Salem, Massachusetts is undoubtedly one of the most haunted cities in the world. Due to its history, Salem has become a popular destination spot for those who have an interest in the paranormal. Between old graveyards, witch houses and abandoned churches that have been converted into museums, there is much to see when visiting, especially for those who enjoy run-ins with the preternatural.
But there is one house that has more reported spirit sightings and rumors surrounding it than any other establishment in Salem, Massachusetts. This is the Joshua Ward House. Anyone who visits Salem with the sole mission to experience the eeriest locations this city has to offer is sure to place the Joshua Ward House at the top of their list.
The Joshua Ward House is a beautiful brick, three-story federal-style house that was constructed in the 18th century. Located on 148 Washington Street, the Joshua Ward house is not open to the general public, however, that does not stop the countless ghost sightings that have occurred on this property. With a past as grisly as this estate’s, it is clear to see why ghosts remain to haunt the corridors of this house. To book a Salem ghost tour check out our Salem page here.
The Joshua Ward House’s History
The Joshua Ward House was built in 1784 by none other than the wealthy sea merchant, Joshua Ward. Once the house was finished it became quite popular as it was one of the first houses in Salem to be constructed entirely out of bricks. The house was so celebrated that during a trip to Salem, George Washington not only toured the house but asked if he could stay there. Because of this, a bust of George Washington can be found in a second-floor window.
Based on this description, you would think that the Joshua Ward House would be a lovely place to stay. After all, even George Washington liked this estate! And while the property is quite beautiful, the problem is not so much with the house as it is with the land it was built upon and the horrible crimes that occurred there many years earlier.
The Joshua House Was Built in the 17th Century
While Joshua Ward constructed his house in 1784, the property has a much older history, dating back to the 17th century, an era that Salem, Massachusetts is best remembered for its involvement in the Salem Witch Trials.
These trials had a serious impact on not only the town, but the entire country during the 17th century and its effect can still be felt throughout the city today. While Joshua Ward could not be involved in the trials that occurred nearly a century before his time, the property that he purchased was heavily involved. The land that Joshua Ward built his home upon was once owned by another notable figure who had a significant role in the Salem Witch trials.
The Salem Witch Trials in Salem
The Salem Witch Trials are an unforgettable time in the United States’ early history. It all began in colonial Massachusetts, in the middle of the year of 1692 when a group of young townspeople claimed that they had been cursed by several undercover witches in the community. These girls claimed that these witches allowed them to be possessed by the devil himself, making them have convulsions, visions and uncontrollably scream.
It is interesting to note that in 1976, an article in Science magazine conducted a study to determine what at that time could have caused the symptoms that these young girls possessed. The study found that those who claimed to be “bewitched” during these trials in 1692, could have been suffering from exposure to fungus ergot. This plant disease is commonly found in grains such as rye and wheat, which were popular foods at this time. What’s more, coming into contact with fungus ergot can cause delusions and convulsions, the same symptoms that were claimed to be shown by those who were “bewitched”. It is entirely possible that these symptoms were simply from a diseased grain and not witchcraft at all.
Given that science had not yet discovered the fungus ergot plant disease at this point in history, at the time witchcraft was considered to be the main reason behind these convulsions. What’s more, the girls showing these symptoms accused three women of bewitching them. The women accused were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn and one of the girls Caribbean slaves, Tituba. While the first two women denied having any involvement in witchcraft, Tituba not only admitted to being a witch but she also claimed that other witches were hiding in the community and had been working with her to cast spells on others.
Naturally, this caused mass hysteria among the people of Salem, Massachusetts. The settlers were determined to find all the witches among them, however there was no way to factually determine if someone was actually a witch. Because of this, the trial proceedings became nothing more than a “he said, she said” scenario, essentially making any accused party automatically guilty.
What’s more, a large amount of the trail hearings were left to the local officials. This gave some of these individuals an inflated sense of power as they suddenly had a massive responsibility in preserving the “safety” of the community. One of these individuals who has a significant role in these trials was Mr. George Corwin, the man who previously owned the property where the Joshua Ward House now resides.
George Corwin Ran the Trial Proceedings
George Corwin is one of the men who served as a town official charged with running the trial proceedings throughout the Salem Witch Trials. It all started on May 27, 1692, when George Corwin was elected as the High Sheriff of Salem, at the age of 25. Most likely the reason that Corwin was thrust into this position at such a young age was due to nepotism, given the fact that his family was well connected with several uncles as well as his father-in-law serving as Justices.
