Boston’s true dark history remains untold despite haunted tours booming

The Boston Common
The Boston Common
A path in Boston Common that residents use to escape the bustling city. Photo by Kieran O’Connor

By Kieran O’Connor 

Boston’s tourism surges as thrill-seekers flock to unearth ghostly secrets of the past.

Tourists come from all around the globe year-round to visit Boston for several reasons. One of the main reasons people visit Boston today is due to a thirst to learn about the spirits that haunt the city. Several tour companies quench that thirst by offering city-wide tours that visit the most haunted locations in the area.

Steven Francis, a tourist from England said, “I have come here with my partner to learn about the history of Boston and there’s no better way to do so than through ghostly tales.” The tours usually last around 2 hours and tourists can expect to pay up to $50 dollars a ticket.

Francis and his partner went on a tour with ‘Boston’s Ghost and Gravestones Company’, one of the city’s most expensive but popular tours. The Tour guides take their groups to significant historical locations such as The Boston Common, The Central Burial Grounds and The Omni Parker House. The guides share historical context about the locations through the infamous ghosts that are said to haunt the area.

“I think it’s a fun way to learn about the history of a place for all ages. You are more likely to remember facts when there is a good story behind them,” said Francis.

The tour guides’ responsibilities are to educate their group while keeping them entertained. This sometimes means that important history is lost as it cannot be made into a light-hearted story.

 Martin Blatt, Professor of Public History at Northeastern University, has been attempting to shine a light on Boston’s dark history himself. Professor Blatt was given a grant to run a program on a speech titled “Eulogy on King Philip” by William Apess.

Blatt was inspired to create the program from the public readings in Massachusetts, of ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July’, by Frederick Douglass. “It is a tremendous speech, one of the greatest, in American history. Those are done now all over Massachusetts with post-speech conversation,” said Blatt. Originally planned to start in 2020, the program was delayed by three years due to Covid-19.

Blatt also wants more people to know about the horrifying part the Boston Common played in King Phillip’s War. “Colonists in Boston tore apart the body of King Phillip – leader of the local Native American Tribes – and delivered his individual parts around Massachusetts,” said Blast.

“The Colonists then identified around 50 Indians that they suspected to be leaders or important people and publicly executed them on Boston Common. Yet virtually nobody in the Greater Boston area knows the history, let alone visitors who go on tours in the Common”, said Blatt.

A Freedom Trail tour guide talking to tourists.
A Freedom Trail tour guide educating tourists about the Boston Common. Photo by Kieran O’Connor

Blatt hopes that his program will spread awareness of Boston’s dark past and lead to the construction of a monument.

Boston Common’s haunting history includes not only Native Americans but also Quakers who faced similar fates. A story that the haunted tour guides tell is one about Mary Dyer. An Englishwoman who arrived in Boston with her husband in 1635 to escape religious persecution, is said to haunt the city’s largest park, the Boston Common.

The Mary Dyer statue outside of the State House, Boston
The Mary Dyer Statue, erected in 1959, Commemorates a Courageous Quaker Martyr in Boston’s History. Photo by Kieran O’Connor

Shortly after arriving in Boston, Mary and her husband were caught up in a controversy of the Boston Church regarding antinomianism. During this time Mary became pregnant and gave birth to a severely deformed stillborn child. It was thought at the time that physical deformities were the result of deformed religious beliefs. This led the church to deface her baby’s grave.

The couple left Boston and returned to England where they became Quakers. Mary decided to go back to Boston to spread her religion, but Puritans in Boston did not tolerate her newfound beliefs and banished her. Mary was banished four times in total before Boston’s Puritan establishment executed her in 1660.

People often heard Mary Dyer preaching her Quaker beliefs in Boston Common long after her execution. Then in 1976, a statue was erected of Dyer in front of the State House, and nobody heard her spirit preach again. Well, at least that is what a tour guide of the Boston Ghosts and Gravestone company said.

“I had seen the statue of Dyer a lot as we were staying in Beacon Hill, but I had no idea who she was or why it was there before going on our tour,” said Francis.

Some Boston residents also believe that the tours capitalize on fake marketing ploys whilst there are real spirits that haunt Boston.

The Massachusetts Paranormal Research Group does not view ghosts as vehicles for parables to maximize profits. The group helps concerned homeowners who believe their house may be haunted to learn more about the supernatural.

Suzanne Roberts, Director, and Researcher of the group knows that hauntings can happen for several reasons. “There are many kinds of hauntings. One kind is visitations, which is when a passed loved one will check up on you,” said Roberts.  “You can tell when a haunting is a visitation as you might be able to smell your loved ones’ perfume,” said Roberts.

When conducting research, the group often finds that a lot of people want to be the victim of hauntings although that may not be the case and many people think this way due to Hollywood films. “We get a lot of residential calls where the caller will tell us there is a demon in their house. But when we arrive there is no sign of any hauntings whatsoever,” said Roberts.

Paranormal researcher Roberts explained that these scenarios usually end with the client being unhappy.  “We never make up a story. We tell them this is what we found. We did some research, there was a guy here that died but, as far as the demon smell, I think it is your toilet,” said Roberts.