Tag Archives: paranormal activity

What should cities do with ‘dark sites’, where tragic or sinister events occurred? | CityMetric

What should cities do with ‘dark sites’, where tragic or sinister events occurred? | CityMetric
— Read on www.citymetric.com/fabric/what-should-cities-do-dark-sites-where-tragic-or-sinister-events-occurred-4438

Meeting Mrs. Gately

The events that mold our lives usually happen when we are looking the other way.  We blink, and fate steps on our toes.  Relationships are the same way.  We hold a door open and our soul mate smiles at us.  People who experience the paranormal often come face to face with the butterfly effect, wondering what it was that brought them to the park that night or what attracted them to the house they now cringe to enter.  Kenny, a former resident of East Dedham, Massachusetts, met the woman who would change his ideas about life almost thirty years ago.


Unfortunately, she was dead.


On October 27, 1977, Kenny experienced something that would have a profound effect on his life: so profound he recites the date from his teenage years today without even thinking about when it happened.  He was walking to his Grandparent’s house in East Dedham at about 4:30 p.m., just as the sun was setting.  Unlike other teenagers, he enjoyed going over there and often made the short trip from his house.


As he walked he noticed an odd, sparkling glow underneath a streetlight about 150 yards away.  It being Halloween time, he thought it might be a Halloween decoration, but as he got closer he saw it was the perfect image of a woman.  Thinking it might be a gag he kept walking towards her, looking for some type of projector creating the image, but the closer he got the more defined her face and features became.  As he came several yards from the image he realized he was staring at a ghost.


The woman was in her late 30’s or early 40’s, tall, with her hair tied up in a pun and pinned down.  She was wearing a long pleated dress almost to the ground with puffy shoulders, but her feet were clearly several inches above the pavement.   One odd feature he still remembers is her long fingernails.  The entire figure was in white, and she seemed translucent, as if she were a projection, and Kenny continued to look around for something that was throwing her up there.  The woman was completely still, and image and not an interactive spirit, and she stood with her mouth open and her hands at 90 degree angles with her palms up.  What Kenny really remembers, even today, is the detail of her clothes and face.  She was not in this world, but he could see every line of

her face and every wrinkle of her clothes.


He became convinced he was seeing a ghost when he began to circle the woman in white.  He was 3 or 4 feet from her and she appeared in three dimensions, hologram technology too advanced for the late seventies.  He was curious, not scared, and although he considered himself open-minded but by no accounts a believer in ghosts, he thought there might be a reason she was there.  During the entire encounter, the street was completely silent, and he felt there should be more activity or that someone would come by and see them.  He asked her who she was and if there was any reason for her to appear, but she did not move or speak.  After about ten minutes, he began to feel there was something wrong with his grandparents and ran the rest of the way to their house.


Kenny arrived at their house, winded and a bit nervous.  The asked him what was wrong, but he stayed silent until he grandfather asked him why he was off.  Kenny eventually opened up and told him the whole story, but his grandfather did not seem startled by his tale.  He had experienced something similar when he was younger in that same area while he was working a pony cart.  It was just dark when he saw a woman come out of the woods and knew it was a ghost.  He whipped the horse to get out of there quick and never went on the road after that when it was dark.


He attributed it to a story he had heard about a man who either had killed his wife and dumped her in the water to be found later or had killed her near the water.  The brook where she was found became known as Murder Brook.  Kenny’s grandfather believed he had seen the murdered woman walking from the water to her house, trying to get home.


Although he was known as a character, Kenny believed his grandfather.  Kenny had never been strongly religious or thought about death, but what he had experienced caused him to doubt what he did believe.  He held his feeling inside though, never daring to tell anyone for fear of being thought crazy or ridiculed.  It wasn’t until he was pressed because of his change of moods that he finally told his closest friend, Tom.  Tom was silent about the haunting, but came back a while later and said he wanted Kenny to meet someone.


Kim was slightly younger than the boys, but she had told Tom a story and had sworn him to secrecy.  Murder Brook ran through her backyard, and for the past ten years she had seen the ghost of a woman at the foot of her bed.  The hauntings happened two or three times a year and disturbed her greatly.  When the two of them compared descriptions of the women they matched to the finest detail.


Kenny held on to his story for almost thirty years, telling only a few people, but always wondering about the woman he had seen and the reason he had been chosen to witness.


Research shows there was a murder like the one Kenny’s grandfather described.  Although there is no body of water known as Murder Brook, and the Dedham Public Library and the Dedham Historical Society were unable to find any reference to it in any literature, there is a Mother Brook nearby.  They were also unable to find any legend about a woman in white walking either in the woods or near water in Dedham.  Records do not say if Mother Brook was used, but a murderer did try to wash his crimes away in a body of water in East Dedham.


