Thursday, May 6, 2021

Ep. 384 - Boston Common

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Moment in Oddity - The Green Mist of Chino Hills (Suggested by: Robert Kruse)

Supposedly, if one drives down Peyton Dr to where it dead ends into Woodview Road in Chino Hills, and then makes a right turn and then a quick left, they will come upon a very dark wooded area. There is a road through that area that curves back and forth as the darkness pulls the car deeper into the woods. There is a locked gate and security camera at the end of the road. It is in this area where people for years would claim to see the mysterious green mist. Teenagers challenged each other to brave the drive as they shared stories of urban legends. There were stories of satanic cults meeting up on the hill and making animal sacrifices. There were rumors of a government missile launch site. While those stories are fun, the latter is the closest one to the truth. A company named Aerojet was located on the property. They were a defense contractor during the Vietnam War. They didn't have any missiles on site, but they did build and test land mines. The tests involved using human cadavers to see how much damage the land mines would do and tamper them down so that they would maim rather than kill. They also tested gases by exploding them and occasionally when those gases mixed with the fog in the area, it would appear as a green mist. The mystery of the green mist might be solved, but the story behind it, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - German Instrument of Surrender Signed

In the month of May, on the 7th, in 1945, the German Instrument of Surrender was signed. This was the legal document that ended World War II in Europe and killed the Nazi Party. The first version of this was signed in a small red brick schoolhouse in Reims, Germany by General Alfred Jodl. The document called for the unconditional surrender of all German fighting forces and was witnessed by American, Russian, British and French ranking officers. General Jodl asked for a 48-hour grace period and this was granted, but Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, informed Jodl that he would be held personally responsible for any deviation from the terms of the surrender. A more formal signing was held the following day, May 8th, in Berlin. This required three members of the German High Command to sign the agreement. Western Allies consider May 8th, 1945 Victory in Europe Day, while the Russians, who wouldn't recognize the earlier Instrument of Surrender because it wasn't in Berlin, consider May 9th, 1945 as Victory Day.

Boston Common 

Boston is one of the oldest cities in America and full of history. One center of this history is the Boston Common, which is considered America's oldest park. The Common has been around for well over 350 years and has been witness to some of the most important moments in American history from public hangings to wars to victories to protests to public mourning and so much more. Nearly every war since the city was established has had a connection to this central heart of Boston. So much emotion is wrapped up here, it's not surprising that strange experiences are reported all over the Common. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Boston Common.

When considering the age of cities in America, we calculate based on European settlement, but not only is this a fallacy when it comes to human civilization here, but anything connected to the land needs to be known to truly understand hauntings or spiritual activity. The first European to settle in the Boston area was a man named William Blackstone. He arrived in 1628. Many Native American tribes were already there. The state of Massachusetts takes its name from one of those tribes. Other tribes include Ponkapoag, Wampanoag, Naumkeag, Narraganset and the Nipmuc People who descended from the Algonquian and were known as the "fresh water people." And that is what this area provided, fresh water. So it was very desirable for settlers and shortly after Blackstone arrived in this plain that the Native Americans called Shawmut, the Puritans arrived. Blackstone had been living in a small house, at peace with his indigineous neighbors, and he soon felt crowded out by the Puritans even though he had actually invited them. He eventually left and moved west deeper into the woods. The Puritans changed the name Shawmut to Boston, in honor of an old Lincolnshire English city.

The Puritans bought Blackstone's land and laid it out as a common and this is one of the most famous commons in America today. The idea of having a common had come over with the Puritans. On royal and manor lands, acreage would be set aside for the townspeople to use. This particular common stretched from the tidal marshes of Back Bay to Beacon Hill and was initially used as grazing land since it was mostly grassy with very few trees. That original common had three ponds and four hills, but only one of those hills and one of the ponds is still there today. So the first use for this common was as grazing land, but eventually a military training field was set up here. New rules were set forth in regards to littering as such, "Stones out of ye bordering lots or any entrails of beast or fowls or garbage, or carrion, or dead dogs or cats, or any other dead beast or stinking thing." Apparently they had an issue with people throwing dead stuff away in open lands? City charters through the years have continued to protect this land.

