In 1969, the three firefighters assigned to the new West Woods
fire station worked by themselves -but they weren't alone.
by Dave Johnson
Hamden Town Historian
Little Red Schoolhouse in West Woods
Born in 1881, Alice Peck was a Hamden schoolteacher. For forty years Miss Peck taught West Woods children in the little red one-room schoolhouse, built in 1909 at the corner of Johnson and Still Hill Roads. She left the historic schoolhouse when she retired from teaching in 1950, but some believe that Miss Peck was still hanging around the neighborhood long after that.
Miss Peck's little red schoolhouse closed in June 1954, when a brand new elementary school named for her was built up the street. But the old schoolhouse that Miss Peck had taught in for so many years did not remain vacant for very long.
In 1956, the citizens of northwestern Hamden organized the West Woods Volunteer Fire Association and acquired Miss Peck's former schoolhouse for their quarters. They even added a new wing in 1958 to house their fire apparatus.
In 1967 the town decided that a new fire station was needed for West Woods. In early 1968, the old schoolhouse-turned-firehouse was moved to the rear of the property so that a new fire station could be built right where the old school had stood for nearly sixty years.
1958 - Old schoolhouse converted into fire station
1968 - New location - Bay converted to meeting room
1968 - New West Woods fire station on the original schoolhouse site
During the summer and fall of 1968, the department's new Station No. 9 in West Woods went up on the site of the old schoolhouse. Dedication ceremonies were held on Sunday, December 8, 1968. Firefighters Warren Blake, Gil Spencer and Gene Maturo were the first personnel assigned to the new station, on Platoons 1, 2 and 3, respectively.
The first couple of months were fairly uneventful for the three firefighters - boring, in fact. So boring, that in late December the dispatcher actually forgot to include Engine 9 on the running assignment when sending apparatus to a Todd Street house fire.
In February 1969 things began to get a lot more interesting.
At this point it should be made clear that Station 9 was kept locked at night, from 10 until 7 the next morning. A key to the building was hidden inside the Gamewell Box 158, mounted on the front of the building, so personnel could get back inside on those very rare occasions when the engine was dispatched to a call during the night. But between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., Station 9 was locked up tight. Only the lone firefighter assigned there could let anyone in.
1968 - Firefighters Blake, Spencer, and Maturo
On their respective shifts, Firefighters Blake, Maturo and Spencer bunked in the officers' room, which is located right off the main hallway to the dayroom. Late on the first of his four nights in a row, Gil Spencer was the only person in the fire station. Before hitting the sack, he made his usual check of the fire station. The building was locked. Spencer retired to his bunk.
Suddenly, Spencer was startled by sounds coming from outside the officers' room. The hallway door opened and closed. What? This was followed by footsteps heading down toward the dayroom.
The station was locked. But someone else was in the building.
Spencer knew this had to be a gag. Anyone who has ever worked with other firefighters knows that firehouse pranks sometimes get pretty intense, from finding real dead snakes languishing in your bed to participating in actual pie fights a la Moe, Larry and Curly. True!
Spencer assumed that someone, another firefighter no doubt, had opened Box 158 on the front of the building, took the key to the building, and entered the station.
But Spencer found no one else in the fire station that night. Whoever made those creepy noises in the hallway outside the officers' room also made a quick getaway. But how? The station was locked!
The door and footstep noises continued in the days and weeks that followed. Finally, Spencer reluctantly approached Blake and Maturo. Maybe they'll think I'm nuts, he thought, but he had to know if Blake and Maturo also heard the strange noises when they were on duty.
Indeed, Warren Blake and Gene Maturo also reported hearing the same eerie late-night sounds of doors opening and closing, as well as the footsteps with nobody there.
In time, the noises eventually stopped. But Spencer knows what he heard was real. He is convinced that the slamming doors and footsteps that he, Blake and Maturo heard during the winter of 1969 were manifestations of the ghost of Miss Alice Peck, haunting the very space where she performed her life's work.
Were these three guys imagining things? Maybe. Maybe not. This week, while researching Alice Peck for this article, the author discovered that Miss Peck had passed away while visiting in Waterbury on Saturday, February 22, 1969. Her funeral was February 26th, when Gil Spencer first heard Station 9's unseen visitor.
Posted 10/30/15 - Hamden Fire Retirees website
*Portrait of Alice Peck captured from Ancestry.com