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Hillsborough landmarks filled with ghost stories

Hillsborough might be known for warmly inviting the curious passerby, but residents believe the town is also welcoming to those who have passed on.

The town’s shops’ signs read “Do drop in.” And Hillsborough, which was laid out in 1754, exudes laid-back Americana.

Its white picket fences and painted storefronts might suggest a sleepy little town, but Hillsborough was once a major landmark for both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Sarah DeGennaro, executive director at the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, said while Hillsborough residents place special emphasis on preserving and learning about the town’s past, uncertainty still looms around many landmarks.

“There’s a bit of mystery tied into old buildings, and Hillsborough is sort of full of old historic sites that kind of lend themselves to the imagination,” DeGennaro said.

Many of the ghost stories that surround the town revolve around the soldiers who fought in both wars and were laid to rest there.

Though the stories of those who lost their lives at a time of great conflict are very real, many will say rumors surrounding their lingering spirits are just there to make the spine tingle.

“I think most of it is just lore, I really do,” said DeGennaro. “Some of them might be true, but I don’t think most of them are.”

But some local business owners believe there is something that definitely goes bump in the night.

Those who stop by the quaint Matthew’s Chocolates at 107 N. Churton St. this time of year might find themselves giggling at the hokey decorative skeletons tucked away in the shop’s coolers. But few know about the building’s past skeletons that still spook those who work there. While owner Matthew Shepherd’s exotic truffles and bark are certainly popular in the tight-knit community where locally-made reigns supreme, the real reason they are flying off the shelves might just be one resident spirit looking to make a ruckus.

It’s not uncommon for employees of Matthew’s Chocolates to find shattered bowls and candies spread across the floor when returning to work, Shepherd said. Some have even seen the shadowy figure of a man walking by in the back hallway.

“When I was first in here painting the walls before I even opened six years ago, there were a couple of nights that I climbed down off the ladder, walked out the door and locked it, went home and left the lights on and everything,” Shepherd said. “I was gone, out. It was severe enough I was like ‘OK, you win. Goodbye.’”

Though Shepherd said he has never formally explored the history behind the building, he believes the ghost to be a man on the Underground Railroad.

At the Old Orange County Courthouse a couple blocks away, a colonial woman by the name of Elizabeth Scamp is said to still make ghostly appearances, hundreds of years after a traumatic escapade to get her husband released from the then-attached jail, said Ashley DeSena, program coordinator for the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough.

Perhaps embarrassed by the criminal gaffs of her husband, Scamp encourages those walking by to move along, telling them there’s nothing to see.

Then there is the Twin Chimneys House built in 1760s. As the story goes, a curious woman happened upon her husband building a coffin, and it didn’t take much longer for her to learn that it was meant for her. She was murdered one day while baking an apple pie.

Now it’s said the faint smell of America’s mainstay dessert remains as a reminder of a murder and a ghost that still roams.

Sam Burcham, an American studies graduate student whose research focuses on narratives dealing with beliefs, said ghost stories that persist within a town tell a great deal about what the community finds important.

“When it’s about something bad that happened or evil as the result of war or murder or something like that, I find that it expresses what they define as taboos,” he said. “It presents an interesting story for what happens if a taboo is carried out.”

Maybe a good ghost story is as American as apple pie. And maybe in the all-American town of Hillsborough, the real taboo lies in ever leaving it, posthumously or otherwise.

“There’s a lot of history and important people here, a lot of people that really cared about the town, and they’re still buried here just a block and half away,” Shepherd said. “You know, I kind of think the old founders of the town are still around keeping an eye on it.”

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