In 1881 James Gately killed his wife, Mary, by beating her with an ax handle.  The real reason for her murder remains a mystery, but Gately was quoted as saying her hit her to pacify her.  He then walked to a brook nearby, washed his bloodied self off and went back to the house to go back to sleep in his son’s room.  Although the autopsy report states she died of one fatal blow to the head, the room was covered in blood and struck police at the time as the worst murder they had ever seen.  He was brought to trial a year later and found not guilty by reason of insanity.  He was committed to the Worcester State Hospital and is presumed to have died there because there is no record of him after that.  The age of Mary at the time of her death is consistent with the ghost seen by Kenny, his grandfather and Kim, but records could not be found to prove where the Gatelys had lived and where the blood was washed off (Dedham Transcript 5/20/1882)


Even proof can be selective.  As we collect more information on the Gately murder we may prove Mary Gately was killed at the very spot Kenny saw her in 1977.  The mystery will never be solved for Kenny.  He had walked that stretch of road his whole life and drove it as a cabby for years after.  That night something was different, and it is this difference that haunts him today and keeps him coming back to that night.  The ghost he saw may have moved on since then, but in some ways Kenny is still in that moment in time, trying to make sense of fate and give reason to the supernatural.

When the Haunted House Goes to Court

This post originally appeared on Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, and a part of it appeared in Jeff Belanger’s book “Weird Massachusetts.”

Most people who spend any time looking at the paranormal come to believe in the real estate law that says people selling a house have to disclose tragedies that have occurred in the residence, including any rumors of paranormal activity. This law has gained legendary status, and it hints at our fear about such a big investment and the fear that things we cannot explain will enter our house and come after our children. The odd thing is, the court have not been clogged with new house owners claiming specters on the staircase and bumps in the attic. While this may be due to people not wanting to come forward claiming ghosts have caused them distress, part of it may be due to the almost impossible task of proving that a ghost exists.

One such trial happened in 1733 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The man suing was not the one tormented by ghosts, but the man cheated by the tenants of the house accused. When the people living in the house left one by one claimed it was haunted, a prominent member of the Plymouth community took them to court to save his financial investment and preserve the honor of his house. The trial, while not claiming that ghosts really do
exist, forwarded the power of belief in the paranormal and justified those that believe in ghosts.

By the fall of 1733 the house on Cole Hill had been abandoned and its reputation solidified in the minds of the community. There was no shortage of beliefs in ghosts and of the Devil as a man who might walk the streets on any given night. Plymouth was common among its New England neighbors, a culture of fear and superstition where cannons were shot to force demons to leave the town as a cure of small pox and citizens
were as likely to have hexagons on their barns and home remedies in their kitchens as bibles by their fires.

Even in this context, the Phillips House stood out. It was haunted, probably by its former owner although some claimed by the devil itself. No one would live in it and the property value of the surrounding houses even suffered the effect of having it in their neighborhood.

The owner of the house was Josiah Cotton, a prominent member of the community and strict Calvinist who distained belief in the paranormal and the following of silly superstitions. Like many early settlers, he had lost most of his children during childbirth or from disease but he held on to his daughter Hannah. She married Captain Thompson Phillips who built the house on Cole Hill and had one child. Shortly after the marriage,
Phillips was lost at sea. Hannah remarried and moved to Boston, but died later that year of small pox. Cotton was given custody of his granddaughter. He also inherited the house and all of Phillips debts. His own financial standing had started to become shaky due in part to the costs of raising his grandchild, his own son’s education at Harvard and several bad investments. He decided to sell the house, knowing he could raise more money quicker if he sold it rather than renting it out. He was unable to find a buyer willing to pay enough and eventually opened it to renters in the area.

In 1732 he reached a verbal agreement with John Clark, a blacksmith who decided to use the house as a residence for himself and his business partner as well as a workshop. He moved in with his family, his business partner’s family, several people who worked for him and a few others. There seems to have been an argument between landlord and tenant a little over a year later. Cotton wanted someone else to share the house forcing Clark to split the space and give up his bedroom. People witness the men arguing and Cotton later testified that Clark claimed he would start rumors about the landlord and the house if Cotton insisted on the move.

In June 1733 Clark and his partner moved out, refusing to pay the rent they owed. One by one the remaining tenants moved out refusing to pay their rent. Their claim was that the house was haunted by Phillips and the Devil himself. Unseen hands moved furniture or rattled the walls throughout the house. There were unexplained noises, including groans that sometimes became so loud and disturbing other people in the neighborhood were awoke by them. There were often lights in rooms where no one was, sometimes seen as candle light or “unusual” glowing. The most disturbing hauntings involved a pale “blewish” light that was seen by people in the house and the surrounding neighborhood. At first those outside of the house found ways to dismiss what they were seeing and hearing. Cats, wolves and the moon helped explain away what was happening, but the reputation of the house was growing, and with each tale people incorporated their own fears into the lore being created. In court many would testify they thought there might have been a more mundane explanation, but they soon changed their mind. The house was haunted and the cats became groans and the moon became the disembodied soul of the agents of the devil. People began camping outside of the house, waiting for something to happen.

