MONTPELIER — With Halloween upon us, the Capital City harbors a celebrated ghost story: a fatal love tryst.
“Anna,” as she is known, is said to haunt the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and by all accounts, is still up to her old tricks. There are numerous stories and examples of how Anna continues to unsettle staff and faculty at the college to this day.
Accounts of the ghost reveal that Anna Wheeler, 17, a native of East Montpelier, was shot and killed by Mildred Brewster in a jealous rivalry for the affections of Jack Wheeler (no relation to Anna, who was engaged to him) on May 29, 1897.
Jae Young, who started as the manager of the ghost-inspired Café Anna last summer, said he was not aware of the story until strange events started to occur.
“When I started, no one told me about it and I just assumed Anna had been a professor or teacher in the past,” Young said. “But there was a weird day where a couple of things went wrong and I joked, ‘What? Is this place haunted?’ And three customers at the same time all said ‘yes.’”
Young said he started investigating the circumstances of Anna’s death and slowly learned of many strange events at the college over the years.
“She was killed right over there,” said Young, pointing out the window of the café. Anna was shot on the other side of the college, near Sibley Avenue, where Jack Wheeler lived, according to news reports of the time.
“It was over a man that Anna was engaged to ... and they had a fight over who was the true partner to this person,” Young continued. “It was Mildred who shot and killed Anna on the spot, and Mildred attempted to kill herself, but survived, and was in the psych ward for the rest of her life.”
Then there are the hauntings.
“The story goes that the last thing Anna saw was the tower of this building, and so she haunts the tower. She doesn’t haunt the café – I try to make that distinction for our customers, it’s just the tower,” he added, noting that strange events still do occur in the café.
Events that Young reported happening including problems with the air conditioning unit and problems with radio reception, both for no apparent reason.
“The AC was on the fritz one day – it had frozen some part of itself, so the water wasn’t running through and we heard this giant crash of falling ice and we saw the AC askew in the window,” Young said. “The room just had this strange energy.”
Young said other stories of unusual circumstances at the college include “a creepy sensation” in the basement women’s restroom, which he said is rumored to have once been used as the morgue for a nearby Civil War hospital.
But Anna is on the clock.
Young said legend has it Anna starts to act up around 9 p.m. – a specific time confirmed by others at the college.
“It’s almost as if she wants people to go home and leave the space to her at night,” Young said. “Folks that live on the third floor or fourth floor would hear random tapping sounds, windows that were locked would slowly swing open, and one woman said she was tapped on the shoulder by the window that she knew was locked. It was 9 o’clock on the dot.”
Ann Cardinal, director of student recruitment at the college, said she also is convinced Anna haunts the college.
Cardinal said the story of Anna was also included in a 1983 book, “The Madness of a Seduced Woman,” by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
“Anna was killed within sight of the college in a love triangle,” Cardinal said. “I’ve had experiences where she didn’t like it when we worked late.
“When we were first forming VCFA, we were here late a lot,” Cardinal said. “And when I came in the next morning, all the clocks in the suite upstairs were on the floor and the batteries were gone.”
“One time I came I went on vacation and when I came back, all the pictures were on the floor, glass broken. There were all these weird things,” she added.
On another occasion, Cardinal said she couldn’t open the door to the upstairs suite because a microwave unit was blocking the door on the inside.
“I had to get facilities to come because it was too heavy (to move),” Cardinal said. “I said, ‘You did this, right?’ They said, ‘We would have had to climb out on the window to do it and climb back, and you’re not worth that.’ That happened twice.”
There have been instances of shades going up, doors opening and closing and other ghostly actions like lights turning on, and the elevator going into use with no one in it.
“I can guarantee that there are going to be ghosts in some of these old buildings,” Cardinal said.
Cardinal also confirmed the creepy atmosphere in the women’s basement bathroom.
“The handicapped stall will always be locked, even though there’s no one in there; and dogs don’t like to go down there,” Cardinal said.
Cardinal, who is a horror story writer and a graduate of VCFA, just published a book, “Five Midnights,” about El Cuco, the Hispanic boogie man in Puerto Rico, and has a sequel, “Category Five,” coming out in June.
She said Anna would likely be her next novel.