When I first jumped off of the vessel Naumkeag on the rocky coastline of the once off-limits Bakers Island, I started to hyperventilate. I could see in my mind’s eye a young girl, probably around 13-years-old. She was wearing late nineteenth century garb and, from what I picked up that particularly windy June morning in Salem Harbor, she was waiting for me.
While doing research for 13 Most Haunted Crime Scenes Beyond Boston, I signed up to lead weekend tours to the allegedly haunted island. After a nightmarish season in the so-called “Witch City” during the Halloween season of 2013 before writing my book Ghosts of Salem, I swore I would never go back to the North Shore haunt that turned inexplicably dark, and oddly evil, as the season progressed.
Bakers Island remained in the hands of the Colonial government until 1660, when the General Court granted a request by the town of Salem to annex both Bakers and Misery islands. Photo by Frank C. Grace.
I’m back. Well, kinda sorta. The sixty-acre island is about five miles off the coast of Salem. While I did do some preliminary research on Bakers Island, I had no clue about its haunted past. As we inched toward the rocks, I intuitively knew that I was about to step on a paranormally active hot spot. The ghost girl was waiting … and so was a living man.
The lightkeeper, Bill, greeted our vessel as we quietly landed ashore. Wearing what looked like a Harley Davidson T-shirt, Bill was standing on the rocks, holding a garbage bag while Essex National Heritage’s chief executive officer, Annie, quickly hopped off onto the slippery shore. “No ghost stories,” Annie told me a few minutes before landing. The salty waters of the harbor spit in my face as Naumkeag’s captain John maneuvered past Marblehead during my first trip to Salem’s shutter island. I had asked Annie if she knew the story of the Screeching Woman of Lovis Cove. “Never heard of it,” she said with a familiar New England nod that oddly reminded me of Katharine Hepburn. I sheepishly smiled back.
When I spotted the ghost girl on Bakers Island, I decided to keep it a secret. As far as I knew, there were no deaths at the lighthouse that had been closed to the general public for seventy years. Besides, I promised my boss no ghost stories. I couldn’t help myself.
Lightkeeper Bill did write about what he later referred to as a “gremlin” on Bakers.
“When I got to the beach I was going to row out to the Whaler and take a look at the engine,” he wrote online a few days before my first visit. “The oars were gone. Brenda and I remember placing them in the boat and I then jammed them in to make sure they stayed. Two life jackets and a pair of shoes were untouched but the oars were gone. I can only assume that someone stole them. Pretty lousy.”
Stolen oars? It’s possible. However, my intuition suggested something else, a poltergiest. Whatever it was, the spirit wanted to play.
The Naumkeag came carrying gifts, several pieces of wood needed to build a makeshift gift shop on the island. As I explored the island’s lighthouse, I had one of my That’s So Raven moments. I somehow psychically replayed what seemed to be a horrific maritime tragedy. However, the ghost girl on the island was letting me know that she was fine and that she has found postmortem serenity there even though she died tragically more than one century ago.
According to local legend, Bakers Island was named after a man who was mysteriously killed on the island by a falling tree. While there’s no proof of the story told by the late historian Edward Rowe Snow, we do know of a man named Robert Baker who was fatally hit by a piece of lumber in 1640 in the shipyard off of Salem. The island was deeded to Salem in 1660 and rented out to John Turner in 1670. For the record, Turner was famous for building the House of the Seven Gables. On April 8, 1796, President George Washington agreed to appropriate $6,000 for a lighthouse and a beacon was first lit on January 3, 1798. In 1820, the original light was replaced with a pair of lighthouses known as “Ma and Pa” or “Mr. and Mrs.” Unfortunately, the shorter “Ma” tower was demolished in 1922.
In the late nineteenth century, Bakers Island became home to a fifty-room hotel called Winne-Eagan, which opened in 1888 and burned completely to the ground from an accidental fire in 1906.
As far as ghost lore, Bakers Island is legendary. For years, the fog horn would sound off without provocation and flickering lights were seen on the island when it was vacant during the off-season. There were also sightings of a horse spirit near the lighthouse. Visitors have reported the smell of hay and disembodied sounds usually associated with four-legged equines like whinnying and hoof stomping.
