Revisiting Charlesgate

This was one of the first articles I wrote on Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, even before it was called that.  Part of this appeared in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places and was “borrowed”  by several other books.  Charlesgate is where it all started for me, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Two things hit me upon reading the article.  The first is that I hope my writing has become better since this was first published around 2002.  Not sure I can say that’s true.  The other is that so much of what I was putting out there about the building and its history was based on things I was told and information passed down rather than researched.  I think that works sometimes.  Natalie Crist of Tripping on Legends was going through the story and asked me questions about the dates and times things had actually happened.  I had no answers for her.  I don’t think I need them.  So much of the legend of Charlesgate comes things that cannot be verified.
Before I left Boston, I took a haunted tour of the city that went by my old dorm.  The person giving the tour retold my stories back to me, not knowing I was the one who had experienced them or at least had written them down.  They were mixed and matched, with details added that had never happened.   The Federal Government story was its centerpiece and almost none of the details were right.
In that spirit, I offer you the unedited original story.

 

The old Charlesgate Hotel is one of the most haunted buildings in Boston. Over time the building has taken on legend status, making it difficult to separate the truth from the mystique that surrounds it. It was built in 1891, supposedly by the Mafia, although there has been no connection between the original contractor and architect and organized crime. From the outside you can’t see the eighth floor, where some of the illegal activity was supposed to have happened. There are several areas that are boarded up or filled in, revealing hidden rooms that were once used but that you cannot see unless you follow the slight cracks in the wall. One such room on the sixth floor was the sight of a suicide. Walking through the halls, checking out the rooms and then comparing it to the original blueprints (on file at the Boston Public Library) shows many inconsistencies and points to potential areas of hauntings.

After serving as a hotel it was sold and sold again until it eventually became a BU dorm. The lore began with the influx of students. BU sold the dorms and it became a tenement, serving some of the worst tenants in Kenmore. At that time, students began to move in as well, often charged far more than the other people living there, creating an interesting mix of college kids and sketchy “adults”. Emerson College bought the building in the 1980’s and renovated it back into dorms, placing its foot firmly in the square and extending its influence in the city.

100_0170Some of the legendary spirits that walked the halls are very old. In the basement there are the spirits of horses that died when there were stables there. There is a little girl that haunts the elevator where she died. Often people had seances and weird things would happen, and more than once magic and black magic had been practiced in the dorm rooms. But there were other strange things that went on. Often at night there was scampering in the ceilings, too small to be people, but too big to be rats. There would be voices and light problems. Some student would see a gurney roll by their room.

Suicide plays a major role in the mythology of the building, often being the root cause of things that cannot be explained. In the 1970’s there was an alarm clock in a room where a supposed suicide had occurred that would go off at 6:11 am although it was not set. Another time 3 girls moved into a room on the 6th floor. Although each of them wanted the big closet upon moving in, they all had unusual sensations when they approached it, deciding it was better to let someone else use the closet. Research discovered another suicide in that closet. Once a student woke up to see a spirit hovering over him. The ghost was also seen by the RA who ran in to see why the student was screaming.

cgate3It was a hotbed of activity, and if you used a Ouija board anywhere in it, you’d get results (See the Federal Government story).  One night we got an answer to some of the activity. We contacted a spirit that called itself Zena that would clearly write out answers to our questions and offered a detailed history of its existence. It was not a normal spirit because it had never lived, but was more of a spell that had been cast on doorways by one of the original builders to protect those inside. They saw everything and tried to help people and often communicated on the board as different people to make them do what they thought was right. They told me of a spell placed on me by someone that was later confirmed by two psychics who had no idea what I was going in for. It knew things only the people themselves would know, and made a believer out of more than one skeptic that would try the board.

After we left the dorms it was sold again, and one person who lives in the building says he never has had anything happen. I think back to a rule of Ouija boards though. If a spirit is on the board and it is not cleaned, and it is destroyed somehow, the spirit is said to escape. If there was something in those walls, I wonder what might have happened when they gutted the place out to make the condos.

100_0175Recently, while taking photographs for a new book coming out I evaluated some of the designs at Charlesgate. I had lived in the building for two years, but I had never noticed the faces, some obvious and other not so obvious, around the windows and in the rest of the metalwork. There were also scratches which appeared random, but upon zooming appeared to spell things out. Some of the expressions I found, hidden in the beauty, were “No Exit”, “Hell”, and “Gone”.

The Odd Ghost of Federal Government

This is another old post from Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads and one of my favorite Ouija Board stories.  It also appeared in my first book Ghostly Adventures.

