There are many legends of hauntings around Boston Common, but there are also Rebel Ghosts on George’s Island. Visit and see if you can hear them!
When one thinks of myths surrounding Boston, Massachusetts, the mind automatically turns to the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. You assume a ghostly Paul Revere will appear galloping on his midnight ride or John Hancock might brandish a ghostly and grand signature over the whole city. Perhaps you might hear the echo of John Adams’ echo loudly arguing with any who disagreed with American freedom. Yet these men do not haunt the city — they died content and fulfilled. They have no reason to return and hang around. Others did not die such a blissful, contented death.
Ghosts are Common at Boston Common
Since the 1600s and the founding of Boston in the Massachusetts colony, the area known as Boston Common has been public land. During colonial times it served many purposes, including a military drilling area. In the western part of the park, there was a hanging tree. This was rarely used for hanging witches as is a common misconception. Instead, hangings were usually reserved for those who presented religious heresy. The gallows remained in the Commons until 1817.
One of the most famous hangings in Boston Common was that of Quaker Mary Dyer. Given a last-minute reprieve by the governor once for her heretic preaching ways, she continued to preach. She was promptly taken to the gallows once again and on the second time around, no halt was issued. Mary had been offered a reprieve if she left the colony, but she refused.
Today the commons is accessible all hours of day and night. The most common sighting for years has been a duo of ghosts. Two women are often seen wearing 1830s type tea dresses, and walking arm in arm through the park. No one knows who they are, and so many have claimed to see them over the past century that it bears some attention. They were certainly not hanged for religious crimes — the style of their dress post-dates that era.
The Boston Commons also served as the burying ground of paupers and foreigners, placed in unmarked graves. Many of these were discovered during city infrastructure construction in the corner area of Boylston and Tremont.
Saturday Night Haunting at the Parker House
Today the Parker House is called the Omni Parker Hotel. In its heyday, a group of serious writers gathered there and became known as the Saturday Night Club. Among these scholars were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Longfellow often stayed overnight and always in Room 303. Today, he is said to haunt the room.
John Wilkes Booth stayed at the Parker House on April 5 and 6, 1865 while in Boston to watch his actor brother Edwin perform in a play. Five days later, he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC at the Ford Theatre.
Haunting Music and Lover’s Lore on George’s Island
Fort Warren on George’s Island was for Confederate POWs. There are many legends. Often harmonica music has been heard by visitors to the tune of John Brown’s Body. This is the supposed tune of a Confederate soldier held there through cold Boston winters.
More poignant is the story of a woman who died for her determination to reach her lover — a Rebel prisoner. She dressed as a man and reached the island. Discovered, she was properly dressed in a black dress provided by the warden’s wife. She was hanged in this dress. Many insist her screams can still be heard today. One has to wonder about that beloved Rebel — did he listen to her screams as the rope was placed about her neck?
The Tortured and Bewitched at Danvers
The dying lovelorn lady is clearly outnumbered at Danvers, Massachusetts, located 17 miles outside Boston proper. Danvers Mental Hospital was one of the most notorious institutions of the 20th. Many tortuous ways of taking care of the mentally insane were developed at Danvers, including lobotomies and electric shock therapy. It closed in 1992. After closing, it achieved a cult following where break-ins — and subsequent arrests followed. Ghost hunters and urban explorers began seeking entrance illegally. The red brick gothic building was torn down a decade later, amidst public outcry. The cemetery remains. The Kirkbride is now a very large apartment complex attached to part of the original gothic façade.
Danvers, however, sat directly on Hathorne Hill, the home of the most fanatic judge of the Salem Village Witch Hunts. The city of Danvers is the site of the former Salem Village, while Salem, Massachusetts, nearby, is not the original Salem Village. Many visitors confuse this fact. Danvers is where one revisits the infamous trials and hangings.
Pirate’s Treasure at the Dungeon Rock
Boston has more legends than witches, mental patients and restless poets. There is also pirate’s treasure never discovered, though many have tried. The legend revolves around a supposed group of pirates who sailed into Lynn Harbor in 1658 and were promptly captured by the British — except for one by the name of Thomas Veal, who escaped and hid out in a cave with treasure.
The tale goes that then an earthquake, in New England, no less, and falling rock sealed both Veal and loot. They were left undisturbed for nearly 200 years. In the mid 1800s, however, a spiritualist by the name of Hiram Marble and son Edwin began digging through rock. They held séances with local psychics, who often lead them on different paths through the rocks. Marble died in 1868 and Edwin followed in 1880. Edwin is buried at Dungeon Rock as this had been his life’s work. Today, the area is Lynn Woods State Park. Both pirate and treasure remain buried in the rock and no searching is allowed.
Pirates, ghosts, séances and witchcraft histories: Boston has it all. In fact, it is possible that this environment helped shape ideas of freedom of speech and expression in the framing of the Constitution. Perhaps Mary Dyer’s hanging for her loudly expressed political events were not in vain, after all.