Come on boys and ghouls! It's time to hop on Route 666 for a spooktacular Paranormal Road Trip. This week's stop is Boston, Massachusetts and our special guide is Skylar Dorset, author of the Otherworld young adult paranormal series.
The Otherworld series is set in Boston so it seems fitting that our guide for this week's Paranormal Road Trip be author Skylar Dorset. Let's see what terrifying places Skylar has planned for our tour.
Boston's Top 5 Spooky Places
North Grove Street
North Grove Street is spooky for what used to be there: Harvard Medical College. The school has since relocated, although North Grove Street is still the home of Massachusetts General Hospital. But why is this place spooky? Because it was the site of one of the most high-profile murders in history, which led to the so-called trial of the nineteenth century. The murder was so famous that the crime scene was the first place Charles Dickens asked to be brought when he came to Boston. But we don’t talk about it much anymore, so here’s the super-grisly story:
George Parkman was a wealthy Boston Brahmin (as Boston aristocrats were known). He actually donated the land on North Grove Street that Harvard Medical College was built on, and the street adjacent is still called Parkman Street. Later, it would supposedly become the scene of his death.
Parkman was known for lending money around town (a character right out of Dickens!). He was a well-known figure in Boston, where he was often seen walking the streets, collecting his debts (he was too cheap to own a horse!). The last time he was ever seen, it was going into Harvard Medical College, where one of his debtors, Harvard Med School Professor John Webster, had arranged a meeting with him.
Parkman’s worried, wealthy family reported him missing and launched a citywide hunt for him, papering the city with “missing” posters, dragging the Harbor and the Charles River, etc. The police also searched Harvard Medical College, but found nothing.
In the meantime, though, Ephraim Littlefield, a janitor at Harvard Medical College, decided to take matters into his own hand (there was a large reward being offered for information about Parkman’s disappearance). Littlefield knew that Webster had been in debt to Parkman, had met with him on the day of his disappearance, and had been questioned by the police. Webster, according to Littlefield, had a suspicious conversation with Littlefield about what Littlefield had witnessed, and later presented Littlefield with…a Thanksgiving turkey. (It was that time of year.)
Littlefield took the turkey home to his wife and they enjoyed a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner while Littlefield mused upon Webster’s odd behavior. But what could he be hiding? The police had searched the school building and turned up nothing. Littlefield remembered that the day before, though, Webster’s furnace in his laboratory had been burning all day. Curiouser and curiouser, Littlefield persuaded his wife to go to the school with him on Thanksgiving and keep watch while he broke into Webster’s lab. The privy in Webster’s suite of rooms emptied into a pit that hadn’t been searched by the police, and Littlefield focused his actions there, chiseling away at the brick wall (it was a time of strongly built buildings!). It was tough going, as you can imagine, and it was a holiday, so Littlefield gave up after a couple of hours and went to a dance. (True story.)
The next day, however, was no Black Friday shopping as we would have today. Littlefield went back to work, resumed his chiseling, broke through to the pit, and spotted human remains. He called for the police, who in turn arrested Webster, who in turn tried to commit suicide almost immediately. The police resumed their searching of Webster’s lab, which apparently had been totally half-hearted before, because now they found body parts, partially burned, in the furnace as well as in other hiding places around the lab. (Amazing detail: Parkman’s wife identified his body based on very personal parts of his body.)
There was a trial, so well attended that they had to hand out tickets and cycle groups of people in and out of the courtroom, and Webster was found guilty and sentenced to death. He later wrote a confession, claiming to have killed Parkman in self-defense. Webster was hanged…or so some people say. Others say he was never killed and was instead smuggled out of Boston. Still others thought Parkman himself hadn’t died and had simply fled the city. Sightings of both men happened all over the world for years afterwards. To this day, the whereabouts of Webster’s body is mere conjecture, because it was kept secret for fear of grave-robbing. (Or because he hadn’t died, if you believe the rumors.)
At any rate, who knows if either one of those tragically linked men ever left the spot of their final altercation?
(This story owes a debt to Cleveland Amory’s The Proper Bostonians, which was the first time I had ever heard of it.)
Langone Park in the North End
You might think that this is just a normal park, but, before it was a park, it was the site of a huge tank that stored molasses. Yes. Molasses. Which are basically a thick byproduct of the refining of sugar that you can use for a lot of stuff, and that was heavily used back in the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time also the North End was said to be the most densely populated area of the entire country, heavily packed with people.
In January 1919, the molasses storage tank, which had been poorly maintained by its owners, cracked open, possibly spurred by the stress of a sudden rise in temperature in the city’s weather. Molasses spilled into the North End at a speed of 35 miles per hour. A car can’t even reach 35 miles per hours these days in the narrow, clogged North End streets. The molasses plowed over crowds of people who couldn’t get out of the way quickly enough, killing 21 of them.
There are lots of historical ghosts in the North End, a very old part of the city that holds the famous Old North Church. But the molasses spill haunts more than anything else. On very hot days, the story goes, you can still smell the sticky sweet scent in the air.
Boston Massacre location outside the Old State House
In March 1770, a group of British soldiers fired into a crowd of Bostonians that had gathered in protest outside of the Old State House, killing five of them. Later, John Adams defended the soldiers and actually won acquittals for almost all of them, but the event was seared in the colonial memory as the Boston Massacre and helped spur the revolution that would come a few years later.
The victims are buried in the nearby Granary Burying Ground. The Granary Burying Ground and the Kings Chapel Burying Ground, also nearby, are both said to be haunted by plenty of unknown groups, but it’s the site of the Massacre itself that I find creepiest. It’s a round circle of bricks in front of the Old State House, now surrounded on all sides by very busy streets. In the midst of all the cars whizzing past, you can hear the chaos of that winter night that caused the frightened soldiers to fire into the crowd, and you can stand on the spot where the first five casualties of the American Revolution lost their lives.
Boston Common is the huge public park in the middle of Boston. In the beginning of Boston’s life, it was used for grazing cows. And for hanging people who upset the populace. These days, it’s just a park, but it’s said to be haunted by ghosts, both of those who lost their lives there and those who just loved the place and hate to leave it. You never know which kind you’ll meet!
This might be cheating, because it’s technically outside Boston, but it’s not very far, and no discussion of creepy goings-on in Boston is complete without remember the Salem Witch Trials of the late seventeenth century, in which an entire town was seized with panic and ended up gruesomely killing some twenty people accused of nothing more than being witches. Salem is full of witch trial linked attractions, but there is an official Witch Trials Memorial, adjacent to an old burying ground, that can raise chills as you read the words the poor victims pleaded in their defense.
Bonus Outside Boston Trip!
Medfield State Hospital: Formerly an asylum, this now-vacant hospital campus is open to the public daily for them to wander, but not many of them ever go. On the day we went, we were alone among the empty buildings where so many unfortunate, unhappy patients lived. Spooky and sad. And, if you want to see it, you should go now, because apparently they have begun demolishing the buildings
Thank you Skylar for giving us such a haunting tour of Boston!
To learn more about Skylar Dorset and her books, please visit her website. You can add the Otherworld series here on Goodreads.
Have you visited Boston, Massachusetts? Ever experience anything of the supernatural kind in and around Boston?
What did you think of Skylar's picks for spooky places?
Last week on Paranormal Road Trip we visited Dublin, Ireland with Ruth Frances Long. Next week we'll be doing a six month Paranormal Road Trip recap. Has it really been six months? Wow! The following week we'll be traveling to Banff with Nancy Baker.
Join us for another spine-tingling Paranormal Road Trip...
if you dare!
if you dare!