|Everett Square Theatre photo by Mike Baker from Para-Boston|
As a recovering X-Files junkie, I’ve always been more of an Agent Scully than David Dachovny’s Mulder. However, after a string of unexplained paranormal encounters over the years, I must admit that I've become more of a believer than a skeptic. However, I've approached Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub as a journalist and left no gravestone unturned when it came to digging up the historical dirt on each so-called haunting.
Since that subway incident, I've spent years investigating alleged accounts of paranormal activity at sites all over Boston. I've collected a slew of reports from these supposedly haunted locales and the mission was to give readers a contemporary take on Boston's bevy of site-specific legends. Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub is, in essence, a supernatural-themed travel guide written with a historical lens. Based on my research, the city is a hotbed of paranormal activity.
Incidentally, I have first-hand experience with many of the haunts in the book. For example, my old sophomore-year dormitory at Boston University, the fourth-floor writers' corridor at Shelton Hall, is rumored to be haunted by Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene O'Neill. Did I have a close encounter with the phantom playwright? Not exactly. But, I do remember flickering lights and inexplicable knocks when no one was there. The old hotel's ambiance was eerie and it always exuded a haunted vibe, but I didn't experience anything supernatural.
However, my first spirited encounter occurred while living in Somerville during the early '90s. I remember seeing an apparition of a young girl who would play hide and seek in the hallway. She was a mischievous poltergeist and I remember hearing phantom footsteps leading up to our second-floor apartment.
My personal experiences with the paranormal have been sporadic over the years. I do recall spotting a see-through residual spirit of a Confederate soldier when I worked for an alternative newsweekly in Pensacola, Florida. He would appear in the early evening, holding a Civil War-era sword, and pass through the back entrance of the building. It was like a videotaped replay of a traumatic event that occurred years ago.
In 2007, I moved back to Boston and had an experience while touring the ramparts of Fort Warren at Georges Island. I noticed a female figure dressed in black at the corner of my eye. I looked again and she was gone. At this point, I had never heard of the Lady in Black legend. I just intuitively knew Georges Island had some sort of psychic residue. While researching Fort Warren's back story, my interest in Boston's haunted past slowly started to become a passion. History repeats itself and it was my job to uncover the truth and give a voice to those without a voice … even though most of the stories turned out to be tales from the crypt.
While researching a Halloween-themed story called Haunted Hot Spots for STUFF magazine, I started spending hours in the Boston Common. I've always felt a strong magnetic pull to the site of the Great Elm, also known as the hanging tree. There was also an inexplicable interest in the Central Burying Ground and, one night while walking by the old cemetery, I noticed a young female figure wearing what looked like a hospital gown and standing by a tree. I looked back and she was gone. At this point, I didn't know about the Matthew Rutger legend dating back to the 1970s. Like me, he saw a ghost at the old cemetery and I remember shivering in the beauty and the madness of the moment. Somehow, I felt her pain.
A few months after the incident, I joined the team at Haunted Boston, a group of tour guides who specialize in telling Boston's paranormal history, and learned about many of the so-called ghosts from New England's not-so-Puritanical past. While giving tours, I had several encounters with the paranormal at the Omni Parker House. Over the years, I've stayed away from the hotel because it had a mysterious, something-wicked-this-way-comes vibe to it from the outside. While taking a photo in front of the famed “enchanted mirror” on the second-floor mezzanine, I noticed condensation mysteriously appear on the mirror as if someone, or something, was breathing on it. According to hotel lore, the antique was taken from Charles Dickens' room and he apparently stood in front of it to practice his nineteenth-century orations. As a special treat for guests on my tour, I guide them to the supernatural hot spot. While the ghost story is intriguing, what interested me more is that the press room next to the creepy mirror is where John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for president. I've seen tons of photos and heard many stories from patrons who had strange encounters while staying on the hotel's upper floors. Today, the Omni Parker House has become one of my favorite hot spots in the city. Haunted history oozes from the oldest continuously operating hotel in the country.
While writing Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub, I've uncovered some historical inaccuracies tied to a few of Boston's ghostly legends. For example, one of the college dormitory haunts, the “shaft girl” ghost at Emerson's The Little Building, was almost identical to the story told at the former “devilish dormitory” called Charlesgate. Incidentally, the girl who allegedly fell to her death in the elevator shaft didn't die tragically and ended up living a long, happy life. Many legends--like William Austin's Peter Rugg literary character who stubbornly rode his horse into a thunderstorm in 1770 and was cursed to drive his carriage until the end of time—didn't exist. However, people over the years have reportedly spotted the ghostly man with his daughter by his side frantically trying to make the trek back to Boston.
For many, the only real ghosts that exist are the ones that haunt the inside of their heads.
One of my favorite stories in the book centers around the Para-Boston investigation at the abandoned Everett Square Theatre. The evidence uncovered in the write up was based on scientific research. The crew recorded the sounds of footsteps and then what seemed like an inhale followed by a harsh exhale in the stairwell leading up to the building's projection room. When it comes to paranormal investigations, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.
As far as my belief in the supernatural, I still haven't found what I'm looking for in regard to concrete proof. However, I do have a sensitivity to what could be the spirit realm. In fact, my new home in Davis Square apparently has a playful older female poltergeist with an affinity for scissors. One night, I invited a friend over who claimed to have some sort of psychic ability. He said that she was a seamstress during the Depression era and mentioned, without hesitation, the various things she did in the house to make her presence known.
While writing the book, an unseen force opened doors that were firmly shut. Lights mysteriously turned on and off without provocation. According to my roommate, scissors have disappeared and then reappeared over the years in the two-floor, Gothic-decorated home. One night while I was writing into the wee hours on the Boston Harbor Island's Lady in Black myth, I noticed a gray-haired female figure wearing an old-school, white nightgown and donning fuzzy slippers dart across the first floor. I ran downstairs and noticed that the closet door had been mysteriously opened and the lights were turned on while I was upstairs hacking away at my computer. My roommate was out of town. No one else was there.
Was it a spirit? Perhaps. I do know that somewhere deep in my subconscious, ghost stories satiate a primitive desire to know that life exists after death. I believe.