“Most of the paranormal activity on Bakers Island takes place during the winter months when the island is deserted,” wrote Lee Holloway in Ghosts of the Massachusetts Lights. “Caretakers have heard what sounds like a party emanating from the Chase Cottage. Workers in the Wells Cottage have been attacked by a ‘kissing ghost’ and lights are sometimes seen in the general store and Nicholson house when both are closed for the season.”
Bakers Island Light Station is located on Bakers Island in Salem Sound, a 60-acre island with a large summer colony. Photo by Frank C. Grace.
The ghost of Naomi Coyler, who died during a swim off of Bakers Island during the 1960s, is said to haunt the island. There’s also a story of a jewel thief who supposedly hid his booty on Bakers. The mysterious flickering orbs are said to be the privateer looking for his buried treasure. In the late 1990s, a group of paranormal investigators reached out to the tightly-guarded summer home community to investigate the so-called evil entity known as the “beast of Bakers Island.” However, the paranormal team quickly packed up their belongings and fled once they found out the island doesn’t have electricity.
So, what about my encounter with the ghost girl? On the Fourth of July in 1898, a two-level vessel picked up a large group of visitors from Bakers Island and, after dropping off passengers at Salem Willows, tragically capsized en route to Beverly. “The small excursion steamer Surf City, with about 60 passengers on board … was struck by a sudden, but terrible, squall last evening and capsized,” reported the Fitchburgh Sentinel on July 5, 1898. “The scene, while the work of rescue was going on, was a fearful one, as over half of those on board were women, and their screams could be heard for miles. Many clung to the top of the hurricane deck and supported themselves until the boats came, while others grasped the flag staffs and even the smoke stack.”
The majority of the passengers survived the disaster, but eight women and children died, including two teen girls and several unnamed children. My theory is that the ghost girl on Bakers Island is somehow related to the Surf City tragedy of 1898.
My stint giving tours on Bakers Island was short lived. After months of interviews and approvals from the Coast Guard, I only lasted one weekend. I told my boss that the ten-hour workday was too much for me to handle. Truthfully, I was legitimately freaked out by the ghosts still lingering on Bakers Island.
I was moved to the mainland and returned to the city that haunted my dreams for years. Essex Heritage asked me to give their “Myths & Misconceptions” tour in downtown Salem during the summer of 2016. My fingers were crossed that the ghosts from my past would leave me alone.
Known for its annual Halloween “Haunted Happenings” gathering, it’s no surprise that the historic Massachusetts seaport is considered to be one of New England’s most haunted destinations. With city officials emphasizing its not-so-dark past, tourists from all over the world seem to focus on the wicked intrigue surrounding the 1692 witch trials.
As far as the paranormal is concerned, the city is considered to be hallowed ground.
Originally called Naumkeag, Salem means “peace.” However, as its historical legacy dictates, the city was anything but peaceful during the late seventeenth century. In fact, when accused witch and landowner Giles Corey was pressed to death over a two-day period, he allegedly cursed the sheriff and the city. Over the years, his specter has allegedly been spotted preceding disasters in Salem, including the fire that destroyed most of the downtown area in June 1914. Based on my research, a majority of the hauntings conjured up in Salem over the city’s tumultuous three-hundred-year-old history have ties to disaster, specifically the one-hundred-year-old fire that virtually annihilated the once prosperous North Shore seaport.
Cursed? Salem is full of secrets.
My first ghost tour experience in Salem was an impromptu trek on Mollie Stewart’s “Spellbound” tour in 2010. I remember gazing up at the allegedly haunted Joshua Ward House and being convinced I had seen a spirit looking out of the second-floor window. It turned out to be a bust of George Washington. Soon after writing my first book, Ghosts of Boston, I signed on to give historical-based ghost tours of my own in a city that both excited and scared me. I let Salem’s spirits guide me.
One of my first face-to-face encounters with a negative entity was at the Joshua Ward House. I felt a warm sensation on my chest one night in September 2012 while I was giving a ghost tour. It felt like a spider bite. However, I wasn’t prepared for the bitter truth. After the tour, I lifted up my shirt and noticed three cat-like scratch marks on my chest. In the paranormal world, this is called the “mark of intrinity” and it’s said to signify the touch of a demonic entity. I was terrified.
