King’s Chapel Burying Ground (Haunted Hike Part Two)

This is part two of a two-part series about another haunted hike I took part in a couple of years ago! The first stop was the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

History

Located in Boston, Massachusetts is the beautiful and historic King’s Chapel, and a burying ground located just outside. The original Kings Chapel was constructed out of wood, and was built in 1688. In 1749 construction began on the stone church that we see standing today, and interestingly enough, the new stone church was built around the wooden church.

Boston, Massachusetts, King's Chapel and Burying Ground, 1900-1910, historic photo
Historic photo of Kings Chapel from 1900-1910, with the burial grounds located to the left. Photo from http://www.mygenealogyhound.com/

The new King’s Chapel was completed a few years later in 1754, and it was after this that the old wooden structure was finally dismantled and removed through the windows of the church.

Interior photo from King’s Chapel, taken by Ivy in 2019.

The King’s Chapel Burying Ground is actually not affiliated with the church, and pre-dates it by over a century. It was founded in 1630, and it is the oldest one in all of Boston. The first person buried here was one of the lands first owners, Isaac Johnson; an English clergymen and Puritan. (This region of the United States originally belonged to the Massachusett, or Massachusee/Massachuseuk, who are the indigenous people that the state is named after.)

Today, there are 505 headstones and 59 footstones remaining from the more than one thousand people buried in the Kings Chapel Burying Ground. There are also 78 tombs, of which 36 have markers. This includes the large vault that was built as a charnel house (essentially an area where heaps of old, dry bones are stored after being dug up) which was converted into a tomb for children’s remains in 1833.

The King’s Chapel Burying Ground is also the final resting place for many prominent figures, some of which were involved in the Revolutionary War. This list includes:

  • William Dawes, the midnight companion to Paul Revere. Paul, of course, being the famous American revolutionist who’s “midnight ride” through Boston alerted the colonial militia to the approaching British forces.
  • John Winthrop, Massachusetts first governor.
Photo of John Winthrop’s burial site, taken by Ivy in 2019. Some visitors will leave coins on his grave.
  • Mary Chilton, the first english woman to step ashore in New England.
  • Reverend John Cotton, a powerful religious leader in seventeenth-century Boston. His son Increase Mather, and grandson Cotton Mather, were key factors in creating the hysteria that lead to the Salem Witch trails. (They were both buried in Copp’s Hill, which was previously covered.)
  • Elizabeth Pain, whose headstone inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s description of Hester Prynne’s grave in The Scarlett Letter.
Elizabeth Pain’s headstone. Photo taken by Ivy in 2019.

There is also a headstone towards the front of the burying ground that became quite famous for the art featured on the front. This grave belongs to Joseph Tapping, and the carving depicts the constant struggle between life and death: a skeleton is seen trying to extinguish a lit candle, while Father Time is trying to preserve it. This art is now used on merchandise that is sold inside King’s Chapel, so I purchased one of these shirts for myself and added my personal touch by taking a pair of scissors to it.

Famous Joseph Tapping headstone on the left, Ivy’s gift shop T-shirt featuring the artwork on the right.

Haunted History

Legends of hauntings have surrounded the burying ground outside of King’s Chapel for decades, possibly even centuries. One famous legend that has been passed around involves individuals who were rumored to have been buried alive. One man in particular was said to have suffered this fate after being buried alive by greedy family members who wanted his property. An older woman demanded that the grave be dug up, but he was dead by then. Fingernail scratches on the inside of the coffin were the indicator that he was, indeed, buried alive…

Another more gruesome legend says that some grave diggers dug a woman’s grave too short. Upon realizing this, they opted to behead her and place her head between her legs, as opposed to the extra labor it would have taken to dig at the sides until she fit well. Many visitors now claim to witness the spirit of this woman, who’s soul was greatly upset by this act of mutilation on her corpse. There is another variation of this tale, but instead it was the coffin that was made too short, and the mortician cut her head off so that she would fit in the coffin, rather than have an entirely new one made.

At one point in time, it was rumored that Captain Kidd worked for the governor to search for pirates. Kidd was later hung in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground for piracy (ironic) and his spirit and ghostly voice now linger there.

In 1810, some headstones were reportedly removed from the cemetery as well, leaving the dead feeling upset over the disrespect shown to their final resting place. Their spirits are now said to wonder the cemetery, angry that their graves are now unmarked and unnoticed.

