Parker Hill Ghost
October 4, 1884
"Some time ago a Roxbury man, weary with life and the unhappiness it brought him, sought relief for his soul in a suicide's death. He went into a certain orchard on Parker's Hill, Roxbury, and swung himself into eternity from the limb of an apple tree.
Time sped by, and the neighborhood had almost ceased to remember the tragic affair, when stories began to circulate telling of strange weird sounds and ghostly figures that from time to time disturbed the belated traveler in that region.
At length the neighborhood of the orchard began to be shunned by all who happened to be out after dark. No one seemed inclined to be the first to seek to penetrate into the weird revels of the spirit world, said to be carried on there nightly. Of course, no end of stories, strange and horrible as the ghostly being which occasioned the same, were told now by this one and now by that, until not a soul in the neighborhood of the orchard remained who could not tell the stranger of something unearthly which he or she had seen.
One would tell you that he saw the figure of a man swaying to and fro as if gently impelled by the wind. He could identify the tree as the same as that upon which the suicide had given up the ghost. Another would tell of a man clad in deep black, who could be seen between the hours of 12 and 1 pacing through the orchard, with head bowed down as if in deep thought an his hands clasped behind his back. He would walk through the deep foliage in summer and the snows in winter, his footsteps always inaudible. After circling the tree a few times he would pause beneath its outspreading branches and once more enact the process by which he had passed from life to death. One thing, however, appeared never to vary, and that was, no sooner had the body ascended into the air than it became on the instant invisible.
Another story, the one, perhaps which has more directly to do with the present sketch, is that in the deep shade of the tree, with back pressed against the trunk, could be seen on moonlit nights a man clothed in white, motionless and to all appearance nailed there. A week ago Saturday night, a man, whose name could not be learned by the Globe reporter, rushed into a crowd of men who were discussing politics on a public square, and in a terrified voice told them of what he had seen. He declared that while passing by the haunted orchard a few minutes before—it was then 10 o'clock—he saw plainly outlined against the trunk of a tree, a figure clothed in white.
He thought at first that he must have been mistaken, and looked a second and a third time. Each time he looked the figure doubled its size, until at last it seemed to be as tall as the tree itself.
This story, told in a tremulous voice, convinced the listeners that there was something wrong. A consultation was held, and it was finally agreed that they would wait in a body upon a certain Sweeney, a blacksmith in the neighborhood, and if he could be prevailed upon to accompany them, they would unravel the mystery of the orchard.
Among a certain class of people and for many generations past, it has been believed that a blacksmith can exert more influence over the spirit world than anybody else, his commands and prayers being, as it were, more particularly and specifically regarded than those of other men. And this belief was that induced the superstitious of Parker hill to seek out Sweeney, the blacksmith, before proceeding to the scene of the weird mystery. Sweeney, on being found, readily asserted to make one of their number, and forth-with armed himself with a massive prayer-book.
On arriving at the spot where the ghost was reported to have been seen that evening, more than one heart grew faint with terror. They proceeded cautiously, however, and behold, what was their dismay, on rounding a certain clump of bushes, to see, standing motionless, with its back against a tree and clothed in white from head to foot, the outline of a man. The common feeling which prevailed in every heart of that little band of explorers was to fly from the spot. Indeed, some, it may be stated, could not flee even if they had wished, so overcome with terror were they.
It was at this critical point that the blacksmith displayed his courage by stepping to the front of the much-frightened crowd, and shouting in a voice to which the occasion seemed to lend a sepulchral ring: 'In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, I ask, who are ye?'
An oppressive silence followed, when, nothing daunted by the first repulse on the part of His Majesty the Ghost, Sweeney advanced solemnly a pace nearer and repeated: 'In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, I ask, who are ye?'
Still the figure in white remained silent and motionless. As the charm is generally in the third call, Sweeney was not surprised that the ghost had deigned to reply to the first and second.
He advanced a second time, this move bringing him within about 10 feet of the dread apparition, and then he paused. His courage appeared for a time to forsake him, and two minutes or more, hours to those waiting, sped by before the blacksmith's voice was heard a third time. He braced himself for the trying ordeal and then thundered forth with all the voice he was capable of, pausing between each clause as if the better to command the attention of the weird, ghostly figure before him.
'In the name of the Father and, and, of the Son a, and, of the Holy Ghost for the third time I ask, who are ye?'
'Well, yes; go to the devil and find out,' came back the answer in a deep, gutteral voice.
The party waited for no more, for, turning on their heels, all rushed from the orchard, led by the heroic Sweeney. Some finding themselves outstripped by their more fortunate neighbors, began to divest themselves of their hats, coats, and shoes, in order to put as much distance as possible between them and the ghost, who was now seen to move from beneath the tree. When they reached the neighborhood of civilization the wildest excitement prevailed. Indeed, a panic seemed to have visited that hitherto quiet spot. Mothers screamed for their children, and husbands for their wives, while the calmer of the mob fell upon their knees and sought relief in prayer.
While things were at this high stage of excitement a white figure was seen to approach, and once more many sped off, terror lending swiftness to their usually sluggish feet. Some, however, recognized the the white figure as that of a certain plasterer of the neighborhood by the name of Donovan. And thus the ghost mystery was solved.
As Donovan was returning from work that evening, clothed in his ordinary working clothes, the same being, as is customary with plasterers, made of white material, he stopped to see a certain friend. While there he indulged a little too freely in fire water and as he started from home was feeling considerably mellow. Being in a happy-go-lucky sort of mood when he reached the neighborhood of the haunted orchard, he did not hesitate to cross the neglected and much-shunned precincts, in order that he might the more readily reach his home. When about three-quarters through he stopped under a tree to light his pipe. That he might better accomplish this, he leaned his back against it and thus dozed off to sleep. It was in this position that he was first seen by the frightened traveler and afterwards accosted by the inquisitive mob headed by the blacksmith.
Donovan said that hearing a loud voice he opened his eyes and gazed about him in a semi-conscious way. On making out that a number of men were about him his first thoughts were that a job was being worked at his expense. It was this that decided him on answering as he did. And this the ghost of Parker hill orchard dissolved into a tipsy, harmless plasterer."