Doucette is an expert storyteller and Boston history enthusiast who works in publishing by day and shows his guests a side of Boston that they haven't seen –– the paranormal side –– by night.
All of the stories have documented facts to back them up, Hillary Kidd, the founder of Haunted Boston, said. To find the stories, she did lots of research. “We looked at primary sources to make sure we were telling the truth and it wasn't just smoke and mirrors.”
Kidd started the company five years ago. “I thought that for being an old city, [ Boston ] was really lacking in ghost tours,” she said. All of the stories she found won't fit in the hour and a half long tour, so the best and the scariest have stuck.
“This is a side of Boston that you'd never know about, visitor and tour-goer Robert Gomez said. “It definitely speaks to how old the city is.”
Christopher Balzano, a paranormal researcher and author, said, “If you want to learn about a town, go and see the ghost tour. It's a better way to learn about a town.”
Paranormal events can be used to teach about history because the events are usually rooted in historical fact, Balzano said. “If we have a location, and a back story, it's much more believable. If it didn't have physical things attached to it we would think it is an urban legend.”
“Its people's experiences that make a haunting what it is,” Balzano said.
The guides of Haunted Boston weave the city's popular history in with that of its paranormal activity. Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States , established in 1634 after Puritans colonists bought the 44 acres from an Anglican Minister named William Blaxton, who had been part of an earlier failed expedition to colonize America .
A condition of the sale, however, was that the common cannot be owned by any individual, but can only be used by the people.
Through the years, the Common has been used for grazing livestock, recreation, protest and leisure, but on the Haunted Boston tour, guests are exposed to the intangible side of the area.
“This is a tour that's meant to creep you out,” Doucette said.
The ground rumbles and there is a faint shrieking as the Green Line rolls underfoot. It's the ideal entrance for Doucette's first haunted story about Boston 's subway.
In digging the holes for the Green Line tracks, the city came across a gruesome discovery: hundreds of mangled and haphazardly de-limbed bodies strewn along the Boylston Street side of the Common.
But who were they?
It was the mass grave of British casualties from the Revolutionary War when the red coats occupied Boston .
And the freaky part?
When the Green Line opened, trolley drivers reported seeing men in red coats on the tracks between Boylston and Arlington Street , Doucette said, and the trolleys are known to stop for no apparent reason on that same section of track.
The mass grave of British soldiers is only a fraction of the total number of skeletons resting in the Common. The bikers, joggers and couples passing through the grassy getaway may be treading on bones.
But the graves are not all at rest, and one particular tombstone was the cause of a Tuft's University dental student's worst nightmare in the 1970s.
While taking grave rubbings one night, the student looked up from his work to find a young shoeless girl in a soiled white dress staring at him, Doucette said. The girl disappeared, but reappeared at each corner of the burial ground within a split second.
He bolted to the police station and reported the encounter. The police officer, intrigued, returned to the burial ground to find that the student had been taking a rubbing on the grave of a young girl, who upon further investigation had suffered a painful death during a tuberculosis outbreak in the city.
Painful deaths and restless souls are the theme for the night as Doucette deftly maneuvered his way through the stories. He was informative, engaging and eerie.
There was little talking among the group walking behind Doucette to his next haunted story telling platform: the Parkman Grandstand.
Doucette launches into the story of the murder of Dr. George Parkman, a wealthy Boston moneylender known for his strict management of the money he lent.
In 1849 Dr. Parkman went missing. A week after his disappearance, a janitor at the Harvard Medical School found human bones in the lab of chemistry professor John Webster, a known client of Dr. Parkman's money lending.
The bones were identified as Dr. Parkman's when his dentist sat as a witness and showed that Parkman's grotesquely unique jaw bone molding taken from a prior visit matched the jaw bone found in Webster's lab. Webster was convicted of murder and hanged.
After the trial, to suppress Dr. Parkman's miserly reputation, the Parkman family donated money to have the Parkman Grandstand erected in the Boston Common.
Hangings were hardly uncommon in the Common. A large elm tree called the Great Elm stood not far from the Parkman Grandstand and was used for hanging murderers, pirates, thieves and witches throughout the 18th century. The tree was destroyed in a storm, but a plaque remains where it stood.
Doucette stood over the plaque telling the story of three Boston women who were found guilty of practicing witchcraft and were hung from the Great Elm. After hangings from the Great Elm, if the family of the deceased didn't claim the body, it was thrown in the Charles River to let nature take its course, Doucette said.
If the family wanted the body for a Christian burial, they had to come forward to admit that the deceased person did in fact commit the crime they did. However, in many cases, the family would not want to come forward to admit to the crime, so they would sneak into the Common at night, cut the body from the tree, take it to a far corner of the park, dig a shallow hole, and toss some dirt over the corpse.
“How do we know this?” Doucette asked his tour. “This park has been around since 1634 and they've put a lot of new additions in –– a parking garage, monuments and of course, guess what they were finding everywhere?” Eight to nine hundred bodies in the area, he said.
With the thought of traipsing over colonial era corpses fresh in mind, the tour proceeds through the park to the Beacon Street side for the story of the Charlesgate Hotel's creepy past.
