they and other rescuers were able to free the child’s body.

The storm front, considered the worst since 1916, swept much of the northern United States, with the final weather-related death toll over the weekend rising over 150 people. Heavy snow that winter would be a precursor of more trouble to come. Two months later, snow melt and pouring rains would slam the eastern U.S.- including western Massachusetts- with some of the worst flooding in its recorded history.

Spectres of Card Lake Inn

By Joe Durwin – From: The Advocate Weekly, Nov. 2009

After years of writing about and talking about weird things in the region, I hear rumors about a lot of haunted places, only a small fraction of which result in a print-worthy story. If a location is sufficiently old, in any way historic, and publicly accessible, the chances of someone, somewhere fingering it for ghostly activity is pretty high. If it’s a place of lodging, this is doubly the case.
So I didn’t exactly jump out of my chair when, following its reopening in 2005, I began to hear murmurs of a ghost at West Stockbridge’s Card Lake Inn.  Given its long and occasionally colorful tenure there, I might have been more surprised if I hadn’t eventually heard something to that effect.


Recent hearsay places the origins of Card Lake in 1838, but several solid sources state that the establishment actually dates back to 1804, making it over 200 years old.  Known first as the United States Hotel, it was a key stagecoach stopping point in the early days of the town.   By the 1850s it was filled with the men engaged in building the railroad, owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jones, and known as Card Lake Hotel. Mr. Jones initially was denied permission to put a bar in the establishment, due to its proximity to the church and school.  He then bought the West Stockbridge House, which stood in the lot across from it on Hotel Street, apparently far enough away for liquor to be served.


In the 1870s it reached a peak, as the only hotel in one of the most key railroad junction towns in the area.  Soon after, as Pittsfield overtook it as a rail center, it declined as a place of lodging.  For a time it functioned as a boarding house with attached tavern, and for a time had a reputation for wild nights of heavy drinking, gambling and…well, other indiscretions.


Sometime in the post World War II era, the lower floor was expanded to create the areas that now function as the dining room and lounge area.  It was acquired by Westbridge Associates in 1972 and became known as the Westbridge Inn.   The company consisted principally of the Rose family of Richmond, whose son Alan Gordon Rose became an important and sometimes controversial part of the revitalization of West Stockbridge’s downtown in the 70s. 


Under his supervision, it went through extensive overhaul, then was sold two years later for more than five times that to Paul Buckley and Sam Erfan, former managers for the Hilton Corporation.  Westbridge Associates bought it back less than a year later, reopening it for a time before closing down again, and selling it again in 1978 to Henricus Bergmans, a former innkeeper at the Red Lion.
For many years following it functioned only as an Inn, with no restaurant or tavern, much to the dismay of locals.  In 2005, it was purchased by the Ellen and Mike Greer, along with a group of other partners who they’ve since bought out to become the sole proprietors. 


 Earlier last month, their son Dave contacted me, reminding me of the rumors that a female ghost is said to run amok in Room 1, in the second floor front of the Inn.  I refreshed myself a bit on the history of the place, checked my schedule, and gave them a call.  I couldn’t resist the urge to be kitschy, so I asked if the Room 1 was available on October 31.  The Greers graciously granted me a complimentary stay, warning me though about the Halloween party scheduled that evening.  It turned out that the Inn would also be haunted by the beats of DJ Jerrid Coty and crazy, cleverly costumed revelers.


Due to wardrobe malfunctions hinging on the difficulty of drying fake blood in rainy weather, I checked in only a couple of hours before the party was to begin.  Ellen showed me to the room where strange things were most commonly reported.  She mentioned that the only thing she knew for sure was that the made bed sometimes looked lain in, though no one had been in the room.
“At least,” she added wryly, “No one’s copped to it.” She suggested I speak with their cook, Mark Fierimonte, who lives on the premises year round. As such, he has spent more time alone in the building than anyone in recent years, and had several unsettling experiences to share.


On occasion, he felt a cold breeze blow against him in his otherwise warm 3rd floor room. A second later, the bathroom shade suddenly recoiled, rolling up at the top of the window. “So I go into the bathroom to pull it down,” Mark adds, “and I noticed my toothpaste bottle I just bought looked like someone pushed down on it and squirted it all over my sink.”


