Tales from the Charnel House: A Return to King’s Burying Ground

King's Burying Ground, Boston

I promised myself I’d give the graveyards a rest after this post. And this one. And this one. But something happened to me at King’s Burying Ground this past weekend that was so exciting, I’m still shaking. Anyway, I’m entitled to post about spooky stuff all I want–it’s Halloween month, damn it!

It was Saturday night, and some friends of mine were in town. I was giving them a tour of Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. King’s Burying Ground–which, as you’ll recall, is Boston’s oldest cemetery–is situated toward the beginning of said trail, and we were walking past it when I noticed something strange.

It was a man. He was strolling idly behind the locked cemetery gates. And he was dressed as a ghost.

I don’t know what it says about me (or about Boston) that I wasn’t more fazed by this. Halting on the sidewalk outside the site, I started telling my friends about the mysterious-hole-cum-subway-vent in the corner of the grounds. At this point, the ghost interjected.

“Yeah,” he said. “The people of Boston weren’t crazy about installing the vent in such a historic place. But they also weren’t crazy about dying on the train because of the build-up of poisonous gas. So what are you gonna do.”

The ghost turned out to be a tour guide with my good friends, Ghosts and Gravestones. He was waiting for a group to arrive and was obviously a little bored. He and I chatted about Boston’s cemeteries, about which I’m fast becoming an accidental expert. One of the most grotesque things he shared with me was that, in 1982, a storm knocked the corner off Copp’s Hill, sending a wave of centuries-old corpses out onto the street. He told me there were pictures online, but I haven’t been able to find them. If anyone has more luck, please let me know!

Some other things he told me:

  • The entrances to all of King’s crypts have been fastened really securely, because, a few years ago, the city discovered that homeless people were living in them.
  • Thanks to our old friend tomb speculation, there are a ton of extra bodies in King’s. Some of them were dug up and dumped in a charnel house at the far corner of the grounds.
  • The contents of the charnel house shift, so every once in a while, you can look inside and see a bone.

Ghost Tour Guide must have seen my eyes light up, because he then asked: “Do you want to see it?”

Did I ever!

He unlocked the gate for us. My friends and I slipped him a few dollars for this courtesy, though he hadn’t asked for any payment. Anywho, by the light of the moon (and our cell phones), we made our way to the charnel house.

King's Burying Ground, Boston-Charnel House

And here it is, “camouflaged” as a bit of landscaping. The rectangular section in the middle is the opening. How scientists moved in when they went down to test its contents, I have no idea–it looks really heavy. But it doesn’t quite sit flush against the inner wall, so there’s a gap you can peer through.

King's Burying Ground, Boston-Charnel House

Damn my cell phone and its inadequate flash! I’m so annoyed–not only because this photo doesn’t capture the depth of the charnel house (I’m willing to bet it was around fifteen feet), but because it doesn’t show what I spied down there.

It was a bone. I saw a bone.

I can die happy now. Thank you, and good night.


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