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  • Writer's pictureGail S. Blankenau

The Cotuit Ghost of Cape Cod

Cotuit, Massachusetts

As the weather cools and the leaves begin their last hurrah, it’s time for Nickerson thoughts to turn on ancient burial grounds, and All Hallows Eve – and all those things that may go bump in the proverbial night.

Are there haunted places in our ancestral villages? Some Nickersons certainly thought so.

In the 1880s, Yankee peddler Levi Phinney Nickerson of Cotuit, Massachusetts, and his horse and cart were a familiar sight along the byways of the Cape. One foggy evening, in the fall of 1884, Levi had been visiting Osterville and was driving back to Cotuit when he stopped to have a smoke in his cart.

“It was kinder misty, an’ it was about 6 o’clock. I’d just come to the woods between Marston’s Mills an’ here on the stage road, when wish! came a large stone out of the bushes, striking my horse…”[1]

Old Levi then saw a movement in the bushes—maybe a man’s arm—and another stone whizzed by his head, tore a hole in the cart’s cover and landed in the wagon behind him. At this point, his horse had had enough and ran for his life. After Levi got the rattled steed under control, he went back to investigate, but all he saw was the arm and a dim outline like a “tall man, with a long coat.”

Levi then examined the stone in his cart. The rock weighed almost a pound and Levi thought it could be a chunk from an old grindstone – certainly not the kind of stone common to the area.

Levi’s account was joined by that of his nephew, Captain Willis Thacher Nickerson9 (Emily Frances Nickerson8, Leander Wallace7, Samuel6, Samuel5, Samuel4, Samuel3, Samuel2, William1) of the schooner Nellie C. Paine. Willis was driving into Cotuit one evening at about the same spot, and he, too, he saw a tall man dressed all in black. This time the ghost was standing in the road in front of him. His horse was going at a good clip, so Willis yelled out and the black specter stepped to the side just in time to avoid being run over – if that was ever a possibility.

Others from Cotuit also reported apparitions along the same road, always dressed in black, sometimes thought to be a tallish woman with a black veil. The newspaper reported that Cotuit was a strict temperance town, and thus, strong drink was ruled out as an explanation.

Only in Levi’s account did the ghost ever attempt any harm, but he seems to have a preference for late hours and dark forest glades. So next time you are visiting Cotuit along the old post road in the dead of night,[2] keep an eye out for a tall person in a long, black coat. You may just encounter the famous Cotuit ghost.

[1] Levi P. Nickerson was descended from William Nickerson: (Leander Wallace7, Samuel6, Samuel5, Samuel4, Samuel3, Samuel2, William1) His account appeared in the Barnstable Patriot, 30 December 1884, page 2, Col. 3. Online at the Barnstable, Massachusetts, Sturgis Library website:

[2] Levi called the road a stage road, but from studying the contemporary maps, his route was probably the Old Post Road.

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