Mar 13

 In Sackville, New Brunswick there is an old Inn named Marshlands. The mansion was built in 1854 by a wealthy merchant as a gift to his daughter. Originally called the Cogswell House, the place was sold in 1895 after the mysterious death of the original occupants. The new owner, stone mason Henry C. Read, renamed the building after the nearby Tantramar marshes — Marshlands. 

The locals say it is haunted by the spirits of the Cogswell family: the two stoic parents and their mischievous children. At a nearby pub I grapple with differing account of the family’s death. According to some, the Cogswells were Murdered in the night, in their beds, by burglars. Others insist they died of accidental poisoning after eating Bradford sweets imported from England. One woman was adamant that the family was targeted by industrialists in some vast international conspiracy and were thrown, blindfolded, into the icy Bay of Fundy. It’s difficult tease out any truth woven within all the embellishment.

Each storyteller could agree on certain points. The posthumous occupants of the Cogswell House, I have learned, were not happy with the sale and renaming of their homestead. Nor are they now comfortable with the visitors who seasonally overwhelm the delicate sensitivities of this pristine Victorian-era mansion. 

Truth be told, my time at Marshlands was quite uneventful. The building is beautifully adorned with mint-condition early 20th century furniture, tapestry, wallpaper etc. The cutlery is Cardeilhac. Every detail seems to be authentically, painstakingly curated to resurrect a lost era.  The most notable thing about the Inn, however, is the number of stunning, ornate porcelain dolls decorating every room. There are hundreds of these. Each figurine is dressed in authentic 18th century finery; their faces are wreathed in elegantly styled curly locks;  each is blooming with unique personality, but all wear a similar, odd expression I can only describe as serene determination. The dolls seem to watching or warding against some far-off danger. 

In the morning I spoke with the Inn’s current owner — a terse, slightly stout man in his fifties. The diligent fellow was keen to explain intricate details about the upkeep of the mansion — how he acquires authentic pieces of furniture and cutlery through European auction and has them shipped; how he managed to replace some water-damaged boards in the attic with vintage spruce wood from an old orphanage that was torn down in neighboring Dorchester. When talk turned to the subject of the porcelain dolls he paused. He shuffled uncomfortably and tried to end the conversation abruptly. I asked again. He lowered his voice, “You are not the first to ask.” he said in a near whisper, “We have had them removed… repeatedly. They always return in greater number. I have given up on the issue and it’s probably for the best.  The murders have ceased since their arrival.”