These are the tales of lost souls said to have spooked North Shore travelers and residents for decades. Who are these restless spirits and what do they want? By Lauren Danahy. Photographs by Christopher Churchill.
“When I was young, ghost stories were as essential to my group of neighborhood friends as the bikes we used to investigate them. I knew the “Gates of Hell” legends of Maudslay State Park were ridiculous at best, but the prickling sensation I felt as I got off my bike to take a look for myself had an effect all its own. The story of the human heads said to be propped up by the spikes of the gate was enough to keep me peddling near the head of the pack on the ride home. These ghosts lived and lurked in the woods we explored, so while we listened to the stories, we experienced them, too.
It’s this kind of upbringing that makes locals privy to ghost stories that otherwise fall below the radar. The historically rich buildings of the North Shore seem to validate the ghost stories harbored there and for good reason, it turns out. From college residence halls to the local Town Clerk’s office, ghosts have come to inhabit all types of local places. But why?
“Older buildings are more comfortable for a spirit to reside,” says Denise Bilodeau, vice president for student development at Endicott College. Nearly 29 years of involvement with student and residence life has molded Bilodeau into quite the expert on Endicott’s very own ghost. She suspects buildings today are made of materials that fail to “create an atmosphere where energy would thrive, like a spirit, like a ghost.”
Not a believer? Pay a visit to some of these places before making up your mind. But regardless of your beliefs, the spirits of Massachusetts’ past are embedded in the landscape and thrive today as their stories are passed on by others like Bilodeau. “And hopefully there will always be someone to pass them on to,” she says of the stories, “because they are rich in history and culture.”
Saugus Town Hall,Â Saugus
At the Town Clerk’s office every election season, a ghost makes his presence known by way of cigar smoke. “We had a man come to the counter one day,” says Town Clerk Joanne Rappa, “asking, ‘OK, which one of you ladies is smoking a cigar?'” As for the ghost’s identity, theories include a building inspector who passed away while in office and a philanthropist named Charles Bond-both known to enjoy a good cigar. Regardless, the spirit is welcome among the employees and is fond of them, too. The smoke was last detected when long-time employee Patty Flickinger visited the office while on leave. “I’m convinced he came by to see how Patty was doing and to say, ‘Keep up the good work,'” says Rappa.
The Garrison Inn, Newburyport
Ask a Newburyport native and you’ll find that room 408 is said to be haunted by Sarah White Banister, the heir to the building’s original owner. Staff members have seen her there in the past. Recently in a nearby room, a woman staying there alone described talking with a little girl. Another occurrence caused the housekeeping staff alarm when they heard what they thought was rushing water from a third floor room. No guests were scheduled to be there, but inside they found the the television blaring static. Even now, the television can be heard turning on when guests and staff pass by the closed door in the hallway.
Old Hill Burial Ground,Â Newburyport
The stones of this impressive Newburyport cemetery jut out awkwardly from the grassy hills in all directions. Established in 1729, this cemetery has earned quite the grave-robbing reputation. The infamous Pierce Tomb has suffered three known break-ins, the last of which prompted the crypt to be tightly sealed by a wall of brick. The tomb is rumored to be haunted by a man and a woman who have been spotted leaving it in the evening, only to return late at night.
The Charles Street Schoolhouse,Â Newburyport
The ghost of the all-boys school brought the city of Newburyport national attention in 1872. On one occasion, the small white hand of a child appeared at the window, but when teacher Lucy Perkins raced outside, she found no one. An excerpt of Perkins’ account appeared in the Springfield Republican, where she described the ghost as a neatly dressed boy, but when she reached out to grab him, “he seemed not like a boy but vapory. . . like a thin cloud scudding across the room.” Reporters churned out pamphlets on the ghost, fabricating the story of a student severely beaten and left in the schoolhouse cellar. The excitement soon dispelled when a group of boys came forward admitting to the hoax, though some believe unanswered questions remain.