He has also heard sounds of doors opening and slamming, voices arguing and even once rattling the doorknob of his room, though the Inn was otherwise empty.


I was determined to investigate for myself as thoroughly as possible. The handy borrowed Gauss Meter I brought along immediately proves unhelpful, though, as everywhere in the Inn seems to generate high readings.  Likely, a combination of older wiring and the vintage lamps and other appliances throughout the building make for a constant baseline of electromagnetic fluctuations.  Therefore the chance of finding some odd, anomalous change in the electrical environment with this tool is basically nonexistent.


Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with some additional techniques for ghost-detection, combining fashionable technological methods with old-fashioned tricks from yesteryear.  For instance, during the 19th century hey-day of Spiritualism, some psychic investigators believed that spirits were particularly attracted to coins and other shiny objects.  So once I get the video and audio recording devices set up in the room, I take great care to stack a tall pyramid of quarters, nickels, dimes and even a few Big Y silver coins.  I make sure to construct this primitive ghost-trap on a sturdy table, testing it to make sure that it won’t be disrupted by normal movement in the room, even jumping up and down next to it to vouch for its relative stability.


A couple of other low-fi pieces of equipment I put to use included a hand-buzzer and an old-fashioned hand-crank alarm clock.  This is a trick I picked up from the work of Ali Allmaker, an electrical engineer turned MCLA philosophy professor and amateur parapsychologist who did extensive fieldwork investigating local haunted houses in the 1970s.  His theory was that if one were to encounter some sort of poltergeist or telekinetic phenomenon, its effects might be more easily measured on simple, manual machines than with complex instruments. It also seems to fit with the cliché of ghosts being slightly mischievous.


I spent a few hours downstairs at the party, letting the devices record and wondering if the dancing downstairs would dislodge my precarious stack of coins (it’s didn’t).


Retiring to the room, I sat up for a couple of hours, reading and waiting. Eventually I turned in, with my phone set to wake me once every hour. I kept waiting to hear the hand-buzzer go off, or the crash of change. What I did hear, upon waking around 4am, was a strange scratching sound, like cat claws on wood, in the center of the room. I sat up and looked at the spot the sound was clearly emanating from, but couldn’t see anything. I got up and went directly to it, until the sound was all around me, but I didn’t see or feel anything. The sound stopped. As I crawled back into bed, I looked over to see the miniature rocking chair, complete with vintage doll, was rocking. Ominous flashbacks ensued, memories of hiding under the covers after viewings of Poltergeist and other 80s gems.


Instead, I tried to think rationally. Maybe my getting up and walking around shook the floor and made it rock somehow. It hadn’t rocked all evening, despite a lot of pacing and plenty of commotion downstairs… but maybe.

Dark & Spooky Tours for October

Ghosts & Hauntings of Pittsfield

Explore ghoulish legends of the historic Park Square district in this easy stroll around several iconic houses, venues, and other iconic buildings of downtown.

Oct 15, 17, 29, 31 @6PM – Beginning near Berkshire County Courthouse
$6. Email berkshirehomehistorian@gmail.com to reserve your place.

Ghosts & Hauntings of Pittsfield -for Kids

Taylor Staubach of Berkshire Family Hikes leads this family-friendly version of the classic ghost tour. Appropriate for all ages. Spooky fun with a dash of local history in this child-oriented walk.

Oct 18, 21, 25 & 28. $4 kids/ $6 Adults. Begins by the Berkshire Athenaeum on Wendell Ave. Please pre-register by email at https://berkshirefamilyhikes.com/contact-us/

Macabre Pittsfield: Dark Origins

Embark on a journey through the dirt and cobble-stoned downtown Pittsfield of the 1800s. A place of desecrated graves and skeletons in church basements, of rumsellers shacks, opium dens, and murders most foul…

Oct. 22& 24 @6PM Beginning at Pittsfield Common. $6. Email berkshirehomehistorian@gmail.com to reserve your place.

Macabre Pittsfield: Roaring 20s

Bootlegging, jewel heists, grisly murders, the KKK, and much more confront us as we step back 100 years in time to a Pittsfield that is very different, yet strangely familiar. 

