Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Witch of the Joshua Ward House

Photo by Jim McAllister
The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 were a dark time in our nation's history, yet its a story that fascinates us still to this day.  Not only does the tragic tale remain alive in books, movies and throughout the town's museums and gift shops, but it remains alive and well in the many ghost stories and associated paranormal events connected to the untimely deaths of those unlucky citizens.

One such ghostly tale involves the present-day Joshua Ward House.  The Joshua Ward House was built long after the last of the accused was 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.

Sheriff Corwin signed the warrants that led to the arrests and deaths of those accused in Salem of witchcraft.  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.

Photo as it appeared in the Haunted Happenings book by Robert Cahill


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:


Photo of Julie Tremblay.  Scanned from my copy of New England's Ghostly Haunts.


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.

Was this image that of one of the many women tried and hanged over charges of witchcraft from the evil sheriff?  Or, was the photo simply a hoax?  Perhaps it was just a bad photo combined with the perception of an already haunted house.  Whatever the cause behind this photo, I'll be sure to update if any new information becomes available.

Today, the home is used for a publishing company, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is still reported to be haunted.

2 comments:

  1. This photo is absolutely a photo of Julie Tremblay standing in front of the door with a Wreath at the exact same height of her head. It is nothing more than a bad Polaroid caused by taking a camera in and out on a cold winter day, thus fogging the lens and altering the temperature of the photo chemicals. Cahill was told that directly by Julie and willfully ignored it because it did not fit with the book he wanted to write. He repeatedly tried to get her to change her story and became quite frustrated when she would not. Today in Salem, I often see hucksters cheating tourists and repeating this story on the front lawn of the house. A few years ago while walking down the street, I overheard a tour guide telling gullible tourists that he had talked to Julie and confirmed Cahill's story. I stopped my walk and told the assembled tourists that they were being fleeced and fed a line of bunk. The tour guide was obviously furious with me and called me a nut because he knew that debunking his lies threatened his livelihood. Tourism and books are big business in Salem and unfortunately the lure of profits causes some authors and tour guides to abandon their integrity if they have any. How do I know? I'm the man who married Julie.

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    1. Thank you for your comments! That definitely explains why vital details of the story were changed from one book to another. I don't like to come right out and say someone is being less than honest, but to me, it does seem quite obvious that this was a photo of Julie and thanks to your information, it seems like she submitted the comparison shot to DEBUNK the other! Thank you for bringing this issue to light and clearing up the misinformation and misconceptions about it.

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