Haunted history, paranormal promenades: Take a day trip to learn about, maybe even encounter a ghost
Haunted walks and ghost tours offer a compelling frisson of fear for all ages. Some people even plan vacations around ghost tours, traveling the globe to commune with the dead.
The cities of Providence, Newport and New Haven are home to well-established companies with experienced, entertaining guides. If you don’t already feel that spirits share our world, you might finish a tour as a true believer.
As a child, Courtney Edge-Mattos moved with her family to a dilapidated 1700s house in a remote Vermont village.
“Our home was on a small mountain, up a winding dirt road outside of town,” recalls Edge-Mattos. “During extensive renovations, we discovered the house had a few more occupants than we realized—ghosts! That experience was pivotal and cemented the spirit world as part of my world.”
During college, Edge-Mattos worked as a tour guide for Newport Ghost Walk. As a theater major, she enjoyed the opportunity to blend her love of the paranormal with performance and history. Edge-Mattos (aka Ghost Mom) founded Providence Ghost Tour with a friend in 2006. Now sole proprietor, she’s still passionate about relationships developed over the years with the spirits and the community.
“I love the individual personalities of the spirits, their stories, their legacies, and what we can learn from the past,” she says. She also connects with people across the globe sharing stories of their paranormal encounters. “Ghosts are a cross-cultural phenomenon and I love learning about people’s experiences,” she adds.
Providence Ghost Tour is a walking, haunted history tour of the College Hill area. Guests traverse crooked streets by lamplight with a ghost guide, who stops along the route to share haunted happenings. Participants are encouraged to take pictures to see if any spirits emerge in the images, which according to Edge-Mattos, they often do.
Edge-Mattos’ favorite haunted site in Providence is the crypt of Annmary Brown and Christopher Rush Hawkins at Brown University, which has been said to be haunted.
“Their love story has endured beyond their last breath and I adore them,” she says. “People often perceive ghosts to be frightening, aggressive or angry, but I find such beauty and light in so many of their tales.”
A ghostly experience on the water is an option for those not comfortable walking hilly streets. PGT partners with Providence River Boat Company from June to November 1, and with LaGondola Providence for “Viaggio di Fantasme” (Voyage of the Spirits), which are haunted gondola rides twice a week in September and October. More details: providenceghosttour.com.
Larry Stanford owns Ghost Tours of Newport. His college roommate started a three-city ghost tour company in Key West in the 1990s, adding Newport, Rhode Island, in 2002. Their Olde Town Ghost Walk of 90 minutes features over 350 years of Newport’s haunted history on most evenings from May through Halloween. The full calendar is at ghostsofnewport.com.
Stanford’s favorite Newport tale involves the mischievous spirit of a little girl who haunts rooms 8 and 11 at the former Pilgrim House Inn on Spring Street. The housekeepers, who would see a child-shaped indentation on newly refreshed bed linens, named her Jessica. Hotel guests reported toilet paper being unrolled and showers mysteriously turned on. Guests also heard a music box playing, while others saw a little girl in a gray dress scurry up the front stairs, although children were not allowed at the inn.
According to Ghost Tours of Newport guide John Brennan, Newport features one of the country’s largest collections of historic buildings, about 800.
Brennan says he’s “shared the darker side of Newport’s culture and history” for nearly 20 years. As an author and actor, he loves storytelling and performance, and has a huge repertoire of historic tales, which can be read in his book, Ghosts of Newport (available on Amazon).
The Lizzie Borden House in Fall River, Massachusetts, is the location of the renowned unsolved murder mystery from 1892, when Lizzie was suspected of hacking her family to death with an ax. Guides at the house offer a haunted history tour of the neighborhood and a “Ghost Hunt” from 10 p.m. to midnight—a hands-on experience with “ghost-hunting equipment.” Visitors may also book a room for an overnight stay in the house where the murder occurred, now a B&B. lizzie-borden.com.
Tour guide and general manager Jared Robinson’s family managed the Lizzie Borden House when he was a child.
“I had many experiences watching my grandmother, aunts and cousins leading tours,” recalls Robinson, who has a background in performing arts.
His most memorable experience was on a recent tour. “Every guest had rented EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors, so we were seeing spikes at different times throughout the tour,” he says. “While gathered around the dining room table, everyone’s EMF detector began to spike simultaneously and then the lights went out, leaving us in pitch black with only small green LED lights emanating from our ghost-hunting gear. The room was silent—everyone was too terrified to scream. After about 35 seconds, the lights came back on and we carried on with the remaining portion of our tour. The lights never went off in any other room.”
Ghosts of New Haven also offers an outdoor tour with costumed guides sharing ghost lore and historical facts.
Manager Gabe Schoenberg got into ghost storytelling while attending New York University.
“So many places in New York City are said to be haunted,” says Schoenberg. “I started visiting locations and giving ghost tours as a way to connect with others who also felt there were spirits at these locations trying to speak out.”
After moving to New Haven, Schoenberg continued his quest to connect with ghosts as well as others curious about the great beyond.
Founded in 2013, the company is New Haven’s longest-running paranormal experience and includes stops at Yale’s Skull & Bones Society, Stanley Milgram’s famous laboratory, and a hidden cemetery at New Haven Green. The tour is about an hour and a half long and covers about a mile of walking. Find out more and book tickets at ghostsofnewhaven.com.
Two more ghostly tours to consider in southern New England:
Spirits of Milford Ghost Walks, in Milford, is owned and operated by Cindy Wolfe Boynton, author of a book about the Connecticut witch trials. She is also a longtime researcher and believer in the supernatural. spiritsofmilford.com
Block Island Ghost Tours focuses on the haunted history of Block Island with an eye on historical accuracy, offering spooky New England fun from summer through autumn. blockislandghosttours.com
The tale of Midnight Mary is New Haven’s most popular ghost tale and a favorite of tour guide and storyteller Gabe Schoenberg, who tells the story:
Mary Hart was a young woman in the 1870s. Some thought her bitter and cruel. Perhaps that was just the mark of a clever woman kept confined to her station for too long.
One afternoon, Mary swooned, suddenly, as if her heart had decided it had had enough. To avoid contagion, in those days it was common to bury the dead as quickly as possible. By nightfall, Mary was six feet under.
That night, her aunt suffered relentless nightmares about her niece’s fate, convinced they had made a terrible mistake and Mary was not dead.
The next morning, the coffin was exhumed. The inside of the wooden coffin lid revealed deep scratches, marks of a desperate soul trying to dig her way out of a death as confining as life.
Legend says Mary’s face, after dying of suffocation at midnight, was contorted into a furious scowl that recognized the unjustness of her fate.
Today, brave souls who visit Mary’s grave at Evergreen Cemetery at midnight have reported hearing the scratching and yelling of a woman determined to escape her fate.