Sunday, Oct 30 – 2pm. $6. Email berkshirehomehistorian@gmail.com to reserve your place.

75 Years of UFOs in the Berkshires- July 4, 1947- Present

Alleged Flying Saucer photo taken in the Berkshires, undated circa 1960s (TMH Archives)

The three-week period that began on June 24, 1947 was a curious time in the history of our country. On the 24th, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine disk-shaped objects flying across the sky near Mt. Rainier, Washington. At least twenty other persons across the Pacific Northwest reported seeing the same that day, but it was Arnold’s soberly told account and detailed description that drew the most attention, launching the term ‘flying saucer’ into its place in the American lexicon.

Over the following days, as the media spread a discussion of Arnold’s story, other witnesses began coming forward all over the country, saying that they too had spotted similar objects. The trickle became a deluge on July 4, as many of the millions of people celebrating Independence Day outside looked up toward the sky and saw something they couldn’t account for.

Some Berkshire area residents spotted what they believed to be examples of the bizarre objects for the first time that day. A group of four Pittsfield residents, while watching the parade (described as the longest and best to date at that time) observed a disk overhead around 10:45. One of the witnesses, Mrs. Sidney Smith of Pomeroy Avenue, described it as “round, colorless, luminous object with a peculiar rolling motion.” The saucer sped off south, gaining altitude as it went.

Reaction among residents who had not seen anything was mixed, as far as can be judged by a random survey of people on North Street on July 7. “I certainly don’t think it’s imagination, not with so many people seeing them,” said a Pittsfield photographer, “It’s either what some foreign government is sending over, or an experiment of our own army.” John Foley of Foley’s Restaurant had a simpler explanation: “Somebody’s got the DT’s.”

By that time, “saucer fever” was reaching fever pitch across the country, with sightings having been reported in 38 states and parts of Canada. By the 8th, similar reports were coming in from Europe, Australia and Africa. That same day also saw national reporting of an Air Force official’s announcement that a crashed saucer had been recovered by the military near Roswell, New Mexico. Though retracted the following day, this press release had already given birth to a controversy that would continue to be stoked 3 quarters of a century later.

Sightings continued in Berkshire County as well. Mrs. Fairfield Osborne spotted one while staying as a guest at the Stockbridge home of Margaret Cresson, the daughter of famed sculptor Daniel Chester French. Mrs. Osborne said that prior to this she had never heard of the flying saucer phenomenon, but after viewing the strange aerial shape she consulted some recent newspapers and found that the descriptions there matched what she had seen exactly. She told reporters that what she had seen had been a brilliantly illuminated round object “like an automobile headlight in the sky.” The bright object appeared to hover around the top of Mount Everett, about 25 miles away. A few seconds later, it vanished entirely from view. Two similar bright objects were seen by architect Charles Masterson of Crane Avenue in Pittsfield, though Masterson admitted they may have been planes.

Over the following days the wave of interest in the new saucer phenomenon lessened in intensity as reports of sightings began to drop off. But the world’s interest in unidentified objects in the sky had been ignited, and while it has ebbed and flowed in popularity, the topic has never gone away.

Three summers later, a local newspaper headline declared: “The flying saucers are back again,” with 6 more witnesses reporting sightings of saucers around Bennington in late May, and sightings coming in from Pittsfield and Lee in August.

In November 1951, Mr and Mrs Fenton of North Adams were among a number of people throughout western Massachusetts to report seeing “green fireballs” whizzing across the sky. Though some contended this was meteor activity, the Fentons didn’t think so.

Alien “First Contact” in the Berkshires happened at a Becket farmhouse on N. Washington State Road, according to the 1960s magazine Flying Saucers International.

Robert Renaud’s UFO Communications Center in Becket, 1960s

In 1960 young UFO hunter working out of an X-files-style garage (on Route 8, about a mile from Oct Mt forest) had already been contacted by a race of extra-terrestrials. This and many subsequent contacts he allegedly had with beings from the planet of Korendor were documented in the now-defunct magazine Flying Saucers International, in numerous articles from 1961 to 1969.