The Joshua Ward House at 148 Washington St. in Salem was purchased by Lark Hotels and was transformed into a boutique hotel called “The Merchant” in 2015. Photo by Frank C. Grace.
After the incident, I refused to get too close to the haunted and potentially evil structure.
In 2015, the Joshua Ward House at 148 Washington St. was purchased by Lark Hotels and was transformed into a boutique hotel. Renamed “The Merchant,” the posh overnight haunt celebrates Salem’s rich maritime past. No mention of the reported ghosts and demonic entity allegedly lurking in the shadows of this chic new hot spot.
Are the new owners in complete denial of the structure’s haunted history? Probably.
Listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1978, the three-floor Federal-style building had a stint as the Washington Hotel in the late nineteenth century. It stood vacant for years and was restored in the late ’70s. When Carlson Realty moved into the historic house, mysterious events started to occur. Chairs, lampshades, trashcans and candlesticks would be found turned upside down when the staff arrived in the morning. Papers were strewn on the floor, and candles were bent in the shape of an “S.” One of the offices on the second floor is ice cold, a telltale sign of paranormal activity.
Why would the Joshua Ward House be haunted?
The structure was built on the foundation of Sheriff George Corwin’s old house, and many people believe the venerated sheriff’s spirit lingers at the 148 Washington St. locale. In fact, his body was buried beneath the building but was later interred at Broad Street Cemetery.
After mysteriously dying from a heart attack at age thirty, the younger Corwin was arguably the city’s most despised man and rightfully so. The then 20-something sheriff reportedly got a kick out of torturing the men and women accused of witchcraft. Although it was the uncle, Magistrate Jonathan Corwin, who tried and accused the innocents, it was the sick and twisted nephew who enforced the unjust verdicts.
“Sheriff Corwin was so disliked by the people of Salem, that when he died of a heart attack in 1696, his family didn’t dare bury him in the cemetery for fear he’d be dug up and his body torn limb from limb,” wrote Robert Ellis Cahill, himself a former Essex County sheriff turned author, in Haunted Happenings. Corwin’s cruelty is legendary. For example, he sent an officer to accused witch Mary Parker’s home in Andover on September 23, 1692, literally the day after her execution, demanding that her son fork over the dead woman’s farm and goods. Parker’s son, who was still mourning the loss of his mother, had to cough up a large sum of money to stop Corwin’s demands for corn, hay and cattle.
Luckily, the “Myths & Misconceptions” tour I lead on the weekends focused more on history and less on Salem’s ghosts. Oddly, many of the haunts from my past—including Essex Heritage’s main office at 10 Federal Street—ended up on the tour. Yes, Essex Heritage’s office had a past life as Salem’s Old Witch Gaol.
During the witch trials hysteria, the John Ward House was literally across the street from the dungeon and is reportedly haunted by tortured spirits from Salem’s 1692 past. Photo by Frank C. Grace.
The original dungeon in which the accused witches were held was constructed between 1683 and 1684. The subterranean jail was 70 by 280 feet and was made of hand-hewn, oak timbers and siding. The conditions in the prison were notoriously horrific. Prisoners were held in small cells with no bedding. There were no bars on the cells, but if the prisoners ran away from their punishment, they were generally caught and immediately executed.
Prisoners were charged for straw bedding and food, and if they could not afford them, they did without. Water was also withheld from prisoners since the Puritans believed they would be able to get more “confessions” if the prisoners were thirsty. The salaries of the sheriff, magistrate and hangman were also paid by the prisoners, and they were billed for cuffs and other bonds and even for the torturous acts of searching their bodies of witchery “marks” and getting their heads shaved in the process.
At least five died from the inhumane conditions in the dungeon. It’s also notoriously haunted.
There’s supposedly a prison guard–type apparition making his nightly rounds. His image has been caught on camera. Adam Page, investigator with F.I.N.D. Paranormal, said he has proof there’s an angry sentinel spirit guarding the former Witch Gaol site. “The old guard at 10 Federal Street is really angry,” said Page, a former case manager with Paranormal Salem. “We always run into his full-bodied apparition at that building.”