When George Corwin was named High Sheriff of Salem, the Salem Witch Trials were already well underway. Unfortunately in time, Geroge Corwin would play a large part not only in the conviction of these trails but in facilitating the torture as well. This began just a few short months after stepping into the High Sheriff role, with his first hearing involving some of the most famous “witches” from these trials: Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, Susanna Martin, and Rebecca Nurse.
George Corwin was tasked with not only transporting these women to the trial but also arranging for their hanging if they were proven guilty. When Sarah Good famously retorted during the trial “You are a liar. I am no more witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink”, the trial was determined to be over, the women were declared guilty and Corwin hung the women himself.
As the trials went on George Corwin became more and more gruesome with his torture, seeming as though he enjoyed his position of power. It is recorded that Corwin would even visit the houses of the recently executed and take all of their money and property for himself. There are rumors that George Corwin even went so far as to lure those who were accused of witchcraft in the trials to come to his home. Once they were in his home, he would trap them in his basement and torture them himself. While this makes for an exceptionally grisly story, there is little evidence to support this claim.
George Corwin was involved in all 19 of the deaths that came as a result of the Salem Witch trials. Given his role as High Sheriff, it is fair to assume that he had a hand in executing each of these death sentences as well. Because of his involvement as well as his apparent pleasure that came from his role, George Corwin became a man that was feared and hated in the Salem community.
Giles Corey Was Tried and Killed as a Warlock
Giles Corey is another victim of the Salem Witch Trials that was executed by George Corwin. What’s more, Giles Corey is one of the only men, or “warlocks” as they were referred to, to be tried and killed during these witch trials.
Giles Corey was imprisoned after facing countless accusations that detailed his involvement in the supernatural. These claims broached everything from tales of him escaping imprisonment to a woman claiming a spirit rose from the dead to tell her that Corey was the man who murdered them. With so much “evidence” pointing against him, Giles Corey was set to go on trial.
However two weeks before the official trial was to start, those overseeing the hearing were trying to start the proceedings earlier. To do so, Corey had to submit himself to be tried by “God and Country” for the official trial to begin. As was the formality in that time, he has to give verbal consent for the proceedings to begin, however, he said nothing. After delaying the proceedings for several weeks by remaining mute, Corey was sentenced without an official trial, given peine forte et dure where a person is pressed to death.
Giles Corey is the only person in the history of the United States who has been killed in this manner due to court orders. Of course, George Corwin was the official who oversaw the execution. It is recorded that Giles Corey did not speak during his execution, except once where he cheekily asked that George Corwin placed more weight on his body.
It is also recorded that George Corwin was extremely unfeeling during the execution, using his walking stick to push Giles Corey’s tongue back into his mouth during the pressing process. In addition to this, after Giles Corey had died, George Corwin invaded Corey’s home, taking his money and possessions for himself as he often did after these proceedings.
The Joshua Ward House Today
It is slightly shocking that Joshua Ward chose to build his house on a property that was once owned by such an appalling man. However, as the years went on perhaps the horrific details of the time passed and Joshua Ward only saw an excellent plot of land for his future estate.
In the centuries that have passed, the Joshua Ward house has undergone a few changes. For a brief period in the 19th century, it was converted into a hotel but that was a short-lived endeavor. In the 1970s there was a plan to tear down the house and build a commercial building in its place, however, several historical preservation societies voiced their concern and put an end to this plan. Now the property stands as it was originally built and houses several businesses, including Carlson Realty and Higgins Book Company.
While it is nice to think that such an architectural treasure can remain standing in today’s progressive era, there have been quite a few unsettling reports from those who work for the companies that are housed in the estate. Countless stories of eerie interactions and out of the ordinary occurrences cause many to believe that the Joshua Ward House is haunted.
Ghosts of the Joshua Ward House
It is rumored that the main cause of all the paranormal activity that occurs in the Joshua Ward House is due to the fact that there are ghosts that inhabit there. There have been so many similar occurrences that it is rumored to be three main ghosts that consistently haunt the Joshua Ward house. Here is an introduction to each of these spirits.
The Joshua Ward House Strangler
The Stranger is one of the three spirits that are said to inhabit the Joshua Ward House. And who is the Strangler exactly? While no one knows for certain, It is rumored that the Strangler is none other than the previous owner of this property, HIgh Sheriff George Corwin.
It is recorded that George Corwin died of a heart attack while at his home on April 12, 1696. Not only did Corwin die on the property but it is rumored that he was buried on the property site as well.
