By Caitlin Fisher
I couldn’t quite figure out the paranormal aesthetic of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground: there was an eerie, fantastical aura about the place, shrouded as it is by mist and curling vines, that made it feel like the pumpkin patch from “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” There, too, were the rolling hills and jagged tombstones that made it look like Billy Butcherson was about to rise from the earth at the behest of the Sanderson Sisters. And, unexpectedly, I had the inkling that Venkman and the rest of the “Ghostbusters” team was about to pop out from behind a tomb, drenched in ectoplasm and ready to blast any wayward spirits into a proton pack, a feeling encouraged by the suspicious-looking yellow fungus growing out of the weeping willows that, according to a nearby plaque, had never been planted in the first place, nourished not by a groundskeeper but by the nutrients of the long-decayed bodies beneath the soil.
Copp’s Hill Burial Ground is the second-oldest graveyard in Boston, and was not as haunted as I expected it to be, at least according to my quick internet perusal prior to my visit Sunday. Perched at the peak of the North End, Copp’s Hill was the setting of many a Boston legend: it was from this graveyard that famed British officer of the Revolutionary War, “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, watched the fateful Battle of Bunker Hill in nearby Charlestown. Thomas Gruchy’s mysterious underground tunnels are rumored to connect the nearby Old North Church to the graveyard. During the American Revolution, British redcoats used the graves as target practice, evidenced in the bullet holes riddling the graves, most notably the grave of Daniel Malcolm, a wine smuggler who was later praised as a Son of Liberty because of his open criticism of British taxation. Because of this disrespectful behavior, the scorned spirits of Copp’s Hill are said to wander about even now, most notably among them the frightening Reverend Increase Mather, a Puritan preacher largely responsible for the Salem witch trials. It is Mather’s spirit that visitors most frequently interact with, as his ghost has been reported to taunt tourists.
Mather was nowhere to be found Sunday morning: Copp’s Hill, like the rest of the North End, was hushed and isolated, cobblestone streets and wrought-iron gates hinting at secrets yet uncovered, movements seen out of the corner of your eye, the uncomfortable sensation that something unseen is watching. The closest my high school best friend and I came to contact with the paranormal was the distinct sound of horse hooves echoing through the graveyard, which Aisling immediately attributed to a fellow sightseer’s high heels. However, this wasn’t quite logical — there had been the clanking of hooves on cobblestone, before it had stopped completely. The sound of someone walking in heels would have been much quieter, and would not have stopped so abruptly. I, of course, believed the noise to be of a far spookier nature: just down the street from Copp’s Hill was the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, during which a molasses tank exploded, initiating a flood through the North End that killed more than 20 people and countless animals. Among the fallen were many horses — and, if we believe in the existence of the spirits of dead humans, ghost horses don’t feel too far fetched. And if there was anywhere that a ghost horse may inhabit, it would be a graveyard in the North End, surrounded as it is with Lovecraft lore and hidden tunnels and the legion of dead buried in every nook and cranny.