HAVERHILL — You can drive past the welcome sign in front of the water treatment plant at Kenoza Lake and never see it.
But a closer look will reveal the name of Haverhill native Rob Zombie, whose movies have filled theaters with a bounty of blood and gore.
For author Jason Ocker, that ghoulish connection led him to include a picture of the sign along with a biography of Robert Cummings (Zombie) in his new book, "The New England Grimpendium: A Guide to Macabre and Ghastly Sites."
Cummings was born in Haverhill in 1965, graduated from Haverhill High School in 1983 and went on to achieve fame with his heavy metal band White Zombie. He then began producing horror films such as "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects."
He is the focus of two pages in Ocker's guide to the dark side of New England, which he refers to in his book's introduction as "the spooky attic at the top of the country."
He also mentions the city's other welcome signs, all of which boast the names of famous Haverhill residents, including TV personality Tom Bergeron. Ocker has a little fun with the city's name, noting that it is pronounced in two syllables as "Havrill."
"I'm not a ghost hunter, but I love ghost stories and I'm a big horror fan," said Ocker, a Maryland native now living in Nashua, N.H.
He revisited Haverhill recently and met Pentucket and Haverhill Kiwanis member Peter Carbone, who coordinated the changeover in celebrity names on six welcome signs in conjunction with Exchange, Rotary, Lions and Soroptimist International. These service clubs erected the signs at Haverhill's gateways years ago and maintain them.
"He could have included a photo of Rob Zombie's house (in Connecticut), or Haverhill High School, or even his photo, but he didn't," Carbone said. "He used a photo of one of our welcome signs. I'm going to share the news with the other service clubs."
Carbone said the signs previously listed other famous Haverhill residents such as Archie comics creator Bob Montana, movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, retail giant Rowland Macy and poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
They now gloat of the city's ties to Zombie, along with Bergeron, Major League Baseball player Carlos Pena, Colonial heroine Hannah Duston, TV weatherman Matt Noyes and Sharon Poole, who is credited with being the first female Little Leaguer.
When in search of people, places and things that go bump in the night, Ocker was looking for physical evidence of Zombie's ties to Haverhill. That search led him to The Eagle-Tribune, which last year had published a story about the new names on Haverhill's welcome signs.
"At first I was looking for one of those blue state signs like you see on the highway," Ocker said. "I drove by the lake multiple times until I got a closer look at the sign."
You'll find more than one broomstick in Ocker's book, which reveals his fascination with New England's history and its strange and unusual people, places and things. Much of it has been talked about before in books that take readers on similar journeys, including "Curious New England" by Joseph Citro and Diane Foulds, "Weird Massachusetts" by Jeff Belanger and "Ghosts and Legends of the Merrimack Valley" by C.C. Carole.
Last year, Bradford couple Christopher and Nancy Obert took readers on a tour of New England's wine country in their coffee-table book, "The Next Harvest." They proved you don't have to drive far from Haverhill to sample or purchase award-winning wines.
Ocker's travels took him to places such as Gilmanton, N.H., of which the 1960s television soap opera "Peyton Place" was partly based. He was more interested in the childhood home of Herman Webster Mudgett, or H.H. Holmes, considered America's first and possibly its most prolific serial killer. Holmes performed gruesome acts in his specially-designed "Murder Castle" in Chicago in the late 1800s.
"He was an exact contemporary of Jack the Ripper, although he didn't have that guy's press agent," Ocker quips in his section on Holmes.
The name Ted Bundy rises to the top of the serial killer list. Bundy happened to be born in Burlington, Vt., another stop on Ocker's tour.
A number of famous New England horror writers made it into Ocker's book, including Maine's Stephen King and Rhode Island's H.P. Lovecraft.
Although Ocker doesn't mention it, there are bits of Haverhill in the writings and backgrounds of Lovecraft, King and other well-known horror writers, including Haverhill's own John Bellairs, who penned 15 Gothic mysteries until his death in 1991.
If unidentified flying objects fascinate you, try retracing the route Betty and Barney Hill took in 1961 when they were alledgedly abducted by aliens just south of New Hampshire's Franconia Notch. Ocker also traveled the back roads of Exeter, N.H., where a UFO sighting in 1965 made national news. Both events resulted in best-selling books. Exeter recently celebrated its second annual UFO festival.
When asked if he had considered including Winnekenni Castle in his book, Ocker said he could not find any definite macabre incidents there. "But it is definitely a cool place," he said.
On his way out of town, Ocker stopped to photograph the grave of Lydia Ayer, whose memory lives on in the John Greenleaf Whittier Poem, "In School-Days."
"I may do an entire section on Whittier sites for my OTIS (Odd Things I've Seen) articles," Ocker said about the website where he talks about anything that interests him, ranging from historical to natural oddities.
Featured in Ocker's book:
The Col. Buck Memorial in Bucksport, Maine, named after Col. Jonathan Buck, who was from Haverhill.
Witches of Salem
Statue of Elizabeth Montgomery in Salem
Danvers State Hospital
Salem Village Witchcraft Memorial in Danvers
Hammond Castle in Gloucester
Dungeon Rock in Lynn
Drowned Forest in Rye, N.H.
"Incident at Exeter" (N.H.)
Grave of Betty and Barney Hill in Kingston, N.H.
Grave of Susanna Jayne in Marblehead
Grave of a Knight Templar in Westford
Skull Cliff in Lynnfield
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