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Ghosts of Boston

Alum’s new book covers Hub’s history of hauntings

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Sam Baltrusis author book Ghosts of Boston Haunts of the Hub

“A lot of these people have stories to tell, and as a journalist it’s my job to give a voice to people who don’t have a voice,” says Sam Baltrusis (COM’93). “I just didn’t realize they were going to be dead.” Photo courtesy of Baltrusis

For someone who often encounters dead people, Sam Baltrusis seems remarkably calm.

“People have the misconception that the paranormal is negative, but in my experience, it’s actually been the opposite,” says Baltrusis (COM’93).

A journalist who has worked for ABC Radio, MTV, Stuff Magazine, and Boston Spirit Magazine and whose blog “Loaded Gun” covers the Beantown movie boom, Baltrusis says he has personally encountered five or six ghosts, some inhabiting apartments he has lived in, and one near the notoriously haunted Fort Warren on Boston’s Georges Island, in 2007.

Baltrusis first pitched the idea of writing an article on ghosts in Boston to Stuff Magazine, eventually amassing enough material for a book. Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub was published last month by the History Press.

The book explores the city’s ghoulish history over more than three centuries, including Colonial-era spirits said to still roam Boston Common and those of 100 British soldiers killed during the Revolutionary War, whose remains were discovered during the building of the Boylston T station in the early 20th century—some of them allegedly haunt Boston’s subway tunnels.

“A lot of these people have stories to tell, and as a journalist it’s my job to give a voice to people who don’t have a voice,” Baltrusis says. “I just didn’t realize they were going to be dead.”

Baltrusis, a teacher of writing and journalism at the Boston Center for Adult Education, recently taped a special for the Biography Channel’s Haunted Encounters, where he examined the “residual energy” that he says still lingers from the 1897 gas-line explosion near the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets that killed 6 and wounded more than 60 people.

BU Today spoke with Baltrusis about his experiences with ghosts and paranormal happenings in Boston and about BU’s own haunted history.

BU Today: Tell us about your first encounter with a ghost.

Baltrusis: I was living in Ball Square in Somerville. I saw what looked like a little girl coming out of the closet. I was shocked, but my roommates said they had already seen her. I kept seeing what looked like the shape of a girl peeking out of the closet, and I just accepted that the place was haunted. We also heard footsteps, and whenever I would go to check it out, nobody was there.

You write in the book that you currently live with a female spirit.

I live near Davis Square in Somerville, and things like scissors kept going missing from the house. I do a lot of craft projects, and I noticed the cabinets would open, the doors would open, and there were a lot of noises. I saw what looked like a female figure walking by in a nightgown, so my roommate and I started calling her the scissor sister. I definitely think she’s friendly, she’s playful, and I just accept that she’s here. She is probably a residual haunting, in the sense that she lived in the house and she continued staying in the house after she passed. And I think she’s definitely a happy haunter.

People may be surprised to learn how much of Boston’s history is rather dark.

Ghosts of Boston is in essence a history book with ghost stories in it; it’s a fun way to read about Boston’s history. I wanted to look at whether, if a place is allegedly haunted, there was a backstory as to why it may be haunted. For instance, if there was a fire, it might make sense for people to report hearing glass break or doors slamming or screams coming from a building. This comes into play with the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire, which killed almost 500 people. Disasters, murder, suicide, those types of things linger in a building.

Eugene O'Neill playwright, ghost haunting Shelton Hall Boston University

Eugene O’Neill, one of America’s greatest playwrights, spent his last days in Shelton Hall, then the Hotel Shelton. Photo illustration by Edward A. Brown

Talk about BU’s history with ghosts.

There is a whole historical backstory of playwright Eugene O’Neill and his last days spent at Shelton Hall [now Kilachand Hall], which is where I lived during my sophomore year at BU [O’Neill lived on the fourth floor, now known as the Writers’ Corridor, of what was then the Hotel Shelton, and and died there in November 1953]. I didn’t have any encounters with him, but I remember all of the RAs talking about the backstory and the Writers’ Corridor.

Some people think that the founder of the Repertory Theatre of Boston [now the BU Theatre, home of the Huntington Theatre Company] committed suicide in 1930 because the theater was failing—that’s not true. The book talks about how he actually died in his home, so there’s a lot of debunking in the book.

Actually, a lot of material that didn’t make it into the book was applicable to BU. One story involved Myles Standish Hall, and another 515 Park Drive in South Campus, which was the site where one of the Boston Strangler’s victims lived. The Charlesgate Hotel, which is now apartments, was an allegedly haunted location and used to be a dorm for Emerson and BU.

Your book emphasizes the surprisingly scientific methods of many paranormal investigators, who use such things as meters, thermometers, and digital cameras. Can you talk about this?

Adam Berry, whom I interviewed extensively for the book, is a paranormal investigator on SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. They actually use equipment that’s very science-based. It is used to find evidence for something that’s inexplicable. They are more skeptical. They go in with the idea that this place isn’t haunted, and they’re trying to find evidence to prove that it actually is haunted or that there’s some paranormal activity at the place.

