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Curse of Ann Hopkins 
Cambridge, Massachusetts

"Where Magazine Street ends in Central square stand the ruins of the Cambridgeport Baptist Church recently destroyed by fire the second time [1881].

Strange sounds are heard at night by persons who pass the ruined building—low moans and cries of intense agony, that rise to weird shrieks and die away in long-drawn sighs.

These unearthly sounds increase in frequency as the work of clearing away the ruin progresses, and old residents remember that the same sounds were heard after the burning of the old church some sixteen years ago, beginning as soon as the work of rebuilding started, and increasing until the cornerstone was laid, when they ceased altogether.

During that ceremony a rather strange incident occurred. As the stone was being lowered into place a spark of fire was struck out in some unaccountable way and communicated to the documents placed under the stone, but the block was quickly lowered to put the flames out. When the stone was raised the other day there was nothing under it but a little heap of ashes, and it is a curious coincidence that the same thing was noticed when the cornerstone of the old church was raised.

Various theories have been put forward to account for these things, and the local papers have attempted to solve the mystery, but without success.

A few evenings ago I returned from Boston shortly after midnight, and, getting off the horse-car at Central square, turned my steps toward the church in company with an acquaintance, an old man who has lived in Cambridge all his life. As we approached the the ruin, its picturesque appearance struck us both, and we stopped to gaze upon it.

The massive belfry tower and the sharp gable-end of the chapel cast heavy shadows across the street, flecked with patches of grayish light that struggled through the gothic windows. The broken outline of the walls against the cloudy sky were dim and uncertain, and the charred timber remaining upright upon the chapel, where the smaller spire had been, added to the strange effect of the ruined pile.

As we stood gazing upon the picture and listening to the sighing of the wind through the leafless branches of the stately elms, a low moaning cry arose and seemed to hover in the air above us, mingling with the sighing of the breeze and puzzling the ear to locate the spot from whence it came. With one impulse we moved toward the church and halted in the shadow of the tower, striving to locate in vain to trace the sound to its source.

There was something human and yet unearthly in that cry, like the wail of a lost spirit or a ghost in exile, and as my companion merely nodded his head and muttered, "Yes, it is the same," I turned to him for an explanation. "Sit down here on the step and I will tell you all I know about it," said he, and I obeyed in silence.

In the chill night air, in the shadow of the ruins with that uncanny music of another world floating around and above us like a ghostly accompaniment, I listened to the old man's story.

"You must remember that, although I am an old man, the incidents I am told about relate occurred long before my time, and were told to me by my grandfather, who was a Revolutionary soldier, and, indeed, he must have heard the story from the lips of older men.

It was away back in the early days of Massachusetts colony, when witches were burned and Quakers hanged in this goodly Commonwealth, and the spot where we are now sitting was covered with brambles and wild undergrowth.

Down towards the river, in a secluded grove of pines, was a little cabin occupied by a solitary and singular old woman, who was looked upon with awe and aversion by the simple people of the town. What sorrows had driven Ann Hopkins to isolate herself from her kind none knew for certain, but from various old records and manuscripts a portion of her history has been traced.

She was once the most beautiful girl in the settlement and of course had many lovers, but there was one upon whom she looked with special favor, and who was regarded by his rivals with intense hatred. In one of the Indian wars her lover shouldered his flint-lock and marched away to battle with the wily and cruel foe of the white man, but beside him walked yet one more cruel and malignant, one who could find no road to happiness that did not lead over his grave.

Well, the lover never came back, but his rival the companion in arms returned and told how he had fallen into an ambuscade and lost his life, adding to his talk a supplication for the hand of Ann Hopkins.

But his unreasoning passion defeated his purpose, for she caught a glimpse

through his ruffled collar a ribbon that held the token she had given her lover, and in an instant her woman's heart told her the dreadful story. This was the blow that unsettled her reason and made here shun the society of mankind.

As time rolled on and her sad story was forgotten, her cabin came to be regarded as the abode of evil spirits, and children were taught to avoid the malign influence of her gaze.

So long as they left her alone she was satisfied, but one spring there came a strange sickness among the people, and being unable to account for it in any other way they whispered that Mother Hopkins must be at the bottom of it, and it was not long before one was found to openly denounce her as a witch.

Circumstances that had passed unnoticed were brought up by accusation against her. Trueman Green's cow had passed the cabin one night and next day gave bloody milk. The witch had looked upon a little child and it straightway fell sick and died. The night of the great thunder-storm, when the deacon's house was struck, strange lights and unholy noises were seen and heard around Mother Hopkin's cabin, and one good wife was ready to swear that the witch was on a broomstick, followed by a troop of howling imps and black cats.

It was enough. The accusations were her death warrant, and she was taken out upon this spot at night and burned at the stake, the deacon applying the torch.

As the red flames leaped around her withered form and reached out hungry tongues of fire to devour the shrinking flesh, she looked upon the faces of the eager fanatics who were piously rejoicing in her agony and saw among them the cruel countenance of him who had ruined and blasted her life.

The flames cracked spitefully, the skin upon her hands and arms shrunk, distended and burst open as the bark peels from the birch. Higher rose the flames and hotter, and the sickening odor of burning human flesh filled all the air. The light clothing quickly disappeared in smoke, and the thin wasted limbs writhed and twisted in horrible agony, clothed only in fire.

See, the cords that bound her have burned asunder, here long hair becomes a sheet of flame, and she raises her blackened right arm toward heaven. The red light flashes back from her scorched eyeballs upon the throng, her cracked and bleeding lips part, and shaking the arm from which the flesh is dropping in shreds, she shrieks a terrible curse upon here murderers.

They shrink back in chill terror, back into the gloom beyond the glare of the ghastly flames, and Ann Hopkins shrieks: "The curse of fire shall be upon this spot forever!"

A moment more and a heap of bones and ashes, a few flickering embers are all that remain. But the curse of Ann Hopkins is here today, and who can say that it is not here spirit that haunts the place?"

Here the old man's tale ended, and I look up and said: "Do you think the ghost of Ann Hopkins stretched these telegraph wires overhead that are making all this weird moaning?" and the old man arose and gazed upon me reproachfully. Derived from a March 27, 1881 Boston Globe article.

Historical Location:

Site of Ann Hopkins Curse (Historic Folklore) 
Magazine Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

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