August 25, 2020

Cursed Movie Filmed in Abandoned Insane Asylum

A new X-Men movie is being released this week. The New Mutants comes out on the 28th, and is notable for two reasons. First, it's actually being released in theaters, so if you dare to to the movies you can see it on the big screen. Second, it was filmed in Massachusetts in 2017, but its release was delayed for several years. The director has hinted that the movie is "cursed."

The New Mutants tells the tale of five young folks who are imprisoned in a spooky hospital because their mutant powers are considered dangerous. Much of the movie was shot at Medfield State Hospital, an abandoned 100-year old insane asylum in Medfield. It sounds like an appropriately spooky setting.

Medfield State Hospital. Photo by Ghostfacesouthshore on Wikipedia.

The movie was originally supposed to be released in 2018, but was delayed due to studio mergers and conflicting opinion's over the final tone of the film. The director, Josh Boone, has suggested the movie is cursed and that perhaps filming at Medfield State caused it.

It was during the press push for the first trailer that Boone first spoke of “weird” things happening to crew members at Medfield State Hospital during filming. 
“Literally every single person on my crew — all my grips — all those people had weird things happen to them while they were there,” Boone told IGN of the abandoned state hospital, which also served as a filming location for “Shutter Island” in 2009. “I even told the behind-the-scenes crew to go interview everyone who had weird stuff happen to them for an extra on the Blu-ray.” (from, "The story of ‘The New Mutants,’ the ‘cursed’ Marvel movie filmed in Mass.")

I was of course intrigued by the idea of a haunted insane asylum nearby, so I did a little research. Here's what I found. Medfield State Hospital opened in 1896 and was composed of dozens of buildings spread out over 900 acres of land. The hospital was designed on a "cottage plan," with many small buildings intended to create a homey atmosphere. It closed in 2003, and is now open to the public as a park. You can walk on the grounds (it looks like a college campus) but can't enter any of the buildings for safety reasons.

Here's what I didn't find: any stories about ghosts, hauntings, or a curse. I was a little surprised, given it's an abandoned insane asylum, but most visitors say Medfield State is very peaceful.
The citizens of Medfield really seem to enjoy the park-like atmosphere, and several articles I've read online have recommended visiting. 

The cast of The New Mutants

There are probably a few reasons why no spooky stories are attached to Medfield State. It's hard to think of a place as scary when people are walking dogs, playing frisbee, and having picnics there. By opening it up to the public the town has effectively made it wholesome and inherently unspooky. Fencing it off and putting up "No Trespassing" signs would have done the opposite.

Also, the hospital only closed in 2003, which isn't that long ago. It's probably not long enough for any really good local legends to arise or gain traction. Maybe they'll show up in a few years.

It's quite possible The New Mutants will kick off some new legends. Maybe locals will say, "Oooh! Medfield State is so creepy. I heard they filmed a movie there and it was cursed!" It certainly sounds like the start of a good urban legend, doesn't it? The only problem is that you have to buy the Blu-ray to learn about the creepy stuff. Hopefully someone at Marvel will release those interviews on YouTube or another format so the legend can spread. 

August 18, 2020

Demonic Doll Escapes from Museum?

Everyone knows 2020 has been a bad year. 

First there was the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the huge recession and staggering unemployment. There were ongoing murders of unarmed Black people by police. This July was the hottest July on record in Boston. It looks like the president is trying to cripple the Postal Service to impede voting. Eastern equine encephalitis is back again in Massachusetts. 

You get the picture. But to make things even worse, Annabelle the evil doll escaped from a museum and is running amok. 

Well, at least that was the rumor spreading on social media. First, for those who don't know, Annabelle is an allegedly possessed doll who first came to fame in The Conjuring (2013). That movie is partly based on a true story involving Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators from Connecticut. The Warrens, who are now both deceased, claim that in 1970 a nursing student in Hartford received a Raggedy Ann doll named Annabelle as a gift. 