How do you handle skeptics?

Researching and writing about ghost stuff is like coming out of the paranormal closet, because you have to talk about your own experiences with the spirit realm and with ghosts. It was a little difficult to get up in front of people and talk about my experiences with the spirit realm.

I get a lot of nonbelievers or naysayers, and I think that when people actually read the book they’ll find that it’s very well researched. I’m kind of like Mulder from The X-Files, the believer. My assistant, Andrew Warburton, who’s a PhD student at Tufts, is more like my Scully, the skeptic. We fought the whole time.

When I’ve done book signings I’ve seen the transformation in people. I realize as I meet people at my book signings and they tell me their stories, that it’s a great way to collect material for my next book.

What were some of your best sources for material?

My research assistant was fantastic. I’m also a tour guide with Haunted Boston, so I got a lot of stuff from actually giving those tours in the Boston Common. And then a lot of old newspaper clippings—those are important as original source material—and of course talking to people. I found that people in New England do not want to go on record, so it was difficult getting people to talk about their experiences with the paranormal on record.

You allude to your next book. What will that be about?

I just signed a contract to write a book about the ghosts of Cambridge, and I launched a ghost tour in Cambridge called Cambridge Haunts. I’d also like to pitch a book on the ghosts of Provincetown.

11 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

11 Comments on Ghosts of Boston

  • A skeptic on 10.31.2012 at 8:15 am

    As a BU employee, I take offence at this article. I don’t quite understand why BU Today needs to promulgate such nonsense. I suggest the next article on this topic be about the psychological mechanisms of the so called “paranormal” experiences.

    • Anonymous on 10.31.2012 at 10:01 am

      As a student I am bothered by this at this comment. Education should be open-minded; that’s how we grow intellectually. History and “pseudo”-science are perfectly acceptable lines of academic inquiry. Its Halloween lighten up a little! I really enjoyed this article.

      • Another Skeptic on 10.31.2012 at 10:37 am

        Being open minded does not mean accepting any ideas as truths or valid versions of reality. Being open-minded is simply being open to new ideas, not all ideas. Take a look at this video explaining why this kind of thinking is flawed.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI

        • Anonymous on 10.31.2012 at 11:58 am

          I’m not advocating a specific belief one way or another, but I do advocate exposure to a variety of lines of academic inquiry. Before you can prove something to be untrue, you have to be open to exploring the possibility of it being true. The article specifically references one skeptical position. Whether or not one chooses to believe in paranormal activity, the existence of belief and legend is a historical and contemporary cultural fact. You don’t have to agree with someone’s findings in order for their research or publication to have a valid interest or purpose. Intellectual debate is a good thing, and dialogue is at the very least two sided. Happy Halloween everyone!

  • Orly? on 10.31.2012 at 10:46 am

    You “don’t quite understand” why BU Today would print an article about an alum who recently published a book?

    You “don’t quite understand” why they would print an article about how said book documents ghost stories around Boston (one you haven’t read), including BU’s own campus?

    You “don’t quite understand” why they would choose to print it on Halloween?

    Really? You can’t possibly in a million years imagine how this could be so?

    Did you know there are also articles about candy and fears on BU Today? It’s as if there’s something happening today that has to do with fears, candy, and the paranormal! WHAT COULD IT BE?! Let us clutch our pearls!

    And what does your being an employee have to do with anything else you’ve said?

    • justsaying on 10.31.2012 at 11:11 am

      Lol. Seriously. Happy Halloween!

  • Anyomous on 11.01.2012 at 8:55 pm

    To the comment done by Skeptic, I see you are an employee of BU but you must not have graduated from BU…it is offense, not offence. Sorry but poor grammar, especially from an employee at a college is just annoying.
    Second of all do you not read the other articles published on BU Today? Yes some are serious articles and others are just for fun and enlightening. I agree with Orly, what does being an employee at BU have to do with your comment? Yes, you do not have to agree with the paranormal, but that doesn’t mean it is still not a great article. To me you sound like someone who cannot enjoy a fun article and you are all about the seriousness in life…lighten up and enjoy life.

  • Anonymous on 11.02.2012 at 10:01 am

    Wow, I didn’t know that they changed Shelton Hall to Kilachand Hall. Oh, the power of money.

  • E on 11.04.2012 at 9:00 pm

    What’s the Myles Standish story that didn’t make the book? I’ve never heard about that one and I couldn’t find anything on the internet.

  • GhostsofBoston on 11.07.2012 at 6:13 pm

    Here’s an article in the Free Press about the alleged hauntings at Myles Standish and 515 Park Drive: http://dailyfreepress.com/2003/10/31/babe-ruth-boston-strangler-may-haunt-dorms/

  • Peter Gickas on 01.30.2015 at 9:39 am

    Why write a “ghost novel” about ghost’s in Provincetown,Ma?

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