Given his position as High Sheriff, Corwin was involved not only in the 19 deaths that came from the trial but the near 200 arrests during the Salem Witch hunt, However, there is one trial that stands out. One of the trials that George Corwin is best remembered for is that of Mary English.
Like so many times before, once Mary English was arrested for supposed involvement in witchcraft, George Corwin went to her household and took all her belongings. Mary’s husband, Phillip, was disgusted with George Corwin’s actions but could do nothing to stop him as he was in hiding at the time. However, Philip English vowed to get revenge one day.
Several years later, once the hysteria of the trails had settled down and he was no longer forced into hiding, Philip English sued George Corwin for stealing his property. Unfortunately, Corwin had already lost all their possessions and could not pay the fine, so he was put in prison for his crimes.
However, that was not enough retribution for Philip English. Once George Corwin passed away, it is claimed that English declared that he would steal Corwin’s body as yet another way to get revenge on Corwin for stealing his possessions. Because of this, it is rumored this George Corwin’s family was fearful and secretly buried Corwin in the basement of his house to prevent Phillip English, or anybody else, from stealing his corpse.
While that rumor has since been debunked as Corwin’s family proved he was buried in their family tomb, there are still rumors of George Corwin’s spirit haunting the Joshua Ward House.
Throughout the years, there have been multiple reports of people feeling as if they were being choked while on the premises of the estate. All these accounts have occurred on the second floor of the Joshua Ward House.
One victim recounts this sensation in the book, Ghostly Haunts, describing it as if someone was holding his throat and squeezing. The scariest part? This visitor was completely alone.
The reason that George Corwin’s ghost was nicknamed “The Strangler” relates to the rumor that Corwin would personally “interrogate” or rather torture and strangle those who were accused of being witches in his home. While there is no proof that this occurred, the rare few who are allowed to enter the Joshua Ward House are wary of entering the second floor as they don’t want any run-ins with The Strangler!
Giles Corey of the Joshua Ward House
When considering potential spirits who would want to haunt the Joshua Ward House, it is no surprise that Giles Corey comes to mind. A large majority of the employees who work for the companies that are now housed in the Joshua Ward estate blame Giles Corey’s spirit for many of the paranormal or out of the ordinary occurrences that they have experienced.
Many of these happening are typical of any haunting: pockets of chilled air in a heated room, books and pictures falling from their shelves, and candles being melted even though they were never lit.
However, there is one occurrence that is unique to this spirit. As candles melt, they consistently form into the shape of an “S”. Many paranormal fanatics take this as a sign from the spirit of warlock Giles Corey and interpret the “S” as standing for “Sheriff”. Perhaps this means that Giles Corey is still seeking out some sort of retribution from Sheriff George Corwin for having a hand in his brutal murdering.
The Witch of the Joshua Ward House
Last but not least of the spirits to haunt the Joshua Ward House is the Witch. Amid all the reports of paranormal activity that is supposedly caused by the two male spirits that inhabit the house, there have been additional reports of a female spirit haunting the top floor of the house. There was one sighting of this female spirit, in particular, that was so widely publicized it reached an international level.
In 1981, Carlson Realty, one of the businesses that recently moved into the Joshua Ward House, hosted a company-wide Christmas party in the Joshua Ward house. With so many festivities going on, a coworker decided to take some polaroid pictures of the scene to save as mementos. He snapped a quick picture of a coworker in front of some of the decorations at the party, but when the picture developed, the light-haired co-worker was not in the photograph. Instead in the grainy image was an extremely pale woman with a headful of dark curly hair, not at all representative of the co-worker who was just photographed!
This photograph was also included in the book “Ghostly Haunts’ and once the image was released, many news channels began covering this story. In the following months, more stories came in as many people claimed to have seen the same woman in or around the Joshua Ward House. While no one has been able to identify this woman, many think that she is the spirit of one of the “witches” George Corwin executed during the Salem Witch trials.
It is also interesting to consider that the majority of paranormal activity reported has been encountered by the men who have entered the Joshua Ward House. Several men have reported that they have left the house with unexplainable scratches on their chests or have experienced an uncomfortable feeling of another person in the room watching them while they were inside the house. While there is no explanation for this, many like to think that it is the spirit of a woman wrongly accused in the Salem Witch trials finally getting her revenge.
There is the history of the Joshua Ward House and all who haunt it. While it is currently closed off to the general public, that has done nothing to stop the reports of paranormal activity inside. Due to the endless rumors and theories surrounding this mansion, it seems unlikely that the truth will ever be known. Unless the spirits who haunt the house finally get their message across… Only time will tell!