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The Most Haunted Cemetery in Salem – Howard St. Cemetery

Let us visit the haunted lands of New England, filled with ghost stories and witches flying on their brooms on a bright full-moon night. This time we will explore haunted cemeteries and buildings in another Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem, also known as the city of Salem, Massachusetts, named after the “city of peace.” But, as we all know, peace is the last thing you’ll find in Jerusalem, and it seems that the fate of the new Jerusalem wasn’t much different.

Disclosure: Although spreading the word about dark and hidden secrets is a passion of mine, ghosts and demons don’t pay the bills. Therefore, this post may contain promotional content, read more in disclosure & privacy policy.

Almost 70 years after its birth, Salem was the home of the vile witch hunt, known as the Salem witchcraft hysteria. The Hysteria took the lives of 25 innocent people between 1692 and 1693. One of those victims was Giles Corey, who cursed the city and appeared to haunt a particular cemetery in Salem known as the Howard Street Cemetery, which I will tell you about.

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The Salem witch museum downtown is a great place to learn about the witch trials.

Naumkeag – “The Fishing Place”

The city of witches’ history began long before the witch hysteria or even the founding of the town of Salem. Instead, it was a fishing village known in the local language as Naumkeag, “the fishing place.” For generations before the European colonization, these people were part of the Pawtucket tribe who occupied the territory between the Mystic River and the bays around Portland, Maine. They lived next to other groups and tribes of indigenous peoples, connected by kinship, trade, and military. They had a seasonal or cyclical farming, foraging, fishing, and hunting-based economy.
European colonization gradually brought their doom and disintegration, exposing them to previously unknown diseases that killed an estimated seventy percent of their population between 1616 – 1619. Add to that previous local and new struggles that arose as a consequence of becoming a contested territory between the indigenous tribes and the alien newcomers.

The Pilgrims come to shore

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English settlers established Salem as a puritan colony in 1692. Naming the new town Salem, the city of peace, after Jerusalem, hoping that here, in the New World, they’ll be able to live and do gods work safely and freely, far from the corruptive influence of the English king and church.
If you had a chance to read my blog with its’ various tales and events that took place in Jerusalem, you probably know that peace and Jerusalem don’t play nice. The city is infamous for its’ constant religious battles to this day, with an area called Hell right in the middle of the town. “The new Jerusalem”, aka Salems, fate was surprisingly or not quite similar.

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The old Salem Derby Warf appears to be haunted by some ghostly pirates, yarrr.

It was established as an outpost in the borderlands between the colonized area and the Native American settlements on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. With time, Salem, became a vital and bustling Harbor Town, importing and distributing goods from Europe and beyond to the new colonies. Before Salem became famous for witches, it was famous for trade. But life wasn’t always rosy in Salem. Shortly after its establishment, it was where prejudice, greed, and religious extremism took hold, torturing and taking the lives of innocents, which we know today as the Salem witch trials.

Salem witchcraft hysteria

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The story of the Salem witch trials didn’t begin in Salem town, but in Salem village, in what is known today as the city of Danvers. Located about five miles northeast of Salem town. Don’t worry; I’m also writing a post about this place, so don’t forget to subscribe. Nor did it solely affect the town of Salem. Among its’ cold and narrow jail cells and murderous gallows, victims from the surrounding areas, up until Maine, found their suffering and death.

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Today an office building, during the witch trials, the witches’ dungeon stood on this spot.

During February 1692 and May 1693, over two hundred people were accused of witchcraft, primarily women, and were tried and prosecuted for the allegations.
However, neither men nor children escaped the accusations and death. Among the accused, thirty were found guilty, and nineteen were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). At least five people found their death in the dirty jail cells. One man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death while refusing to plead and take part in this absurdity. As a local urban legend tells, he cursed the town of Salem. His soul still haunts the city, never giving up on the madness that took over the people of Salem.

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The tombstone of the infamous judge John Hawthorne is in the Old Burying point, another haunted cemetery in Salem. The oldest one in Salem and the second oldest in the USA.

A perfect day in a haunted cemetery – Fantasmagoria

Wearing the Shadows Fall top and Macbeth leggings by the brand Punk Rave from Fantasmagoria.

