By Josh Bishop
It’s almost autumn in the Northeast. As usual, the season promises to bring plenty of good cheer: crisp night air, the brilliance of changing leaves, pumpkin and apple harvests, football, and Thanksgiving dinners. But it isn’t all sunshine and laughter.
Autumn is also the season of Halloween, when malevolent spirits haunt the hills and nighttime heebie-jeebies can be found in nearly every shadow. The ancients have long believed that on one night a year (at one point called All Hallows Eve) the barrier between this world and the next grows thin enough that spirits from beyond can pass through.
If only such hauntings were limited to one night. Those in the know realize that otherworldly spirits aren’t limited to Halloween. We can be bedeviled at any moment.
So sit back, dim the lights, and hold your loved ones close as we tour sites that will make your blood run cold.
Halifax is a pleasant enough tour destination — if you don’t mind a few disembodied spirits.
The city, they say, has been haunted for centuries. With more than 400 years of history, it’s no surprise that Nova Scotia’s legends and folktales are full of poltergeists and troubled souls. Many of these stories are grounded in the province’s capital city.
Take the Cathedral Church of All Saints, for example. Since his death in 1933, the figure of John Llwyd, a former dean, has been seen roaming the church. The spirit was first seen by several people who knew him well; today, he is reputed to wander throughout the church, where his ghostly figure is frequently seen standing on the altar itself.
At St. Michael’s Church, the specter of an elderly man can be seen until visitors approach and he suddenly vanishes. If that isn’t enough, the church organ occasionally plays by the touch of unseen hands. In the upper windows of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, meanwhile, groups may be able to spy the image of a parishioner who was killed in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, when a French cargo ship, the SS Mont-Blanc, fully loaded with wartime explosives, collided with another ship in the Halifax Harbor.
The explosion killed 2,000 people and injured another 9,000 as debris and fire ripped through the city, collapsing buildings, snapping trees, and bending iron rails along the way. The buildings along the shore effectively disappeared. It’s a wonder that there aren’t more restless souls wandering the city streets at night.
Not that Halifax needs more ghosts. Advise your driver to be careful on Terrance Bay Road, where the image of a disheveled old man appears directly in front of vehicles at night. Passengers should be wary, too, as the man has appeared in the backseat of at least one vehicle. Pray your motorcoach isn’t next.
In the Brewery Market, the ghost of brewer Alexander Keith haunts the building, where disembodied footsteps can be heard in the hallways. In a cluster of historic properties on the Halifax waterfront, shadowy figures can be seen after dark — both inside and outside — and spirits in obsolete clothing frequent the shadowed alleys until approached. In addition, the Halifax Armory is home to the ghost of a World War I-era Canadian soldier.
Even the waters surrounding Nova Scotia are plagued with apparitions. In the Northumberland Strait, which separates the province from Prince Edward Island, a phantom sailing ship plys the water while on fire from bow to stern. Closer to Halifax, on McNab’s Island, the headless ghost of Peter McNab wanders about while a spectral horse and carriage race through the streets at night.
Groups can arrange for a ghost walk tour of Halifax through Tattle Tours of Nova Scotia. Contact the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism for additional information about ghost and graveyard tours throughout the province.
South of the border, Salem, Mass., is famous for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Let’s face it: there’s nothing like several hanged witches to mark a city as a place of spiritual unrest.
A quick recap for those who aren’t up-to-date on their witchcraft history: In 1692, two girls (ages 9 and 11) began to behave strangely. They screamed, threw things around the room, contorted themselves into strange positions, complained of being pinched and pricked with pins, and crawled under the furniture — all classic signs of possession or haunting. When the symptoms began to spread to other young women in Salem Village, court trials were held to investigate accusations of witchcraft. After the fog lifted, more than 150 people had been arrested and imprisoned and 26 had been tried and condemned. Nineteen
people were hanged and one was crushed to death beneath heavy stones.
While touring Salem, groups can visit several sites associated with the famous witch trials, including the Corwin House. Commonly known as the Witch House, the structure was built before 1675 and was home to Judge Jonathan Corwin, the magistrate during the trials.
