The story behind the ghosts and hauntings of this historic cemetery
In Salem, Massachusetts, you'll find the second oldest cemetery in the country, the Old Burying Point Cemetery. The Burying Point was established in 1637. For its age, every occupant at the Burying Point unquestionably holds historical importance. But, one of the most interesting names etched into the ancient gravestones belongs to John Hathorne.
John Hathorne was a judge during the Salem Witch Trials. And, by most accounts, he was wholly unapologetic about his involvement in the trials, even upon his deathbed. Hathorne is the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne (yes, the famous writer). Nathaniel was so ashamed of his ancestor's actions, that he added a "w" to his surname in hopes of concealing their relation.
Along with Hathorne, you'll find most of the names associated with the Salem Witch Trials at Burying Point. From the memorial for the wrongfully accused (situated in front of the cemetery) to the headstones of their pious chastisers, Old Burying Point Cemetery is a step back into a time when the line between the wicked and the innocent blurred. Others who were laid to rest at Old Burying Point include Mayflower passenger, Captain Richard More, and the last governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Simon Bradstreet.
The graves of these historical figures and more can be visited from dawn till dusk. And, entrance is free to all of those who are respectful. As for the miscreants, they may not pay with their cash but will with their eternal souls. So, grave robbers you are hereby warned.
To all others, remember to stay on the path once inside the gates of the Old Burying Point.
Thousands of people visit infamous Salem, Massachusetts every year, thanks to a rich fascination with its history and, of course, the witch trials. Another draw is the Old Burying Point Cemetery, which features a memorial to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. Just behind the memorial are the graves of the very people who accused, judged and hanged these poor souls for "witchcraft."
Old Burying Point, also known as Charter Street Cemetery, is the oldest cemetery in Salem and the second oldest in the nation. Burying Point is the final resting place for 347, who called Salem home upon their death.
The cemetery is more than a tourist stop, more than a gimmick to which one capitalizes on. It's a marker of history, a dark time in our country's past. These are the graves, the remains of people from a time that should never be forgotten. The hysteria surrounding the events cost many innocent people their lives, and shined a light on the dangers of rumors and fallacies.
Nathaniel Hawthorne recognized the importance of this dark era, despite wishing to separate himself from his ancestor. Throughout Hawthorne's writings, you'll discover that some of his character's names are homages to the ones carved into the gravestones at the Old Burying Point.
The paradox of Nathaniel Hawthorne's interest in Burying Point is believed to stem from late night strolls with his wife, Sophia. Sophia suffered from chronic migraines. So, in an effort to ease her pain, she and Nathaniel developed the habit of taking midnight walks around the neighborhood, including (and eerily so) strolls through the aforementioned cemetery. Viewing theses names, night after night, it's no wonder that they influenced him.
Perhaps his most notable work influenced by his strolls through Burying Point was, The House of the Seven Gables. The novel follows a New England family and their mysterious house. Throughout the story, Hawthorne explores the aftermath of witchcraft accusations.
You may also note that one of the characters in The House of the Seven Gables, Hepzibah Pyncheon, may have been influenced by Hawthorne's legendary strolls. Although not quite identical, the name Hephzibah Packer can be found carved into one of the gravestones in the cemetery. The oddity of the name leaves little to question in regard to Nathaniel Hawthorne's inspiration.
Hephzibah Drake Packer was not involved in the witchcraft hysteria, having died nearly a decade before the trails even occurred. And, by most accounts, she died without scandal. Just a young wife who died too soon, at only twenty-five-years of age. So why did this name stick out in Hawthorne's mind when writing the novel? It most likely had very little to do with her, as much as it did with her gravestone, which featured a carving of Death's Head.
Death's Head carved above the departed's name is not an uncommon sight today, especially due to the symbol's popularity during the seventeenth century. The sight of a skull brandishing angel wings is still an eye catcher, no matter how many times one walks past a gravestone with its marking.
These decorative grave markers may same like a strange symbol to revere. But among the Puritans, who were adamantly against the use of religious symbols on graves, Death’s Head became the “It” grave marker. During this grim era, Death's Head became a popular trend in Salem and the surrounding areas, as it symbolized both one's "physical death" and one's "spiritual regeneration."
"Spiritual regeneration" is an interesting phrase, and perfectly captures the nature of death in Salem. The reason why?
Well, since the first bodies were laid to rest at Old Burying Point, there have been many strange occurrences. The occurrences were widely believed to be supernatural, as this was the era of the witch. It is also because of this era that many choose to discredit these accounts of paranormal activity as a good case of hysteria.
All of the witch-hysteria aside (I know, hard to do), there are nearly 400 years of ghostly accounts at the Old Burying Point Cemetery. So, there must be something to these hauntings, right?
Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, "There is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it."
Most people echo Hawthorne's words in Salem, and believe that the grounds of the Old Burying Point Cemetery are saturated with restless spirits. And, that it might just be the most haunted site in Massachusetts, if not in all of New England.
