Old Coot of Mount Greylock
By Thomas D’Agostino
From our latest book, Strange New England by History Press
In 1861, a North Adams farmer named William Saunders, like many of his time, left his home to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Saunders kissed his wife and children goodbye on the promise of a speedy return. During his tenure as a soldier, he wrote faithfully to his wife, Belle, who waited anxiously for her beloved to come home. About a year after enlistment, a letter arrived at her door stating he had been seriously wounded by a cannonball in battle and was not likely to survive his injuries. This would be the last correspondence she would receive in regard to her husband.
Her sorrow was deep, for she feared the worst of his fate, yet she needed to tend to the farm. She hired a young man named Milton Clifford to help with the work while she and the children did what they could. As time passed, she realized that her husband must have perished in the war and eventually married Milton, who, in turn, adopted her children.
The War Between the States ended in 1865, and the soldiers of both sides went back to their respective lives. One of these was a bearded, weathered farmer named William Saunders, who had survived his injuries only to continue fighting for the cause. Saunders made his way back to his home, gaunt, tired and ragged yet eager to reunite with his wife and children, who were but babies when he left.
His joy turned to disbelief when, from afar, he saw his wife in the arms of another man whom his children now called “Daddy.” This devastated the poor Saunders, who realized his family had gone on without him during his absence. Instead of encountering them to announce he had come home, he turned and headed toward Mount Greylock, where he built a crude cabin in the remote portion of Bellows Pipe. There he lived out the rest of his days, occasionally working at local farms for his necessities. The locals called him “Old Coot,” as he never gave them a proper name. This moniker he was happy to accept. No one he knew before recognized him due to the injuries he suffered in battle and the aging beyond his years from the rigors of the war. It is said that he even helped at his own farm, sometimes joining his family for meals. Whenever he faced his family, it was with his long, straggly hair covering what was left of his gaunt face. To say he may have gone insane, either from the war or over losing his family, was an understatement. Either way, one cold winter day in January, hunters stumbled upon his shack, where they found Old Coot dead. They were more than frightened when his spirit jumped from his body, bolted out the door and flew up the mountainside. To this day, his “bedraggled spirit” is seen on Mount Greylock, always ascending the peak near Bellows Pipe and Thunderbolt Trails, but never reversing direction.
Bellows Pipe derives its name from the wind that whistles through the pines, making the sound of a large pipe being blown into. Is it the wind, or could it be the wailing of a sad spirit that left for a good cause only to be left behind?
Thomas D’Agostino and his wife Arlene Nicholson are seasoned paranormal investigators, authors, and co-organizers of Paranormal United Research Society. You can find out more about them by visiting www.tomdagostino.com.