Known as one of the most “haunted houses” in Massachusetts, the Joshua Ward House was built long after the last of the accused witches were buried, but it still has some very deep roots involving key players involved in the witch trials. Built in 1784 for a local merchant, Joshua Ward, the home lies directly atop the foundation of another home…that of George Corwin, High Sheriff of Essex County, Massachusetts.
Twenty five-year-old Sheriff Corwin, signed the warrants that led to the arrests and deaths of those accused in Salem of witchcraft. In 1692, this important position may have been obtained through nepotism – he was the nephew of both Judge Jonathan Corwin and Judge Wait Winthrop, as well as the son-in-law of Judge Bartholomew Gedney. In his role, Sheriff Corwin escorted the condemned by cart from prison to the execution site at Proctor’s Ledge on Gallows Hill.
As required by law, Corwin would also confiscate the property of condemned prisoners —not land, but belongings such as livestock, hay, apples, and corn, and household goods such as kettles, pewter, furniture, and jewelry. It is a common misconception that witchcraft accusations were part of a deliberate attempt to gain the land of neighbors or fellow community members. At this time, English law allowed the seizure of a felon’s possessions, but this did not extend to their real estate. The worldly possessions of the married women who were convicted were considered the property of their husbands. As such, there was nothing to confiscate from the condemned married women, but the possessions of the condemned men and widows were allowed to be confiscated. These domestic goods were supposed to be inventoried and stored, to help pay the felon’s jail costs and support his family.
Corwin’s last victim was Giles Corey, who, accused of witchcraft, refused to admit to any guilt. In order to illicit a confession, Corwin had him crushed under the weight of heavy stones. Still refusing to admit to any wrong-doing, Corey used his last breath to utter a curse on Corwin and all the following sheriffs of Essex County.
Whether or not attributed to the curse, Corwin DID pass away from heart trouble in 1696 at the age of 30, which was still relatively young for that period. He was originally buried in the basement of his own home, a decision sparked by several reasons. Firstly, there was actually a lien on his body, brought on by a man named Phillip English who had been accused of witchcraft and had his property seized by Corwin. Until he was reimbursed, Corwin was not legally allowed to be buried. Further, Corwin’s widow was afraid that due to the resentment harbored by many still in the village against her husband, Corwin’s body would be disinterred and vandalized should he be buried in the church cemetery. Therefore, Corwin’s body would remain in his own basement until eventually he would be buried in a proper burial ground.
Because of Corwin’s early demise and improper burial, it was originally believed that the paranormal activity at the Joshua Ward House was largely the result of his ghost. Others believed that Giles Corey, his final victim, also haunted the house, seeking his revenge. It wasn’t until Carleson Realty took over the home in 1981 that yet ANOTHER ghost was believed to be the culprit of all the spooky happenings.
Richard Carlson had bought the home in 1981 and used it as offices for his realty business, and almost immediately, strange things started happening. The burglar alarm would constantly go off at night, getting Richard or another employee out of bed to attend to it. Doors would shut on their own and lights would go on and off, activated by unseen hands. In one particularly interesting incident, an employee had two candlesticks on the fireplace mantle in her office. As she unlocked her office one morning, she noticed that the candlesticks were turned upside down on the mantle, and the candles themselves were actually on the floor, one bent in an ‘S’ shape, and the other into a ‘boomerang’ shape, as if they had been melted and manipulated. Another odd incident happened to Richard Carlson when a land graph that he was asked for floated out of its storage closet and landed softly on the ground in front of him and another witness
Yet the most well-known ghostly manifestation at the house is the Witch Photo.
Dale Lewinski, and employee of Carlson Realty was taking Polaroid photographs of all the employees. The photographs, which were simple head and shoulder shots against a white door frame, were to be displayed on a holiday door wreath in the office. All the photos came out fairly normal….until Lewinski got to Julie Tremblay.
In her photo, Tremblay is clearly not visible anywhere. Instead, there appears to be an image of a skinny woman in a long, dark dress and dark, frazzled hair. To those who see it, it appears to be archetypal image of what we’d call a “witch.”
This photo first appeared in Robert Ellis Cahill’s book, New England’s Ghostly Haunts, published in 1983. The original photo was brought to his attention by another employee, Lorraine St. Pierre, who had had her own run-ins with the alleged paranormal activity. According to the book, Julie herself handed over the the photo in question, along with a comparison shot of herself taken later in the home. While Julie is quite attractive and many see the “witch” as just the opposite, I can actually see where this photo may or may not actually be Julie herself. Julie has shoulder length dark hair, a roundish face, and a prominent grin. If she were standing in front of a Christmas wreath on the door wearing a black dress, it could appear that it was part of her “hair.” It may be just my imagination, but I can actually see some similarities between Julie and the figure. Please see the photo of Julie below for comparison:
However, in Cahill’s 1993 book, Haunted Happenings, the story and photo are revisited…with some slightly different information. This book states that the photo was allegedly of Lorraine and turned over to him by Lorraine herself, who seemed genuinely embarrassed and frightened, noted Cahill. The photograph is rather interesting, because before it was taken, there was another eyewitness account of this phantom. A woman looking for an apartment was in the office, and while her realtor was on the phone, she happened to glance down the hall and into another open office. Seated in a chair was a woman with dark hair, wearing a long grey dress. Others around seemingly didn’t notice this woman, and when the witness looked back, the woman was gone.
Numerous creepy accounts have also come out of the house, such as a physically attack by the ghost. According to the story, the victim claimed, “It was like someone was choking me. I was being strangled, but didn’t feel anything around my throat, yet it still closed up.”
Others claim to have witnessed candles melting, and bending despite a wick never burning, deadbolts opening on their own accord, locked rooms vandalized with strewn about paper, numerous cold spots in different parts of the house, and scratches appearing on chests and arms.
Currently in Salem, it has been rechristened as “The Merchant Salem”. Repainted, and restored, this once creepy hideaway full of secrets and a hateful history, is moving forward with a luxurious stay, in vibrant cool colors, and welcome atmosphere. Is that enough to counteract the history of despair? Or will it be your final stay in Salem?