Maudslay State Park,Â Newburyport
It is well known that this park was once the estate of the wealthy Moseley family, who settled in Newburyport in 1805. Part of the foundation still remains, but otherwise, the family is somewhat of a mystery. A young woman is said to haunt the mansion’s foundation in the evenings. More common, though, is an uneasy feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on. Some describe it as a sensation of being watched, or the slight raising of the hairs on the back of your neck that can occur on the warmest of days.
Dungeon Rock,Â Lynn
After a pirate ship landed in Lynn harbor in the summer of 1658, four men rowed its treasure chest to a place now known as Pirate’s Glen. British soldiers captured and hanged three, but one, known as Veal, escaped, making the natural cave his home. Years later, Veal was said to be killed in the cave during an earthquake. But word of the treasure lingered, and in 1852, Hiram Marble, an avid member of the Spiritualist Church, believed the spirits within the cave would lead him to it. On a quest to validate his Spiritualist beliefs, he spent the remainder of his life digging, inviting local mediums to guide his way until his death. Despite his son’s additional efforts, the treasure was never found. Today, some argue that the story negates the validity of the Spiritualist faith, while others think the spirits were having some fun of their own while leading Marble astray.
Howard Street,Â Cemetery Salem
The old Salem jail looms beside the Howard Street Cemetery and is said to be the site of Giles Corey’s death during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Corey refused to admit his guilt, and as a result, he was pressed to death with stones-a method intended to force out his confession. Rather than confess, he demanded more weight be added, earning him the title of “Man of Iron.” Corey’s ghost is said to have haunted the cemetery ever since. Some say he placed a curse on the town in his last breath, while others claim to have felt the cool touch of a hand when visiting the burial ground. Regardless, the brutality of the story is spooky enough on its own and effectively haunts the minds of those who hear it.
Hammond Castle,Â Gloucester
Hammond Castle is no stranger to the paranormal. Psychic fairs and galleries frequent the structure today, just as they did when it was the home of inventor John Hays Hammond and his wife, Irene. Frequent sightings of Hammond’s ghost give merit to the rumors, particularly in the balcony area that overlooks the Great Hall. During a school field trip, the ghost was spotted here by a little boy who accurately described Hammond’s appearance down to his favorite tie. While preparing for an event at the castle, Jeffrey Noonan Justice, a psychic and medium of Salem, says an image appeared to him in a mirror. In what he describes as a “flickering instant,” he saw a female face that he later would identify as Irene Hammond. He describes feeling “enveloped in peace and confidence,” as if he had received Â “a big thumbs up from the other side.”
Kent’s Island,Â Salem
According to Justice, this island is “extremely haunted.” In October of 1935, novelist John Marquand purchased Kent’s Island, where he built a mansion. Marquand’s property was sold to the state after his death, where a lack of funds caused decay. Justice believes there is something deeper at play, pointing out that none of the homes built on the island has survived. According to his experiences, the island is haunted by Native Americans who died there. He paid a visit last year and says of that day, “Messages came saying don’t come back, and Â [they were] directed at me.”
Dogtown Commons, Gloucester
Tammy Younger and Judith Rhines, just two of the alleged witches from Dogtown’s infamous days, may be among the spirits that linger on the grounds today. Dogtown is said to be haunted by a woman dressed in black, but Ron Kolek of the New England Ghost Project didn’t see her during his investigation here. Instead, he found the town to be a mysterious “dead zone” where electronic equipment failed and “an eerie calm overtook the landscape.”
Stillington Hall, The Buswell Estate, Gloucester
Caretaker Ginger Evans couldn’t shake the feeling that she was not alone in Stillington Hall, prompting the Cape Ann Paranormal Society to investigate last fall. In the changing room under the stairs, a recording captured a whispered “Yes” in response to a crew member who asked if a spirit was still following them around. Other activity from the investigation included the mysterious ringing of the bell tower, and an apparition caught on camera in the cemetery.