What is unusual about these rules forbidding dead stuff in the Boston Common is the fact that this was a place for public hangings. A diverse group of people were hanged here. There were the thieves, pirates and murderers, but also Native Americans, religious dissenters (people who weren't Puritans) and, of course, witches. Military activity started with fights in 1745 between colonists and Native Americans. When the colonists repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, a party broke out on the Common. Less than two years later, British Redcoats set up a camp in the Common as tensions began to rise between the British and the colonists.  The Colonial militia mustered for the American Revolution in the Common and this would be an encampment for years with trenches being built. After one victory from nearby, General Washington gathered with his victorious troops to celebrate and once the Revolution was done, a bonfire celebration was held to celebrate the surrender at Yorktown. Not only would Washington be there, but also John Adams and General Lafayette. 

John Hancock helped to improve the Common by planting a row of elm trees on Beacon Street, near where he lived. An area called The Mall would follow that was also lined with trees and used as a promenade where couples would walk and people could enjoy tea with each other. BTW, at this point, cows were still grazing on the Common. In the 1830s, a new order was passed to stop that activity, which I'm sure the people strolling around appreciated. A handmade iron fence was set up around the Common. The Frog Pond was turned into a fountain lake, which had previously been mostly a mud pond. The Civil War brought anti-slavery protests to what had become the city square and recruitment for the war also occurred here. When the Civil War ended, a celebration happened here too. And when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the city of Boston publicly mourned here. Victory gardens would be built during World War I and the iron fencing would disappear when World War II started because it was needed for the war effort. The more recent era has hosted tennis matches, baseball games, speeches, protests and even the first Papal Mass in North America.

The Friends of the Public Garden and Common was formed in 1975 to help protect the Common. The Common has many statues and monuments that have been added to it through the years. The Brewer Fountain was installed in 1868. Boston merchant Gardner Brewer bought the fountain, which was designed by Paul Lienard with statues by Mathurin Moreau, at the Paris Exposition of 1867 and brought it back to Boston. The statues feature the figures of Galatea, Amphitrite, Acis and Poseidon. The Boston Massacre Memorial was placed in 1888 and features a bronze figure breaking the chains of tyranny. This was designed by Robert Kraus and depicts Crispus Attucks, who was the first to be killed at the Boston Massacre in front of the Old State House on March 5, 1770. In 1913, the Blackstone Memorial Tablet was added to honor the man who originally owned the land and the people of Boston who own the Common. It was designed by R. Clipston and includes an inscription taken from the words of four of the founders of Boston.

The Lafayette Memorial, that was designed by John F. Paramino, was added in 1924 and commemorated the centennial of Lafayette's visit to the Common in 1824. The Father of the American Navy, Commodore John Barry, has a monument that was designed by John F. Paramino that was erected in 1949. The Park Street Mall was renamed as Liberty Mall in 1917 to honor "Our Soldiers and Sailors in the Great War." The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry, which was the first free black regiment in the Union Army, is honored with the Shaw Memorial. This was named in honor of their leader Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who was killed, along with 32 of the infantry on July 19, 1863 during an assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The memorial was designed by Augustus St. Gaudens and Charles F. McKim and placed in 1897. 

There are statues representing Learning, Industry and Religion in Parkman Plaza, designed by Adio DiBiccari and Arcangelo Cascieri. A Declaration of Independence Plaque was added in 1925. The Flagstaff, which is a 37 foot high pole made from one tree, has stood on the Common for over 150 years and had once been the only place people could smoke, so they nicknamed it "Smokers Circle." This is atop Flagstaff Hill, which kids love to sled down. The Holmes Path is named for Oliver Wendell Holmes. A Civil War memorial designed by Martin Milmore called Soldiers and Sailors Monument was added in 1877. There is a fountain with an angel carved on it near Arlington Street and many people like to rest near the fountain. Some of them have claimed to see the spirits of two women wearing Victorian era clothing, walking in a hurry near the fountain. No one knows who these spirits might belong to, but some speculate that they died in an accident nearby.

A Great Elm had once stood here and it was used for hangings in the seventeenth century. A storm in 1876 destroyed it, but its former use may have left behind some spiritual residue. And even if the story about the elm is just pure legend, there is no doubt that a gallows was eventually erected in the Common and executions occurred here for 150 years. The Puritans came here seeking freedom from religious persecution and the great irony of that was that they themselves didn't offer that kind of freedom. If you were a Quaker, you were a heathen. And while our former reviews of witch hangings in our nation's past has revealed that nearly none of those hanged for being a witch were really witches, they still should have been afforded religious freedom if they were not harming anyone. The Puritans didn't just persecute, they put people to death. One of those people was Mary Dyer. 