The student and her roommate, also a nursing student, noticed lots of strange things happening in their apartment after Annabelle arrived. They became concerned when Annabelle began to move around on her own and consulted a psychic, who told them the doll was possessed by the spirit of a child who had died in their apartment. The dead child felt comfortable around the two young women, which was why it had inhabited the doll. 

The two women were compassionate and decided to keep Annabelle. Who can resist a lost child? They changed their minds, though, when Annabelle tried to choke one of their friends. Suspecting this was no ordinary ghost child, the women brought in the Warrens, who confirmed their suspicions. The doll was actually possessed by a demon masquerading as a dead child. Yikes.

The Warrens took Annabelle and placed her in a glass case in their occult museum in Monroe, Connecticut, where she has been confined ever since. Interest in Annabelle increased after The Conjuring, and a fictionalized version of the doll starred in three movies: Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019). 

Movie Annabelle on left, real Annabelle on right.

On August 14, 2020, rumors started to spread on social media that Annabelle had escaped from her case in Monroe and was going to spread evil. This would be a serious matter if it were true, but it's not. According to, the rumor all began with an interview given by actress Annabelle Wallis, who appeared in two of the Annabelle movies. In that interview, Wallis talked about running and escaping from danger in 2017's The Mummy. International social media sites picked up the story, and through a series of misunderstandings "Annabelle Wallis, actress, discussed escaping in a movie" changed into "Annabelle, evil doll, has escaped." It makes perfect sense to me, and I can understand why the rumor spread. 2020 already seemed like the year that anything could happen.    

Happily, Tony Spera, the Warren's son-in-law, confirmed that Annabelle is still safely in her case. The Warren's Occult Museum was closed down several years ago by the town of Monroe due to zoning violations so sadly no one can see her. Like many of us, Annabelle is stuck in quarantine. 

This story appeared in many places: New York Magazine, Newsweek, People, etc. I'm a little surprised, but I guess a demonic doll makes for a nice change from all the other bad news we're dealing with right now. Let's hope the rest of the year just brings more bizarre paranormal rumors, or maybe even good news for a change.

August 09, 2020

Pine Grove Cemetery: Murder, Legends, and History on Cape Cod

We were down on the Cape last week, and one day we decided to visit Pine Grove Cemetery in Truro. I had read about Pine Grove in the past but never visited since it is off the beaten track. With so many things shut down this year we had ample time to explore this old cemetery.

There are two aspects to Pine Grove: the charming historic side, and the creepy uncomfortable side. Let's talk about the charming historic side first. Pine Grove was established in 1794 by Truro's Methodist church. Although the church is no longer there, the cemetery remains and is still in active use. Like much of Cape Cod, Truro's open spaces have been reclaimed by the forest. The cemetery was once in an open field behind a church but is now hidden in the woods down a half-mile dirt road. 

Photo from Digital Commonwealth. You can see the cemetery behind the church.
Pine Grove Cemetery today.
There are no houses on the dirt road, and Pine Grove is totally surrounded by the Cape Cod National Seashore. This means the cemetery is isolated and very quiet. When we went we were the only people there for well over an hour. 

The oldest grave at Pine Grove is that of James Paine, who was buried in 1799, while the newest burial seems to be from this year. There are over 800 monuments in Pine Grove in a variety of styles. We saw one old-fashioned death's head, several winged cherubs, and many willow-and-urn motifs. Lots of notable Cape Cod families are buried here.

So that's the charming part: an old cemetery full of historic gravestone down a quiet country road. Now here, unfortunately, is the creepy part: four women were murdered and dismembered here in 1969. That dirt road in the woods and the isolated cemetery seem more unsettling once you know that detail.

On January 24, 1969, two young women from Providence, Rhode Island checked into a rooming house in nearby Provincetown. Patricia Walsh and Mary Ann Wysocki, both 23, were introduced by the landlady to another guest, a 24-year old local carpenter named Antone "Tony" Costa. Costa, who was tall and clean cut, helped Walsh and Wysocki carry their bags to their rooms. Walsh and Wysocki vanished shortly afterwards. Their car was spotted abandoned near a marijuana patch behind Pine Grove cemetery, but then it too vanished.