Page said during his days working at Paranormal Salem, he would get a bad vibe from the Colonial-era sentinel. “The full-bodied apparition we caught at 10 Federal was walking straight down the hallway,” Page explained. “He didn’t see us, so I think he’s more of a residual haunting. But he could be intelligent. If you look in the door, he walked right to left.”
I was happy to learn that the “Myths & Misconceptions” tour was based in the Salem Visitor Center on New Liberty Street and not the Old Witch Gaol location. And, yes, the old Salem Armory building is also allegedly haunted. However, it’s more of a residual energy relating to a five-alarm fire that destroyed most of the structure on February 22, 1982.
On one of my recent “Myths & Misconceptions” tours, a woman from California flipped out when I spoke in front of Salem's Town Hall. Home to the reenactment of Bridget Bishop’s trial called Cry Innocent, the historic structure is famous for the dance sequence in the movie Hocus Pocus. It’s also where I launched my third book, Ghosts of Salem: Haunts of the Witch City. The out-of-town visitor on my tour swore she saw two ghostly faces pressed against the window on the second floor of Town Hall as if they were intently listening to what I said. I nodded when she told me. "Yep, I know the ghosts of Salem are listening," I said followed by a nervous laugh. She had no clue what I've seen.
While Salem is a hotbed for paranormal activity, it wasn’t always an open-and-shut case when it came to my search for the most haunted crime scenes in Eastern Massachusetts. Not every murder scene is haunted. And not every victim turned psychic imprint is based on actual fact. In some cases, a horrific backstory was completely fabricated or twisted over time to explain the supernatural.
With a few haunts featured in 13 Most Haunted Crimes Scenes Beyond Boston, I had to dig deep for the skeletal secrets buried deep beneath the Bay State's blood-stained soil. Based purely on its unsubstantiated lore, some locations didn’t make the cut. However, it doesn’t always mean there isn’t some truth behind the legends.
Joni Mayhan, author of Bones in the Basement, believes that crime scenes have the potential for a residual haunting based purely on its bloody backstory. “I believe that locations of tragic events are more prone to a haunting than any other location.” she told me. “When a person dies unexpectedly, sometimes their soul doesn't pass through the white light as it should. The emotions surrounding the event often makes them balk. Sometimes when it happens suddenly, they don't even realize they've died. Other times, they remain because of a sense of guilt or a need to let others know what happened to them.”
Mayhan researched the history of the S.K. Pierce Victorian Mansion in Gardner while writing Bones in the Basement. According to multiple psychics who visited the location, a female escort was killed in the house. “Supposedly, a prostitute was murdered in the red room of the Haunted Victorian Mansion. Psychic mediums have picked up on her energy over and over again, giving the legend a sense of validity. However, no records show a woman who wasn't a member of the Pierce family dying in the mansion,” Mayhan explained.
“Could it have been covered up? Certainly. Wealth and power would provide them with far more means than if it happened to someone of lesser fortune. Some people feel that it happened later in the mansion's timeline, during the time when it was a boarding house or perhaps when it was vacant. If this was the case, she wasn't a resident of the mansion and her body was carried away before anyone could discover the murder,” Mayhan continued.
Some crime scenes, she said, aren’t haunted because the victims crossed over to the light. “I recently brought my Paranormal 101 class to the murder site of seventeen year-old Patricia Joyce. She disappeared in 1965 while taking a shortcut through the woods around Crystal Lake in Gardner,” Mayhan said. “Her body was found thirty feet from the pumping station. It was the first murder in Gardner in fifty-one years and remains unsolved to this day.”
Mayhan’s class attempted to reach out to the spirit to help solve the cold case. No luck. “Several of my students are talented psychic mediums and none of us were able to connect with Patty's soul. We believe she crossed over immediately, which is sometimes the case. Judging by the information we found in a blog that was written by her sister, Patty was a good girl who typically followed the rules in life. She probably wouldn't have resisted the white light and would have crossed over at the time of her death, like she was supposed to do. The imprint of her death was strong in the area, but we felt it was a residual energy that was absorbed by the location.”
