Let's all take a seat around the campfire (metaphorical, if you will). It's time for some ghost stories.
The Boston area is known for its abundant history, culture, and innovation. But centuries also leave behind ghosts, bizarre legends, and events that simply defy explanation. Terrifying, baffling, even amusing, they are woven into the tapestry of local history.
Here are some dark and spooky stories from around the Hub and its environs, culled from this writer's book, "Haunted Boston: Famous Phantoms, Sinister Sites, and Lingering Legends."
Scared? You should be.
The wife of a captured Confederate soldier, the infamous "lady in black," is believed to haunt this historic fort on Georges Island where both she and her husband were felled in a botched escape attempt. Her willowy specter, dressed in the garish gown she was hanged in, has purportedly been seen flitting around with a lantern, has tapped shoulders, and yelled threats to those entering the dungeon. Her ghost is said to have choked one horrified sentinel. Perhaps the darkest detail? She was the one who accidentally shot her husband while trying to free him — and was summarily hanged for being a traitor.
Today, it is a destination that teems with sunbathers, tourists, historical reenactors, and food carts — but Boston Common has quite a grisly past. Established in 1634, it was the site of public executions for more than 175 years. Puritan settlers regularly hanged those believed to be sinful; today, it is said that the ghosts of their victims can be seen dangling from the trees, accompanied by the eerie sound of creaking rope. Some have also reported spotting a weeping woman in colonial dress, believed to be Quaker martyr Mary Dyer, who was strung up by the neck in 1660 — reflecting the hypocrisy of the Puritans who came to America in search of religious freedom.
It has gone down in history as one of the deadliest nightclub fires: In November 1942, flames consumed the Cocoanut Grove lounge, killing 492 people and injuring dozens more. Today, all that remains is a memorial plaque in Bay Village. But its victims are said to linger: Shadowy souls in burned clothing have been seen aimlessly wandering the area and the nearby Revere Hotel. Meanwhile, exotic dance instructor Wendy Reardon, who previously had a studio adjacent to the site, has on several occasions videotaped glowing shapes that appear to be moving right along with her – the spirits of Cocoanut Grove patrons, perhaps, who haven't yet tired of dancing?
Boston is replete with cemeteries, the final resting places of some of the country's founding fathers and mothers, to soldiers, to the forgotten men and women who shaped the evolving city. And while a few frightful stories surround all of them, Copp's Hill Burying Ground in the North End is considered to be the spookiest. Perhaps that's because its dead have so often been robbed of their slumber. Grave diggers and vandals did their work over the years, while torrential rains exposed coffin lids. Gravestones were ripped out of the ground to be used as roof tiles, in foundations and road improvement projects, and, in one grotesque instance, as a baking plate by a cook. Visitors to Copp's Hill over the decades have reported apparitions of little girls, shadows cast by no discernible beings, as well as orbs, streaks, and blurs. It seems some may not rest as comfortably as others.
It was the one-time home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as a gathering place for some of the most famous literary minds of the mid-1800s, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. And, some say, a few lesser-knowns congregate there as well. Hawthorne himself wrote of what he believed to be the ghost of a pastor who could be heard sighing deeply and who would brashly sweep through the middle of company. There was also a servant maid who he could hear banging around the kitchen "at deepest midnight." More contemporary visitors have claimed to see a lady in Victorian dress sitting in one of the Manse's windows. Others say they've heard loud raps and taps without origin, and, like something out of a James Wan film, books alighting off shelves and flying across rooms.
This swath of land stretching roughly from Abington to Freetown to Rehoboth has allegedly been the setting for a plethora of creepy, strange, frightening, and unexplained phenomena. Those have included sightings of ghosts of sinister little boys, Bigfoot, UFOs, enormous snakes, raptors with 12-foot wingspans, mythical humanoid creatures, phantom hitchhikers and truckers with otherworldly road rage. Much like its namesake Bermuda Triangle, it is quite a confounding place.
It was meant to be a prosperous settlement in a burgeoning fishing town. But after the Cape Ann population was decimated by the Revolutionary War, it soon devolved into a haven for the destitute, homeless, outcasts, and others who shunned (or, in turn, were shunned by) society. Stories began to circulate about witches who hexed, murdered, and used dark arts to steal goods from passing carts. By 1830, Dogtown was abandoned, its houses and streets lost to nature; today, the 3,600-acre expanse is preserved by the nonprofit Essex National Heritage area. But many believe that its motley assortment of inhabitants never truly left — there have been reports of disturbing sounds such as beating drums, wailing women, and the howling of dogs and wolves. Adding another layer of the bizarre, the area is punctuated by giant boulders carved with inspirational sayings: "Be on time," "Use your head," and "Study." They are the result of a Great Depression work program — but seem to hark back to the settlement's less-fortunate inhabitants.
Taryn Plumb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of "Haunted Boston: Famous Phantoms, Sinister Sites, and Lingering Legends," published by Globe Pequot Press.