Mary Dyer had been a Quaker who lived in Rhode Island. Rhode Island was a haven for Quakers and the original colony had been established by Roger Williams after the Puritans had banished him for his beliefs. Dyer was not only a practicing Quaker, but she was an evangelist for the denomination, always seeking to bring people in and helping out fellow Quakers. Boston was her favorite place to visit to support fellow Quakers and evangelize. Obviously, the Puritans were not crazy about this. And that is putting it mildly because the Puritans had threatened to hang Dyer if she kept coming to Boston. And one day in October of 1659, they arrested her. Two other non-Puritan men were also arrested. All three were sentenced to hang. The two men were hanged first, but right before Dyer was set to have a noose around her neck, the governor commuted her sentence. Apparently, Dyer's son had pleaded her case before the governor.

That would be the end of this story had it not been for Mary Dyer's calling to preach her beliefs. She just couldn't leave Boston alone. When she was arrested a second time, the judge made a bargain with her. Leave Boston and promise to never come back and you are free to go. Dyer more than likely told him where he could put his bargain and she was sentenced to hang for a second time. And this time it stuck. Her body was buried in an unmarked grave on the Common. As a form of repentance, perhaps, the people of Boston have memorialized Mary Dyer with a bronze statue in front of the Massachusetts State House where she has a view of the park where she was unjustly put to death. The wailing of a woman is sometimes heard near the statue and in the area of the Common nearby. This wailing woman has also been seen as a full-bodied apparition wearing colonial garb walking through the Common. Dyer is sometimes thought to be an anniversary ghost, appearing every 25 years to a certain troubled young person and inspiring them to live a noble life. One such man had been a drunkard and what soon came to be known as the White Witch of the Common appeared to him and whatever she said to him, he never revealed to anyone, but he never touched a drop of liquor again and went on to have a very successful life. Many people believe Mary Dyer is that spirit.

Dyer was only one of perhaps hundreds hanged on the Common. Ann Hibbens was hanged for witchcraft in 1656, but even before her there was Margaret Jones who was hanged in 1648. Ann "Goody" Glover was hanged in 1688 for witchcraft. She had come over from Ireland and spoke mostly Gaelic. She was a strong-willed Catholic and so didn't get along with the Puritans. She washed laundry for her neighbor John Goodwin and one day she got into a fight with his teen-aged daughter. We imagine some Gaelic curse words were hurled and next thing you know, four Goodwin kids are accusing Goody Glover of bewitching them. When Goody couldn't recite the Lord's Prayer in English in the way the Puritans said it, she was sentenced to hang. 

People have claimed for decades to see the shadowy images of people hanging from trees and apparitions wandering where the Great Elm had once stood. And we wonder something else. If the elm had indeed been used to hang people, is that why it was taken out by the storm and afterwards, Bostonians clamored to the Common and tore the tree apart to have a souvenir of the former landmark. Could there be energy attached to those fragments that they then took home with them? We'll never know, but if your family has passed down some parts of the Great Elm and something is knocking around your house, let us know.

Another area of the Common that is reputed to be haunted is the cemetery that is here. No oldest park in America would be complete without one, after all. The Central Burying Ground is here. This cemetery is located on Boylston Street between Tremont and Charles Street and was founded in 1756. Members of the Sprague family are buried here. Father Samuel was a rebel who participated in the Boston Tea Party and fought during the Revolutionary War and his son Charles was one of America's earliest poets.  Composer William Billings, who wrote Chester, is buried here. And the Famous painter Gilbert Stuart is buried here. He made the most well known portraits of George and Martha Washington. That one of George you see all the time on the dollar bill. There is also Caleb Davis who was a Revolutionary patriot and many British soldiers were buried here, particularly after the Battle of Bunker Hill. 

Sam Baltrusis writes in his "Ghost of Boston: Haunts of the Hub" book, "While the nearby Granary Burial Ground earns top billing thanks to its Freedom Trail-friendly names, including Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and even Mother Goose, the Boston Common's lesser-known Central Burying Ground has something the other graveyards don't: ghosts." And Diane found this to be true after the Ghost and Gravestones Tour took her into three cemeteries in Boston and never shared one ghost story about any of them. While being in these utterly cool cemeteries at night was amazing, it was disappointing to not have one ghost story. Shadowy figures are often seen near the trees in the graveyard. People claim to have been poked or felt something brush their shoulders or even been grabbed by something they couldn't see. 