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne met his wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, at a lavish dinner party at the Grimshawe House, 53 Charter Street, next to the Old Burying Point. Photo by Frank C. Grace.
However, not every paranormal expert believes extreme violence psychically imprints itself into the environment.
Michael Baker, a scientific investigator with the group Para-Boston, said there isn’t any rhyme or reason why a crime scene would be more paranormally active when compared to other Massachusetts-based haunts. “When we are speaking of interactions with activity alleged to be connected to the existing consciousness of human beings, I would think a more active history would always play a bigger role,” Baker explained. “However, in my findings I have not yet seen a correlation between the type of historic activity and proposed hauntings. Much of the connections of violent pasts to haunted locations seems to be more folklore than fact. I'm still not sure what elements of our daily lives leave the biggest impacts.”
In other words, Baker believes that a place like Lizzie Borden’s later-in-life home Maplecroft has as much potential to be paranormally active as the actual house on Second Street in Fall River where the murders occurred. “The claims of hauntings by the majority seems to be void of elements that directly tie to major historical events,” he said, using his data-focused NECAPS report as proof. “We never see Lincoln giving the Gettysburg address for example, and while the battlefields in Gettysburg do seem to produce alleged remnants of battles, that trait does not seem to continue in many other violent locations where paranormal activity is simply footsteps or doors closing,” Baker explained.
But some cities in Massachusetts, like Salem with its cursed witch trials past, are more prone to hauntings than others, right? Not exactly.
“People want to find patterns if something doesn’t make sense,” explained Margaret Press, a Salem-based crime writer and author of Counterpoint: A Murder in Massachusetts Bay. “Salem makes it easy for us to find these patterns because of historic accident. It’s not in the ground. It’s not in the air. It’s in ourselves.”
Press, who penned the essay “Salem as Crime Scene” in the book Salem: Place, Myth and Memory, talked about how thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to the city every October looking for “the occult, the weird and the unexplained,” and they find it. “Despite its name, from the Hebrew word for peace, the tourists who flock to the city are convinced the city is about witches and death,” Press wrote. “They buy mugs and T-shirts and wander the museums. But beneath it all they’re looking and listening. Salem battled him once. But is Satan really gone for good?”
In Press’s world, Salem’s emphasis on its “specters and spectacles” has a downside. “We’re not training our young people in critical thinking,” she said, slamming the city’s proliferation of so-called psychics and palm readers. “If people accept pseudo-science or crap science, there’s a real practical downside. It’s no better than 1692.”
However, Press did coin the phrase known as the “Salem factor,” which she used to explain the city’s abundance of bizarre synchronicities—like how the Great Fire of 1914 oddly started in the exact spot where nineteen innocents were hanged for witchcraft. However, the author believes there are rational explanations for the inexplicable. “We find coincidences and connections in the human experience here because we expect them,” she wrote. “We look for the extraordinary in events here and we see it.”
Press cites the controversy surrounding Fatima’s, a two-decade-old psychic studio in Salem, which made national headlines in 2013 after an employee charged a New York man $16,800 to protect him from a curse, as proof of society’s gullibility to Salem’s “boo! business.” For the record, the man was reimbursed based on a city ordinance stating that psychics can only forecast the future and read the past. Curses are apparently off-limits.
Christian Day, owner of two witch-themed shops in Salem who recently moved back home to New Orleans, didn’t like how a local police detective categorized Fatima’s Romani style of fortunetelling as fraudulent. “If they’re a fraud, then we’re all frauds, and all religion is a fraud,” Day told the Boston Globe on October 31, 2013. “They’re not regulating the priest who absolves you of your sins and tells you to put some money in the collection basket, or the old lady who sends all of her money to Pat Robertson. They pick on us for one reason: They’re afraid of us. They’ve always been afraid of us.”