In addition to going on board the Korendian spacecraft, this G.E. electrical engineer also claimed to have been taken off world and to hidden flying saucer bases underneath the Berkshire hills.

Cover Art Depicting an underground UFO base in the Berkshires

The mid to late 1960s were another peak time of UFO sightings, locally and worldwide.

On Oct. 1, 1965, four witnesses reported seeing a bright sphere hovering over Charlemont and the surrounding area. At one point, they said, it hovered within 100 feet of them, but began climbing as it moved toward Thunder Mountain, then made an abrupt right-angle turn and vanished.

On September 25, 1966, three reports came in to Pittsfield police about a strange object seen over the city that evening. Donald Nelligan of Allengate Avenue said the circular object hovered over the Coltsville area for about five minutes before heading off at a high rate of speed toward the southwest.

In early 1967, an unidentified object first sighted over the Walter J. Koladza airport plagued the western part of Great Barrington throughout the second week of March. Described as a round, glowing white object, very large in size, it was reported flying at about horizon level by several GB residents. On April 14, two North Adams youths , William Konopka and John Gaudreau, reported a brightly lit, low flying object moving toward Williamstown at a speed they estimated at near twice that of a jet aircraft.

On November 20, another mysterious round object was seen at various points throughout western Massachusetts and southern Vermont. It was dismissed by some as a meteor, but Mrs. Gigliotti of North Adams described something quite different: a circular mass of bright lights which came directly at her car, “swooping up” just in time to miss her. It then hovered directly above a tree she estimated to be between 50 and 70 feet tall, before taking off, leaving a glowing trail in its wake. Other witnesses in North Adams, and in Stamford, Vermont offered similar accounts, and police in Bellows Falls, Greenfield, and Springfield also received calls about a mystery object that night.

By this time, UFO sightings in general were much more frequently documented, perhaps there were so many clubs, organizations and emerging Ufologists- professional and amateur- making the effort to document. Still, there were periodic spikes in reports- 1975, when glowing spheres were reported several times in the Bennington area; and increasing mentions of cylindrical-shaped unidentified objects in the late 70s and early 80s, called by some “the flying silo.”

More of these cylindrical objects would be reported in the late 90s-early 2000s, such as a ” brightly iridescent, green cigar-shaped object” described by a driver on the westernmost end of the Massachusetts turnpike in November 2005.

There was more talk in the media of a wave of UFO activity in the summer of 2011. WAMC public radio reported on a spate of sightings concentrated in the first week of August and primarily in south county, and I covered more sightings as they continued to emerge for several days after.

In the winter of early 2013, online reports to the primary three databases of UFO sightings in the Berkshires were approximately double their average level. Speaking by phone with two MUFON investigators in different areas of New England, there seemed to be a general consensus that sighting reports had been running high in western Massachusetts, though certain high profile videos from the Amherst area that from January were considered dubious.

In the summer of 2015, I reported on an even more substantial wave of sightings, perhaps the highest concentration of reports in one “wave” since the 60s-70s. This included some curious photos submitted by readers.

In recent years, UFOs have become even more closely tied to the Berkshires in the broader cultural conversation with the many televised segments about the Reed family’s alleged encounters in Sheffield, Mass. in the 1960s, most notably a 2020 Unsolved Mysteries episode. In a series of experiences, Thom and Matthew Reed claimed they were taken on board extraterrestrial craft repeatedly between 1966-1969. Though considered highly dubious by some, thanks to Thom Reed’s relentless marketing and monetizing of his personal account, the “Berkshire UFO sighting(s)” have become a household name, with their own park , merchandise line, and now even themed weddings cashing in on the tale.

“It wasn’t like I was looking for attention… certainly not trying to capitalize on anything”
-Thom Reed, Unsolved Mysteries, 2020

Yet another “Berkshire UFO”was in the mainstream news just last summer, when Real Housewives of New York’s Dorinda Medley posted video of something unclear in the sky near her Berkshire County estate.

Do you believe we’ve had visitors from beyond the Earth? Have you seen something strange in the sky? Share your thoughts in the comments.

