A spirited tour of Boston
From the pages of AAA Horizons, a publication of the American Automobile Association

Photo by Joe O'Shea
Boston's oft-turbulent history had produced a fair share of ghosts.

By Joe O'Shea

BOSTON --When Old Man Winter huffs, puffs and blows down Beacon Hill in January, it's been said that the School Street entrance to the Parker House Hotel is one of the coldest spots in the city. But the cold spots, according to Jim McCabe, aren't limited to the hotel's main entrance.

Inside the venerable Boston landmark, spooks haunt several floors, explains McCabe, owner, operator and chief researcher of New England Ghost Tours, now in its seventh year. A gifted storyteller with a knack for names, McCabe offers ghost-hunting expeditions to Salem and the tri-town area of Concord, Littleton and Groton, but his bread-and-butter tour is Boston Spirits, a 90-minute walking excursion that visits Downtown Boston's most haunted spots.

The Parker House is a veritable hotbed of preternatural activity. On the mezzanine level, a huge mirror hangs outside the Press Room, where John F. Kennedy announced his presidential candidacy.

"This mirror is the one that Charles Dickens used to practice his orations in front of," says McCabe, whose first-hand research consists of reading various publications and interviewing concierges, porters, business managers and front-line employees. "Not long ago, a worker began to clean the mirror and he kept seeing condensation appear on the glass right next to him, as if someone was breathing on it. He hasn't cleaned the glass since."

Photo by Joe O'Shea
Rumors abound concerning the Dickens Mirror in the Parker House Hotel.

Whether or not it was the breathy shade of Dickens, this is merely one of the many, many unexplainable occurrences at Harvey Parker's hotel. Other spooky stops of note are the onetime site of the Boston Common's Hanging Elm, where Quaker Mary Dyer was hung for her stubborn, but brave, refusal to compromise her religious beliefs, and the Boston Athenaeum, where Nathaniel Hawthorne witnessed the Reverend Thaddeus Harris reading the newspaper - daily for six weeks after the cleric's death.

McCabe also weaves historical fact and pop trivia into his presentations. Because of a lack of ghost stories emanating from the Old Granary Burial Ground on Tremont Street, the tour doesn't enter the cemetery, but McCabe does tell of the grave robbers who cut off John Hancock's signing hand soon after he was interred there in 1795. The hand was never found. On a lighter note, he points out the office where fictional attorney Ally McBeal practiced law, a brick building that borders the Athenaeum.

McCabe also takes his charges into the Hampshire House, home of Cheers and at least one spirit not on the menu. One of original owner Bayard Thayer's twin daughters, apparently suffering from mental illness, hung herself from the back spiral staircase in 1912. "I had a psychic on a recent tour with me," says McCabe, "and she believes it was a murder made to look like a suicide."

Photo by Joe O'Shea
Spooky goings-on have long been associated with this spiral staircase in the Hampshire House.

The final stop on the tour is the Central Burying Ground, located on the south side of the Boston Common. Reportedly, in the late '70s, retired dentist Matt Rutger had a close encounter of the supernatural kind while wandering among the stones. At first, he felt a tap on his shoulder, but no one was there. Then he felt a violent yank on his collar.

"He looked around and he saw this little girl with long red hair, sunken cheekbones and a mud-splattered gray dress on," says McCabe. "She was just standing there, staring at him. He turned to run out the gate, but she was suddenly in front of him. He somehow made it by her to Boylston Street, and even though he couldn't see her, he felt her hand slip inside his coat pocket, take out his keys and dangle them in midair before dropping them."

Call 781-235-7149, e-mail jim@newenglandghosttours.com
or visit www.newenglandghosttours.com.

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