If you live in the section of South Burlington south of I-189 and east of Spear Street, you may have heard strange noises — like tapping on windows — on the full-moon-lit evening of September 19. Even if you didn’t, you may have read about them later on Front Porch Forum. For almost a week afterward, at least two members of the forum mentioned the occurrence daily.
“I assume the ‘Tappers’ made their way through the neighborhoods,” wrote one resident, placing blame on a marauding band of pranksters. Other suspects included construction equipment, military-grade weaponry, ghosts, UFOs and birds. Someone calculated, “With a large flock of, say, 500 birds, if just 2 percent of them attack windows, then you’ve got 10 tapping incidents.”
One worried local wrote in from out of town, pressing for answers, while another offered a verse from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”: “Suddenly there came a tapping / As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door...”
So WTF was all this rapping or tapping?
Tim Barritt, who lives off Dorset Street in the Cider Mill housing development, first put that question to the court of neighborly opinion. “Did anyone else in the Cider Mill get awakened by tapping on windows at 1 a.m.?” Barritt wrote in the September 20 FPF. “Later [I] could hear it on other windows, like it was on other houses. Very strange. No explanation. There was no wind, so not plants.”
In the following days, 10 other FPF users — most from streets near Cider Mill, but a few from neighborhoods as far north as Chickadee Circle — acknowledged noise that evening. Of that number, roughly half described a knocking or tapping. Although Barritt now admits he was too groggy that night to determine what interrupted his sleep, the IBM engineer has enjoyed the response. “This tapping thing has taken on a life of its own,” he remarks.
Dispelling one of the theories, Ted Murin — who coauthored the 2002 book Birdwatching in Vermont — says feathered creatures probably aren’t to blame. “There is a phenomenon where a lot of birds will see their reflection in the window and attack it, seeing it as a rival, but they only do that during daylight,” Murin explains.
For now, no connections to the occult or extraterrestrial have been verified. A representative from Vermont Paranormal Investigators says the group hasn’t received a report of the incident, while the National UFO Reporting Center hasn’t recorded a sighting over South Burlington since February.
Several people interviewed in the Cider Mill neighborhood say they heard nothing on September 19. But one couple who recently moved from Shelburne into a home on Winesap Lane — one block from Barritt — does acknowledge a strange noise. Diana and Jim, who offer only their first names, say they can’t pinpoint what woke them that evening; at the time they attributed it to the creaks of their new home. The couple rule out both pranksters — who typically operate earlier in the evening — and moonlighting construction workers.
Of the two noise complaints received by the South Burlington police that night, one filed at 12:45 a.m. involved fireworks allegedly going off near Hinesburg Road. Three hours later, someone on nearby Cobblestone Circle reported gunshots. Could these have been the “tapping” sounds?
Several FPF users responded to Barritt’s post saying they thought so, including Sean Devine, another Cider Mill resident. When Devine lived off the beltline in Burlington, says the former Massachusetts National Guard member and current environmental consultant for the U.S. military, he’d hear people firing shotguns to scare away birds.
But on September 19, after Devine went to bed with a propped-open window in his east-facing bedroom, he and his wife were woken by steady “pop-pop” sounds that reminded him more of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. “It was either people hunting coyotes or someone messing around with a gun, but I would assume it was the coyotes,” Devine says. He believes the noise came from the east or southeast.
Three individuals interviewed on Cobblestone Circle, who ask not to be named, corroborate the suggestion that people fire weapons in the woods southeast of their homes. One woman even reports hearing shots throughout the night of September 19 and says she and her husband — a former marine — worried about the proximity.
South Burlington has banned the discharge of firearms within city limits, and, according to police officer Dennis Ward, his department investigates any report of gunshots. But Ward isn’t aware of any misdoing related to the noise complaints on September 19. Because those complaints were filed in suburbs near the borders of Williston and Shelburne — rural towns that have different firearms ordinances — Ward says the department’s response to reports of gunshots in that area depends on the availability of officers.
Besides, if people were shooting coyotes that night, they wouldn’t put a large dent in the species’ population, says Tom Cook, a warden for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. “If you go out and kill coyotes, they’ll come back,” he assures.
That particular area is a critter cornucopia, Cook adds. “There are a lot of mice and rabbits and things for coyotes to live on and expand their territory in the South Burlington area,” the warden says. “Especially as we put in developments like the ones off Dorset Street, people are going to have more interaction with wild animals.”
Is last month’s tapping a harbinger of next year’s howling?
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