September 27, 2009

The Charlesgate: Terror in a Luxury Setting

The Charlesgate is a beautiful old building near Boston's Back Bay Fens, and used to have a reputation as one of the most haunted spots in Boston.

The Charlesgate was built in 1891 as a luxurious residential hotel, but was sold to Boston University in 1947, and later to Emerson College. Both schools used it as a dorm. Students who lived there in the 1980s and '90s told many tales of ghosts and strange phenomena. Here is a selection:

A male freshman sleeping in room 623 awoke one night to find a strange man floating in the air above his bed. It sounds like a bad dream, the but the story was verified by the floor's resident adviser, who saw the floating man when he came to investigate the freshman's scream.

Students using Ouija boards in the building encountered malevolent entities with names like DLD and Mama, who talked about windows into the spirit world and could shatter glass.

A female student sleeping on a bottom bunk felt someone climb onto the top bunk late at night. Her room mate was away, however. When she looked on the top bunk in the morning, the sheets were wrinkled as if someone had slept in it.

Girls talking in a room were terrified when the door slammed shut and the lights went out. In the darkness, they had strange entities moving around the room. When the lights came back on, the walls and ceiling had been gouged and scarred.

Emerson College sold the dorm to a developer in the 1990s, and it's once again high-end luxury residences. It doesn't seem to be haunted anymore. Either the ghosts either departed with the students, or the new residents are too discreet to talk about any supernatural happenings.

I got this information from Holly Mascott Nadler's Ghosts of Boston Town. An interesting fact about the author: she once wrote for the TV show Laverne and Shirley!

September 20, 2009

Apple Love, and Some Media Updates

Adam and Eve go apple-picking!

My last post was about the ominous side of apples. Today, I thought I'd share some happier lore. Sure, apples have a bad reputation in Western culture because of that incident in the Garden of Eden, but that story isn't just about sin, it's also about love. If Adam and Eve (or Steve) hadn't eaten the forbidden fruit, there'd be no love in the world!

Discovering the identity of your true love through magic was widespread in New England in the 1800's. I think some of it spread through the magazines of the time, but some may also have been brought over with the Puritans. Apples figured prominently.

To figure out if someone loves you, split open an apple and count the seeds. The number of seeds inside determines where the relationship is heading. There is a chant that goes like this:

One I love,
Two I love,
Three, I love, I say
Four, I love with all my heart,
And five I cast away;
Six he loves,
Seven she loves,
Eight they both love;
Nine he comes,
Ten he tarries,
Eleven, he courts,
Twelve he marries;
Thirteen wishes,
Fourteen kisses,
All the rest little witches.

There's another way to use apple seeds to predict love. Let's say you're romantically interested in multiple men. Take some apple seeds, and assign the name of a potential lover to each. Wet the seeds and stick them on your forehead. The one that falls off last is the person you're meant to be with.

Those are quoted in Botkin's Treasury of New England Folklore, but are originally found in William Wells Newells' Games and Songs of American Children and Alice Morse Earle's Old Time Gardens.

New England folklore has been appearing in the media lately. Today's Boston Globe has an article about George's Island, including the ghost who is supposed to haunt Fort Warren, something I wrote about a while ago.

The October 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living has a brief article about New England gravestone art. There are some nice photos of historic Massachusetts cemeteries in Haverhill, Salem and Ipswich. Martha Stewart can even make death look tasteful. I don't think the article is online, but you can see many grave stones from across New England at A Very Grave Matter.

September 10, 2009

Death by Apples

Roxbury Russet apples from Flickr.

An article in the Boston Globe noted that the apple crop has been particularly good this year. The cool rainy weather that ruined things like tomatoes and eggplant has been perfect for apples. So, get out to your local orchard or farmers' market and get a bag of local apples!

There's a lot of folklore about apples in New England, much of it spooky. I guess apples pair with strange deaths as well as they pair with pie crust. I've mentioned bloody Micah Rood apples and the apple tree that ate Roger Williams' body earlier, but the very introduction of apples into New England was a cause for misery and death.

The first named variety of apple cultivated in New England and the the United States was the Roxbury Russet. Named for the Colonial town of Roxbury (now a Boston neighborhood), and the apple's greenish brown color, the Roxbury Russet was in cultivation by the mid-1600's. Some sources say it was being grown as early as 1649. I guess apples were a high priority for the English, since they only settled the Boston area in the late 1620s.

According to a book called Apples of New York State, an English settler in Roxbury named Joseph Warren was the first person to grow the Roxbury russet. He died in 1755 when he fell off a ladder while picking apples and broke his neck. (I got that little tidbit here).