Before I tell you the story behind the haunted Howard Street Cemetery, I would like to thank Fantasmagoria. They collaborated with me on this photoshoot by gifting me this beautiful outfit. If there is a thing goths like to do at cemeteries, besides picnics, spending a casual day exploring some graves, reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe on a pleasantly cloudy day, or raising some dark forces, it’s having cool photoshoots. And what is better than a haunted cemetery in Salem for such an occasion?

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Fantasmagoria is one of my favorite alternative and gothic fashion shops. I’ve been ordering from them for years, and they never disappoint. They have a great selection of brands, accessories, and clothing, varying from romantic and fancy to casual and Industrial styles. My husband and I mainly order clothing by “Punk Rave,” one of our favorite brands. It’s good quality, very comfortable, and has beautiful and versatile designs. I also find them the best place to get alternative men’s clothing. Fantasmagoria’s customer service is excellent, and the shipping is always super fast. If you are looking for an excellent alternative online shop, definitely check them out.

the story of the most haunted cemetery in Salem – Howard Street Cemetery

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If you ask a Salem local what the Howard street cemetery is famous for, you might hear this story. It is presumed to be the site where Giles Corey was pressed to death. They will also tell that his ghost has haunted the grounds ever since. Locals claim it’s the most haunted cemetery in town. Here you will find graves of children, merchants, soldiers, locals, and people from Europe searching for new life. The cause of death was often engraved on the headstones, telling the story of how the deceased ended up beneath the ground.

The tombstone of Anthonetta DeGraves, who moved to Salem from Amsterdam and found her sudden death in Salem from an affliction of the heart, being only 27 years old.

Established in 1801, the Howard street cemetery’s oldest tombstone belongs to Benjamin Ropes. A fatal accident occurred when he was crushed to death by a falling ship pole while working aboard the merchant ship Belisarius. He died at 19 years old. As will appear, crushing seems to be a recurring cause of death for the people buried here, among other peculiar incidents.

The Old Salem jail

According to some questionably reliable sources, crushing was the cause of death of fifteen percent of the cemetery dwellers. Among them were ten prisoners from the adjacent Salem Jail, the brick building next to the cemetery, who died when a floor collapsed on top of them. 

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The jail, Built between 1811 – 1813, was active until 1991. It was closed by court order after many years of neglect, lack of electricity or plumbing, and unbearable conditions that often led to riots and atrocities within its walls.

Amongst the jails’ residents was the Boston Strangler. At least according to websites dedicated to Salem lore or the Old Salem Jail. However, if you google where the Strangler was jailed, you’ll find out it had nothing to do with Salem. He was imprisoned in Walpole, south of Boston, where he also found his end, being stabbed to death in 1973. Can Boston’s Strangler accommodation in Old Salem Jail be another urban legend?
It’s known that Albert DeSalvio, the man behind the murders, was quite a recidivist. Could he have been there before his incarceration for the murders for his other shenanigans? If you know anything about it, feel free to comment or send me a message, I’d love to learn more about it.

Today, the Old Salem Jail got a facelift after standing neglected for many years, a period during which many ghost stories surrounding the place came to life. Yes, it’s also haunted, surprise, surprise. Nowadays, it’s a posh hipster apartment building with a restaurant on the bottom floor.

Make sure to protect your testicles when checking a horse

But being crushed was not the only cause of death for the Howard street cemetery dwellers. Some were even less lucky, like Captain Samuel Skerry Jr., who died agonizingly after being kicked in the “lower abdomen” by a horse. He, too, was a merchant mariner in the Far East trade and the commander of the ship Belisarius. Is this ship cursed, condemning its’ associates to die, agonizing, and bizarre deaths giving future bloggers content about which to write? After all, we are talking about Salem. It must be cursed.
On his tombstone, they wrote:

“In memory of
Capt Samuel Skerry Jr.
of Brookfield formerly of
this town While here on
a visit on Saturday between 4 & 5 o’clock P.M. in Mr. Pope’s
stables viewing a pair of
horses he was suddenly kicked
by one of them in the lower
part of his bowels & departed
this life on Sunday evening
October 23, 1809 AE 36
leaving an affectionate wife and
five small children to mourn the loss.”

– Tombstone Engraving

When you have an affair with lightning

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Some of the trees at the cemetery look like they have been hit by lightning.

