In the autumn of the year 1904 Anno Domini a small fire broke from an unknown location on St. Anna's Street. Edged on by a strong wind blowing down from the Mutton Mountain's the fire spread, leapfrogging from one house to the next. The houses, being of wood and tar, quickly became torches in the night. Embers from the fire, landed on the wooden roofs of the poorer people of St. Charles and Canal Street. Within the hour, the small, under funded, under trained firefighters were overpowered as the blaze spread to all corners of town.
All of main street burned, with the iron trolley tracks becoming red hot. The wooden street cars burned where they stood. Finally around midnight, the few remaining firemen, and a collection of men and boys, armed with shovels, hoses and all manner of tools brought the advance of the fire to a halt at the intersection of Belhaven Street and Percy Street. The line held all through the night, when finally with the help of a sudden autumn rain the last smothering embers of the fire died. Leaving half of Somerset burned to the ground. The butcher's bill, when finally tallied came to roughly two million pound sterling. With the downtown merchants reporting a loss of roughly another two million in ruined merchandise.
It was well into the second day of the recovery, that a collection of old men, and women well advanced in their years, started a long hike to the towns graveyard. They reached the gate of the graveyard around noon, and after an hour of searching came upon the grave they had been seeking. The grave was that of an old woman, one long dead. Surrounding the grave, one could see heavy iron chains, linked around the plot, and finally crossing twice in a formation that brought to mind, the cross of St. Andrew.
"She broke out!" Cried an old woman with fear in her voice as she pointed toward a break in the chain. "She said she'll break out, and damn if she done broke out! It was her that caused the fire!" She shouted with rising fear as she pointed her bony hand toward the broken section of chain.
The collection of villagers shook their head and made the sign of the cross. All logical reasons for the fire were blotted out. In their simple, unlearned minds, the ghost of a woman, falsely accused of witchcraft was the blame. The fire had been divine judgment from God himself for the sins of the town.
Her name had been Grace Mallet. Though everybody from miles around called her `Aunt Grace". She was once the town midwife, beside tending to women with children, she also ran the towns "Sick Cottage" a small log cabin away from the center of town. The "Sick Cottage" was the forerunner of our modern day hospitals. Here men, women and children would be treated by Aunt Grace, who had a vast understanding of herbs and plants, and helped save many lives. Indeed her fame as a herbalist even reached the remote hamlet in the Mutton Mountains.
And for a while it seemed Aunt Grace could do no wrong as she commanded the respect of all. Then something happened, a strange sickness broke out, the sickness struck the rich and the poor. Killing both without mercy, strong men in perfect physical condition would take to bed in the morning and by afternoon, they would be dead. Whole families were killed, the sickness came with the first heat waves of August and lasted till the first frost of October. Grace was in the thick of things, but despite her best efforts, and all her understanding of herbs, none of the potions and brews she stewed would do, in fact they made it worse.
So all through the month of October, tension grew as the bodies of those stricken with the fever were finally laid to rest. But the men started to whisper over their mugs of ale. Rumors started to fly around town, the people started to blame grace for the sudden sickness. Finally, one night after hours of hard drinking, the patrons of "The Fiddler & The Bard '' started to gather. The rumors at this time were at a fever pitch.
Despite the pouring down rain, the men dressed in oil slicks, and armed with pikes, clubs and old fowling pieces started the long procession down unpaved streets to Grace's hut. The pounding sheets of rain, only made their mood worse about time they reached her small hut their minds where too clouded with anger to do anything.
Quickly the men started to surround her hut. Surrounding the place, they started to shout. "Hang the witch!" Some shouted, others were more creative and shouted louder as to carry their threats above the others. "Burn her! Gather up some wood and burn her to death!" They shouted even louder, those threats boomed from deep inside there throats, and where the ones that reached Grace's ear. Carried over the confusion and shouts by the power of strong drink.
Somebody presented a rope and a hangman's noose was quickly formed, the rope was tossed over a limb of a tree and Grace's Mule was rounded up. At that time, Grace appeared in the blinding downpour, dressed in a simple gray nightdress, her white hair hanging loose over her shoulders. Before she could say a word, the men took her by shoulders and forced her on the mule.
"Where are you going to hang you witch!" Shouted one man as lead the mule toward the rope that swung back and force in the wind. They brought her right up to the noose and then they placed it around her neck.
"Any last words!" They cried! As they watched the proud women stand straight up with the rope around her neck. The women peered into the faces of all those gathered around her, taking a deep breath she spoke in a loud clear voice!
"If you hang me, I promise you my spirit will come back and I will burn this town down!" And with that they hung her. The mob vanished, once she stopped breathing, and come morning a group of townspeople collected the body and carried back to town, they dressed her in a donated dress and buried in potter's field. A few of the townspeople, who had heard her threat, thought it would be much fun to have a local blacksmith forge heavy iron chains. The heavy, black, iron chains were first placed around her grave, then one corner crossed to the other corner and the other corner was crossed to the other.
And so, the story of Grace Mallet faded from memory. The town of Somerset bloomed. Gold was discovered in the Mutton Mountains. The Great Northern Railroad laid tracks that linked the tiny town with the capital of New London. The seaside bloomed from a long, narrow, barren stretch of shore, to a massive pleasure park that was built upon the wooden docks that covered the grayish colored sand. The result proved popular with holidays going traveling from New London and Liverpool.
The streets were paved. A streetcar company called "Somerset Streetcar Works Limited ' was formed. The track rain from the shed located at the end of main, ran the whole length of main. Rounded the corner of Canal, then split as it one line went down Percy Street and the other down Belhaven street.
At the end of Belhaven Street, rounded a gentle bend and ran down a developing section of town called Grand. It ran the length of Grand, bending one more to the right as the tracks curved around Goose Egg Park and finally stopped at a halt beside the newly built Kings Daughters Hospital.
All in all, it seemed Somerset was blooming. Till that one fateful night on October 31st 1904 A.D when the spirit of Grace Mallet broke through her chains and set the town ablaze. And so, the legend of the witch who burned Somerset was born.