Peter Rugg’s eternal search—Part II
By THOMAS D’AGOSTINO
The stage made it to Polly’s Inn just as the storm hit and soon a wet peddler entered and sat by the fire. When conversation turned to the phantom chaise, he admitted that he had seen the spectral carriage and its occupants four times in four different states in the last few weeks. Each time, a serious storm followed the sighting. He then, half jesting, remarked how he needed to take out marine insurance on his merchandise if this was going to keep up. Dunwell would encounter the wraith one more time some years later in Hartford, Connecticut while on a business trip. He immediately recognized the glowing countenance, commenting to the alarmed throng that the ghost was further from Boston than ever.
A toll operator on the Charles Street Bridge in Boston had many run-ins with the ethereal carriage. On several occasions, around midnight, the wagon raced through the booth never even slowing to pay the crossing fee. At one point the operator got so angry he threw his stool at the speeding rig. Imagine the look on his face when the stool passed right through the manifestation and bounced off of the guardrail on the other side of the road.
Mrs. Betsey Croft, who later owned the Rugg home, claimed that a man once came to her door soaking wet with a scared, pale looking child by his side. The sight gave her a start, as she knew he was not of the present. His clothes were at least a century old and he spoke in an old English dialect. As she glanced over his shoulder in the moonlight, she saw a decrepit antique carriage at the curb with a massive black horse harnessed to it. When the man asked for Mrs. Rugg she told him Mrs. Rugg died many years ago at a very old age, and that she has owned the house for a half a century. The odd-looking man told her he was in haste and needed to get to Boston. She told him that he was in Boston, but he did not acknowledge her insistence on the matter. He spoke of roads and people from years past and maintained his need to get home. As she looked them over intensely she knew beyond any doubt by their eerie shade that they were not of this world, but instead, ghosts of the past revisiting their former home.
William Austin wrote the accounts of Peter Rugg from 1824 to 1826 and claimed to have met the ghost himself when Rugg flagged down his carriage. The man identified himself as Peter Rugg and asked for directions to Middle Street in Boston. When told he was near Hartford, Connecticut, Rugg became irritated and argued with Austin before speeding off in furious skepticism at Austin’s statement. The rig, horse and riders all vanished before the road turned.
Solid proof of Rugg’s eternal journey exists in North Kingstown, RI where Route 1 crosses over Route 403, also known as Devil’s Foot Road. It is there where Reverend Samuel Nickles encountered the wraith of Peter Rugg while returning to Providence from the village of Wickford. Near dusk, the preacher and his old nearsighted nag, Romeo, were caught in a sudden thunderstorm as they rode through Quonset. As they entered a narrow passage between a steep hill and a rock ledge, he heard the thunderous sound of hooves in front of him. He looked up and saw a man frantically pulling at the reins of an immense horse and a frightened child gripping his arm for dear life. The horse drawing the speeding chaise had eyes glowing red like coals from a blacksmith’s fire.
The reverend’s nag became spooked and threw him from his saddle onto the great ghost bay. The preacher let out a scream of mercy and the horse bolted up the rock ledge in a flash of lightning, throwing the priest to the ground, unconscious.
When the preacher awoke, the sun was shining and Romeo was grazing in the grass nearby. As he glared at the rock, he saw cloven hoof prints embedded into the edifice. He sped from the sight but for years to come, people from all over flocked to see the rock with its footprints that still sits behind a row of trees near a gravel parking lot immediately after the bridge on Route 1 South.
What holds Rugg eternally bound to wander the earth? A tavern keeper once suggested that Heaven has a way of setting trial or judgment on a man for his actions or words. Peter Rugg, when he failed to fulfill his oath, cursed himself and his daughter to eternally ride the New England roads searching in vain for home.