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Off the Beaten Path in New Haven, Connecticut

| Updated Jun 19, 2023

New Haven Connecticut is probably best known as he home of Yale University, and if you go there, you would certainly enjoy a walk around that iconic campus.  But New Haven has some other things to offer that are not quite as obvious. 

Connecticut is nicknamed the nutmeg state.  Early ship captains, and some industrious crew, brought these valuable spices back with them from voyages to the east and provided a steady supply for the bakers and meat packers of the east coast.  Southerners, unaware that the nuts had to be grated, accused the sailors of palming off worthless carved fakes, but were soon put into the picture.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the population in some areas of the city was so completely Italian that visitors thought they had been transported to the old country.  Italians now make up only about 20% of the population, but the historic influence is still strong today.  An outstanding example of this is pizza.  Some pizza shops in the city have been in business for nearly a century.  Frank Pepe moved from Italy to New Haven in 1909.

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Pepe's Pizza

Within a few years Frank was selling his inimitable tomato pies in the city market, where he carried his wares on a specially made headdress.  In 1925 he bought his boss’ bakery and renamed it Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napolitana.  Look at any list of the ten best pizzas in America, and you’ll find Pepe’s near the top. 

It’s a traditional tomato pie, baked in a coal fired oven, and dressed with sauce and romano cheese.  Specify all toppings, including mozzarella if you want it.  Now there are several locations, but you can still eat at the original on Wooster Square and see where it all began.  Wander next door for a gelato after you’ve had your fill of pizza.

New Haven is home to a much more macabre story as well.  It centers around Mary Hart.  Mary is buried under a large granite block in Evergreen Cemetery.  Across the top of the block is a quote from the book of Job—THE PEOPLE SHALL BE TROUBLED AT MIDNIGHT AND PASS AWAY. 

More information follows below, and the story goes like this.  In 1872 the city was besieged by an epidemic of an unknown disease.  It spread easily from one person to another and from the corpses of the dead to the living.  When Hart, a young woman, died suddenly, her family had her quickly buried to protect others from the contagion.  That night her aunt dreamed that Mary was alive, and the next morning insisted the grave be dug up.  Mary was found in the coffin with bloody fingertips, the coffin lining shredded from her efforts to get out.  She had died of suffocation.  Some legends claim she was a witch and haunts her family home.  Others claim she walks the cemetery at night.

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Mary Hart's spooky grave

If you’d like to hang on to the creepy vibe, head on over to the Yale University library and have a look at the Cushing Collection.  Harvey Cushing was a distinguished surgeon and Pulitzer prize winning author.  He also collected brains.  More than four hundred of them are tastefully displayed at the library, with more being added as they finish the conservation process.  Look over tools from Cushing’s work and his remarkable set of infant skulls.  The whole thing was just recently redone and is nicely organized.

Make your last stop at Louis’ Lunch, where the hamburger was invented around 1900.  They’re still cooked in strange looking vertical cookers powered by gas, and served without condiments.  You can easily spend a week in this industrial city, hunting up oddball sites and stories that range from prehistory to the space age.  Find out why Connecticut’s other nickname is “the Constitution State.” 

Try to break the code of the Voynich Manuscript.  Sneak into a meeting of Skull & Bones.  And while you’re there, look for us, Patti & Tom Burkett, somewhere off the beaten path.


Mike Wendland

Published on 2018-12-04

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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