Oddly, Press herself made similar headlines when she included a section in her book Counterpoint suggesting that legendary Salem witch Laurie Cabot divined the whereabouts of murder victim Martha Brailsford in 1991. The local legend supposedly gave a tip to police about the local woman’s accused perpetrator, Tom Maimoni, and then continued to put a binding spell on him. “Laurie closed her eyes and pictured Tom Maimoni in a white cocoon, bound up in a thread of light,” Press wrote. When asked about the section in her book about Cabot, Press shrugged it off. “The press picked up on it and made it sound like Laurie Cabot cracked the case,” Press responded. “She didn’t.”
The Samuel Pickman House, located on the corner of Charter and Liberty Streets, is said to be home to an evil entity connected to a horrific murder committed centuries ago. Photo by Frank C. Grace.
Nestled next to the highly trafficked Charter Street Cemetery in Salem, the Samuel Pickman House is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum. Tour groups, including my weekly “Myths & Misconceptions” tour pass this historic building, and passersby peek through its windows. Several people believe they’ve seen a full-bodied apparition of a girl peering from the upper-floor window. Others claim the small Colonial-era structure is home to a demonic entity that manifests in photos taken through the seventeenth-century building’s old-school windows.
One ghastly story tells of a husband and wife who lived in the Samuel Pickman House with their seven-year-old daughter. Similar to the demonic infestation in Stephen King’s The Shining, an evil entity is rumored to have caused the husband to go insane.
According to legend, the man chained his daughter up in the attic, torturing and starving the child. He then tied his wife to a tree outside and killed her by pouring hot wax over her body, leaving her to die a slow, painful death. The possessed man then fled, leaving the dead child in the attic and his murdered-by-wax wife tied to the tree.
People on my walking tours who have taken photos of the house claim it is still inhabited by a demonic force. There are many reports of the ghost of the young girl looking out the attic window at the crowds below.
After doing exhaustive historical research, I found no real proof to suggest that the story of the murder or the supposed demonic infestation at the house is true. However, the building is a surefire hot spot of photographic anomalies, ranging from orbs to a mist that envelops the structure.
Next to the Samuel Pickman House is the Witch Trials Memorial and the old cemetery. My most profound encounter in Salem several years ago was at the Old Burying Point on Charter Street. I spotted a full-bodied apparition of a lady in white coming from what I learned later was the gravestone of Giles Corey’s second wife, Mary. It’s my theory that Mary Corey’s residual energy is looking for her husband. She’s heading oddly toward the very spot located at the present-day Howard Street Cemetery where the stubborn but determined old man was crushed to death. Yes, love does exist in the afterlife.
While historians have agreed that Corey was pressed to death near the Old Salem Jail, they’ve been unsure about the execution site where nineteen innocent men and women were hanged for witchcraft in 1692.
Apparently, “x” does mark the spot and it’s located behind a Walgreen’s.
Salem earned international ink, once again, in early 2016 after a crew of experts supposedly pinpointed the exact location of the gallows. For the record, I wrote about the “Proctor’s Ledge” location in 2013. “One piece of new evidence emerged from court notes dating back to August 1692,” I wrote in Ghosts of Salem. “Rebecca Eames, a woman suspected of witchcraft who was taken from her home in Boxford, said she saw the gallows from Boston Street while on her way to downtown Salem. The latest theory is that the true site is located behind the Walgreen’s located at 59 Boston Street.”
It was this historical document from Eames that was used to identify the location of Gallows Hill.
As far as how they were executed, historians aren’t sure if the hangings were on locust trees, which were probably not strong enough for an execution, or if the accused were hanged from traditional gallows. “Contemporary accounts make clear that the prisoners uttered their last words, with nooses around their necks, from ladders,” wrote Frances Hill in Hunting for Witches. “When the ladder was pushed away from whatever it was leaning on, they died a slow, painful death. But whether the ladder was supported by a branch or a scaffold, the sources do not say.”
There is also debate about the skeletal remains of the victims. “Bone fragments have been found,” said a representative from the Peabody Essex Museum about an excavation at Gallows Hill Park, “but we’ll never really know what they were from.” At least three victims from 1692—Rebecca Nurse, John Proctor and George Jacobs—were brought back by relatives, salvaged in the wee hours of the night and given a proper burial. The remains of the other seventeen victims, which have been the subject of rumors that they were exhumed and relocated by wealthy merchant Phillip English and other theories claiming they were buried beneath the cellar of a church in nearby Marblehead, are believed to be dumped in either a ditch or within the rocky crevices of Proctor’s Ledge.