This graveyard on Charter Street, which overlooks the South River, was built on land set aside by the early townspeople of Salem. This action was the result of a vote in 1637, as Salem was in great need of a designated burial site after many colonists had died from sickness in the preceding decade. This was especially so in the years of 1628 and 1629.
The land that was set aside to become Burying Point was not significantly big in acreage. The designated grounds along Charter street were and remain only two blocks long. Thus, the cemetery's capacity was reached after only 347 souls were laid to rest. But, despite its size, this graveyard packs a paranormal punch that rivals the likes of other, more famous cemeteries. And, yes that includes St. Louis Cemetery No 1 (in New Orleans) and Bonaventure Cemetery (in Savannah).
Sensitives who have visited Old Burying Point have reportedly become overwhelmed with the sensation of sadness and despair. Even while just walking through the graveyard, the heavy feeling of depression descends and sends innocent passerby into feeling as though there is little hope to be found in the world.
Over the years people have successfully captured EVP of voices from the beyond at Old Burying Point.
Also captured at the cemetery via photographs are mysterious shadows, emanating lights, orbs, white mist and even apparitions.
One of these apparitions belongs to Mary Bright Corey (sometimes spelled Corry), who died on August 28th, 1684. She was the second wife of Giles Corey, who later became an unfortunate victim of the Witch Trials. Giles died from his inflicted torture on September 19th, 1692, just after the eighth anniversary of Mary's passing.
Another ghost that has been seen is the figure of a woman who appears in the back corner of the cemetery. She is usually spotted wearing a powder blue dress, whilst holding a picnic basket in hand. Sometimes, she is also accompanied by a young boy. It is the believed the two spirits were mother and son, and died in a fire.
In addition to the other ghosts spotted at Old Burying Point, another apparition that has been seen with great frequency is a Lady in White. However, she seems to be a bit camera shy, as there is little photographic evidence of her manifestations.
Normally, once the cameras come out, the Lady in White transitions into bright orbs or vanishes altogether. Although, on at least one occasion, an expertly timed photograph was slightly able to capture an image of her figure.
The Lady in White has allegedly even been spotted in the parking lot to the cemetery, as well as near by in buildings and restaurants. Though, it's entirely possible these sightings are of different spirits.
If just one spirit, who was the Lady in White? Some have theorized that the Lady in White and the ghost of Mary Corey are one in the same.
But, considering just how haunted the Burying Point is, it's more likely that they are separate ghostly entities.
It's also more likely that the Lady in White was an Irish Catholic immigrant, as she usually appears on the outskirts of the cemetery, which is where the Irish were buried. This segregation highlights the Anglo-American's long history of mistreatment against the Irish in Massachusetts.
Most people who love visiting old cemeteries have a few famous graveyards on their list. And, for most of these people Old Burying Point is at the top of their wish list. These aren't just history buffs or Hocus Pocus fanatics. These are people looking to connect, not just with history, but with the lost souls who continue to haunt these ghost cities.
But, be careful for what you wish for, as Burying Point is not your average ghost city. Below are some firsthand accounts of paranormal encounters at the second oldest cemetery in America.
A few years back, a man named Mike visited Old Burying Point Cemetery, and had a paranormal encounter. "I saw ‘it,' peeking out of the ground," he said as he described what he captured with his camera. He claimed that the apparition was just in front of one of the gravestones and that it looked like "a very strange torso wearing a suit/tie, mutton chops, shoulder height out of the ground."
Not long after Mike's visit to the cemetery, two young friends dared to enter Burying Point. It was in the dead of night that the bold duo walked through the graveyard. And, it wasn't long before they saw something that they would not soon forget. What they saw was a shadowy apparition rising up from the ground, right in front of a gravestone.
Another duo, two sisters, had an encounter at the cemetery, but their experience their occurred while on a ghost tour. Neither of them had ever step foot inside the gates of Burying Point prior to that night. Like others on the tour they snapped copious amounts of photos.
Later, when they uploaded the photos onto their computer, they were shocked to discovered that they had captured paranormal images. One of the sisters said that she doesn't even have to look at the pictures to know that something supernatural occurred that night in the cemetery. For her, she says, those images she caught on camera “still haunts my mind to this day."
Salem's Old Burying Point has been described as an unwelcoming site, even for a graveyard. The patchy grounds lying in between each scarred and nearly eligible gravestone creates a setting that is so eerie it would give even Tim Burton nightmares.
Upon closer examinations of the skull winged Death's Head tombstones, the carving of the phrase "Memento Mori" can be read. Memento Mori loosely translates to "Remember Death,” as in the feeling one receives when viewing the graveyard. It’s a cold sensation, not made any better by the crisp sun of daylight hours. When standing inside Burying Point, you know you are standing amongst ghosts, the lost souls from an era filled with terror.
So, you would be wise to be respectful when entering this cemetery, since if you misbehave you may leave with a curse or worse.
Ghost City Tours always advises that you leave a couple of pennies on a few gravestones whenever visiting a burial site. And, we especially encourage you to do so when at the Old Burying Point, ss the souls here are some of the most restless spirits that you never want to meet.