Digging for dirt in the state’s most haunted cemeteries
If one bases my ghost-hunting persona purely on the three paranormal-themed TV shows I’ve appeared on over the years, I have an odd fixation for the most haunted cemeteries in Massachusetts. As the author of nine historical-based ghost books, I’ve spent many sleepless nights frolicking among the headstones in search of the skeletal secrets buried beneath the Bay State’s blood-stained soil.
Apparently, I have a thing for historic cemeteries. And, yes, it’s true. I tend to gravitate toward graveyards.
When it comes to paranormal investigations in cemeteries, demonologist James Annitto told me that they’re perfect for beginners looking to learn the tricks of the trade. He said New England’s burial grounds may have “lots of contamination, but that’s what makes you a great investigator and how you learn,” he told me, adding that outdoor locations are difficult for the most experienced paranormal investigators because of false-positive readings on equipment because of noise, temperature fluctuations and wind. “It gives you the ability to decipher what’s contamination and what is plausible paranormal activity. I started out doing graveyards and cemeteries. You would just need to call and get permission.”
It’s my belief that the paranormal activity at New England’s cemeteries are psychic remnants of the unjust killings and unmarked graves leftover from centuries of tainted dirt from the Bay State’s dark past.
In my latest book called 13 Most Haunted Cemeteries in Massachusetts, I visited a few dozen burial grounds with alleged paranormal activity. Based on my personal experiences out in the field, I strongly believe that Burial Hill in “America’s Hometown” is one of the state’s most haunted. Why?
Darcy H. Lee, author of Ghosts of Plymouth, Massachusetts, believes the events that unfolded in the early seventeenth century has left a psychic imprint on the land surrounding Burial Hill in Plymouth’s Town Square.
“When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, there were more than one hundred on board and only fifty survived,” Lee told me. “One of the most haunted places is Town Square, which is near the place where the Pilgrims had their first settlement. Just prior to the Pilgrims landing, there was a plague that decimated the Native Americans that lived there. The desperation and fear of the the Native Americans who lived and died there is embedded into the ground.”
Based purely on its historical legacy and the harsh conditions that nearly annihilated America’s earliest settlers in 1620, Plymouth is one of New England’s most haunted cities. Burial Hill, the town’s oldest cemetery, is nestled next to First Parish in Plymouth and located across the street from the Church of the Pilgrimage and the 1749 Court House.
The chaos from four centuries ago still lingers in Plymouth’s Town Square. It’s almost as if the death and destruction has psychically imprinted itself on the location.
Lee believes there’s a Native American spirit guarding Burial Hill near the Cushman Monument. “Legend has it that there is a spot on Burial Hill on top of the staircase by a huge tree,” Lee wrote in Ghosts of Plymouth, Massachusetts. “The tree has a peculiar feature. It has roots that look like hands. Some say a Native American guardian sits and watches over people at that tree. If a visitor to Burial Hill does anything unacceptable or inappropriate, the guardian spirit will let them know in a terrifying fashion.”
Luckily, the Native American sentinel spirit likes me. However, I had a not-so-friendly encounter in early 2018 with a spirit known as “Crazy Mary.” She paces back and forth near the cemetery’s stairs facing Town Square. When I approached Burial Hill, she lunged at me and I quickly ran down the stairs and back to my room at the John Carver Inn. “She likes to scare people,” said Geoffrey Campbell when I told him about my face-to-face encounter with the aggressive female spirit. “She’s very sad because people misunderstand her,” he told me. “She does scare people off depending on their sensitivities. I had one woman on my tour who walked up the stairs and came running back down the hill. She said that something came after her.”
Mary isn’t necessarily mentally ill. But, she seems to get a kick out of chasing clairvoyants out of the burial ground.
Campbell, a veteran guide and operator of the Plymouth Night Tour, guided me through the extremely haunted cemetery which is home to several ghosts including scary Mary, a Native American sentinel spirit, a Victorian-era couple and possibly a cryptid known as a Pukwudgie.
Never heard of this mythical creature associated with Plymouth’s Wampanoag tribe? It’s a little trickster that boasts large ears, fingers and nose. Based on reports including a mention in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” the human-shaped gremlin has smooth, grey skin.
Campbell told me that he’s seen Burial Hill’s Pukwudgies in action. “I was giving a tour a few years ago and we saw three of them dancing around,” Campbell insisted. “People were trying to take pictures but it didn’t pick up.” One tour guide, Vicki Noel Harrington, was in a picture taken outside of the John Carver Inn next to Burial Hill. According to people who have seen the photo, the image looks like a demon peeking over her shoulder.
Campbell believes the “demon” seen in the picture with Harrington is actually a Pukwudgie. “They tend to hide by the mass grave for the soldiers from the brigantine General Arnold,” he said, pointing to an area in the back next to a copse of trees. “We’ve had several sightings from the path leading to the monument.”
Of course, the story about the ill-fated mariners of the General Arnold is legendary in Plymouth. During a Christmas Eve blizzard in 1778, seventy-two men literally froze to death after the vessel and its crew, led by Captain James Magee, were stranded on a sandbar in Plymouth Harbor.
“Captain Magee told them to put rum in their shoes to ward off frostbite, but many drank it instead, dying quickly thereafter, their bodies frozen where they sat or stood,” wrote Emily Wilcox in Wicked Local Plymouth in 2007. “Seamen huddled together against the blinding snow, whistling winds and crashing waves. Some tried to wrap the heavy, canvas sail around themselves to no avail. They shrieked prayers to God and screamed for help from their fellow man. But the General Arnold was beyond help.”