While visiting Salem, locals told us about another dude who met the reaper in a bizarre fashion. A lightning strike killed him. Moreover, next to his tombstone, a large tree is growing. It appears to catch lightning from time to time too. Some say every 22 years, the age at which the poor fella died, the tree gets hit by lightning.
It seems the locals are not sure of the location of the tree. Some say it’s in the Charter Street Cemetery, next to the witch trial memorial. I’ve read in another place that it’s at the Broad street cemetery. While visiting Salem, some locals told us that it’s located in the Howard street cemetery, and we even went there one night to see the severed tree, a tree I also noticed on my previous visit here.

The fella’s name was Caleb Pikman. After researching and looking for data on gravestones in Salem, the only cemetery I found this guy buried at is the Charter street cemetery. Sorry to burst the tree myth, but I didn’t notice any dead or partly dead trees in this cemetery. 

Caleb Pickmans’ story is an excellent example of why you should never trust the living. It’s always better to trust the dead. At least with hauntings and the supernatural. Nonetheless, it was a great story and experience walking around Salem at night in search of the haunted tree and hanging with some of the locals, who were super nice and fun.

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The Charter Street cemetery, or as it’s also called Old Burying point, where the burial of Caleb Pikman is. No dead trees here. Nonetheless, it’s also considered a haunted cemetery, so stay tuned.

By now, you’re probably asking yourselves, what does this cemetery have to do with the witch trials and Giles Corey? After all, the first tombstone is over a hundred years after the witch trials.

Well, here is when it gets complicated…

Giles Corey – pressed for a confession, literally

Giles Corey was quite the character in life, death, and, as it seems, after his death too.
He was an old grumpy sustainable farmer living south of Salem village, modern-day Peabody. Corey was neither a saint nor the most likable resident in Salem, but he was not a witch nor a wizard. During the trials, he was married to Martha Corey, his third wife. She, too, was arrested and accused only a month before him. She met the reaper by execution on the gallows. On the other hand, Giles was tortured for two days before taking his last breath.

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Salem Witch Trials Memorial

On April 18, at 80 years old, Giles Corey was taken to jail. Some girls, including Mercy Lewis, accused him, saying she saw his apparition, who came to her, afflicting her with pain and urging her to write in his book (the devils’ book). But Giles was a stubborn fellow. He didn’t play along with the trials’ madness and absurdity and refused to plea. After five months in jail, on September 17, he was taken to a field next to the jail to be tortured by a method known as “Peine forte et dure.” No, it’s not a French perfume name but a type of torture used in the middle ages for those who refused to plea, meaning “hard and forceful punishment.”

Photo from Flickr by Tim Evanson

The puritans stripped Giles Corey naked and laid him on his back in the field. They placed a wooden board upon him. On top, gradually, they laid heavy rocks and boulders. For two days, he endured this torture, directed by the infamous Sheriff George Corwin, known for his sadistic methods during the trials. But Giles didn’t give up and kept saying, “more weight, more weight!” until his last breath. Some even say he cursed the Sheriff and Salem with his last breath, yelling: “Damn you! I curse you and Salem”.

The curse lives on

Sheriff George Corwin died of a heart attack when he was 30 in 1696. All the future Sheriffs after him also died due to some heart or blood ailment or resigned. Could it be that the curse actually worked?
Moving the sheriff’s office from Salem to Middleton in 1991 seems to have lifted the curse. But, it also might be because of the conditions in the Old Salem Jail, which were horrible, far worse than any curse. 

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However, Giles Corey’s story didn’t end with the curse. Over the years, locals reported seeing an older man in tattered old clothes walking around the trees in the Howard street cemetery, the place some believe he was pressed to death. They say if you see his ghost, something terrible is about to happen. According to several accounts, his spirit was spotted near the Howard street cemetery the night before the Great Fire of 1914, which burned one-third of Salem.  

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The area where the Howard street cemetery is located today was indeed an open field until 1801 when the cemetery was founded. However, it wasn’t the only one. Are you brave enough to go and check it out?

If you want to learn more about Giles Corey, I would like to recommend an excellent podcast I’ve been listening to, from where I found a lot of fascinating and fun information about the city. It’s called “Salem The Podcast,” and lately, they released a whole episode about Giles Corey. So, if you want to learn more about him, check it out.

This cemetery is open from dusk till dawn and located on Howard Street, near Salem Witch Museum.


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