Salem ghost hunter leaves guests spellbound
From the pages of AAA Horizons, a publication of the American Automobile Association

Photo by Joe O'Shea
The Howard Street Burial Ground is the site of the 17th-century execution of Giles Corey. The elderly man, who was "pressed" to death by stones in order to elicit a witchcraft confession, cursed Salem and the sherriffs of Salem with his last words. Allegedly, the spirit of Corey is seen prior to any disaster that befalls Salem.

By Joe O'Shea

Mollie Stewart not only sees dead people, she also hears them.

Okay, she may not actually see them, but she does photograph them. And she may not actually hear them, but she can record them on a digital tape recorder.

Stewart, owner of Salem's Spellbound Tours, once photographed what she believes is ectoplasm (the filmy white “stuff” of which ghosts are made) on Gallows Hill, and she also recorded an eerie voice (electronic voice phenomenon, also known as EVP) while conducting an investigation in the Joshua Ward House. While she couldn't see the ectoplasm or hear the voice at the time of the photo and recording, both phenomena are proof of spirits, according to Stewart.

“I got the recording in the basement, under a full moon,” recalls Stewart. “A voice whispered into the recorder, ‘I just want to keep you.' The entity whispered softly, so I can't tell if it was female or male.”

Regardless of its gender, it's intent was eerily clear. Although Stewart isn't sure of who spoke, there's a likely candidate, based upon the ground's disturbing history. The Joshua Ward House was built on the former home site of sadistic Witch Trials Sheriff George Corwin, who was buried there for a time. “His family was afraid that people would dig up and tear apart his body,” says Stewart, “so they buried George in the basement to protect his body.”

Photo by Joe O'Shea
The Old Salem Jail, now abandoned and in search of a developer, is a hotbed of paranormal activity.

What sets Stewart's tours apart from most ghost tours is authenticity. Stewart, who majored in journalism, thoroughly researches, investigates, and documents each haunted site featured on her tours, which include a Vampire & Ghost Hunt Tour and a Witchcraft and Cemetery Tour (the latter is by appointment only). Instead of hiring actors to dress in costume and retell popular legends, like many tours, Stewart and her tour guides are all trained paranormal investigators.

Licensed as a ghost hunter by the International Ghost Hunters Society, Stewart utilizes a variety of electronic equipment to gauge whether or not a spirit is present. Electromagnetic detectors, non-contact infrared thermometers, digital audio recorders, and high-speed film are the tools of her trade. “We request that our tour guests bring cameras so that they can capture ghost images,” says Stewart.

In addition to the Ward House, some of the most “active” sites include the old, abandoned Salem Jail, the jail keeper's house, and the adjacent Howard Street Cemetery. Stewart has been allowed to investigate all these areas, and has collected many photos of orbs – translucent balls of light that signify a spirit's presence – as proof of spirit activity.

One of the most haunted sites, however, might just be the Spellbound Museum on Essex Street, New England's only supernatural museum, according to Stewart. Among other items, the museum features a 19th-century executioner's axe from Zaire, a 200-year-old vampire killing kit, a wooden devil's mask and a voodoo fetish doll that allegedly once turned its head to look at a visitor.

“We've had some very intense reactions on the tour and in the museum,” says Stewart. “I don't believe spirits can hurt anyone, but we've had people run off screaming, get physically ill, and break down and cry. To me, it's all positive stuff [because she knows the tour is authentic].”

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