UFO Park Strikes Back: Harassed by an Alien Abductee

So, as some of readers know, as my day job I research and profile properties as The Home Historian. On my business page, I post a regular stream of interesting and noteworthy properties.

This post from a few days ago caught sudden fire when it was noticed by Thomas Reed, lead “witness” and #1 merchandiser of the supposed “Berkshire UFO,” featured on Unsolved Mysteries and many other tv shows.

It’s no real secret that I find Reed’s story dubious, and I’ve written extensively on the holes and discrepancies in his accounts over the years. On this occasion, though, I literally never even mentioned Thom by name or was even talking about his alleged encounters, except for an oblique reference “years before the supposed incident at a Sheffield covered bridge.”

This, by the way, is not even a dig. It’s a history page. It IS supposed. I want to really stress this. There is no proof- by any measure of scientific, or legitimate historical scholarship- to the contention that Thom Reed, his family, or anyone else, was contacted or taken anywhere by extraterrestrials in the Berkshires. There is no consensus whatsoever among the scientific community or history scholars that such things even occur. Yes, I’m aware that some volunteers on the board of a tourism-hungry small town historical society (with no apparent capacity for research or critical thinking) issued a misguided proclamation that this encounter was historically “true.” However, symbolic votes by small town historical commissions are simply not how any scientific or historical facts are established.

Well, Thom apparently took great offense when he saw this Facebook post. He started simply enough, challenging my usage of the word supposed. Fair enough. I responded reasonably, and civilly, I believe.

He didn’t respond to my comment in that public forum, and instead began spamming me with multiple DMs. When I didn’t immediately respond (was actually home sick, in bed) he continued.

Following no less than 9 unsolicited messages in a row to my business page about something that doesn’t concern or particularly interest me, I blocked his ass. Eff that noise.

After this unmistakably clear message that further communication from him was not welcome, he called my phone and left a voice mail.

Then he not only posts my post to the Facebook group he maintains for his credulous groupies (which is fine), he proceeds to ostentatiously post screenshots of my business phone and contact info. Immediately some of his UFO buff fans start following my page. I left two comments in response, calling out this seemingly malicious tactic, but they were not approved. In response to my questions about why he appeared to be intentionally riling up his fan base to contact and troll me, Thom claims his new attorneys Nicholson & Associates have advised him “to start listing/posting said names and articles of any damaging or malice intent articles, on a website.”

Apparently my refusal to accept as gospel fact that Thom Reed met aliens when he was a kid is damaging, or malicious intent.

Bizarre.

Of course, the irony icing over this whole cake is that Thom had every opportunity to engage with me and try to convince me, long ago in a more appropriate, public setting. A couple of years back, Thom Reed asked Jennifer Huberdeau at the Berkshire Eagle to recommend a local UFO expert to go on tv with him in some broadcast or other in his endless publicity tour, and she gave him my name. Perhaps knowing I have expressed great skepticism for his story, and have pointed out clear discrepancies in his accounts before, he declined to invite me.

More on Thom Reed’s very serious, important, “historically certified” work can be found via his YouTube channel:

A more comprehensive debunking of his Berkshire UFO story can be found here via the Skeptoid Podcast, #737.

Macabre Pittsfield: Roaring 20s

Unique 1.5 hour walking tour of downtown explores shocking true crime & dark history in 1920s Pittsfield

ADVANCE REGISTRATION REQUIRED- RESERVE TICKETS HERE

The pandemic and the great war have passed, and the city is changing rapidly. The population has doubled in the past 20 years, and this decade is seeing a building boom like none in it’s history. City hall is launching new parks, schools and other grand infrastructure projects. All new culture from around the world graces the downtown stages and the new silver screens.

In the streets, bootleggers exchange bullets with police as Chief Sullivan struggles to enforce the prohibition nuances of the Volstead Act. Nary a block is without some liquor den or “disorderly home.” Gambling is on the rise, aided by new technologies, and the rot of police and political corruption quickly follows. Organized crime figures from Albany to Providence begin to take an interest in the swelling industrial city.

Inter-ethnic tensions are high, as whole neighborhoods spring up from immigration and the proliferation of new languages spoken reaches a peak. The Berkshire’s KKK boasted of 600 members in its Pittsfield chapter, and crosses burned in fields and hillsides up and down the county.

