Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Spirit Whistle, 1855

One of the earliest local ghost stories dates from 1855 and concerns the Middleboro' Steam Mill on Vine Street. Built in early 1855, the steam mill was a large four-story lumber mill which also produced boxes, nail kegs and building materials including lath, clapboards, shingles, doors, sash and blinds.
In late 1855, residents of Middleborough and Lakeville were disturbed by the late night sounding of the mill's steam whistle, the shriek of which carried far in the crisp winter air, awaking and alarming the immediate West Side neighborhood.

The people in the vicinity of the Steam Mill have repeatedly been startled from their slumbers, at the dead of night, by the shrieks of the steam whistle, and the owners of the mill have hastened to the spot to learn the cause, but ere they arrived, all was quiet and safe, the engine having apparently set up its whistle spontaneously.

On Christmas night, "a new aspect [was] given to this strange affair."

At 2 o'clock, the whistle began to offer its alarm in low murmers, which continued to grow louder and shriller, and fuller and deeper, till half past two, rousing from sleep, the inhabitants for miles around.

According to the tale, the whistle was sounded by an Irish-born worker who had lost the tip of his finger presumably while working one of the mill's saws. Some time later this same worker was accidentally killed while at work at the mill. Each evening the spirit of this worker was said to sound the mill whistle in hopes of summoning his fellow coworkers to help him in finding his missing finger tip.

The tale is founded upon the type of industrial accident unfortunately so common in the 19th and early 20th centuries which resulted in the permanent maiming of a worker. Not only were lumber mill workers subject to such dangers, but operatives in the local shoe manufactories, the Star Mill, the Bay State Straw Works, and other industrial employers were all recorded as having met with unfortunate accidents - some even fatal - during this period. It is no wonder, then, that such a tale would arise.

"Silent Whistle" by Leonard John Matthews, September 30, 2008. Adapted by Michael J. Maddigan under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Namasket Gazette, "The Spirit Whistle", December 28, 1855, p. 2.


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