- Founded: 1840
- Acres: 20
- Design: Garden Style
- NRHP: Yes #352595
- Topo: Fairly level sections/slight rolling areas/steep inclines to plateaus
Neighbors: Not so very sketchy
Gear: Flip flops NOT recommended
Valley Cemetery, located in the heart of Manchester, came to be through the generous donation of a substantial parcel of land to the city from the Amoskeag Company. In keeping with the times, it was laid out in sprawling, rural style replete with walking paths, stairways leading to the (surely) prized summit areas and strategically placed resting areas for the living. Like Bellevue, it must have been a glorious site (and sight) in its heydey, as can be glimpsed in the following, circa 1920 photograph. Today however, like Bellevue, it has fallen victim to economic hardship, disinterest, neglect, and the overall hazards of big city life. Graffiti and vandalism are all too present; the horizon is marred by the unsightly encroachment of the living, and the solitude is often interrupted by the raucous behavior of the local youth who appear to, sadly, have been uneducated in the most basic of values… respect.
Statuarily speaking (it is too a word… at least in my dictionary lol), I would have to give the edge to Bellevue. While Valley does have an impressive monument or two, along with a particularly stunning mausoleum which is inaccessible due to the anti-vandal chainlink fence, it is primarily comprised of low, salting marble stones. Unlike Bellevue, however, Valley offers visitors a bit more than meets the eye by way of unseen, yet not unheard or unfelt, residents. Perhaps it stems from the unmarked, mass graves necessitated by the cholera outbreak Manchester endured so many years ago. Perhaps it stems from the (alleged) untimely death of at least one individual within the cemetery grounds. Perhaps it stems from nowhere other than the imagination… but it has long been held that Valley Cemetery is haunted.
Yet, is it? I have not had occasion to visit the grounds at night, and therefore can’t speak to any nocturnal happenings. I can, however, tell you this my fellow crawlers… there are experiences to be had within this sad expanse of ground. Perhaps, though, one must be unprepared to have them. I say that because I, unlike some of my contemporaries, tend to operate in reverse when it comes to crawling. Although I will, and do, spend inordinate amounts of time scouring the web for places to visit, I very rarely delve too far into the history/specifics of each prior to visiting. I primarily search for existing photos to give me an idea of what I’ll find there, aerial shots to give me a general concept of the layout, and cross streets to ensure that the charming Australian gentleman that lives in my GPS can get me there without too much “recalculating”. I’ve always much preferred to pinpoint, visit, and THEN read voraciously whatever I can find about those that piqued my interest. Such was the case with Valley and I, therefore, didn’t know the legends. For myself, that makes my experiences all the more cool.
The first occurred as I ascended these overgrown stairs to the summit on the side of the cemetery where the late Governor Smyth rests. Throughout my visit, the air had been utterly still… no hint of breeze to be had as was evidenced by the sheen of sweat I was swathed in. Yet, as I was about 2/3 of the way up I was assaulted by a sudden, swirling jet of cool air. It did not linger, and it did not return. It was as if a high-powered fan had blipped on and off in an instant… releasing but a single burst of wind. Curious.
The second took place at the Smyth tomb itself from where, it is said, a prostitute was thrown to her death. Of course, I didn’t know that then. What I did know, in short order, was that something was definitely amiss. The tomb itself hovers at the edge of a rather substantial drop with its access facing not the portion of the grounds on which it rests, but the horizon at the very edge of the abyss in question. This means navigating the narrow walkway and being mindful of the drop as one tries to photograph the mausoleum doors. That, in and of itself, could lend itself to a bit of a chill if one were particularly leery of heights. Although I’m not fond of them, they don’t necessarily frighten me, so I’m fairly confident that I was in my right mind as I approached the door this first time. Yet, somehow, my skin began to tingle – as if a bolt of static electricity was about to erupt from my fingertips – and then my camera died. After meandering back to the car and replacing my batteries, I paused to consider for a brief moment that I had just put those now dead batteries in prior to leaving the house that afternoon. Curious.
As I navigated my way back around, the electric feeling did not return. From the edge of the mausoleum foundation, I proceeded to try and find “the” shot I was seeking. Stepping away from the edge and closer to the door, I was stopped dead in my tracks… by a sound that had no earthly right to have emanated from INSIDE the structure. I am not altogether certain, but I think my heart may have skipped a beat as the metallic clang that sounded so like a brass door knocker being dropped against an equally brass door resonated around me… in an empty area of the cemetery on a windless day. After a nano-second of panic, I placed my hand on the door and found it not only colder than it should have been… but I was sure I felt a fading, residual vibration. Curiouser and curiouser.
Did I stay? I did… I sat right there on the narrow edge… and pondered what I had heard. It had not echoed from behind me – across the valley dividing the grounds. It had not come from above me, and there was no stray branch that had fallen from the cobalt blue sky upon the roof. Nor had it seemed to come predominantly from one side of the tomb. No, after thoroughly assessing the experience and the nuances of the sound while still so vividly fresh, I am convinced it came from directly in front of me — and directly in front me was nothing but the long-sealed door of the Smyth mausoleum.
So thus begs the question… did I ever get a picture of the door? No I didn’t.
As to the real question… is Valley Cemetery haunted? Taking all my experiences of the day… for myself I will say that, indeed, it is. I leave it to others to judge for themselves, however. All that aside, it is definitely worth a visit to this gem nestled in the midst of the big city.
Valley is located on, of course, Valley Street in Manchester, NH, and more information on the history and preservation efforts on behalf of this cemetery can be found at Friends of Valley Cemetery.
Next time… a visit to the Lion, the Witch, and the… Armchair.
Until then… crawl with care.