In the fall of 1878 the small town of Amherst, Nova Scotia gained international notoriety because of a series of paranormal events that would become known as The Great Amherst Mystery.
Eighteen year old Esther Cox was living with her sister, Olive Teed, and Olive’s young family, on Princess Street in Amherst when the strange events began. One night, Esther, who shared a bed with her younger sister, Jennie, was awakened by what she thought was a mouse in the mattress. Finding nothing in the bed they went back to sleep, but each night the events escalated. Soon, objects were flying through the air and strange rappings and bangings were heard throughout the house. Esther awoke, writhing in pain and swelling to twice her normal size. Esther’s ghosts scratched her and poked her with needles. Countless people watched as fires were started and an unknown hand scratched into the wall above her bed, “Esther Cox You Are Mine To Kill.”
These happenings were witnessed by dozens of Amherst residents and stories soon appeared in newspapers throughout North America. An American actor named Walter Hubbell, who had an interest in debunking the paranormal, caught wind of the story and arranged to board with Esther and her family in the March of 1879, after a theatrical tour of Eastern Canada.
Hubbell became convinced that Esther’s story was legitimate and documented all that had happened to her. He arranged a tour of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where he told her story while she sat on stage, with the audience hoping her ghosts would appear. When the spirits failed to make an appearance, one particularly rowdy crowd ran the pair out of town, abruptly ending their tour. Nonetheless, Hubbell published his account of Esther’s story as “The Haunted House” that July and it went on to sell 55,000 copies. The New York Sun called the book, “…in all probability the greatest (tale) of its kind in this or any age.”
As the book gained popularity Esther continued to be tormented by supernatural forces. She was eventually forced from the Teed house and boarded with a family outside of Amherst. When she claimed her ghosts burnt that family’s barn to the ground, she was charged with arson and sentenced to four months in jail. Upon her release she visited a first nations medicine man who exorcized her demons. For the rest of her life she refused to talk about the supernatural events that had happened to her. She eventually married twice, had two children, and settled in Brockton, Massachusetts, where she died on November 8, 1912, at the age of 52.
The story has become well known in paranormal circles in large part because of Hubbell’s book. It has not been out of print since it first appeared almost 150 years ago. Later editions included a testamentary documentary signed by a number of people from Amherst who swore it was a true story. Maclean’s magazine called The Great Amherst Mystery, “Canada’s most famous ghost story and a classic Poltergeist case.” Famed British paranormal investigator and author, Colin Wilson, has called it “one of the best documented cases of poltergeist activity on record.”
Esther’s story has been featured in songs, books and television programs about the supernatural, including Northern Mysteries and Shadow Hunter. David St. Clair published a fictionalized version of the story called Mine to Kill in 1986.
Guilty! The Story of the Great Amherst Mystery, a play by Charlie Rhindress, premiered at Live Bait Theatre in Sackville, NB in 1991 and was met with positive reviews and sold out houses.
Laurie Glenn Norris and Barb Thompson, published a book about Esther in 2012 called Haunted Girl: Esther Cox and the Great Amherst Mystery. The book has since been optioned as a film.More recently the story has become the subject of a number of Tik Tok posts and been featured on countless podcasts, including True North, True Crime; Dark Poutine; The Nighttime Podcast; and This Is What We Found.
Charlie Rhindress was hired by the Town of Amherst in 2016 to explore ways for the Town to capitalize on and celebrate The Great Amherst Mystery. Esther Fest, a celebration of The Great Amherst Mystery and the paranormal, was born from that work and was first held in 2017.