Griswold House

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(HOST) Ghost stories and legends often grow up around real-life events, and commentator Joe Citro has found a good example of that phenomenon in an old brick house in Williston.

(CITRO) In the town history book it’s called “The Griswold Murder House.”

And as we know, where there are murders, there are likely to be ghosts. Such is very much the case in one fine old Williston, Vermont home.

Over the years occupants have reported many ghostly deeds: rumpled beds in which nobody slept, unseen companions, and accurate warnings of disaster. Though the indications of hauntings are unremarkable, this particular case illustrates an odd phenomenon: the backstory is – at least to me – far more terrifying than the ghost tale.

Before the stately federal style brick house existed, Sally and Ephram Griswold were struggling farmers living on the edge of poverty. When news of the California Gold strike hit Vermont, the couple headed off to seek their fortune.

Ephram grew discouraged and quickly returned home. The willful Sally stayed on.

There this adventurous woman signed up for the Sacramento Vigilantes and opened a high-priced boarding house where she sold eggs for as much as ten dollars apiece. Perhaps she did a little prospecting on the side.

At any rate, she returned home with a fortune.

She told Williston neighbors that she was going to build the finest house in town, complete with a ballroom, crystal chandeliers, and lake views.

This was quickly accomplished, but the eccentric elements of her character continued to grow.

She apparently lost interest in her husband, worked the farm herself, and slept alone in the parlor off the kitchen.

In 1862 circumstances forced her to take in her sister’s daughter, Adelia, and her husband, the unsavory Charles Potter. All four lived in perfect disharmony in the Williston home.

Soon Charles – believing Sally was still hiding a fortune in California gold – began plotting her demise. With Ephram’s tacit permission, Charles hired two New York gangsters who traveled to Williston. There, one August night in 1865, they broke into the house, slit Sally’s throat, and stashed her body in the barn.

They then ransacked the house but found little. A year later they returned to blackmail Mr. Potter. But they were arrested in Essex Junction, and hanged a year later at Windsor Prison.

Though subsequent owners have felt Sally’s spirit may still be on the premises, all say her presence is benign, somewhat comforting, and protective. But the story of Sally Griswold’s ghostly antics pale in the light of her gold rush days and her grisly murder.

Today she lies in the Williston cemetery where her headstone reveals the horror of that night so long ago. It says, “Sally Griswold, cruelly massacred on the night of August 16, 1865”.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington.

With special thanks to Mark Hutchins, Jim Heltz, and Arnold Wetherhead.

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