Salem’s most infamous historic haunted home looms grimly above busy Washington Street, visitors on tours and townspeople pass by every day, largely unaware of the horrors that may lurk inside. Some Salem residents know the history, or whisper rumors about the land’s former owner as they pass. Most walk by unaware on their way to Dunkin’ Donuts or the gift shops next door. Those in the know shudder when they pass at night. The Joshua Ward House occupies land that was owned by cruel Witch Trials high sheriff George Corwin. It is alleged that he used his private home as a sadistic torture dungeon for the innocent victims of the Witch Hysteria and that his violent spirit still stalks the land now hundreds of years later.
The Joshua Ward House was constructed on footprint of Corwin’s home in 1784 for a wealthy merchant, it sits at 148 Washington Street hunkered down between the cute, tourist driven downtown and the kind of grimy “real” Salem. The serious historians will tell you that the interior woodworking was done by famed architect Samuel McIntire, the same man responsible for the monumental golden eagle on the Salem Custom House and the majestic mansions of Chestnut Street. During the Golden Age of Sail, Salem was not as developed the waterfront could be viewed from the Joshua Ward House. Its owners could gaze from their home out to the ocean from which they made their fortune. The Joshua Ward House was important enough that when George Washington paid a visit to Salem he stayed at the house. For years there was a bust of President Washington in the window. Gullible visitors would see it from the street and get terrified thinking they saw one of the spirits of the home!
The Joshua Ward House was the site of some of the Spellbound organization’s first Salem paranormal investigations. According to an investigator we used to work closely with, who for the sake of anonymity we will call Mary and her skeptical partner Robert, were checking the place out and taking preliminary recordings in different parts of the house. She was setting equipment up in a third floor room. Robert was in the basement. Mary realized too much time had passed. Where was Robert? They were supposed to have met up half an hour ago in the parlor. She called out for him, he was no where to be found. The people working in the house had not seen him since he headed down to the basement.
Mary raced down to the basement – Robert was there, but not the way that she had left him. He lay writhing on the floor barely alive, struggling to breathe. Mary wrangled him into a sitting position, and shook him into consciousness. Through tears Robert choked out a story describing how as he poked around the basement he was struck from behind and his throat was seized. He whirled around to face his attacker, there was no one there! Yet the strangling sensation continued. It felt as if someone was attempting to choke the life out of him. Robert tried to shout for help, not a sound could issue from his mouth as his invisible assailant had his windpipe so constricted. It felt as if two vice-like hands were wrapped around his throat, trying to choke him to death. Robert felt himself begin to fade, his vision broke into black sparkles, his body went limp and he passed out. Mary apparently found him in just the nick of time! As Robert revived and shared his story it was noticed his neck had massive bruising consistent with what is seen on victims who have been violently choked. From what I understand this was Robert’s last paranormal investigation.
While both investigators had been apprised of the Joshua Ward House’s haunted reputation and that Sheriff Corwin’s wrathful spirit may still linger, neither were aware that Corwin had been nicknamed “The Strangler”. According to local legend Corwin’s chosen method of eliciting confessions from his victims was to choke them until they admitted whatever he accused them of! Salem lore holds that Corwin would strangle his victims until blood flowed from their mouths and their eyes nearly popped out of their skulls. It has been said that Corwin did not just interrogate suspects for the purpose of gaining information, but that he relished it, he enjoyed their suffering. While there is no concrete proof, it has been long suspected that Corwin would haul victims out of the Witch Dungeon to his private home and interrogate and torture them in the comfort of his own home where he could treat them even more sadistically than would be allowed in the Dungeon.
The Spellbound organization’s founder and former head investigator Mollie Stewart had her own close encounter in the Joshua Ward House. Mollie is a pioneer in the field of Electronic Voice Phenomena, the recording of disembodied spirit voices. Sometimes ghostly voices that are inaudible to the naked ear can be recorded and heard when played back. Now days most investigators are using digital voice recorders to try to capture EVP but in Mollie’s day it was all analog tape. Personally, I find we get better results with tape.
Mollie had conducted two previous fruitless trips to the Joshua Ward House. She had taken pictures and collected stories from employees, but had not been able to capture any paranormal evidence. On this, her third trip she was not expecting much. She was alone in the house, and had set up audio and video recording devices in many of the dim chambers hoping that this time might be different. At the close of the investigation she collected her devices and brought them back to the office, when she played back the tape from the basement her blood ran cold. A rough voice growled out the phrase “I just want to keep you”.
Mollie checked all the surveillance footage. No physical person had been in the room when the eerie audio had been recorded. The voice on the tape was distinct and clear. There was no background distortion. Out of nowhere the angry voice made its demand. It is one of the clearest and most convincing examples of EVP ever recorded. Could Mollie possibly have captured the vicious Sheriff calling for blood from beyond the grave? I am inclined to think so.
When my Spellbound Tours guests inquire as to which house in Salem is the most haunted, I always direct them to seek out the Joshua Ward House. Spellbound Tours has earned its reputation as the best paranormal night tour in Salem due in a large part to the rigorous investigations we have conducted through the years, and the Joshua Ward House will always be one of my favorite. If you decide to visit please be respectful of the current owners and if you do dare enter it is not a bad idea to protect yourself. Cast a spell, say a prayer, do whatever you do, and make sure your camera is loaded and ready!
