So there I was in South Street Cemetery, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, having my own personal Buffy moment.
Nine-thirty pm tonight. It’s dark. Doyle is there with me, no one else is around. I’m wearing a black leather jacket and clutching an extinguished MagLite. Half-moon just rising behind me. I’m looking across a small pond and one of the tombstones over there is, no-kidding, glowing. Just like the book promised.
Rewind to a few days ago. I was down in Littleton,* New Hampshire, running a few errands. Littleton has a lot of fine things in it. There’s the Littleton Diner, for example. There’s a statue of Pollyanna on the library lawn. There’s a wreath made of human hair in the historical society museum. While waiting for the movie (there’s a movie theater!) to start (Stardust, if you must know) we hung out in The Village Bookstore. My favoritest bookstore in the state. And there I found Curious New England: The Unconventional Traveler’s Guide to Eccentric Destinations by Joseph A. Citro and Diane E. Foulds. What could I do? That’s the sort of book you just have to own.
So today we drove down to Manchester in order to put elder-son Brendan on the plane back to Pittsburgh, PA, for his final year of grad school at CMU. To beguile the tedium of the journey we’d brought along Curious New England, and Doyle read aloud from it.
One of the entries begins:
People in Portsmouth have a mystery among them—a baffling phenonemon that may be unique to this New England city. It seems that a light can reliably be seen in the South Street cemetery. It’s not a floating orb, a luminescent specter, or the lantern of a ghostly caretaker making his eternal rounds. It is, in fact, a glowing tombstone. Three nearly identical markers stand in a row—but only the middle one lights up. Locals have been aware of it for ten or fifteen years, many have seen it for themselves, but no one can explain it. It’s visible only at night and weather conditions seem to have little to do with it. No matter if the air is foggy or clear, it shines. Photos show it glowing amidst its darkened neighbors—a subtle luminescence, but undoubtedly there….
Well. After dropping Brendan off at the airport, and going by the Cinemagic 12 in Merrimack where we played The Game (that is, seeing the very next movie showing that we hadn’t already seen), yielding a showing of The Invasion (yet another make of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers), checking into our favorite Manchester motel (the EconoLodge by the Queen City Bridge (exit 4 on I-293), built in a 19th c. shoe factory, and having supper at Tinker’s seafood restaurant (paper plates, styrofoam bowls, plastic knives and forks, and entirely wonderful food), on Rt. 3 north of town, left us with nothing much to do by 7:30 pm. So the thought instantly came to me, “Why not drive to Portsmouth and look for the glowing tombstone?
The guidebook says:
Location: South Street Cemetery is in downtown Portsmouth, not far from the river approximately where South Street, Sagamore Street, and Miller Avenue intersect. Take the South Street entrance to the cemetery and walk down the descending path to the pond (on your right). Look across the pond. The stone is in the middle of three old, squarish stones in a row. Its shine can be seen from at least two hundred yards away.
More practically, take your best route to I-95. New Hampshire has the shortest seacoast of any US state with a seacoast, and I-95 runs along that coast. Get off at Exit 3, and take Rt. 33 east. 33 turns into South Street. The cemetery is at the intersection of South St. and Rt. 1-A. To the north of South Street, 1-A is called Miller Street. To the south of the intersection 1-A is called Sagamore Avenue. Just past the intersection with 1-A there are a couple of good parking areas where you can pull off the road to the right. The entrance to the cemetery is a block past the intersection with 1-A, opposite Richards Avenue.
The gate was open. Doyle and I walked past the sign that said “Closed 6:30 PM” and in. The path, the descending path, runs straight ahead from the gate. Ahead and down we went. At the bottom of the slope it was pretty dark, but there was lots of sky glow from Portsmouth and from the streetlights along Miller and Sagamore. At our closest point of approach to that pond, on the right … along a line perpendicular to that path we were walking on … by golly, there it was.
Greenish white. Not changing based on passing cars or changing traffic signals. Glowing against the hillside behind it. The tombstones on either side dark. Woo. Spooky.
Doyle didn’t want to try to skirt the pond and go overland in the dark to get closer. We walked back to the car and drove back to Manchester (through Exeter, famous for its own UFO sighting in the early ‘sixties). And here we are, back in that motel. Blogging it.
Hurrah for free high-speed wireless internet in the rooms!