 

Federal Government is the strongest proof I have that a Ouija board might indeed be a useful or effective tool in paranormal research, and also a great argument for why you might not want to use them.  He seems to be a powerful spirit with negative intentions, a long memory, and some influence on our world.

In the Spring of 1995 some friends and I spent too much time using the board.  We were living in the old Charlesgate Hotel in Boston, considered one of the most haunted building in Massachusetts.  We had been using the board and getting mixed results when a very strong spirit pushed a weaker one off.  He immediately told us to be scared.  When we asked of what he moved the pointer slowly over the OUIJA label on the top of the board slowly enough to give me goosebumps.

FedGov quickly became obsessed with one of my roommates at the time.  John (name changed) was a womanizer and I had joked earlier that semester that he was sleeping his way through the alphabet.  We asked FedGov why he did not like John and he said because he made girls cry.  When we asked how he made girls cry and scrolled through all the letters on the board in a “z”, movement he would often mimic through our interactions with him.  He said John had to die, and it was his goal to do it.  Whenever we would be talking to a spirit he would force them off and start spelling out John’s name and making a “z” across the letters.

FedGov once caused our fire alarm to go off, but it wasn’t until he almost killed John that we took his threats seriously and understood the kind of power he had.  We were using the board and John went to take a shower.  We were talking to a spirit that claimed it was one of our guardian angels and FedGov came on.  After identifying himself he started to spell out “HAHAHAHA”.  When we asked why he was laughing he spelled out “ACDCACDCACDC”.  We were all confused until John came back into the room.  His hair was wet and the color was gone from his face.

When he had gone to use the shower the light had been out.  He screwed it back in and began the shower.  Just as he was washing his hair, the light went out.  His first instinct was to screw the light in, but he stopped.  He was soaking wet and standing in a pool of water.  He washed his hair in the dark rather than risk electrocution.

All of this could be a coincidence if it wasn’t for Sarah, one of John’s old girlfriends.  They had dated on and off over the years, almost always ending with John doing something horrible to her.  They talked that summer, and John brought up ghosts.  Sarah said she believed in them because she had talked to someone who claimed to be the devil.  She had first talked to him when she was young and he had told her that when she died he would have her.  Her soul was his forever and he was just waiting for her to join him.  When she had used the board earlier that year the same spirit had gotten on, asking her if she remembered him.  She said she knew he was not the devil and begged for his real name.  It spelled out FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

What’s Up, Doc: Being Rejected by the Professor

And here I thought I was doing it right all along.

I set nets and lobster traps out there.  I publish a story I hear in the hopes that a person keywording something they experienced or were told about will fall in and tell me their version of the story.  I then document what they experienced.  I go out to the places where things happen and try to experience it myself, maybe asking a few people nearby if they’ve heard about it.  I’ve been doing that for more than twenty years, since I first asked people what they had heard about my haunted dorm, Charlesgate.  If I’m looking at a place I don’t know, I send out e-mails to the gatekeepers of the tales; librarians, members of town history groups, professors at local colleges.  It’s my way of trying to get my hands on what Charles Johnson once called, “our human inheritance.”

Today I received a response back from a doctor of folklore studies from a university in Pennsylvania.  Nine words if you don’t count our names.

This is not the way to conduct folklore research.

Thanks, Doc.

Years ago Tim Weisberg from Spooky Southcoast gave me the label of Analytical Folklorist.  I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded official and important and close enough to what I do for me to embrace.  After all, I was slowly moving away from investigating the paranormal and had long held to the idea that the value in looking into the paranormal was in finding what it had to do with the people who experienced it and those who sought out their stories.  Tracking down a good ghost story was an exercise in recording oral and written history, and writing it down was capturing more about society than capturing a ghost (or a Ghost on Film).  I believed then that tales of the paranormal and supernatural were a major part of our modern folklore, and my work over the past three years has done nothing to change that.

It’s not that I think ghosts don’t exist.  There are unexplained things in this world, and those things will always remain that way.  The paranormal is our way of trying to make sense out of the unseen, and for every story where we see a possible reason for the ghost, there are ten more that only point at our existing ideas on ghosts or the growing new mythology we are creating concerning the unknown.   There is much folklore in how we look for ghosts, including the people who do it, as there is in the ghosts they look for.

But that’s a story for another day.

This is more about the Legends Project and its goal of searching out stories to trip this summer outside of Florida.

I had started the project a few years ago and restarted it about six months ago with the goal of traveling to sites I could trip and collect stories from.  The idea was to find places where the locals knew of a story, ghost or just off-center, and then go to the location and see what I could collect by talking to people and enacting any ritual connected to the story.

