Was there a place in your hometown where teenagers went to get scared? I grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and the Countess's Grave in the Rocks Village neighborhood was out local scary spot. It was the grave of an actual European countess, and it was surrounded by an iron cage, so there must have been something spooky going on, right?
I suspect there are dozens and dozens of these places all across New England. Some are well-known, but others are a little more obscure. I just learned about one this summer, and it is very close to where I grew up.
Here's how I learned about it. My high school reunion took place this summer. I wasn't able to attend, but I did manage to connect online with my classmate Jack, whom I haven't heard from in decades. While we were chatting he asked if I had heard of Albino Road. I said I hadn't, and he gave me the paranormal scoop. Here's what I learned from Jack and from a few sites online...
In the town of North Andover there is an abandoned road haunted by the ghosts of albino twin boys. It's located at the intersection of Barker and Bradford Street right near the border with Haverhill.
Many years ago in the late 1600s a married couple built their home on this piece of land. Soon afterwards the woman gave birth to healthy twin boys. However, the couple's joy turned to concern when they saw that their newborns were both albinos. The townspeople of Andover (of which North Andover was then a part) were superstitious and fearful of anyone who was unusual. The couple decided to raise their sons in secrecy and never let them leave the house.
Years went by, and by the time 1692 rolled around the boys had grown into healthy teenagers. Unfortunately one day a neighbor came to their house unannounced and looked into the windows. He saw the pale boys and immediately went to the town elders.
As you might know, the Salem witch trials were terrorizing Massachusetts in 1692, and many people from Andover had been accused of witchcraft. Concerned about possible witchery, the town elders took the boys away from their parents and debated what to do. Were these unusual-looking twins somehow related to the demonic forces trying to destroy the colony?
The elders devised a test to resolve the question. They took the boys to a nearby lake, tied rocks to their feet, and threw them in. The elders believed that if they drowned it would prove they were demonic in nature. The boys sank to the bottom of the lake and died. Having their worst fears concerned, the citizens marched from the lake and burned down the boys' home with their parents inside.
It's said the ghosts of the albino boys (and possibly their parents) now haunt the abandoned road where their house once stood. If you go there late at night you might see the ghostly boys, or perhaps just their eyes, shining red in the darkness. They are not friendly ghosts and don't take kindly to trespassers...
Teenagers in North Andover and other nearby towns visit Albino Road at night and try to see the ghosts. I am kind of a scaredy-cat, so Tony and I visited during the day. We didn't see any ghosts, but I certainly can understand why people might find this stretch of road creepy in the dark. I am always more afraid of deer ticks than ghosts, so if you do wander down Albino Road use a lot of insect repellent. And watch out for poison ivy too!
I don't know how long this legend has been told. Jack seems to have heard it when we were in high school back in the 1980s, and it may be even older than that. I also don't know anyone who has sen the ghosts, but there are some interesting things about this legend.
First of all, many people in Andover actually were accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials. In fact, more people from Andover were accused than people from Salem! So there's a little bit of historical truth behind the legend.
The idea that the town elders drowned the albino twins seems to be a garbled version of the water tests that witches in England were subject to. Also known as ducking, this process involved throwing an accused witch into a pond or lake. People believed that water would reject that which was unnatural or evil. If the accused witch floated, it was taken as a sign that the water rejected them and they were guilty. If you sank you were innocent. Of course, you also ran the risk of drowning if you sank, but at least you weren't a witch. The Albino Road legend seems to get this process backwards, and I'm not sure if the water test was ever used during the Salem trials.
I also am not aware that people with albinism were ever considered sinister in the Colonial era. Beliefs about albinos and witchcraft are unfortunately widespread in parts of Africa, and persecution of people with albinism is common in some countries on that continent, but I'm not aware of that happening in Colonial New England.
I also find it interesting that the boys aren't really supernatural monsters when alive, but then they actually become supernatural monsters after death. There is a lesson about tolerance behind this legend but maybe that lesson gets a little garbled. After all, it turns out those poor albino boys really are something to be afraid of, but just in ghostly form.
Lastly, this is a good legend for teenagers, because it is about teens whose parents never let them leave the house and who are misunderstood by everyone around them. It's never easy being a teenager, particularly not when there's a witch hunt going on.
PS - I will be speaking at the Rowley (Massachusetts) Public Library on Saturday, October 3 at 1:00 pm. My topic: North Shore Witchcraft: Legends, Stories and Practical Tips. I hope you can attend!