And while youths were being snatched from some rural Berkshire farms, in Pittsfield the discarded bodies of unwanted infants became so numerous that local papers began to mix them up. 

Longtime residents looked on at a community almost unrecognizable from the quaint little town they’d grown up in just a few decades ago, and some wondered at what cost progress had come…

ADVANCE REGISTRATION REQUIRED- RESERVE TICKETS HERE

Heroin, Heists & a High Speed Chase: North Berkshire, 1932

It was like a gangster film had leapt off the silver screen and onto Route 8 in north Berkshires. A young tough fleeing a botched larceny nearly runs over a beat cop in the street with his 1930s Dodge coupe.
On foot, the cop flags down a young mother and asks to borrow her car.
“I’ll drive,” she says and he hops in the passenger seat.
The 20 year old civilian driver gains on the crook’s as they speed south from downtown Adams to Cheshire harbor, where she pulls ahead and forces the coupe to the side of the road. He reverses, backing up the road several hundred feet as he hurls a package out the window, toward the river.

This was the scene on April 18, 1932, as longtime Adams police officer Albert Baran apprehended a suspect fleeing capture after a North county shoplifting spree, with the high speed assistance of Viola [Maxwell] Jarrett* of Pittsfield, who lived with her husband Leo and 1 year old son Robert on Pomeroy Avenue at that time.

The suspect turned out to be Michael McHugh, a 25 year old North Adams native suffering from narcotics addiction. Now living in Troy, he and his accomplices, 27 year old Joyce Bolger and 35 year old Elizabeth Myers, had been making shoplifting forays in the Berkshires for at least the past two weeks. The package McHugh tossed contained dresses and suits, taken from the Boston Store in North Adams and the Bay State Clothing Store in Adams.

The Boston Store, North Adams

At the time, the boyish-looking McHugh was going by James McCue, and gave his age as 19. “An admitted dope addict,” according to the Transcript, McHugh pleaded guilty to the North Adams charges and was sentenced to 6 months in the House of Correction. He detoxed there, and appeared in October to be tried on the Adams charges from the April 18 spree. Indicating his sobriety from heroin and promising to be “an upright man,” he was given two months probation for the other offence.

Michael McHugh

He relapsed sometime after that. One year later, New York papers tell of his arrest in Troy in the raid of a major heroin selling operation on October 23, 1933. His apartment was searched as an associate of the raid’s target, Sam “Big Shot” Valenti, the largest narcotics distributor in eastern NY at the time. Also known as Samuel Valente, he was a major figure in the capitol district underworld for two decades, up until his deportation to Italy in 1947. His family was associated with restaurants in Troy for many decades.

McHugh’s connection to both North Adams and the Troy drug selling operation briefly made him a person of interest in two unsolved slayings recent at that time, Leah Lloyd Johnson in North Adams, and Bennington cab driver Michael Kane closer to Troy. There had been vague rumors of “drug rings” being involved in both deaths, and while it was not seriously believed, state police wanted to speak to McHugh just to be thorough.

There wasn’t time for that interview to take place. On October 28, he died at the Troy hospital “from bronchial pneumonia resulting from tuberculosis, and the use of drugs.”

At his death, it was revealed in Troy papers that his birth name was Frank Pawquette, an orphan who had taken the name of his foster family. Other records of his short, tumultuous life seemed to be lacking. The only major evidence of his life interactions with the legal system, the narrative of one of many casualties in the most recent cycle of the country’s centuries-long opioid crisis.


*Note: The original arrest article from the N.A. Transcript lists the driver as “Adela Gerrett, of 37 Pomeroy Ave in Pittsfield”- however, there is no apparent record of this name in Pittsfield at the time- rather, there is a listing for Viola Jerrett in the city directory that year, at 39 Pomeroy. I think we can safely conclude her name and address to be listed incorrectly, in the manner common to rapid court reporting. Viola [b. 1912] was a PHS graduate and a 35 year employee of the A.H. Rice Silk Mill. She and her husband Leo raised two children, eventually moving from Pittsfield to Dalton, where she died in 1998.