Bridget Bishop was the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials of 1692. During the hysteria, 72 people were accused and 20 people were executed. Photo by Frank C. Grace.
Kathryn Rutkowski, visitor services manager with Essex Heritage and creator of the “Myths & Misconceptions” tour, brought me to the granite bench honoring the first victim executed in Salem during the 1692 witch trials hysteria. Her name? Bridget Bishop.
Bishop lived in Salem Village (present-day Danvers) but owned property on the eastern side of Salem’s current Washington and Church Streets. As far as witchcraft, several men accused her of dabbling in the dark arts. John Cook Jr., an eighteen-year-old who lived on Essex Street, just opposite First Church, claimed he was awakened one morning by Bishop’s specter, which was grinning at him. She “struck me on the side of the head, which did hurt me very much,” he claimed. Bishop allegedly returned and caused an apple to fly from Cook’s hand into his mother’s lap.
Cook’s neighbor, Samuel Shattuck, testified that Bishop’s lacy garb was un-Christian, and when she visited the Stattuck home, their son began crying and became “stupefied and devoid of reason.” Born Bridget Playfer, Bishop married Samuel Wasselbee and had two children. Her entire family, husband and children, died under mysterious circumstances. In 1664, Bishop married Thomas Oliver and had a daughter, Christian. Oliver also died, and Bishop remarried to Edward Bishop, hence her namesake.
Yes, the woman had a checkered past.
She was known as a penny pincher, and a local Salem woman claimed in 1682 that Bishop’s specter, with Alice Parker, who was also accused and executed as a witch, pulled her down to the beach and tried to drown her. Of course, this was ten years before the trials and a precursor to the accusations that would ultimately lead to her demise on June 10, 1692.
Historically, Bishop is credited with running a scandalous tavern near the present-day Lyceum. However, it’s more likely that she’s been confused over time with Sarah and Edward Bishop, who ran a watering hole out of their home down the street. They were sent to Boston’s less-strict jail and managed to escape.
Bridget Bishop wasn’t so lucky.
At her trial on March 24, 1692, several witnesses testified that a poltergeist attack took place as Bishop was being taken past the town meetinghouse, a stone’s throw from her Salem home and the present-day location of Turner’s Seafood at Lyceum Hall. “A demon invisibly entered the meeting house, tore down part of it, so there was no person to be seen, yet the people, at the noise, running in, found a board which was strongly fastened with several nails, transported into another quarter of the house,” wrote one eyewitness. In other words, spirits were supposedly active during the thirteen months of mass hysteria and were so powerful that a wooden board levitated across the room.
My first paranormal experience in Salem involved Bishop. Soon after I wrote Ghosts of Boston, I signed on to give historical-based ghost tours of my own in a city that both excited and terrified me. I let Salem’s spirits guide me. I had several odd experiences outside of Lyceum Hall, which was said to be Bridget Bishop’s tavern. However, it was her orchard. An apple mysteriously rolled out of nowhere in the alley behind what is now Turner’s Seafood. I looked up. No one was there. I accepted it as a peace offering from Bishop.
My perceptions of Bishop has changed since my first encounter with what I believed to be her ghost in 2013.
Rutkowski and I talked about the misconceptions associated with the only victim hanged alone. “Out of all of the executions, we know the most about Bridget,” Rutkowski told me in early June which was oddly the day before the anniversary of Bishop’s murder. Rutkowski and I started tearing up when we talked about the crimes against humanity that unfolded in Salem in 1692. “They could have just put the noose around Bridget’s neck and killed her instantly,” she emoted. “But they didn’t. The executioners actually positioned the noose so she would die a slow, horrible death. She was hanging in the gallows—convulsing and losing control of her bowels—in front of a crowd of people. They were publicly shaming her before they killed her.”
As we talked, I fought to hold back the tears. I was shivering in the beauty and the madness of the moment. I had the ultimate realization. The most haunted crime scene in Massachusetts? I was standing in the middle of New England’s deepest, darkest secret. It’s Salem.