The other locations associated with the Salem Witch Trials have been torn down; devoted groups may wish to seek out a series of historical plaques that mark their location and importance. While traveling around town, groups can also visit three
local cemeteries, each with intimate ties to Salem’s past.
Jonathan Corwin and his brother George, the high sheriff of Essex County in 1692, are both buried in the Broad Street Cemetery, while the Charter Street Cemetery holds the grave of magistrate John Hathorne, the great-great grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Finally, the Howard Street Cemetery is reportedly the site of Giles Corey’s death. Corey was pressed to death beneath stones after refusing to stand trial.
All of this history is preserved and interpreted at the Salem Witch Museum, which uses life-size figures, lighting, and narration to bring the Colonial town alive. Reduced rates are available for groups of 10 or more.
The Witches Cottage combines local history with live performances and interactive multimedia. Group members can see a Puritan make a pact with the devil, hear testimony from the Salem Witch Trials, and shudder as a Windego, a creature from Native American mythology, makes its way toward the audience.
Cry Innocent is a must-see play for any group visiting Salem. The continuously running show re-creates the 1692 trial of Bridget Bishop, the first person executed for witchcraft in Salem, and audience members are asked to participate as members of the Puritan jury that decides her fate after hearing historical testimonies and cross-examining the witnesses. Throughout the show, actors respond to comments and questions without breaking character, giving groups a compelling look into the motivations
of the historical figures.
Salem’s most popular event is Haunted Happenings, a month-long Halloween celebration scheduled from Oct. 1–31, 2010. The streets are sure to be packed with witches, ghosts, and goblins as the city opens its doors to all things unholy. Contact the Salem Office of Tourism for suggestions about haunted walking tours, haunted houses, and spooky attractions such as the Witch Dungeon Museum, Salem Wax Museum, the re-created Pioneer Village, and Spirits of the Gables at the House of the Seven Gables.
As much as people might like to believe that ghosts wander the halls of every haunted house, we all know that most seasonal haunted house attractions are populated not by wraiths but by teenagers in rubber masks wielding fake knives. Which doesn’t make them any less scary, of course.
Ghostly Manor in Sandusky, Ohio, is a particularly popular (and particularly frightening) haunted house. Here, group members can wind their way through a recreated old mansion, filled with all of the dark corners, gruesome props, and startling encounters that make haunted houses such thrilling, breath-catching fun. The fright fest uses new props and scares each season to ensure that the chills are fresh and up-to-date — and that the screams are both loud and frequent.
Other haunted houses are the real deal. According to local lore, the historic 1856 Octagon House in Fond du Lac, Wis., has been haunted for more than a century. The architecturally curious home — with 12 rooms, nine passageways, and an eight-sided shape — was originally an Indian fort and trading post, later serving as a safe house for runaway slaves. While visiting for a Full Moon Paranormal Tour (including dinner by candlelight) groups can hear stories about the strange happenings in the house.
In addition to ghostly tours of the Octagon House, group members are likely to find compelling ghost tours in cities and towns throughout the Northeast — anywhere people have experienced something of the supernatural, inexplicable, or just plain creepy.
Most of these places, including Philadelphia, are packed to the gills with history, legend, and lore. The Eastern State Penitentiary is easily one of the scariest places in Philly, with an annual haunted house held within the walls of America’s first penitentiary, which opened in 1829. And if the Halloween spook-fest isn’t enough, there are credible rumors that the prison is really, truly haunted. Terror Behind the Walls is scheduled for select nights from Sept. 17–Nov. 6, 2010; discounts are available to groups of 20 or more on designated nights only.
Philadelphia Ghost Tour provides a Haunted Trolley Tour that visits more than 20 sites, with departure and exploration at three. A Candlelight Walking Tour, on the other hand, explores the back streets and mysterious gardens of Society Hill and Independence Park on foot. While on a tour, group members can figure out who haunts America’s first hospital, the history of burials at the Washington Square cemetery, the spirits that frequent Independence Hall, and Edgar Allen Poe’s Philadelphia legacy. Visit http://www.ghosttour.net for more information.•