Angry Letters about Pot Holes in the Berkshires, 1930s-1990s

Berkshire Eagle, 2/28/1970

Complaints about pot-holes go back a long time. In 1861, courts fined the town of Adams, Mass $300 in damages from its roads. This formed the early precedent of being able to sue one’s town for pot holes, which most Massholes believe they still have today, though this was mostly eliminated by legislation in the 1920s-30s.

The Berkshire Eagle cites dozens of tow truck calls daily in Pittsfield, despite a crew of 40 working on the roads – March 1936
“The streets are in the worst condition I’ve seen in years,” griped North Adams Councilor Lawrence Belouin, in May 1953
Maynard Leahey of the Transcript jokes that North Adams should embrace the supposed benefits of having the biggest pot holes around. March 1956
Informal survey by the Eagle concludes potholes are “ubiquitous,” but “not as numerous and dangerous as critics claim.” Feb 1970
Fil Baker said a bomb crater bigger than those he had seen in WWII wrecked his car in Williamstown. March 1972
Samuel Smith of Hancock argues for more investment in America’s ailing roads – March 1972
Heather Harty tells of “monster holes” on her West Street commute. April 1987
Athur Phinney of Lenox suggests that saving a bit on property taxes may cost more in the long run. February 1990

We know the problem of road maintenance is nothing new under the sun. We also know that- like so many modern municipal problems- it was made worse by the decisions of our forebearers, during “the good old days.” Our roads and other faulty municipal services show the consequences of how toxic the American dream became to communities in the 50s and 60s- its misguided aspirations of suburban sprawl and urban renewal robbed our towns and cities of critical density and efficiency. Nearly 25% of Pittsfield’s 200 miles of road were built after the city’s population already peaked and began to decline. Dozens more miles of suburban asphalt were added even as it lost nearly 1/3 of its population, and with it the tax base to pay for their upkeeep.

Love in the Time of Tar & Feathers: Wife-Swapping Draws Angry Mob in Lenox Dale, 1900

Hisses rose from members of the congregation as the middle-aged couple entered during the evening hymn and took a seat in a rear pew. Reverend Richards looked up from his hymnal in surprise, then strode down the aisle. He leaned in to whisper to the woman, who followed him aside into the vestibule. She returned a moment later, tapped the man on his shoulder and indicated he should follow her out. Applause from the congregation followed them out.

The pair were well-known and much-discussed around Lenox Dale. Emily (aka Emelia) Hathaway had taken up residence in the Dale with her husband Joseph in 1894. But the man she entered the little Methodist Episcopal chapel in Lenox Dale on that October Sunday in 1900 was not Joseph, but Edward Wagner. Edward, a rag engineer at the paper mill, lived nearby with his wife Elsie and children Maude and George. In 1898, he had been charged and fined for fornication and adultery with a woman named Alice.

Grace Methodist Church 1840-1986

The families were close- entirely too close for the liking of Lee & Lenox Dale residents of the time. Joseph Hathaway had “stated to a number of acquaintances that Wagner was very familiar with Mrs. Hathaway.” Shortly before the Methodist church incident, the two had gone away together for a few days to Boston.

But it was their appearance at Sunday services together that proved too much for their sensibilities. While some local men got Joseph Hathaway drunk at Lenox Dale’s one saloon, a mob of men descended on their rented house, where Emily Hathaway was with Edward Wagner. Masked in handkerchiefs and white cloth (“white-capping”), a mob of around 50 or 60 men appeared outside, with 5 gallons of tar and a quantity of feathers. They demanded the pair open the door, and then began hurling rocks through the windows and battering the door. Wagner flew out of the house wielding a hammer, and chased some of the men, while Hathaway made a break for it.

The masked men pursued her with lanterns, but she hid in some bushes, and there remained most of the night, while horde smashed every pane of glass in her house with rocks.

Wagner left town for a while following the incident, but returned a few days later vowing “to make things warm for the white-cappers” in the Dale.