The police began digging and found four bodies in the sandy soil behind Pine Grove. Two of them were Walsh and Wysocki. The other two were Sydney Monzon, 18, of Eastham, who had vanished on Memorial Day of 1968, and Susan Perry, 17, of Provincetown, who had been missing since September 8, 1968. The families of Perry and Monzon had assumed their daughters had simply run off. It was the Summer of Love, after all, and many young people were leaving home to become hippies.

Coverage of the crime from Life Magazine, July 25, 1969
The police soon located the missing car in Burlington, Vermont, where Tony Costa was paying for its storage. He was quickly arrested and charged with murder. Many local women, including the daughter of novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., testified that Costa had invited them to visit his marijuana patch behind Pine Grove cemetery. Luckily they had declined. 

The details of the murders are grisly. The four women had been all been dismembered. Blood stained rope was found tied to a tree and in Costa's room at the boarding house. The local DA claimed that cannibalism had also occurred, but that was later recanted. 

Photo from Life Magazine

Costa was charged with murdering three of the four women, but during his trial other suspicious incidents came up. He had driven to Pennsylvania with two young women who disappeared, as did a woman he lived with in San Francisco. A woman he dated had been found drowned in her bathtub. Costa was ultimately suspected of murdering eight women, but was convicted only of murdering Wysocki and Walsh. He received a life sentence. Costa committed suicide in his cell at Walpole State Prison in 1974. He was 30 years old.

Those are the facts in the case, but as you might imagine these murders have entered local folklore. It's hard for a small town to forget something so grisly and legends are often how communities remember their past. 

The most persistent legend I've read is that Costa used this brick crypt to dismember his victims. I'm not sure if that story is true. The crypt is in the cemetery, and I think the actual crimes occurred in the woods behind Pine Grove. Still, the crypt is the main destination for legend-trippers. Anomalous structures (like an empty crypt with an unlocked door) tend become the focus of legends.

Note: I didn't enter the crypt, but only stuck my phone inside. I think historically this crypt was just used to hold bodies awaiting burial - no one is entombed inside it - but it still felt wrong to go inside. In 2007, paranormal investigators reported some strange things in the crypt, including Electronic Voice Phenomena and the sudden loss of power to their equipment. But were these just the normal ghosts one would expect to find in an old cemetery, or were they associated with the 1969 murders?

The grave in the woods where the women was buried is long gone, hidden away by the undergrowth and trees, but Tony and I still walked down the dirt road behind the cemetery. It was very, very quiet in the woods. The cemetery had been full of birds and grasshoppers, but the woods were completely silent. It was unnerving. Maybe the birds just like the cemetery's open landscape more. Maybe the woods hold a memory of what happened. Either way, we were alone nearly a mile from the main road where something terrible had occurred. It was not a good feeling. 

I took a photo of this crossroads we came upon. There have been legends and myths about crossroads for millennia, and they are said to be places where people can encounter ghosts, underworld deities, and the Devil. When I saw this I thought,"This would be a really creepy place to be at Halloween." Apparently I was not the first person to think along these lines. Evelyn Lawson wrote the following in The Provincetown Register in 1969:

"As Dinis (the district attorney) talked... I felt my skin prickle in dread and disgust. The place where the bodies had been found... was near an old cemetery, not far from a back dirt crossroad, the typical traditional site for the witches' Sabbath..." (quoted in Life Magazine, July 25, 1969)

Just to be clear, no witches were involved in these murders. Modern witches follow a spiritual or religious path and don't sacrifice people in the woods. It's probably just a coincidence the murders happened near a crossroads, but it does add some creepy resonance to the situation, and there have been rumors that people conduct sinister rituals in the woods. I didn't see any signs of ritual activity and I think they are just rumors. Costa apparently was interested in the occult and had books about magic in his cell at Walpole, which has probably added fuel to the rumor that Satanic activities happen in the woods behind Pine Grove. 

