Haunted Boston: Four Frightening Spots Downtown

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Posted November 12, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Downtown Boston
It's said that not all guests have checked out of the reputedly haunted Omni Parker House Hotel.

Halloween may be over, but Boston is home to as many scary (and supposedly true) stories as there are days in a year. Of course, tales of haunted Boston are bound to arise: Ours is one of the oldest cities in the country! So we delved into the real Hub history that birthed reputed tales of hauntings at a few notable downtown locations: an iconic hotel, a famous home, a prominent theater … and even a very important public park. Read on, but be warned: We don’t recommend these to be used as bedtime stories.

Omni Parker House Hotel

The historic Omni Parker House is America’s oldest continuously operating hotel, so it should come as no surprise that there are many, many stories about guests who have taken up permanent paranormal residence (in fact, the hotel proudly shares many of them on its Web site)! Among them is, supposedly, the ghost of founder Harvey Parker, seen wandering in period garb most frequently on the 10th floor, where his apparition, plus strange mists, orbs of light, and the sound of a nonexistent rocking chair, have been spotted on more than one occasion. There are other strange phenomena too. For instance, the hotel elevators have been known to frequently stop on the third floor, even when no button is pushed. That floor does have a lot of history. It’s where Charlotte Cushman, a famous stage actress of the mid-1800s, died of pneumonia in her hotel room (and ghosts do have a flair for the dramatic). The third floor is also where, legend has it, a businessman committed suicide in room 303, now converted to a supply closet, in the 1940s. His voice, and the smell of his cigars, are said to still appear now and then. And it’s also interesting to note that’s the third floor where Charles Dickens took up temporary residence when writing A Christmas Carol.

Old Burying Ground

The Boston Common isn’t as peaceful as you may think. Photo Credit: Bill Llott.

Boston Common

Who said “haunted Boston” applies only to the indoors? We hate to freak you out when you’re trying to squeeze in a few final Frisbee-in-the-park days, but Boston Common itself is said to have some resident spooks. The Common was the site of many hangings back in the Puritan days. Supposed witches (those pre-dating the accused at Salem), pirates, and Quakers were all executed here. To add insult to injury, their bodies were often left unburied on the Common—family members would come back in the middle of the night and hurriedly bury them. Which is why, during the construction of America’s first subway in 1895, the remains of about 900 unidentified bodies were found. (They were relocated to a mass grave in the Central Burying Ground on the Common, and the cemetery has since been—surprise!—the site of supposed ghostly encounters.) Though strangely enough, the most oft-glimpsed specters here have seemingly no relation to these stories: It’s a pair of women, dressed in the style of the early 1800s, seen strolling arm in arm through the Common. The same description pops up in numerous paranormal reports about the park, but no explanation has ever been offered as to their identities.

The Cutler Majestic Theatre

Constructed in 1903, the Emerson College-owned Cutler Majestic has a couple of hammy ghosts on the property. They seem to enjoy sitting in the balcony, around which many of the reports revolve: from sightings of a little girl (who takes small gifts left for her) to a married couple still watching performances from the hereafter. There’s also a long-standing rumor that a former mayor of Boston died in the balcony during a performance, but no public records seem to exist to confirm this. And since he was, you know, a mayor, that’s the hardest part of the story to believe. Backstage, you can find an area labeled “The Nightmare Room,” so dubbed because casts and crews of productions at the theater have reported a supposedly overwhelming sense of pressure, claustrophobia, and panic known to suddenly set in on the unsuspecting. Also reported throughout the theater: cold spots, a sense of being watched (when you’re not on stage), and strange power outages.

The Parkman House

It’s impressive but unobtrusive from the outside. But walk in the front door, and the Beacon Hill Parkman House at 33 Beacon Street is an opulent, rambling, 9,000-square-foot mansion. It is now owned by the city, and often is used as an unofficial second home for officials who need to host swank soirees and entertain, say, visiting presidents. But it is associated with one of the more sordid stories of haunted Boston. It’s the former home of George Parkman, a wealthy doctor who was part of Boston’s elite Brahmin clan. On November 23, 1849, John Webster, a chemistry professor who had borrowed $400 from Parkman, murdered Parkman at Harvard Medical College. He paid Parkman back by cutting his body into small pieces and trying to hide the remains, including burning some pieces and dumping others in a toilet. On November 23, 1999, exactly 150 years after Parkman’s death and just before the house was to host a major mayoral event, a broken toilet flooded the third floor. In his book Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub, author Sam Baltrusis reports the quote that the Parkman House’s then-director of tourism shared with the Boston Globe at the time: “Maybe the ghost of Dr. Parkman came to visit last night.”

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