Boston Globe, Oct 17, 1900

No action was ever taken by local law enforcement to investigate the mob action, a fact pointedly noted by the Boston Globe. Other more local newspapers also condemned the incident, but nothing came of it. The Hathaways and Wagners moved to Monterey, where they began sharing a house. Their situation, whatever it was, was not well received in that town either, and in the February of 1901 all four were indicted on charges of “lewd and lascivious conduct.”

They were initially found guilty, and the case went back and forth on appeals over the next two years. Eventually charges were dropped, though Edward Wagner was again charged in Monterey in 1903, with being a “lewd and lascivious person.”

Not long after the two couples went their own ways- Emily Hathaway left for New Hampshire with Edward Wagner, where she becomes Emily Wagner by the time of her death in 1909.

Joseph Hathaway struck out for Connecticut with Edward’s longtime wife Elsie, who thereafter is listed in records as Elsie Hathaway.

In a curious final twist, in 1903, Edward and Elsie Wagner’s daughter Maude married Gordon Hathaway, son of Joseph and Emily. Maude Wagner was in her teens during the time her parents were living with the Hathaways, and married their son shortly after she turned 18.

They moved to Goshen, Mass. and had three children, Clarence, Harold and Edith Hathaway. The 1920 census finds Joseph and Elsie living with them in their elderly years. Joseph and Elsie are buried there in Center Cemetery, along with their respective children Gordon and Maude. Descendants of Gordon and Maud’s children (under various last names) now live in Pittsfield, Adams, and West Springfield, among other places.

Knocking at the Tomb: a Legend of Lanesborough

“Knock, knock, knock! The bell has just gone twelve, and there is the clang again upon the iron door of the tomb. The few people of Lanesboro who are paying the penance of misdeeds or late suppers, by lying awake at that dread hour, gather their blankets around their shoulders and mutter a word of prayer for deliverance against unwholesome visitors of the night. “

So opens this cryptic local legend as written down by Charles M. Skinner, one of America’s earliest collectors of folklore. His 1896 tome Myths and Legends of Our Own Land contains several short tales from the Berkshires, such as the Wahconah Falls legend. This one involves a tomb in the town of Lanesborough.

“Who is it that lies buried in that tomb, with its ornament of Masonic symbols?” asks Skinner. ” Why was the heavy iron knocker placed on the door? The question is asked, but no one will answer it, nor will any say who the woman is that so often visits the cemetery at the stroke of midnight and sounds the call into the chamber of the dead.”

As Skinner tells it, a black-clad woman (whether living or ghost is left ambiguous) comes to the town’s burial ground late at night. As the hour chimes midnight, she proceeds to clang the heavy iron door knocker that’s been set on the door of a tomb there.

“Some say that she is crazy, and it is her freak to do this thing,” Skinner ponders in conclusion. “Is she calling on the corpses to rise and have a dance among the graves? or has she been asked to call the occupant of that house at a given hour? Perhaps, weary of life, she is asking for admittance to the rest and silence of the tomb. She has long been beneath the sod, this troubler of dreams. Who knows her secret?”

This story long perplexed me, for no amount of scouring in Lanesborough’s four cemeteries revealed any tomb as described in Skinner’s tale. No door showed any sign of a knocker, or any Masonic symbols.

An 1888 entry in the Pittsfield Sun finally clarified more about this cryptic story, which may well be based on actual occurrences.

The tomb in question, it seems, was that of Betsey Eddy Powell (1765-1827), the somewhat eccentric wife of Captain David Powell, who had an iron door-knocker installed in the door of her small hillside tomb in Lanesborough’s Center Cemetery. The knocker (and perhaps any masonic decoration present) was later removed when the tomb had to be rebuilt some time in the 1870s or early 80s.

The midnight knocking by a woman clad in black was no ghost, but the Berkshires own “Susan Dunham.” Often referred to as “Crazy Sue,” Dunham was a legendary local character who I’ve written on elsewhere, well known for frequenting the local burying grounds, where she sometimes would nap among the graves.

According to “an overwhelming amount of the most irrefragable testimony” from townspeople, according to The Sun, it was she who would enter the yard around midnight. There, “seizing the knocker, rang a peal that startled the whole neighborhood.

“Think what must have haunted her soul to provoke an act like that!” concluded the Pittsfield paper.

I’m sure she had her reasons.