The idea that Joseph Warren was killed by the very thing he was famous for makes this story seem mythic to me. Not mythic in a "what a lie" way, but in a "Wow! That's seems to make strange sense" way. I'm not saying it isn't true, but the story wouldn't be as resonant if he died in bed from pneumonia.

When I read the Roxbury Russet story I was reminded of a similar "death by apple" story. Strangely, it's also from Roxbury.

I live on Mission Hill in Boston, which is part of Roxbury. Mission Hill used to be called Parker Hill, after the wealthy Parker family which lived here in the 1700's. Back then, the hill was quite agricultural and covered in orchards. Peter Parker, the scion of the family and owner of the hill, also met his end through apples. He was crushed by a barrel of his own cider when if fell off a cart. (This tidbit is from Samuel Francis Drake's book The Town of Roxbury: Its Memorable Persons and Places, Its History and Antiquities, with Numerous Illustrations of Its Old Landmarks and Noted Personages.)

Although Mission Hill is now quite urban, it still has a lot apple trees. They grow in people's yards, and the park at the top of the hill actually has an orchard in it. One of my neighbors has an apple tree, and he told me it is indeed a Roxbury Russet. The agricultural past peeks through into our modern urban neighborhood.

I feel I should wrap up this post on a dramatic note, like "And I've seen the bloody ghosts of Peter Parker and Joseph Warren wandering in the orchard!" I haven't though, so the stories will have to stand on their own.

September 06, 2009

The Haunted Hoosac Tunnel

Yesterday Tony and I drove out to visit Mass MoCA, the contemporary art museum in North Adams. We saw some good art, and had a tasty lunch at Brew Ha Ha, a coffee shop/diner across the street.

A sunny day in North Adams. Does supernatural terror lurk nearby?

North Adams is also home to the Hoosac Tunnel, a 4.75 mile railroad tunnel under the Hoosac Mountains that connects North Adams with the neighboring town of Florida.

It took many years to build the tunnel. Construction began in 1851, and was completed on Thanksgiving Day, 1873. It also took many lives - 195 people were killed during its construction.

Two particularly grisly incidents stand out:

  • In 1865, a demolitions expert named Ringo Kelley accidentally set off an explosion early, killing two co-workers, Ned Brinkman and Billy Nash. Kelley left town quickly. Exactly one year later, his body was found at the same spot where Brinkman and Nash had died. He had been strangled, and though the police determined he died between midnight and 3:00 a.m., they found no footprints or other clues. Creepy.

  • Two years latter, an accident involving a thousand foot shaft claimed the lives of thirteen men. The shaft had been excavated to lower workers into the center of the tunnel, but an explosion at the top sent a rain of three-hundred sharpened drill bits and other debris onto the men at the bottom. The shaft then flooded with water. When rescuers recovered their bodies the following year they saw that while most had been killed by drill bits and drowning, others survived by building a raft, only to slowly asphyxiate or starve. Gruesome.

In addition, 30 people have died or disappeared in the tunnel since it was completed. In 1875, a railroad employee fled shrieking from the tunnel and disappeared. In 1973, a man entered the North Adams end of the tunnel on foot, but never emerged and has not been seen since.

A beautiful view from the mountain above the Hoosac Tunnel.

It's because of stories like these that the Hoosac Tunnel is considered the most haunted locale in New England. There are stories of headless ghosts (a New England favorite), ghosts in mining gear, glowing blue phantoms, and small black whispering shapes. The first ghost was reported in 1872, and the most recent in 2007.

The 1872 report: "At first I believed it was a workman with a lantern. Yet, as the light drew closer, it took on a strange blue color and... the form of a human being without a head....The headless form came so close that I could have reached out and touched it, but I was too terrified to move"(from Joseph Citro's Weird New England.)

The 2007 report: "Very distinct in character by now were two glowing objects in human form moving towards us. We stared motionless as the figures came closer, then the spell was broken by the sound of footsteps in the gravel. My partners had seen more than enough and were rapidly moving towards the safety of daylight"(from Thomas D'Agostino's Haunted Massachusetts).

The Hoosac Tunnel entrance. It's dangerous and illegal to enter!

On our way back from North Adams Tony and I stopped by the Florida entrance to the tunnel. To avoid becoming two more victims of the tunnel (whether by ghost or train), we didn't go in. We didn't see any spirits, but a cold dank wind emanating from the tunnel could be felt hundreds of feet away. I confess, it was a little freaky.

Departing the Hoosac Tunnel. Just standing outside was creepy enough.

A good site for information about the Hoosac Tunnel is Marc Howe's Website, which describes its history, construction and ghosts in great detail.