Salem’s Most Haunted- The Joshua Ward House Part 2
Sheriff Corwin’s reign of torture ended abruptly a few years after Salem Witch Trials. He died at the age of only thirty of an unexpected heart attack. Some people believe his death was caused by a curse placed on him by Giles Corey. Corey had been accused of witchcraft and refused to plead innocent or guilty and without a plea being entered his trial could not proceed. Corey believed refusing to plead could stall his trial and he would be able to wait out the Witch Hysteria and eventually walk free. Sheriff Corwin was not about to let that happen.
To force Corey to confess Corwin employed a particularly cruel form of torture called pressing. Corey was dragged from the dungeons to an adjacent field. A pit was dug (some say Corey was forced to dig his own grave), Corey was thrown down into the earth and a board was placed upon his body. For a period of days heavy stones were slammed on top of the board slowly crushing him, as the days wore on Corey was repeatedly asked how he pleaded, innocent or guilty. He never said a word, so a frustrated Corwin continued to weigh him down with heavier and heavier stones. When it was clear Giles Corey was about to expire Corwin asked him for the final time how he pleaded. Defiant to the end Corey spat out the phrase “add more weight!” An enraged Corwin heaved a massive rock onto Corey’s crushed body. As Giles Corey’s body perished it is said that with his last breath he groaned out “damn you Sheriff Corwin, I curse you and all of Salem!” Corwin died just a few short years later. He had not exhibited any signs of ill health before his demise. Perhaps despite not actually having been a witch Giles Corey’s curse had the power to kill. Corwin’s earthly life was finished, but his problems were not over.
After his death Corwin’s body could not be buried in a proper cemetery. One of the victims of the Witch Hysteria who had had his property confiscated by Corwin put a lien on his Corpse. The remains could not be interred correctly until Phillip English got his money back! But not burying George Corwin in the graveyard suited the Corwin family just fine. They feared that if he were put in the earth his corpse would be dug up and desecrated by angry relatives of his many victims. The only safe place they had to stow his fast putrifying body was the basement. Eventually Corwin did end up in graveyard, six feet under, but the rumor still persists that his corpse in walled up in the basement of the Joshua Ward House, the stately historic home that was built on his land. A home that is said to still be haunted by Corwin’s spirit as well as the tortured souls of his victims.
According to now deceased former Salem Sheriff Robert Cahill’s books Ghostly Haunts and it’s follow up volume Haunted Happenings The Joshua Ward House is not only haunted by the wicked spirit of Corwin, it is occupied by another ghost as well, a hideous female apparition that has been titled The Lady In Black. The Lady In Black is seen to have a distorted face, long, unkempt black hair, and a tattered, old fashioned black dress. It is speculated that she may have been a victim of Corwin’s torture. Perhaps he killed her on his property.
Cahill recounts how in the early 1980s the home was being used as the office for a real estate firm and during an otherwise uneventful photo session a photographer was taking employee pictures when he came to a young woman named Julie he accidentally captured one of the most unexplainable and terrifying ghost images of all time. When the photograph was developed Julie was nowhere to be seen, superimposed on top of her was the image of an imposing, gruesome featured woman all in black! It is an outrageous image that is considered one of the best, most irrefutable examples of a spirit caught on film of all time. Of course, it is always wise to be skeptical when investigating claims of the paranormal. Spellbound Tours and the Spellbound researchers take great pride in their professionalism and ability to weed out hoaxes or natural phenomena that might create a convincing false image. Yet the Lady In Black picture stands up to all tests. The photograph shows no signs of tampering, the people involved in its genesis are unimpeachable. Various theories have been thrown tested to explain away The Lady In Black picture, but none have succeeded. The staunchest skeptics eventually give in and admit it is a spirit, or at the very least is conventionally unexplainable.
Former employees at the Joshua Ward House will recount tales of how they would be sitting in their offices alone, working after hours. They say that even when they knew for a fact they were alone the home felt occupied. They would catch a sideways look in the hall and see a shadowy figure glide past, shaking it off they went back to work, only to later look up from their computers and see the Lady In Black glaring right into their eyes, mere inches from their face! While The Joshua Ward House is beautiful many visitors, even those entirely unaware of its history, have reported feeling very ill at ease, even in a brightly lit room they feel a gloom and sadness, like the house wants to convey to them its dark secrets.
In the recent past the Joshua Ward House was occupied by a publishing company that was very amenable to paranormal investors. Today it is home to a boutique hotel that does not take kindly to nigh tours showing up on their doorstep hunting for ghosts. It used to be one of the top spots on our nightly Spellbound Voodoo, Vampires, and Ghosts tour, but now they try to conceal the haunted history. Despite the hotel’s reluctance to embrace the supernatural the historic Joshua Ward House is worth seeking out. After your Spellbound Tour you may even want to book a room and see if you can survive a night with Sheriff Corwin.