Winthrop Hall,Â Endicott College, Beverly
A young merchant sailor and his bride once resided here. With candles lit in each window, the wife spent her evenings on the widow’s walk watching for his ship. A brutal storm caused the ship to wreck on the rocks miles from the harbor one night as the wife looked on. Grief-stricken, she hanged herself. “And to this day, she still roams the halls,” says Denise Bilodeau. The “pink lady” makes certain a particular picture in the foyer is always upside down. Students in the past have practiced a ritual on Halloween-they light candles in each window, explore the widow’s walk, then wait by the picture, having turned it upright, to see “the pink flowing dress coming down the stairs” to turn the picture upside down again.
Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse,Â Portsmouth, NH
Jeremy D’Entremont, operations manager of the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, says his wife was the first to hear a man’s voice in the lighthouse. Ross Tracy also heard it, as he painted the lantern room. The voice asked, “What are you doing?” Others have heard the voice, which could belong to Joshua Card, a former lighthouse keeper. In recent years, different paranormal groups have investigated the tower, finding various levels of activity.
Ten Center Street,Â Newburyport
Aside from veteran staff of this chic restaurant, few have heard the ghostly rumors that circulate at the night’s end as bartenders close up shop. Former bartender Lenny Pearl remembers one night when he encountered a ghost. Darkness fell as he turned out the last set of lights, and that’s when he “felt a breath on the back of my neck, almost like a whisper in my ear.” Another bartender had similar experiences at closing time, where sets of lights turned themselves back on again on two separate occasions-the ghost, like the rest of us, vying for just one more round. Some say a young girl and boy do the haunting, though the stories shift, from a mother-daughter duo to a pair of young boys, depending on the teller. To avid ghost chasers’ dismay, you’re not likely to see the ghost during bustling business hours, though rest assured, seated at this bar, you never drink alone.
Windward Grille,Â Essex
“You always feel there’s something here,” says owner Tim Kennefick of the spirits that reside at the Windward Grille. Built in 1685, this farmhouse-turned-restaurant is no stranger to the paranormal. Customers and staff have watched unruly cutlery and plates jut across table tops while waiting for their meals. Others have spotted a woman wearing a white gown in the loft above the bar. Kennefick’s wife Vicky has seen some odd things, too. She was vacuuming near a dish of peppermints when, Kennefick explains, a “piece of candy came flying out of the dish,” and rested next to her feet. Though the Kenneficks know nothing of events in the building’s history that might explain the haunting, two psychics, on separate occasions, claimed the ghost’s name is Alice, and felt her presence in the same small room near the office.
Who You Gonna Call
They’re not quite the ghostbuster but if you need to explain the unexplained, these local paranormal experts can help.
J. M. andÂ Kristie Jones
For the Joneses of the Cape Ann Paranormal Society, ghost investigations are all about finding hard evidence. The team has expanded to some 200 members since becoming affiliated with The Atlantic Paranormal Society. Most investigations point to quirky household utilities, but the thrill they get when unmistakable evidence is found, such as a voice caught on tape, is enough to keep them going. Gloucester, 978-335-9092, capeannparanormalsociety.com
Jeffrey Noonan Justice
Justice hails from a family of psychic mediums. His grandmother detected his gift when he was young and encouraged him to develop it through the Spiritualist Church. Justice gives readings through a technique he calls automatic writing, where he writes the messages he receives verbatim. Tarot and palm readings are among other services he provides, in addition to instructional courses. Salem, 978-745-8086,jeffreyjustice.com.
Founder and lead investigator of the New England Ghost Project, Kolek will travel as far as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to investigate a haunting. Even better, he invites the public to tag along and experience an investigation firsthand. If you’d rather stay at home, you can read about Kolek’s various experiences with psychic/trance-medium partner Maureen Wood in their new book The Ghost Chronicles. 1176 Merrimack Ave., Dracut, 978-455-6678, neghostproject.com.
“It’s not what I know. It’s what they’re giving me,” says psychic medium McGee. While always aware of her gift, she didn’t focus on “working the muscle” until after her mother’s death. She says we’re all born with psychic abilities, but developing that gift takes work. Also a trained Reiki healer, McGee offers a variety of services and instructional courses noted on her website. The Energetic Connection, 100 Cummings Center, Beverly, 978-618-3569, theenergeticconnection.net.