Cotton desperately needed the money the renters brought in, but he was a highly religious man who was down to earth. He had already begun to distain the paranormal effect it had on the citizens of Plymouth. Before Clark had moved out he had begun correspondences with anti-supernatural writers in New England and overseas. In his personal journal he wrote about the destruction of the Bible because the people preferred to turn to the stars or entrails rather than the written word. The reason people incorporated superstition so much in their lives is not hard to understand. Living in the wilderness and facing the unknown tried even the most pious person. Settlers Mixed old world beliefs with the Native American they were coming into contact with, as well as a need to explain new experiences they were being exposed to. Tradition becomes superstition. This may be a simplified explanation, but these elements help create the atmosphere in Salem towards the end of the 17th century and in the following decades throughout Massachusetts.

The lawsuit was filed against Clark and his business partner by Cotton. He could not sue them for the money they had skipped out on for the rent because they had never formalized the oral agreement for rent. He instead had to charge the tenants with slander against the house. Their rumors, combined with the large crowds that remained outside the house looking for ghosts, made the house an undesirable investment and people refused to rent it. The reputation of the house and the ghost seekers also lowered the property value of the surrounding area and tainted Cotton’s stature among the community.

Around this time Cotton’s obsession with the lawlessness of the superstitious community inspired him to write “Some Observations Concerning Witches, Spirits and Apparitions.” While no copies exist of the original, unfinished, manuscript, he often refers to it in his diaries and papers and there is proof that his words were heard by influential anti-paranormal writers and thinkers. It condemned the clogging up of courts with witch trials and attacked local preachers for preaching the unexplained in their sermons and reinforcing the superstitions of the people. These people had turned against God and refused to put their futures in his hands and this was the reason bad things happened. The cycle would not be broken until the fringe beliefs were broken, and he believed this trial would act as a trial against those ideas and for the glory of God. While this seems a noble if not loft ideal, it is important to remember Cotton still had substantial financial gain invested in the outcome of the trial.

The courts were also weary of the paranormal. By the middle of the eighteenth century educated people had already had enough time to see their flaw in Salem and the Enlightenment had changed people’s opinions on old “rural” rituals. Logic ruled and science had started to replace established religious beliefs. The media still controlled public opinion, however, and served to solidify people’s ideas about the property and justified people’s practice of supernatural rituals. Ghost stories make good stories and newspaper accounts of the trial before and during the proceedings served to reinforce rural superstitions as a type of subset of established religions.

The trial finally began in early March, 1734. Cotton and his lawyer changed their tactics several times over the course of the trial. Originally they intended to prove there was no such thing as ghosts and therefore there could be no reason behind what was said about the house. They offered explanations to most of the reported hauntings and several witnesses took back their testimony. He brought up other hoaxes, sighting the Salem
Witch Trials and other famous cases to prove his point. Cotton and his family even stayed in the house to prove it was safe. It may be difficult to prove the existence of ghosts, but Cotton’s found it equally hard to convince people there was no such thing as ghosts. The quickly changed tactics to prove belief in the supernatural was evil and wrong. Superstitions were the work of the “fringe” and undesirable people in society, especially Native Americans and slaves. As young and unestablished people in the community his former tenants were susceptible to this and then infected their neighbors who were more than eager to believe. This tactic failed as well because people’s ideas ran too deep. They turned to their last tactic, trying to prove Clark’s intent. They presented to the court that he had known people held these strong ideas and intentionally aid what he said to hurt Cotton’s reputation.

The decision finally came down, and the judgment acted as a validation for the people. It was not proven that ghosts did not exist and that superstitions were an important element in society and had to be validated. It did not matter if there was a Devil or not, only that people believed there was. Cotton and his lawyer did not prove intent and Clark and the other defendants were acquitted. Cotton was forced to pay all the court costs, but more importantly a message was sent that people were not ready to leave their ideas behind for his God. He later tried again to convince people by spending a small fortune on copies of the Hale’s “Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft” and by continuing to preach against the paranormal, but he never broke through. He also took the case to the higher courts, but was finally defeated when he was ruled against by John Hancock.

Cotton’s essay railing against ghosts was never published and eventually lost to time. Clark and the other residents blended into the Plymouth community and have since become footnotes. The house itself still stands, but visitors never hear of its true history. What remains is the trial. It proved nothing and made no decision on the existence of ghosts. It did establish the power of the people to determine what was true, even if there was no way to measure it or classify it. Ideas proved to be stronger than the black and white text of the law and trial, from the filing to the testimonies to the decision reach ahead to today to tell us the paranormal history we inherit.