IMG_1978For example, you go to a cry-baby bridge.  You turn your lights out like the tale tells you to do.  Honk twice as instructed and be ready to see the bride appear before you with the dead baby in her arms.  Before that, you hit the Internet finding variations of the story and ask people about it when you get to the town.

IMG_1946

 

Perhaps the best example of Tripping on Legends doing this would be the case of the Devil’s Tree in Port St. Lucie.  We searched the Net for hours, and when we got there we asked everyone we could find the stories they had heard about it.  We were able to record four or five variations of the story or little add-ons (the serial killer lived in a shack near the tree) and this led us to other mysteries, like what were the ruins near the tree and was the whole thing signal some kind of disturbance in the area where serial killers, sketchy asylum owners, and random acts of violence would find their way to the same spot.

To me, that’s what modern folklore is about.  Find a story, look into the story, try to connect the story.

TImage result for food for the deadhis is what I learned from reading the people who inspired me.  Food for the Dead was one of the most influential books to my early work because Michael Bell set out to find the stories and experience them himself, even though he never really thought there were vampires out there. Jan Harold Brunvand laid out similar methods in collecting as many versions of urban legends as he could.  The same could be said for Charles Robinson in prepping New England Ghost Files.  I would even say hearing Joseph Campbell describing connecting myths follows a similar pattern.

So what am I doing that’s wrong, Doc?

The logical first step is to find a story.  This is a copy of the e-mail I send out to get the pot stirred:

My name is Christopher Balzano, a folklorist living in Southwest Florida.

I am starting a new project looking to explore and celebrate the stories that have become the foundation for the rich oral and written tradition of this country.  I am looking for the folklore that has contributed to the development and tradition of America, and I am hoping for your help.

I believe the journey of a folklorist starts with asking a question to get the adventure started, so today I am asking you.

Is there a story in your area that your citizens view as folklore or local myth?

Having done this for more than two decade, I understand how difficult that question may be. It involves sifting through old stories and urban legends to try and sort things out.  I am not asking you to go that far, mainly because that’s where the love of the trip lies for me.  I’m just searching for whatever information you might have and perhaps a lead.

I am looking to document the more obscure stories, the hidden John Henry of your area.

The story may be familiar but region specific, creepy or spooky, or just plain entertaining or important.  Folklore, urban legends, or just regional legends are all fair game.

I am especially interested if you know of storytellers who make these tales come to life or know of local archived audio files of them.

I thank you for your time, and I hope to hear back from you.

 

I have sent this to countless libraries and historical societies.  I have sent it to paranormal investigators and professors.  It’s a feeler, and more often than not it gets ignored.  The goal is to have someone get the e-mail and remember a story, or be bored enough to look through their files and find something that might fit the bill.  Sometimes there is a near-forgotten story in a drawer somewhere, like the Haunted Schoolhouse case a few years ago.  The bigger hope is that I get into their mind, so when something comes along, they think of me and what I am doing and get back in touch.

img_1614Almost every legend trip I have done in the past six months was born of this letter.  A librarian told me about the Singing River.  A newspaper writer pointed me towards the Mini Lights.  A member of the historical society asked me if Talking Mary fit into what we were trying to do.

So what do I do differently, Doc?

I have since sent a return e-mail asking what more I need to do to warrant a moment of his time and a lead on a story, but when I look at what I do, I am confident I’m going about it the right way.  I do it with a love of the story and an eye to what it says about us.   I do it with respect and awe.  I do it with the hope of experiencing what people have claimed to be their town’s truth but with the realization that more often than not I’ll just be shouting into the wind.

The first paranormal story I can remember involved a retelling of a Devil’s Footprint in New Hampshire.  I was living there at the time (seven years old), and as I read how the town had created whole mythos around this imprint in stone, I became fascinated with what was the truth behind the story, especially after the writer gave several different account of the legend.  Then he put his socked foot into the print and it fit exactly.  I was hooked.  Years went by and the same idea of the Devil’s footprint kept coming up.

Maybe I’m not going about this the right way, but methods have to shift.  We do not tell our stories the same way, and we do not hear them like the days of old.  Smart phones are handheld campfires, and Reddit is your sketchy cousin letting you in on the haunted house down the street.  Folklore is happening as we live and changing as quickly as we can switch apps.  There is history in the ghost story.  There is societal knowledge in the cryptid still wandering in the woods.  The best way to hold this knowledge is to experience and squint and look for the strings.

Here’s hoping that’s good enough for you, Doc.