New England has a lot of exclusive and strange customs and superstitions that have been a perennial staple of our culture since the first settlers landed here. Although many have faded with time into obscurity, some not only still thrive but can also be seen as one travels the highways and byways of the region. One of these customs can be seen mainly in Vermont and is known as the “Witch Window.” The origins of this name are lost to obscurity, but the strange slanted window easily distinguishes their existence between the eave of the home and addition just below, running parallel with the roof angle.
Witch windows originated in the Green Mountain State sometime around the 19th century. The name actually refers to a superstition that witches cannot maneuver their broomsticks sideways, so by placing the window at a 45-degree angle, a witch cannot enter your home through that window. This seems relatively weak in theory as all the other windows in the home are installed at the usual angles. If a witch really wanted to enter the home, it could easily pick another opening more suitable for entry.
Another term for these examples of peculiar architecture is “coffin windows,” which is even more unusual than the former. This name came from the thought that rather than lugging a heavy-laden coffin down the winding staircase of the home, the angled window would allow the coffin to be slid right side up out the window onto the roof of the addition and carefully lowered to the ground. This seems rather irrational in thought and practicality, especially for Vermonters who are known for their common sense and ingenuity. If someone were to die upstairs, would it not be easier to bring the deceased downstairs to the coffin rather than carry the coffin upstairs to the dead?
Many years ago, I saw my first witch window while traveling along Route 25 in Vermont. It struck me as odd at first, but its purpose immediately seemed as plain and evident as could be. The first story addition may have covered the old window. Thus, being practical and not having access to the big box stores we have today, the owner reinstalled the window to easily fit in the angled space between the addition and eave, instead of building a dormer for an upright window. Why do you ask? Easy answer; to let light into the upstairs room that would otherwise be dark after the addition was put in place.
The expansion of the home led to having the second-floor window covered by the new roof. Vermont farmers would not have wasted anything if they could help it. Materials were hard to come by, and that window was going to be used. The only place it would fit was where you see them today.
So, we have superstition, custom, and practicality. Is it all three, or just one reason these amusing additions exist, mainly on Vermont homes? If you happen upon a house with a witch window and the owner is outside, stop and ask him about the witch window. Don’t be surprised if he looks at you with a severe yet sincere expression on his face as he asks, “witch window?” Seeing one while driving the roads of Vermont is almost as exciting as seeing a moose or bear, but a heck of a lot safer.
By Thomas D'Agostino
In August 1923, Howard PHillips Lovecraft and his best friend, Clifford Martin Eddy took a stage from their hometown of Providence to the center of Chepachet, a small but thriving village in Glocester. It was their intention to discover the exact whereabouts of a hideous creature the locals knew only by the name of “IT.”
The monster lived in an area about halfway between the village and the Putnam Connecticut border in a place called Dark Swamp. According to legend, the sun’s warming rays never reached the ground of this murky piece of land. The trees, with their coarse, gnarly limbs, intermingled with each other creating a vast web of twisted branches making entrance or egress almost impossible. It was there that IT made its home, emerging from the swamp whenever it sought to feed. No other living creatures dared venture close to the habitat of IT instinctively knowing that doom awaited them there. The people of the area were careful to chop their wood, hunt and fish far from the boundaries of the swamp for fear they may be seen by IT and never live to tell of the ordeal.
Lovecraft and his traveling companion inquired about the creature with little result, save for some of the old timers who knew the legend from previous generations. The two trekked down Route 44, past Cady’s Tavern to where Elbow Rock Road and Route 94 sits. A few folks there knew some stories and were glad to share them. Unfortunately, Lovecraft and Mr. Eddy never found the lair or signs of the monster, but the trip did serve the two well. They would later use the legend and their experience in several of their stories.
How did they come to know of this creature in the first place? Perhaps it was the account by local pirate Albert Hicks, or a later account by Neil Hopkins that sparked their curiosity.
Albert Hicks was born in Foster, Rhode Island in 1820. His father was a farmer and it seemed he was to follow the same course but unfortunately for him, his wild and reckless demeanor steered him clear of any honest livelihood. At a young age, he turned to robbery, piracy and murder. While still working on his father’s farm, Hicks heard about some treasure Captain Kidd may have hidden near the Paine Farm. Some years later, Hicks and a few of his cronies returned to claim the ill-gained booty.
One moonless night, John Jepp, Ben Cobb, Ben Saunders, all of Glocester, and Hicks crept into the far field of the farm and began digging for the loot. Suddenly they were accosted by a terrible being Hicks later described as a large beast with eyes of fire the size of pewter bowls. When it breathed, flames came out of its mouth and nostrils scorching the brush as it passed. It was as large as a cow with dark wings on each side and spiral horns like a ram protruding from its head. Its feet were much like a ducks but measured a foot and a half across. The body was covered with scales the size of clam shells that rattled as the beast moved along. The “thing” had light emanating from its sides like that of a lantern. Even before they saw the beast, they felt its presence near them as their olfactories became consumed with the smell of burning wool. The beast came out of nowhere and stood before them. All four men dropped their picks and shovels and ran in fright, never to return. Albert Hicks was later convicted of murder and piracy in New York and hanged for the crime, being one of the last New England pirates to be executed for such vocation.
The next account appeared in The Evening Hour, January 15, 1896. Neil Hopkins of Glocester, RI was walking home from his work in Putnam, Connecticut when in the darkest portion of the road, a strange beast appeared in front of him. As Hopkins took flight, the beast began to chase him. He could not discern exactly what the creature was, but confirmed that it was some supernatural beast that lives in the forest near Dark Swamp where the chase originated.
Hopkins later told neighbors that the monster was as large as an elephant but with no tail and, “seemed to be all a-fire and had a hot breath.” The creature also gave off a metallic sound as it ran described as “steel against steel.”
The strange beast chased Hopkins for a short distance before bounding back into the woods. Mr. Hopkins could here it breaking branches and crunching twigs as it lumbered off into the void. The people of the village were sure it was the same creature that scared Hicks and his men a half century before. Is the beast called IT still lurking in the woods of West Glocester? There are some who still believe that something eternally resides in the area of Dark Swamp, waiting for an unwary traveler to enter its domain.