Other general signs of a haunting that are experienced by visitors include sudden chills, hearing voices, and feeling like they are being touched, grabbed, or pushed.s

My Findings and Final Thoughts

Most of the legends of people being buried alive, and the legend of the woman who’s head was cut off and placed between her legs, have no records supporting them. That being said, record keeping was not ideal for much of our history, and we do know that people being accidentally buried alive is something that did happen on rare occasion centuries ago. This makes it entirely possible that there is some truth to these legends that at the very least inspired them.

There might not have been many people buried alive here, but the ambiance still has an incredible spook factor. Photo taken by Ivy in 2019.

Something else to keep in mind is that it is obviously outdoors and is often busy, making it difficult to rule out glimpses of an apparition, shadows, and voices from not being an actual living person. There are many small branches sticking out from trees and plants, which leaves room for the possibility that some people are getting touched by them and mistaking it for paranormal origins. The ground is also uneven in some spots, so my theory still stands that some people who get “pushed” by spirits might just actually be tripping/falling, and are embarrassed to say so. (As someone who has often stumbled/tripped in haunted places, I can confirm that it can be a little embarrassing…)

Another beautiful photo taken in the burial grounds by Ivy in 2019.

Although myself, and my sisters that I traveled with, had no crazy paranormal encounters, the King’s Chapel Burying Ground is still a must see for anyone visiting the Boston area who want a good spook. It is still worth mentioning that it felt as though I picked up on something spiritually while I was there, like this cemetery had a stronger energy than others I have been to. Is this because of lingering ghosts or lost spirits of the burial ground residents who’s graves are now unmarked? Could it have been the energies that old locations like this might hold? Or was it just the eery ambiance? Who knows…but I would love to return again with Hannah and get her perspective, and maybe see a ghost or two for ourselves this time!

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As you can see, pedestrians in the background could easily be mistaken for a ghostly apparition. Photo taken by Ivy in 2019.

My Tips for Visiting

Can it be investigated? Yes! Well, sort of.

Investigating in a very public place can be difficult with so many people walking around. It was free to walk in, but you can also opt for a guided tour, which might cost you a little bit. Just check online for tours, and current hours of operation.

Starting at the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and walking next to the King’s Chapel Burying Ground gives you ample opportunity to stop by some other historic sights, like the Green Dragon Tavern. The original tavern (which is no longer standing) was also visited by Paul Revere. The new Green Dragon Tavern still holds the title as Bostons oldest and longest running bar, and makes for a great stop in between these two spooky locations for a quick break. (It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one burying ground to the next.) I do not drink alcohol, but I still grabbed a glass of water, and ate a vegan brownie that I purchased at a nearby market.

Photo taken outside of the Green Dragon Tavern by Ivy in 2019.

Here is a helpful map I made to help you visualize the hike from Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (second oldest Boston cemetery) to King’s Chapel Burying Ground (oldest Boston cemetery) with a quick stop at the Green Dragon Tavern in-between! As I mentioned in part one, there is a marker on the ground for the Freedom Trail outside of the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, and this trail can be followed to both the tavern and King’s Chapel Burying Ground.

Before I end this, another interesting location just above the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the site of the Great Molasses Flood; a horrible tragedy in January 1919 where a large molasses tank burst, sweeping the area in a wave of thick, deadly molasses. 21 people were killed, and another 150 were injured. The only haunting here was that locals would occasionally smell the “ghost” of the incident (molasses) on hot summer days. While I was there in 2019, that entire area was fenced off because they were constructing a new park, so I could not enter or even take any photos, but it is another location worth checking out if you can!

Frighteningly yours,

Ivy!

Works cited:

https://www.ghostsandgravestones.com/boston/kings-chapel-burying-ground

https://ghostcitytours.com/boston/haunted-places/kings-chapel-burying-grounds/

https://www.boston.gov/cemeteries/kings-chapel-burying-ground#:~:text=Tradition%20holds%20that%20the%20first,ride%20to%20Lexington%20in%201775

http://www.mygenealogyhound.com/vintage-photographs/massachusetts-photographs/MA-Boston-Massachusetts-Kings-Chapel-1900-1910-historic-photo.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King%27s_Chapel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Revere

The Green Dragon Tavern

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Molasses_Flood

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