One such violent encounter happened to dentist Dr. Matt Rutger. He was in the cemetery on a rainy afternoon in the 1970s and he had bent down to look at a gravestone carving. He felt a violent yank on his collar and spun around. No one was there and he was so spooked, he quickly made his way to the gate. As he ran along, he noticed a red-haired girl with sunken cheekbones and a mud-splattered gray dress standing in the rear corner of the cemetery. She was staring at him intently. He started running faster and as he turned to face the gate, he saw her standing there. He buzzed past her quickly and headed down Boylston Street and suddenly felt something reach into his coat pocket and the next thing he knew, his keys were dangling mid-air in front of his face and then dropped. Rutger had always considered himself a skeptic since he was a medical professional, but his beliefs were profoundly changed that day. Adam Berry considers the Central Burying Ground to be one of the most haunted places he has visited.

There is also a mass grave and here is where some of our haunting issues start because this was not the original burial for the hundreds of bones re-interred here. These bones were originally in an adjacent area to the burial ground and were found in early 1895 when the city started building the nation's first underground trolley station known today as the Boylston Green Line Stop. Initially 100 bodies were unearthed. Bostonians came by in the hundreds to watch the gruesome affair of unearthing bodies. As further excavations continued, more and more bodies were discovered. There was never a clear count of bodies, but some historians claim that there could have been at least a thousand. The bones were moved to the new mass grave in the Central Burying Ground, but they had been disturbed nonetheless.

The Boylston Station was constructed in 1895 and this makes it the oldest rapid transport platform in America. The grand opening was in 1897 and it has been in use since. An old street car that was painted bright orange is on display on a side track. There are many abandoned tunnels down here, which makes for a very eerie setting. Trolley conductors claim to see the apparition of a British soldier down in one of the tunnels. He is in his full red-coat uniform and usually points his musket at the trains before dissolving into thin air. Some believe he is residual. It's so common of an occurrence that veteran conductors will send new recruits on this route to get a kick out of watching them slam on the brakes. People believe this spirit is connected to those disturbed bones from the station's early construction.

Located in the center of the Boston Common is the Parkman Bandstand. This is named for Dr. George Parkman who had a lovely brownstone facing the Common at 33 Beacon Street. Parkman had come from a prominent family in Boston and he had enjoyed a successful medical career. When he retired, he decided to buy buildings and rent them out as a landlord and he would lend money to people. One person he lent money to was a Harvard professor named John White Webster. Webster had asked for $400 and never made any attempt to repay the debt. So Parkman decide to pay him a visit at his Harvard laboratory and he was never seen alive again. Missing persons fliers were placed everywhere, but there was no sign of Parkman. All eyes were on Webster and he was eventually arrested and there was a sensational trial. Webster confessed and the torso of Parkman was found in a tea chest. As for the rest of Parkman, well, this is where the story gets really interesting.

Webster claimed that he killed Parkman in self-defense. The landlord and former doctor had come at him in a threatening way, demanding his money. Webster grabbed his heavy walking stick and clubbed Parkman. He said it only took the one blow to knock the man to the pavement and he didn't move after that. Webster chopped the body into pieces and then threw the remains into the privvy. This was the mid-1800s, so he wasn't flushing the body parts, just hiding them where no one would want to look. The torso wouldn't fit and that is why it was in the chest. There did appear to have been an attempt to burn the bones in a furnace. The case was so sensational that Charles Dickens became fascinated by it and even looked into it. Webster was hanged for his crime on August 30, 1850. 

The haunting connected to this is a strange one. And maybe it wasn't a haunting at all, but we don't believe in coincidences. On the anniversary of his death 150 years later, the Parkman House had a bad issue with plumbing. The toilet to be exact. A cistern broke on the third floor toilet and the tank overflowed. Water gushed everywhere and completely ruined the interior of the historic house. The director for the Parkman House figured that Dr. Parkman had come to pay a visit.

The Boston Common is a must-see for anyone visiting Boston. There is a little bit of everything represented in Boston's history here. And to have ghosts on top of that, just makes the place that more special. Is the Boston Common haunted? That is for you to decide!

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