May 27, 2018

The Ghostly Nuns of Dudley Road

Haunted roads. Doesn't that phrase sound magical? There's just something really evocative about combining those two words. There's real synergy there; the whole is greater than its parts.

Haunted roads are appealing because they remind me of my adolescence, driving around aimlessly with friends waiting for something to happen. The lure of a haunted road has stuck with me into adulthood, and I've been to a few different haunted roads recently: Route 44, Albino Road, and Ghost Road. But just recently I went to what is supposed to be the most haunted road in Massachusetts: Dudley Road in Billerica.


There are several legends associated with Dudley Road, many of them focused on nuns. The most lurid story claims that back in the 19th century a group of nuns from a local convent decided to worship Satan. They would sneak out of the convent at night and gather in an abandoned house for their sinister rituals. Eventually the locals figured out what was happening and hanged the nuns in a nearby field.
St. Thecla's Retreat Center, run by the Sisters of St. Paul, is on Dudley Road
Apparently the spirits of Devil-worshipping nuns don't rest easily, because according to local legends they have been seen wandering around the road at night, and in particular haunt the field where they were hanged. Since their deaths the house where they celebrated the Black Mass has slowly been sinking into the ground. Is it descending to Hell? Strange smells and sounds emanate from the building at night.

Creepy stuff! There are also other legends about ghost nuns. One claims that a nun was hit by a car late one night while walking home to the convent. She was killed instantly when the impact knocked her into a tree, but her ghost still haunts Dudley Road. Some say she can be seen lurking under the tree her body was thrown against, while others say that she wanders the road at night asking for directions back to the convent. She is, quite literally, a lost soul.

Is this house sinking into the earth?
Another legend claims that a nun from the convent became pregnant after having an affair with a priest. She hanged herself in shame and her ghost can still be seen haunting the tree where she died. These stories share similar elements - ghosts, nuns, trees, hangings - but are all slightly different. Everyone seems to agree that something bad happened but the legends differ over what it was.

Not all the ghosts are nuns. A man dressed like a farm-worker is also said to haunt the road at night. He stands by the side of the road just under the trees, his face perpetually hidden in shadow. Don't stop if you see him. Just keep driving.

When Tony and I drove down Dudley Road I was surprised how nice it was. There are a lot of large well-maintained homes and quite a few horse farms, but I guess even upscale neighborhoods have ghosts. Parts of the road seemed new but other parts were older. The older parts were narrow and quite twisty with Colonial era homes and bordered by lichen-encrusted stone walls. I can easily see how creepy legends could get attached to this street. We only visited during the day - I imagine it is much spookier at night.

The stories about Dudley Road seem to be at least several decades old. Commenters on this post claim they heard the stories at least thirty years ago, and others say they were told the story by their parents. A few commenters even say the stories are true and that they have seen some of the ghosts.


I am not a debunker; people may very well see strange things on this road. However, I don't think the story about the hanged nuns is corroborated by any historical records. The last people executed for witchcraft in Massachusetts were hanged in Salem in 1692, so it's very, very unlikely that anyone was  killed in the early nineteenth century for Devil worship. And the house that is supposedly sinking into the ground looks a lot like a storage building to me. It also has big "No trespassing" signs posted on it so please stay away.

So if the nun legend isn't true why do people see ghost nuns? I don't know for sure, but I do think New England has it's own psychic landscape which is influenced by history, the people living on it, and the land itself. New England has it's own folkloric personality. Some people might find old houses, stone walls and dense woods charming, but other might experience them as creepy, particularly at night. A commenter on that post claimed that his teenage son went to Dudley Road with some friends on a lark, but things didn't go quite as planned. He returned home terrified and in tears. Was it all in the boy's head, or did he encounter something that only manifests to people who have the right mindset?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear from some people who have seen strange things on Dudley Road.

4 comments:

Sue Bursztynski said...

It looks very pretty by day, but I’m not sure I’d want to be on that road late at night. No lighting, for a start! I think you’re right about the psychic landscape. New England has been settled by Europeans for a very long time and I have no doubt they also got a lot of scary stories from the Native Americans when they arrived. Much of this also sounds like urban(rural?) legends like those of phantom hitchhikers, it’s always something someone told you they heard from someone else!

Anonymous said...

Interesting article, but very difficult to read the light print. Can you darken it to make reading easier? Thanks!

James120756 said...

I would have loved to read this article but the font is so tiny I don't know how anyone could.

Tamie said...

Thank you for writing this article. I found it very interesting. I have no complaints about the font nor the colors. :D