In February 1692, fear and hysteria gripped the small colonial village of Salem, Massachusetts in an iron fisted grasp. A group of young girls from the most prestigious families pointed a finger and uttered a word that would bring swift condemnation, “Witch.” For 16 months between the first accusations and May 1693, the citizens of Salem were convinced the devil was in their midst. They feared he was working through their friends, neighbors and even beloved family members. As far as everyone was concerned, anyone could be in league with lucifer and no one could be trusted.
When the hysteria finally came to an end, twenty members of the community were dead: nineteen were hanged and one was crushed to death. Even in the “new world,” old world superstitions were still very much alive.
The Salem Witch Trials, as we call them today, is a tragic episode in the history of the United States. These allegations and executions of innocent people has not only left a black stain on our nation, but a psychic scar as well.
Today, Salem, Massachusetts has embraced this history and turned their town into a much-loved tourist destination. Nevertheless, that psychic scar has remained on the town and has resulted in many of its buildings being haunted by the ghosts of its horrific past. No building bears that scar quite as much as the Joshua Ward House.
Built in 1784, the Joshua Ward House is the namesake of its builder, wealthy sea merchant, Joshua Ward. The home is an example of Federal Style architecture, and as such, it obtained quite a bit of notoriety as it was the first house in the region built entirely of brick. The house had become so well known, George Washington, first president of the United States, insisted he stay the night upon visiting in 1789. His historic visit is memorialized with a plaster bust of the president resting silently in a second story window.
Although the house was built in 1784, the hauntings said to occur there are in no way related to Ward and are of a much earlier vintage. A century earlier a much different house stood on the land – a house that played an important role in the witch trials. The house belonged to George Corwin who was a man that seemed to delight in cruelty and torture; he was also the high sheriff of Salem.
George Corwin was well suited to play the role of a high inquisitor of sorts. He was well connected, having uncles and a father-in-law who served as justices. Corwin had a bit of a cruel streak and took pleasure in forcing confessions from the accused. One unsubstantiated claim has Corwin imprisoning accused witches in his basement and torturing them until they confessed. One accused woman, Sarah Goode famously cursed Corwin by saying, “You are a liar. I am no more a witch than you are a wizard. And if you take my life, God will give you blood to drink.” Goode’s curse eventually struck home when George Corwin perished in his home, struck down by a massive heart attack in 1696.
Since the death of George Corwin, the Joshua Ward House has seen many different owners. In the 19th century, the house was converted into a hotel but for some reason the hotel didn’t last long. The house sat empty for over a century and was slated to be razed to the ground in the 1970s. Thankfully, the Salem Historical Society convinced the town of the house’s significance and it was saved from the wrecking ball. Currently the Ward House is home to several businesses including a realty company.
According to the employees of the businesses something dark and sinister roams the halls and rooms of this historic house. When you consider the history of the home and the cruel inhuman monster that once resided there it should come as no surprise that vengeful wraiths from an era best left in the distant past haunts the Joshua Ward House…and they have no problem making themselves known.
Our first restless soul that inhabits the house is none other than the high sheriff himself, George Corwin. Or, as eyewitnesses call him, The Strangler. The ghost of Corwin was given this sinister name because of his practice of strangling accused witches into submission. It would seem that Corwin still engages in his enhanced interrogation practices long after his death.
Over the years, several unsuspecting victims have complained of being seized by their necks by rough, strong hands. One poor soul who was working late found themselves almost strangled to the point of passing out. When he managed to break free from the grasp of the unseen assailant, he fled the house in terror.
Of all the executions George Corwin presided over, none was more famous than the execution of Giles Corey. Corey was an elderly farmer who was arrested on accusations of witchcraft after his wife was arrested. When he refused to enter a plea of not guilty or guilty, Giles Corey was subjected to an archaic punishment that had never been used in the new world, pressing. As he lay dying under the rocks piled on top of him, Corey managed to yell out, “More stones.” George Corwin was all too happy to oblige. The high sheriff piled the stones on the old man until he breathed his last torturous breath.
The ghost of Giles Corey is believed to be behind the majority of the supernatural shenanigans in the house. While rarely seen, Corey takes delight in knocking pictures off the wall and books off shelves. He also seems to have the ability to melt candles without igniting their wicks. Workers in the offices have reported the dreadful feeling of being watched as they work. Employees also experience a chilly breeze on hot days wand this is believed to be the ghost of Corey passing through.
Lastly, a third spirit said to haunt the Joshua Ward House is believed to be a woman George Corwin sent to the gallows to hang till she was dead. The Witch, as she is called, has been encountered on the top floor of the house. When she appears, she is said to have hair as black as night that falls over a pale, gaunt face and a dress covered in filth making for a truly terrifying specter to behold.
During a company party in the realty office, an employee took a picture of a coworker and got the shock of his life. When he had the film developed, in the place of his coworker was the nightmarish image of an emaciated woman with long black hair.
The Joshua Ward House is currently closed to the public and visitors looking for ghosts are immediately, but politely, turned away. Nevertheless, this has not stopped the stories of the ghosts filtering out from behind it’s cold brick walls. Perhaps one day, they’ll allow curiosity seekers to explore this famously haunted house.
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