SHREWSBURY, Mass. — At 398 Walnut St. in Shrewsbury sits a Colonial-era house. That's not so rare, considering how many 18th century homes still stand in the Shrewsbury area. What's rare is the legend associated with the house's former inhabitant.
The legend says a witch once lived there.
The "witch" in question was Molly Garfield.
"The legend says that, on very dark nights, she would mount her broomstick and sail off into the clouds much higher than the church steeple, coming down again as gently as a thistle down," wrote Elizabeth Ward in her book, "Old Times In Shrewsbury" (1892).
Molly lived in what's still called the Garfield House. Built in 1738, it's nearly as old as the town. Molly Garfield lived in the house between the late 1700s and early to mid-1800s.
By all accounts, Garfield was mysterious, but harmless.
"Not that she was ever thought to be a disagreeable, mischief-making witch," Ward wrote, "but one whose character would bear inspection even in those days when suspicion had not yet died out."
"She was allowed to sit quietly in her hut and distill her rose water and cider brandy, harmless decoctions (concentrated liquor) for a witch to bring out of her cauldron," Ward wrote.
"All residents said she was strange," said Eric Larson, president of the Shrewsbury Historical Society. "She was very out of place. She didn't hurt anybody, and they pretty much left her alone."
Ward wrote that Garfield "did good work, spinning (yarn) for the neighbors." However, suspicions remained and local boys were "shy" with her.
Perhaps as a prank, said Larson, or perhaps to satisfy their curiosity to see if she really was a witch, the boys hung a horseshoe over the door where Molly sat spinning. It was believed that an iron horseshoe was a talisman that would ward off witches. Ward wrote: "This story does not say whether they saw her come out, or whether she quietly slid up the chimney, but she was ever after called a witch."
That's how Molly Garfield became known to townsfolk as "Old Moll Garfied the Witch." Whether there was any wickedness to her is doubtful, but to those living at the time, "she was like a bona fide witch," Larson said.
According to Larson, since Molly's passing, the house has since been sold and resold. For a time, it was said strange occurrences happened inside the house, where objects would disappear or start flying about. In the 1980s, the house was reportedly blessed by a clergyman as a form of exorcism, and no such occurrences have since been reported.
Today, much of the mystery seems swept away, except for one thing: Larson said a former owner reported smelling pipe smoke, but could never locate the source.