Boston is full of unsolved mysteries and elusive stories. The city has seen its share of tragedy and unexplainable events. There’s no surprise that there seem to be tons of unsettled spirits among the town’s streets.
Few stories in Boston history have ended so gruesomely and mysteriously as that of George Parkman’s. The doctor and real estate magnate’s life came to a horrific end. No one will ever know the true story of what happened to him.
His home, however, is still standing today. The beautiful brick walls hold secrets that will never be told. It seems though, that Parkman can’t seem to move on from 8 Walnut Street.
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George Parkman is the man that makes 8 Walnut Street so significant. The wealthy businessman and doctor certainly left his mark on the infamous Boston property. His life story is as intriguing as the home itself.
Born in 1790, Parkman grew up as the middle of five children. His father was a wealthy man, buying up properties and even cities around New England and the Midwest. Eventually, his father selected him to manage the family’s astounding property holdings.
A young prodigy, Parkman began studying at Harvard University at the age of 15. He went on to earn his medical degree in Scotland and took an interest in psychiatry. After graduating, he traveled around Europe, learning the various methods of treating the mentally ill.
During the War of 1812, George Parkman was drafted to serve as a doctor for the troops. During this time, he also began helping mentally ill Bostonians that didn’t have access to mental healthcare.
Over the time of interacting with these ill patients, Parkman developed a theory that asylums should more closely resemble everyday life. He proposed that patients would do better in a setting where they could participate like members of a household.
This prompted Parkman to propose such an institution to Massachusetts General Hospital with the idea of him running the facility. He even offered the $16,000 to build the institution. However, once completed, Rufus Wyman, was chosen to head the mental hospital. The trustees feared that Parkman’s large monetary contribution would be viewed as a conflict of interest.
Parkman decided to then retire. He stayed active treating patients and visiting the mental health hospital that he helped to build. He even helped to found The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery. Then, his father passed away in 1824.
This left Parkman with enormous sums of money and a long list of properties. Using his inheritance, Parkman purchased even more properties scattered around Boston. He found that he was able to get the best deals on purchased deteriorating and abandoned buildings.
He would rent these properties to keep a steady income. Still continuing his medical work, he kept educating the American field about the mental health treatment standards in Europe.
Parkman was an active and healthy man, despite a childhood riddled with health problems. Regardless of his wealth, he never purchased a horse, preferring to collect rent payments on foot. He became popular with Bostonians as he walked the streets in his top hat.
Eventually, he amassed a large fortune of half a million dollars that would make him a multi-millionaire by today’s standards. He made the beautiful townhouse at 8 Walnut Street his family home.
A Horrific Murder
In November of 1849, Parkman mysteriously disappeared. With murder suspected, a search began for his body. It was eventually found in a very unusual place.
Parkman was known to make loans to generate interest income. He loaned money to John White Webster, securing it with the collateral of his personal property. Unfortunately, Webster went to another lender and again borrowed money, using that same collateral.
Parkman knew that this jeopardized his ever receiving his money back. He walked to Webster’s house to confront him and demand repayment. Webster said that he would meet him to discuss it later that afternoon on the Harvard campus. Walking down the street away from Webster’s house would the last time Parkman would be seen.
It was assumed that Parkman made it to his meeting with Webster. However, he never returned home from it. His family, worried, asked the police to investigate. A search ensued and after a few days, a reward was offered for information leading to Parkman.
Theories folate around regarding the mysterious disappearance. Could it have been a random crime or could Parkman have fled town? All of the buildings that Parkman owned were thoroughly searched and investigators even searched the rivers for his body.
During this time, Webster returned to his lab at Harvard where he was a chemistry professor. He ran into a janitor, Ephraim Littlefield, who immediately acted nervously. Webster questioned the man and asked if he had seen Webster there with him days earlier.
After this odd interaction, Littlefield kept watch of Webster in the following days. He noticed suspicious behavior like the lab’s furnace burning hot for hours on end. He decided to investigate further.
He made a hole in the wall to see into the lab. When he finally broke through, he was shocked and alarmed at what he saw. Webster was absent but a pelvis and other body parts were scattered about the lab. Littlefield ran from the campus to tell of his discovery.
The search for George Parkman ended in that dark room under the laboratory at Harvard University. The body, nearly unrecognizable, was dismembered and badly burned. Fortunately, there was enough forensic evidence to identify the mangled corpse as the body of George Parkman.
The Trial of John Webster
Despite his high profile and reputation as a renowned professor, Webster was arrested for the gruesome murder of George Parkman. What was known as “The Case of the Century” began in January of 1850. Bostonians were glued to their newspapers, awaiting the outcome of the riveting trial.
During the trial, Webster found himself with underqualified lawyers. Despite his theory that Littlefield had the means and access to also kill Parkman and partially dispose of his body in the lab, they never presented it to the jury.
The jury even visited the room under the lab. They were also educated on how the dismembering would need to be done by someone with scientific knowledge. Parkman’s dentist even took the stand and demonstrated how the false teeth found at the scene fit his mold.
Finally, Littlefield took the stand. He told of how Webster owed Parkman money and wasn’t willingly repaying. He also described Webster’s odd behavior in the time leading up to Parkman’s murder.
When Webster’s debt came to light, it seemed that he had both the motive and means to kill Parkman. The defense attempted to cast doubt. Even Webster himself took the stand. However, after twelve days, the jury headed into deliberations.
The jury announced that they found Webster guilty. The sobbing man was convicted and sentenced to be hanged on April 1. After pleas for a pardon and even confessing to killing Parkman in an act of self-defense, Webster was hanged on April 30.
The Hauntings at 8 Walnut Street
Many believe that George Parkman’s spirit still haunts the home at 8 Walnut Street. Mysterious sights and sounds have been experienced within the walls. Could Parkman’s spirit still be hanging around his beloved home? A toilet even mysteriously flooded, leading some to believe that the former owner was attempting to destroy the property.
Is George Parkman trying to share something? Was Webster, in fact, not responsible for his horrific murder. Perhaps Littlefield wasn’t as innocent as he claimed. Maybe Parkman’s soul is just at unrest with the way his corpse was treated. Either way, the eerie feeling and odd sensations inside the townhouse on Walnut Street are unable to be explained.
The Infamous Home Today
The stunning townhouse is equally as beautiful to this day. The brick facade and front porch pillars are perfectly reminiscent of the architecture of the time. The soaring windows fill the space with light. The iconic spiral staircase makes for an impressive entryway.
Now a private residence, valued at over six million dollars, the home is still extraordinary. A walk down the cozy Walnut Street can take you past the iconic townhouse. And who knows? You may get the feeling that George Parkman is peeking at you from inside.