Ghosts in Gloucester – The Mysterious Noises in Gould’s Court 1884 Boston Globe

Just in time for some Halloween eve spirit, curl up with a selection of Boston Globe news columns featuring 19th and 20th century Gloucester ghost reports.

First up a 19th century Gloucester ghost story from 1884 with a title as long as the day, “GHOSTS IN GLOUCESTER: The Mysterious noises in Gould’s Court. An Acadian French Theory of Their Cause–Men Less Brave Than Women. Frequent Gratuitous Rappings Unexplained.”


“I hope we shall not hear that noise tonight,” said the wife of Stephen McKinney as she sat in an upper room of 12 Gould court a week ago. A female companion expressed the same hope, and Mrs. McKlancy continued: “We may not hear it for a fortnight; we have not heard it for the last three weeks, and–”

She did not finish the sentence. At that moment, in the hall below, was heard a rap! rap! rap! as knuckles at the door.

Boston Globe 1884

(The writer adds flourish to the dialogue as if the resident was a native French speaker. Decades later Cher Ami was around the corner. Was this area a French quarter?)

1903 Sanborn map detail from plate 17 with Gould Court Gloucester, Massachusetts

Part Two was published the following day: “THE GLOUCESTER GHOSTS. Is Mr. Henry Hatch’s House Really Haunted? A Diagram Illustrating the Scene of the Strange Manifestations. Similar Stories of ‘Old Jeffrey’ and Esther Cox*.”

“Another remarkable case was that of Esther Cox, at Amherst, N.S., a few years ago…”

With a diagram. Not much of a story but it made the front page. Could have titled this tall tale Ghosts of Ghoul court.


In 1896 ghosts were reported at Stage Fort Park: “Gloucester’s Fortress is Alive With Ghosts. Warriors Tremble at Sight of Gliding Specters. Hundreds Turned Out Last Night to See “It.” And “It” Appeared at the Armory Window.”


Writer Henry W. Harris, Jr. quick piece and good read from 1921 considers Rev. Cotton Mather’s account of the Gloucester Ghost Battles of 1692 when the militia was called out to defend Gloucester from ghosts, “war and witch fever”.

“The latter soon located three alleged spirits and fired at them, whereupon they lay down. “I’ve killed three! he shouted to the oncoming soldiery. At this the spirits rose from the place where they had laid down and fired back–under the circumstances there was nothing else for a self respecting spook to do.”

from 1921 Boston Globe article by Henry Harris considers Cotton Mather’s account of Gloucester Ghost Battles of 1692 “war and witch fever”

For more about witches in Gloucester see my 2018 post


Every decade or so there’s a piece about that ghostly place, Dogtown. This one from 1960 describes preservation efforts at the time: “Paradise for Naturalists and Bird Watchers: Cape Ann Moves to Save Romantic Ghost Town”.

“Leading the drive to save the area from dumping and real estate development are several naturalists, including John Kiernan…President of Dogtown Foundation, Inc., is Dr. Melvin T. Copeland, former professor at the Harvard School of Business Administration and author of a history of the school. Working closely with him is another of the trustees, Elliott C. Rogers. A book by the last two men “The Saga of Cape Ann” has just been published…the handiest compendium on the history and byways of Cape Ann…”

Herbert A. Kenny, Boston Globe, March 20, 1960

And from October that same year, “Want Ghost Town Dead”

Open window

I noticed the open window because a bird hopped in. I didn’t stop to see what ensued but I was reminded about a GMG reader question: Who remembers Cher Ami and homing pigeons of Gloucester?

open window Puritan House_built by Tappan 1810_Gloucester Massachusetts_ Main & Washington Streets_photograph copyright © c ryan (5).jpg

There’s a 2nd  little pane missing on the Main Street side.


What’s in a name?

The 1810 brick building, Gloucester’s first, at the corner of 2 Main and 3 Washington Streets, now features Tonno Restaurant. The exterior has remained relatively unchanged since it was built in 1810 by Col. James Tappan. On the inside it’s been mixed use more often than not (various businesses, restaurants and lodgings). As a result it’s gone through a lot of rebranding: Puritan House, Tappan’s Hotel, Atlantic House, and Capt Bills are a few of the names associated with this historic structure. The Blackburn Tavern signs were added in 1978 for a restaurant.

Still Standing

The brick building at the other end of Main Street with Halibut Point Restaurant & Pub was Howard Blackburn’s actual tavern.

Howard Blackburn historic tavern_now Halibut Point Restaurant_20191231_Gloucester Mass. c ryan (1)

menu_Howard Blackburn historic tavern_now Halibut Point Restaurant_20191231_Gloucester Mass._ copyright c ryan

Fun fact: Col. Tappan taught young Daniel Webster.

Author Deborah Cramer asks were there plentiful horseshoe crabs in Gloucester? Leads to Winslow Homer, John Bell, and Cher Ami

Deborah Cramer thanks Good Morning Gloucester for mentioning her book and asks for photographs and stories about horseshoe crabs, otherwise known as the nearly scene stealing co-stars from her inspiring book on red knots (sandpiper shorebirds), The Narrow Edge.

“I’m in the midst of a project right now trying to uncover the almost forgotten history of the whereabouts of horseshoe crabs in Gloucester.  I’ve heard some fantastic stories, like one from a man who used to go down to Lobster Cove after school and find horseshoe crabs so plentiful he could fill a dory. Do you think there’s a value to putting up a few pictures on GMG and asking people to send in their recollections of beaches, coves where they used to see them in abundance?”

We do. Please send in photos or stories if you have them about horseshoe crabs in Gloucester or the North Shore for Deborah Cramer’s project. Write in comments below and/or email

Here’s one data point. Look closely at this 1869 Winslow Homer painting. Can you spot the horseshoe crabs? Can you identify the rocks and beach?

Winslow Homer Rocky Coast and Gulls (manchester)
Winslow Homer, Rocky Coast and Gulls, 1869, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, installed in room #234 with so many other Homers (Fog Warning, All’s Well, Driftwood, …)

zoomed into horseshoe crabs (detail )
(zoomed into horseshoe crabs)

cr 2015 mfa


While reading The Narrow Edge, and looking at Kim Smith’s Piping Plover photographs, I thought about Raid on a Sand Swallow Colony (How Many Eggs?) 1873 by Homer and how some things change while much remains the same.When my sons were little, they were thrilled with the first 1/3 or so of Swiss Family Robinson.  As taken as they were with the family’s ingenuity, adventure, and tree house–they recoiled as page after page described a gorgeous new bird, promptly shot. They wouldn’t go for disturbing eggs in a wild habitat. The title ascribed to this Homer, perhaps the eager query from the clambering youngest boy, feels timeless. Was the boys’ precarious gathering sport, study, or food? What was common practice with swallows’ eggs in the 1860s and 70s? Homer’s birds are diminutive and active, but imprecise. Homer sometimes combined place, figures, subject and themes. One thing is clear: the composition, line and shadow are primed and effective for an engraving.


Homer watercolor 1873

Harper’s Weekly published the image on June 13, 1875. Artists often drew directly on the edge grain of boxwood and a master engraver (Lagrade in this case) removed the wood from pencil and wash lines.

Winslow Homer


2016. Wingaersheek dunes and nests 140+ years later.



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