Would I visit again? I'd definitely go to the cemetery again, which is beautiful and historic. The crypt was a little off-putting, but nothing too scary. The woods behind Pine Grove were pretty creepy, though, and I'm not sure if I would go back. A little advice: if you decide to visit please don't go alone. Even if there aren't any ghosts it is still an isolated spot where something terrible happened. It's better to be safe than sorry. 

August 01, 2020

A Werewolf in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Many, many years ago when I was a small child I saw Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) on some local TV station. Although this movie is a very broad comedy, I was still really scared by the monsters in it, particularly by the Wolfman. I was probably five years old so maybe this is understandable, or maybe I was just a really cowardly kid. Regardless, the Wolfman was portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr., and his transformation from a mild-mannered human to a hirsute and ferocious monster terrified me. 

Lon Chaney Jr. in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Lon Chaney Jr. in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein

He was also the most sympathetic of the movie's monsters, though, so I was also fascinated. Once I got over my fear of werewolves I learned to love stories about them. Sabine Baring Gould's The Book of Werewolves (1865) is a good source for European legends, as is Montague Summers's The Werewolf in Legend and Lore (1933). Both of those are easily available, but sadly, there isn't too much written about New England werewolves. Maybe that's because we don't have a lot of werewolves here, which could be a good thing depending on how you feel about ravening monsters.

The word werewolf comes from an Old English term, werwulf, or man-wolf, and refers to a human who can transform into a wolf. The reasons for this ability vary in old legends and include things like curses, deals with the Devil, or witchcraft. The idea that someone can become a werewolf after being bitten or scratched by one is a more recent pop culture innovation. Lycanthropy (the fancy term for werewolfism) was originally considered a moral condition, not an infectious disease. 

There are lots of New England legends about people transforming into animals, but they're usually about witches, and witches don't like to change into wolves. Witches prefer to transform into more discrete animals like birds, cats, and even horses. It's easier to cause mischief that way. No one suspects an innocent-looking bird but people are pretty suspicious when a wolf shows up. Still, during the Salem witch trials Tituba confessed to seeing cats, birds and wolves in the company of witches, implying that these were either demons or witches in animal form. 

That's not the only local connection between witches and wolves. There is also an obscure legend that one of Cape Ann's Dogtown witches, Daffy Archer, may have been a werewolf or had one at her command. You can read more about the Dogtown werewolf here

Some of New England's other werewolf legends come from French-Canadian immigrants, who brought stories of the loup-garou with them from Quebec. A loup-garou is someone, usually male, who has signed a deal with the Devil and can transform into a wolf. They are scary and dangerous, but happily can be repelled by prayer and religious symbols, as this tale from Vermont shows

Those stories are over a hundred years old, but I just read another werewolf account, and it's relatively recent. It appears in Albert Rosales book Humanoid Encounters: 2000 - 2009. According to Rosales, on December 16, 2008, four students in Pawtucket, Rhode Island decided to take a walk in the woods after finishing their exams. They followed an old waterway deeper and deeper into the woods. As they walked it became increasingly quiet. 

Noticeably quiet. No birds. No squirrels. No breeze.

Scarily quiet.

The students suddenly became aware that they were not alone. Someone - or rather something - was in the woods with them. The creature was about six feet tall. It stood upright like a man, but had the head of a wolf. The students stood still in terror, petrified that the creature would approach them. 

The wolf creature looked around, sensing it was not alone, but did not see the students. Finally it ran off further into the trees and was lost to sight. After waiting to make sure it was really gone the students left the woods. One of the witnesses was convinced the creature was a werewolf. 

What did the others think it was if not a werewolf? Rosales's book doesn't say. It also doesn't include some details that would be useful, like how old the students were or their names. Still, I'm happy to find another local werewolf story to add to my collection. This reads like a classic paranormal encounter: the journey out of consensus reality into the woods, the eerie expectant stillness, the advent of a strange entity, and the return back to the normal world. 

The moral aspects of older werewolf stories are missing here. There's no witchcraft or deal with the Devil. Instead, we just have some young folks who have an encounter with a monstrous being in the woods. The lesson is not a moral one, but rather an ontological one: there are still monsters lurking out in the trees.