Campbell said that when the men were retrieved in Plymouth Harbor many of them were frozen in grotesque shapes, some clutching each other in a horrific death grip while others were stacked on top of each other to block the treacherous nor’easter storm.
The bodies of more than seventy frozen soldiers were kept in the 1749 Court House before being buried in a mass grave located in the rear of the cemetery. “The courthouse basically served as a temporary morgue,” Campbell said. “I’ve heard that the courthouse has a residual haunting associated with the tragedy.” At the 1749 Court House in Town Square, people have heard phantom footsteps and what sounded like ice melting.
According to several reports, the captain of the brigantine, James Magee, has been spotted in the cemetery, paying postmortem respect to his fallen crew. Darcy H. Lee, author of Ghosts of Plymouth, Massachusetts, confirmed the rumors. “We do know that Captain James McGee visited their gravesite and his is a residual haunting in Burial Hill as well,” she told me. “It’s that imprint of what they were doing in life that remains.”
Like Lee, Campbell believes that the spirits haunting Burial Hill are just visiting. “When people see apparitions specifically in this cemetery, they are not usually people who were buried here,” Campbell confirmed. “I find that the apparitions are usually here to visit someone buried in the cemetery. I also believe there’s a portal in Burial Hill and spirits are able to come through, visit their loved ones and then return back where they came from.”
Lee said that one haunting associated with Burial Hill involves a Victorian-era couple who visited the gravestone of their two-year-old daughter, Ida Elizabeth Spear. “Burial Hill isn’t necessarily haunted by the people buried in the ground, but the people reliving what they did during their lives,” Lee said. “There are reports of a Victorian couple who are visiting the grave of their young daughter who passed away. Their grief and sadness of those visits remain as a residual haunting in Burial Hill. People spot them walking up and down the pathways of the cemetery.”
Of course, this theory applies to a recent tragedy that mysteriously happened on September 8, 2010. Michael “Wolf” Pasakarnis, a Plymouth-based poet and artist, was freakishly struck by lightning on his way home from Blue Blinds Bakery on North Street. Many believe that the twenty-nine-year-old man, known for his piercing eyes and heart of gold, predicted his freakish and untimely death which was posthumously revealed in his cryptic drawings and writings.
In fact, Pasakarnis wrote a poem claiming that “the time has come to allow the light of nature to free my soul” a few days before he passed.
Throughout the Burial Hill tour, Campbell kept finding offerings like a turkey feather and a heart-shaped rock. “This is from my friend Wolf,” Campbell confirmed, pointing out that the Jack Skellington hat he was wearing was an homage to Pasakarnis. Apparently, A Nightmare Before Christmas was Wolf’s favorite movie and Campbell led me to the tree where the young man was found dead from electrocution in 2010. There were markings alluding to Wolf’s life and love for Nightmare, including a “Pumpkin King” smile, etched into the tree. “They originally thought Wolf fell from the tree,” Campbell said, recounting Wolf’s prophetic last day. “He was with friends at the bakery and then dropped of a heart-shaped rock at the Laughing Moon boutique before heading up to Court Street and finally to Burial Hill.”
According to an article by Emily Clark in the November 21, 2010 edition of Wicked Local, Wolf left an indelible impact on Plymouth’s tight-knit community. “He was standing next to a beech tree when the bolt hit him, exploding his iPod and exiting out the heel of boots his father had just bought him, leaving a jagged hole behind,” Clark wrote. “His death stunned a community of friends and downtown regulars who had come to rely on his compassion, his daily walks through town and that mysterious other-worldliness that made so many believe in magic and in things happening for a reason.”
When Campbell showed me a picture of Wolf, I gasped. He looked so familiar. In fact, I had recurring dreams of what I thought was a young, Native American man encouraging me to come to Plymouth. It was Wolf.
When I said that I have connected with Wolf’s spirit in my dreams, Campbell wasn’t surprised. It seems that the young man has connected with other mediums in the past. One clairvoyant, Suzanne Giesemann, wrote an entire book called Wolf’s Message in 2014 about her psychic interactions with his spirit.
As Campbell and I were talking, the mystery surrounded this mysterious man continued. His mother, Beth, was visiting Burial Hill from out of town and overheard our discussion. She walked up and started sharing stories about her son. It was a few days before the anniversary of his death so she was in town to pay respect and commemorate her son.
“It’s almost as if he lived between two worlds,” Pasakarnis told me. “When he left the bakery, he told his friends that he ‘had to go’ as if he knew he had to be here at that time. Even the storm was strange. It came out of nowhere and there was only one random lightning strike.”
When I mentioned that I wanted to dedicate 13 Most Haunted Cemeteries in Massachusetts to her son, she said that he would “get a kick out of it,” implying that his spirit is still around. Based on the randomness of meeting his mother in Burial Hill, the feathers and heart-shaped rocks dotting our journey and the recurring dreams, I believe his spirit was around us that day.
Campbell, who regularly eulogizes Wolf on his tours, promised to place two roses at Wolf’s tree on the anniversary of his death. He also handed Pasakarnis a feather that he found next to the Cushman Monument. “Here’s a gift from Wolf,” he said. The mother’s eyes started to well up with emotion. “He would leave something like this,” Pasakarnis said with a smile. “He’s always letting us know that he’s still here in spirit.”
Sam Baltrusis, author of 13 Most Haunted Cemeteries in Massachusetts, produced the Plymouth ParaCon and was recently featured on Destination America and the Travel Channel. Visit SamBaltrusis.com for more information.