J. Pickering Putnam designed the hotel as a luxury apartment complex for Boston 's elite in 1890. Less than 60 years later, Boston University purchased the building for dormitories.
After the building opened, a student on the third floor reported her alarm going off at 6:11 a.m. every morning without her setting the time. They found that a woman had committed suicide in the room's closet at that exact time when the building was used as apartments, Doucette said.
Other students reported strange happenings such as doors flying open without being touched by human hands and spectral presences in dorm rooms late at night.
BU sold the building in the early 1970s, and in 1981 Emerson College bought it to use as their premier dormitory. The paranormal events continued with the Emerson students –– a Ouija board was once reported to plot against the unwanted dorm residents.
When Emerson sold the building in the late 90s, it was converted into condominiums, and the haunting stopped.
“We haven't heard a peep of paranormal activity since then,” Doucette said. “Here is our theory. What did J. Pickering Putnam say he wanted the original Charlesgate to be used for? Rich people. Who are back in the Charlesgate? Rich people.”
The gate is now closed,” Doucette said, spooking his followers.
The tour finished outside of the Omni Parker Hotel where Doucette bid his guests a good night and a safe walk back home through the Common.
Boston Globe, Sidekick
By: Meredith Goldstein
October 25, 2006
There's something strange in our neighborhood. Actually, there are
quite a few sites that could use some ghostbusting in this city.l
Boston, like many locales in New England, is supposedly filled
with haunted spots. This comes in handy during Halloween when
we're looking for magic and mystery – and to scare the bejeezus
out of our friends.
In honor of the season, we asked a group of experts on the supernatural to tell us about their favorite creepy places. Notice that none of them mention Fenway Park – because they're not crazy. We just had a bad team this year. Stop blaming the ghosts, people.
Site of the Hanging Tree on Boston Common
Expert: Hillary Kidd, owner of Haunted Boston Ghost Tours
Back when it was OK to hang people (in the 17th century), the accused were put to death on the Hanging Tree. The tree, which no longer exists, was on the Tremont Street side of the Common by the intersection of Park Street. Apparently, ghosts of people executed at the site (including Quaker Mary Dyer) still linger in that area. According to Kidd, “The homeless won't even go near the spot.” She adds, “I've pretty much become comfortable taking the walk, but I'm used to it. I have a lot of visitors who are creeped out at that part of the tour.
Beacon Hill apartment
Expert: Holly Nadler, author of “Ghosts of Boston Town”l
Nadler can't get too specific about which Beacon Hill unit is haunted (she doesn't want to upset the owner), but she says one of them is possessed by a female ghost who may have ruined a marriage. Nadler tells this story: In the early 1990s, a young man rented the top floor of a Pinckney Street building from a friend. The subletter noticed that a former tenant had left some vintage ‘50s dresses in a closet, and soon he began hearing high-pitched moans andscreams. After doing some research, he discovered that a woman who once lived in the building had committed suicide. It didn't faze him much – until his own girlfriend began to behave strangely. The man decided his girlfriend was possessed,l somehow, by the ghost in the apartment. He proposed, assuming commitment would fix their problems, but it was no use. Nadler says the man filed for an annulment as soon as he returned from the honeymoon, blaming the jealous ghost for ruining the relationship. We think it was serious cold feet, but we're no expert.
Central Burial Ground on Boston Common
Expert: Evan O'Brien, guide with Ghosts & Gravestones tour
O'Brien likes to visit this popular spot for Halloween tours,l conveniently located near the Hanging Tree. O'Brien tells the story that many haunted experts do, about a young girl in a white dress holding a bouquet of flowers who has tried to prevent folks from leaving (she apparently tried to trap a Boston dentist inside the gates in the 1970s). Even if you don't see the ghost, O'Brien says the place is bleak enough at night to give you the chills.
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Expert: Christopher Balzano, founder and director of Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads.
No list would be complete without a theater, right? Balzano says the Emerson College venue is haunted by multiple ghosts. One is the spirit of a janitor, who hangs out onstage. Another is the ghost of an older woman who spends her time in the dressing room. Most of the spirits reside on the closed third-floor balcony, where they have reportedly been spotted by theater crews. Balzano says what's notable about these ghosts is that they seem to want to be a part of the action. Sometimes the spirits pull the seats down.l Other times they turn the lights on and off during productions. “It's almost as if the ghosts don't like the play,” Balzano says.
The fountain on Hanover Street in the North End
Expert: Laurie Cabot, known as the official witch of Salem
Let's be clear – this spot isn't as much haunted as it is magical.l Halloween is a grand affair for witches, says Cabot, and while Salem is the real place for them to be on Tuesday night, the North End fountain is a bewitching spot for the cauldron set. Cabot says you're supposed to leave an offering at the fountain – a pebble,l coin, or “magic stone” – as a token for a wish. “It reflects the sky and the light and therefore it's a magical place. It's sacred,l basically,” she says, adding that you shouldn't wear a silly costume when you visit: “It's witches' New Year. It's a time to make resolutions. You dress up in your finest.