May 18, 2014

Ephraim Gray, the Immortal Man of Malden

Tony and I have a lot of friends who were either born in Malden, Massachusetts or live there now. On Friday we saw three friends - one was born in Malden and two live there now. On Saturday, we met a group of people out at a bar, and there were at least five Maldonians there.

Malden plays a significant role in my life, but oddly I don't believe I've ever shared any Malden lore on this blog. To rectify this, here's the story of Ephraim Gray, the immortal man of Malden.


Ephraim Gray was a reclusive man who lived in Malden in the 19th century. He lived in the center of town in a big house, which he seldom left. Whenever his neighbors did see Ephraim he never looked them in the eye, and just grunted when spoken too. Ephraim didn't have any family, and lived only with a single manservant. The manservant would handle all the complex interactions with the outside world, like shopping and paying the bills.

Ephraim lived quietly for many years, until one day his neighbors noticed foul odors emanating from his house. Occasionally they would see the manservant open the windows to let out plumes of noxious, chemical-scented smoke. A modern person would suspect that Ephraim was cooking meth, but Ephraim's neighbors just chalked the fumes up as another one of his eccentricities.

The strange odors went on for many years as well, until one morning in 1850 Ephraim's manservant appeared at the police station. Ephraim Gray was dead.

The servant explained that for many years Ephraim had been trying to create an elixir that would grant him immortality. Unfortunately, even though he had quaffed many test brews, Ephraim had lost his race against time and died before he perfected the formula.

However, the servant also explained that he believed Ephraim's experiments would preserve his employer's body perfectly. Ephraim Gray was therefore to be buried immediately with no embalming or other mortuary preparations. The servant was quite firm on these conditions because he would only inherit Ephraim's estate if they were fulfilled.

Ephraim Gray was buried in a small crypt in a cemetery in the center of town. The servant lived in Ephraim's home for a few years before he too passed away. But the stories about Ephraim's quest for immortality lived on, and in 1870 reached the ears of two Harvard medical students. The students were curious to see if the rumors were true, and traveled out to Malden one dark night and broke into the crypt.

Olde Time Malden!

When the students pried the lid off Ephraim Gray's coffin they were amazed to see that his body was perfectly preserved. Ephraim Gray had not decayed at all in the last twenty years! Their curiosity satisfied, they resealed the coffin and returned to Cambridge.

Well, at least that's what they told people. In 1900 the cemetery needed to be relocated to make room for a new road, and all the bodies were moved to a new location. But when the workmen came to move Ephraim's body, they were surprised to see that his coffin was empty. No trace of his body could be found and it has never been located to this day.

Hard-headed skeptics claimed that the Harvard students had stolen the body to dissect, but other people in Malden whispered that perhaps Ephraim's immortality formula had really worked. Maybe it had just taken decades for it to kick in, and that he had finally awoken from his dormant state. Since he was a loner, he probably just walked out of the graveyard without saying a word.


I have a few thoughts on this story. It appears in quite a few books, including Joseph Citro's Passing Strange and Weird New England, and Ceri Revai's Haunted Massachusetts.  Joseph Citro also mentions that Edward Rowe Snowe wrote about Ephraim Gray in the middle of the twentieth century. I can't find any record of the story that is older than that, but if someone knows where it originated please let me know.

I searched through Births, Marriages and Deaths of Malden, Massachusetts, 1649 - 1850 which is on Google books. There were records for a few people named Gray in it, but nothing for an Ephraim Gray. Maybe he was born someplace outside of Malden, which could explain why his birth is not listed. Maybe his death is not listed because he never really died!

Last week I wrote about Harvard students raising the Devil. This week it's Harvard students robbing graves. What will those kids get up to next?


Wade Tarzia said...

A good story; Lovecraft would approve.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for the comment Wade. The Ephraim Gray story is kind of a cross between Cool Air and In The Vault, I suppose!

Unknown said...

I have three stories, and one given to me by a librarian in Malden and all three use the last name "Graves" - not not sure if some one in the last 20 yes or so did research and found a new spelling or mistranslation,

Unknown said...

Actually since I'm a big Love craft fan myself, I think Ephraim's story would add and inspire Love craft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" - occultist, alchemist & immortal.