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The Haunting of Hillsborough House

The family farm

Nineteenth-century HLS student John Bickford was raised
and, some say, still lives on his family farm.

Former Harvard Law student John Bickford still hangs around his family home, though the Hillsborough, N.H., farmhouse where he grew up is now a bed-and-breakfast, his parents are dead--and so is he.

On June 26, 1866, as he was finishing his first year at HLS, Bickford drowned in the Charles River, where he was swimming with friends. Now, 136 years later, Meg Curtis, who runs Stonewall Farm B&B with her husband, Skip, says John has the habit of appearing on the edge of the bed in the room that used to be his.

This spring, Meg Curtis called the HLS library to find out more about Bickford's life and death. Curtis is deep into Bickford history. A box of family memorabilia was dropped off by a member of the local historical society not long after she and her husband bought the house. She displays letters, documents, and photos throughout the B&B alongside pictures of her own family. A framed newspaper article on the wall of the John W. Bickford room describes a student-run memorial service. A week after helping to look for his body in the river, Bickford's Harvard Law School brothers bowed "with humble submission to this summons of All-Wise and Divine Providence," expressed their "sorrow and regret," resolved to wear "the usual badge of mourning on the left arm for 30 days," and made "complimentary remarks upon the character of the deceased."

In faded notes for one of the eulogies, Edgar Wallace LL.B. 1867 recalls Bickford's talent for the law and his upstanding moral character (he was "a practicer of temperance, without abstinence"), his love of music, and his clear tenor voice.

Curtis has never seen John Bickford. Over the years she's heard stray footsteps. And there have been odd incidents involving water. It's been her children and the occasional guest (often in their early 20s, like a law student in his prime) who've reported sightings.

Curtis says that Bickford is a welcome guest: "I wouldn't want him to feel he shouldn't be in his own home."

--E.N.

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