Many people enjoy the frights and chills of a good Halloween “haunted house” . . . but some thrill-seekers zero in on former insane asylums. The suffering and fear hanging over these structures offer an atmosphere attractive to a variety of people: the simply curious, paranormal investigators–and unfortunately–vandals and occultists who want to tap into the sites’ evil reputations. A few former asylums conduct ghost tours which are extremely popular, and much of it has to do with the dark atmosphere these places inspire. Could there really be anything to the emotional pull these places seem to have?
One particular asylum is steeped in eerie history. The Danvers State Lunatic Asylum was built on property which was part of the former Salem Village, where the original witchcraft attacks on Reverend Samuel Parris’s family took place. The family’s slave, Tituba, was one of the first accused of witchcraft by the Parris children. and her confession led to the accusation of many others. Trials were later moved to what is now modern Salem. John Proctor (the first male to be accused of being a witch during the trials) George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacobs Sr., and Martha Carrier were hung on Gallows Hill in 1692–also on the Danvers Asylum property.
One of the Salem witch trial judges, John Hathorne–an ancestor of famed writer Nathaniel Hawthorne*–lived in a house at the top of the hill (called both Hawthorne and Hathorne Hill) where the asylum would later be sited. He was both quick to pass sentence and defiantly against reconsidering it even if witnesses recanted; some historians speculate that he may have been making money off his victims’ property.
Whether the property where this asylum (now a residential space) once stood is haunted or not is up to individual experience, but it is safe to say that it’s history might lead to it.**
*Nathaniel added the “w” to his name.
** Illustrations are from a book, Chronicles of Danvers, 1923