December 22, 2013

Is the Ghost of Charles Dickens in Boston?

This is my second haunted hotel story in a month, but I'm just going with it. So...

Did you know that the ghost of Charles Dickens possibly haunts the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston? Yes, the author of A Christmas Carol's spirit could be here with us Yankees, which I think is pretty cool.

We're all so familiar with Dickens's most famous story now that we don't realize how innovative it was when it was published. A Christmas Carol is not just a great story, but it's a transformational book that helped change Christmas from a drunken revel into a holiday about charity and giving. Along with Clement Moore's A Visit from Saint Nicholas it has influenced how generations of Americans think about the Christmas holiday. For example, the phrase "Merry Christmas" was popularized by Dickens book.

Although it was an immediate hit in England when it was published in 1843, it took time for A Christmas Carol to gain popularity here in the United States. But by the late 1860s A Christmas Carol was enormously popular on this side of the Atlantic too and Charles Dickens had become a literary sensation. Christmas had long been suppressed in New England, and many people actually thought that he had invented the holiday. Dickens had initially visited the United States in 1842 for his first reading tour, but when he arrived in Boston in November of 1867 he was a bona fide celebrity.

Literary superstar Charles Dickens
His first reading of the book was for the Saturday Club, a private literary club whose members included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Agassiz. The club met one Saturday a month for dinner at the Parker House Hotel, which was the same hotel that Dickens made his headquarters while in Boston.

On November 30 Dickens gave his first public American reading of A Christmas Carol at the Tremont Temple near Boston Common. 'Reading' apparently does not do justice to what Dickens did on the stage. He paced back and forth, he voiced each character differently, and he acted out key scenes. In short, he gave a complete one man show, and the audience was reportedly reduced to tears by the end of his performance. A follow-up performance on Christmas Eve had the same effect. He was so popular that guards had to be stationed outside his hotel room to keep away the eager fans.

Dickens left Boston for a tour of the East Coast, but returned to the city for one last visit in April 1868 before he departed for London. The tour took a lot of his energy, and he died in 1870 at the age of fifty-eight.

The Parker House has been in business for a long time, and it's hard say if the paranormal phenomena happening there are actually linked to Dickens. He stayed on the third floor of the Parker House, and even today one of the elevators supposedly will travel to the third floor without the buttons being pushed. Who (or what) is so eager to get to the third floor? It could be Dickens's ghost, or it could be one of the other famous people who've stayed at the Parker House. Actress Charlotte Cushman loved to stay in the Dickens Suite, so perhaps it's her spirit. Or perhaps it's actor John Wilkes Booth, who may have plotted Lincoln's assassination at the Parker House, or more happily hotel founder Harry Parker, whose ghost has appeared to guests and inquired about their stay.

Other than poking around on the web I found this information in Holly Mascott Nadler's Ghosts of Boston Town, Susan Wilson's The Omni Parker House - A Brief History of America's Longest Continuously Operating Hotel, and Amy Whorf McGuiggan's Christmas in New England.

No comments: