Few places in the world have as ghostly a reputation as New England. It’s the region that gave us Stephen King and the Cthulhu Mythos. It also has some of the oldest post-colonial settlements in the US, and along with them some of the oldest graveyards.
Half a millennium has been plenty of time for those cemeteries to gather creepy reputations. These weird stories of haunting in New England’s burial grounds could provide plenty of inspiration for any aspiring horror writer.
10 South Street Cemetery
If you’re making an extra special effort to ensure your cemetery ends up haunted, then one way to go about it is to conduct hangings there. If you then combine your graveyard hangings with shocking injustice, you’re almost guaranteed to end up with a restless spirit or two. The people of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, also threw in some axe murder victims for that extra bit of horror, plus the only fatal sword duel in the town’s history. Put all of that together and you get the “of course it’s haunted” South Street Cemetery.
Ghost hunters note a lot of activity around the grave of Ruth Blay, a schoolteacher that fell pregnant outside of marriage in 1768. She was scared to tell anyone, and eventually delivered the baby stillborn. She buried the body beneath her school’s floorboards, but one of her pupils saw her. The child told her parents about it, and Ruth was arrested and sentenced to death for murder.
That’s awful enough by itself. However, this particular cake of systemic injustice comes frosted with an epic level of being the worst person possible, in the form of Sheriff Thomas Packer. On the day Ruth was due to be hanged, word spread that a reprieve was being sought from the governor. Packer, however, wanted to have his lunch at noon and so brought the execution forward by an hour. Despite Ruth’s screams, and protests from the crowd, he looped a noose around her neck and ordered the cart to be drawn from underneath her.
Within minutes, a horse messenger arrived carrying a pardon from the governor. Packer had already left, and Ruth Blay was already dead. Later that day, the townspeople burnt an effigy of Packer outside of his house. Paranormalists claim that cameras stop working around the area where Ruth Blay was buried, and that two nearby graves glow. Some people suggest that both she and her baby haunt the place.
Researchers also claim to have experienced activity around the graves of two young women who were murdered by a German named Luis Wagner. He strangled the women and attacked them with an axe until the handle broke. He was hanged in Maine in 1875. The women became known as the Smuttynose murder victims.
9 Howard Street Cemetery
If we say “Salem,” you immediately think of the city’s famous witch trials, which marked a low point in our collective humanity. The ghosts of those executed have every right to be angry. Among them is Giles Corey, an 80-year-old man that was crushed to death for refusing to plead his guilt or innocence. He is buried in Howard Street Cemetery in Salem, and locals claim his ghost can be seen wandering around the place.
Also, he’s out for revenge. Witnesses saw the ghostly form of an old man floating through the cemetery in 1914. Shortly afterwards, a fire began on Gallows Hill, where Corey’s wife had been hanged. The blaze destroyed 1,376 buildings and left 18,000 people homeless. It is said that Corey always appears shortly before something bad happens.
The cemetery is bordered on one side by Salem’s Old Jail. Before it closed in 1991, it was the oldest operating jail in the country. It’s now been converted into houses, but when it was empty, many tales spoke of spooky goings-on. People walking in the cemetery claimed to see lights from the building’s windows, even though the electricity had been shut off. People also saw figures moving around, and heard voices and screams.
Some of these figures wore civil war uniforms, and could apparently pass through walls. Those ghosts may have moved out when the place was renovated, but some of the apartments offer a view directly over the graveyard. You can rent one for a couple of thousand a month and keep an eye out for Giles. If you see him, maybe skip town for a few days?
8 Goodleburg Cemetery
Doctor Albert Speaker from the town of Wales, New York was famous for his clumsy, botched abortions. He performed the procedures in his house opposite the entrance to Goodleburg Cemetery around the turn of the 20th century, and they rarely ended well.
When women died during the operations, Dr Speaker dumped their bodies in a (presumably very deep) cemetery pond. People claim that bones still wash up there. Later in life, Speaker became a suspect in a woman’s murder. He died before he could be tried, hanging himself from a tree in the graveyard.
Speaker is now said to wander the graveyard in his white doctor’s coat. The murder victim, Helen Lindeman, is said to stalk the place in black. The ghosts of women that died during abortions have also been reported. The oddest and most disturbing stories are of people seeing phantom fetuses crawling around the cemetery ground, amid cries of children and weeping women.
All of these tales have brought on a huge number of ghost hunters. On top of the usual screaming at the air and running around, the hunters have been reported to engage in turf wars. The investigators have committed significant vandalism. Police have been forced to patrol the graveyard on Halloween and ban parking in all nearby roads. For the people of Wales, it seems, the living are the real nuisance.
7 Pine Hill Cemetery
When your name is Mr. Blood, you have little choice but to pursue a career in the dark arts, or possibly murder. According to legend, Abel Blood of New Hampshire did both. He was buried in Pine Hill Cemetery, Hollis, in 1867. During his lifetime he was said to practice black magic, and to have massacred his family.
The graveyard is often called Blood Cemetery because of that particular resident. During the day he is said to be in hell. During the night, he rises and stalks the cemetery. A finger on his tombstone allegedly points upward during the day but downward at night. Paranormal researcher Fiona Broome claims that her camera won’t work in the cemetery due to mystical forces, so no photographs document this.
The cemetery is closed during the night, and at Halloween it is heavily patrolled by authorities. While they may be there to keep away troublesome ghost hunters, maybe they’re trying to keep a more sinister enemy keep at bay. The Bible says “Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance.” Lose the possessive in that sentence and that’s a warning if ever we’ve heard one.
6 Eastern Cemetery, Portland
During the War of 1812, the United States captured the ship HMS Boxer from the British. The captain of Boxer, Commander Samuel Blyth, died during the attack, as did his American counterpart William Burroughs. They were buried next to each other in the Eastern Cemetery of Portland, Maine, in September 1813. Both men received full military honors.
While the sentiment was nice, the two still don’t get on. Their ghosts are said to rise from their graves each night and yell at each another. They’re dressed in full naval uniform, so they may be arguing about who’s the better commander. Sadly, you’ll never get to ask them, because they disappear into mist whenever the living approach.
5 Rehoboth Village Cemetery
The rudest ghost on this list resides in Rehoboth Village Cemetery in Massachusetts. The cemetery is from the 17th century, but its most famous spiritual resident came along a couple of hundred years later. Ephraim, as he is known, is an old fellow that dresses in 19th century clothing. He has dark sockets instead of eyes, but it’s his behavior rather than his appearance which makes him stand out.
Ephraim sneers at everyone, and he has a particular distaste for women. He yells vulgarities, makes obscene gestures, and pounds on car windows. Not even other ghosts are safe. One witness said she heard him yelling the name Catherine. She was scared, so she fled, but when she turned back she saw Ephraim kneeling over the ghost of a woman. Ephraim was beating her, and then they vanished.
4 The White Lady Of Connecticut
Union Cemetery is home to a famous ghost of uncertain origin. The ghost there is known as the White Lady, and she’s earned the cemetery the label of the most haunted place in the state. She drifts between Union Cemetery and another one, slightly down the road, called Stepney Cemetery.
Some people say she died in childbirth and is searching for her child. Others believe she was murdered at some point near the start of the 19th century. She wears a white dress, and she tends to appear in the road beside the cemetery. Cars have apparently swerved to avoid hitting her. One fireman claims he did hit her, and she left a dent on his truck. When he got out she was gone.
One of the main proponents of the White Lady story is Lorraine Warren. She and her late husband Ed gained fame researching the Amityville Haunting, which went on to inspire numerous books and movies. They claim to have captured the White Lady on video, forming from mist. Warren says “there is too much evidence to think otherwise, it’s real.” Many who have seen the Warrens’ evidence disagree. The president of New England Skeptical Society, Steven Novella, is among them. You can’t judge the evidence for yourself, because Warren won’t let anyone examine it in too much detail. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from that.
3 Pine Grove Cemetery
Dragon Obretenoff is the man with both the name and the life history to end up as a ghost. He was a Bulgarian immigrant who owned two restaurants in the New York town of Massena. He was shot and killed in 1949 when a hunter mistook him for a deer. Dragon was buried in the local Pine Grove cemetery, and his grave has become the focal point for local ghost hunters.
One couple walking their dog through the cemetery were discussing the grave when they heard someone behind them hiss, “Turn around!” They didn’t turn around, and instead fled from the cemetery as quickly as they could.
Other reports include the usual electronic interference, including of the scanners in police cars passing by. Yet one of the more unusual claims is that the cemetery is home to “shadow people. “Local police officers and a local ghost hunting group both claim to have seen dark figures flittering around the graveyard in the early hours of the morning. Local paranormal organization the Shadow Chasers claim the creatures feed on the energy of the local street lamps.
2 Old Burying Yard
The Old Burying Yard in York, Maine is home to a bunch of graves that hint at restless spirits. One young man’s inscriptions warns at the danger of leaving repentance till your death bed. The place is also said to be home to dozens of victims of an infamous massacre, the Raid of York in 1692.
But most of the stories about the place involve the grave of Mary Nasson, often called the White Witch of York. During her life she was a herbalist, but also an exorcist. When she died at 29, her husband Samuel buried her and placed granite slab above her grave. Rumors say it keeps her from getting out, but a cemetery placard insists it simply keep away pigs and cattle.
The residents of the town have reported seeing her wandering around. She’s been said to visit the children at a nearby daycare, and to push others on the swings at a local school. Crows that hang around the cemetery in summertime are said to be Mary’s familiars, there to pay her tribute in the form of droppings on her gravestone.
1 Vampire Cemetery
The graveyard behind the Plain Meeting House Baptist Church in West Greenwich, Rhode Island doesn’t have an official name. But it earned the nickname “Vampire Cemetery” from Nellie Vaughn, a woman that died in 1889. She has a local reputation as a vampire, as her grave is sunken and her stone reads “I am waiting and watching for you.”
Nellie was not a vampire. In fact, the “vampires” of New England weren’t even blood sucking undead. The word referred to victims of consumption—the old name for tuberculosis—who then had their bodies exhumed. People would burn the hearts and liver of the dead and inhale the fumes, believing this would offer some protection from the disease.
Nellie died of pneumonia, not tuberculosis, so she was never exhumed. She’s also very unhappy with people thinking she’s a vampire, so her ghost has come back to set things straight. One local, Marlene Chatfield, claims to have had several experiences with the ghost. In one instance, Chatfield was near the grave with her husband when she heard a young woman’s voice say, “I am perfectly pleasant.” Then her husband’s face was attacked, and got covered in red scratches.
In another incident, Chatfield claims she met a young woman from an historical society at the cemetery. When the woman was stood beside the grave, her demeanor suddenly changed, and she repeated the phrase “Nellie is not a vampire” several times. The photos of the grave she took on that occasion came out reversed, while the rest of the film roll was fine. Chatfield never saw the possessed young woman again.
Nellie’s grave has been removed because it was vandalized. The grave is now unmarked and impossible to find, unless you already know where it is. Or you walk across it by accident and Nellie tries to rip your face off.
When Alan was a teenager, a girl he had a crush on insisted on holding on to him while walking through a cemetery because she found the place creepy. He’s been a proponent of scary ghost stories in graveyards ever since. You can pester him on Twitter.