Sunday, October 18, 2020

In My Footsteps: The Scariest Places I've Ever Been


    Halloween season is upon us. It is the time of the year to scare and be scared. Scary movies, haunted house attractions, ghost stories, these and more are all traditions of October. I have been sharing some terrifying true crime stories this month and thought I'd go one better. I wanted to share my picks for the creepiest places I have been myself. Most of these are able to be visited even now, though it's not recommended after dark.

North Truro Air Force Base, Old Dewline Rd., Truro

    Okay so I'll start with one you likely don't want to try to go into because it's off limits. Several years ago I ventured inside the long abandoned North Truro Air Force Base. Located a stone's throw from Highland Lighthouse the base was in operation from 1951-1985 and encompasses 110 acres of land abutting the high cliffs of Truro. It has been a part of the Cape Cod National Seashore since 1994 and has been renamed the Highlands Center. However despite the improvements to infrastructure and money spent on demolishing some buildings the area remains dotted with decaying and overgrown structures. The only thing creepier than the outside is the inside.

Inside the North Truro AFB

    This is NOT recommended. As I said before several years ago while taking some photos at the deserted former base I wandered around and saw a body-sized hole in a door and gathered the guts enough to slip inside. It was lit only by light coming in through cracks between boarded up windows. Machinery and furniture remained but was badly decayed and dirty. Dark hallways and staircases coupled with miscellaneous creaks and echoes cut my time in there short.

Pine Grove Cemetery, Old County Rd., Truro

The infamous Pine Grove Cemetery crypt.

    Graves and cemeteries are a staple of spooky Halloween outings. Cape Cod has its share of creepy cemeteries with graves dating back to the 17th century. Perhaps no proper cemetery is creepier than the Pine Grove Cemetery in Truro. More than just being in the middle of nowhere this cemetery is creepy for the true crime story that happened within its borders. In 1969 Tony Costa murdered and mutilated four women. At least one of the victims was mutilated in a small brick crypt near the back corner of the cemetery. Three of the bodies were found in an area near the cemetery. It makes for a scary hike to wander the old fire roads trying to imagine where Costa buried the victims.

The Grave of Thomas Ridley, Truro

    There are a pair of gravesites not connected to a cemetery but that are connected to each other through the terrible disease known as smallpox. The solo grave of Thomas Ridley, located more than a half-mile deep in the woods behind Montano's Restaurant in Truro, is one of the hardest spots to find on Cape Cod. Ridley died of smallpox in 1776 and was buried far removed from the rest of the village for fear of exposure to the deadly illness. Few have laid eyes on his simple solitary gravestone in its more than 240 years of residency in the Truro woods.

Provincetown Smallpox Cemetery

Gravestone #5 at the hidden smallpox cemetery.

    In Provincetown only a few miles down Rt. 6 from Montano's is another hidden smallpox cemetery. Though closer to the main road it is no less difficult to find. Thickly overgrown brush hides the route to a series of foot-tall graves marked only by numbers. Though they lay in a line in a relative clearing it is the getting there that is the hardest. These graves are remnants of a smallpox treatment facility. It was first constructed in 1848. It was called a pestilence house, or Pest House, and the tiny 8x10 building was used to keep those ill from the rest of the town. Today all that remains is a hole in the ground where the building stood until 1873, and the solemn graves of fourteen people who died of smallpox at the Pest House. Of the fourteen only four remain in good condition after more than 140 years in the elements.

West Barnstable Brick Factory, Rt. 6A, West Barnstable

Part of the old West Barnstable Brick Factory.

    A spot very much out of the way is the former West Barnstable Brick Factory site. Just off of the railroad tracks in West Barnstable a century ago this was a thriving business creating popular bricks from the clay deposits underground. In the 1920's at its peak the factory was making 100,000 bricks per day and upwards of 30 million per year. In 1932 a test hole was dug into the clay to estimate how many years of brick making remained. Sadly the hole created an artesian well which flooded the clay pits and sent the company out of business.

    Today bits and pieces of the factory remain secluded behind thick brush and thorns. The artesian well remains in the area as do thousands of broken bricks. Though not creepy in the same way as a cemetery is the West Barnstable Brick Factory remains are a stoic and sad reminder of a once thriving industry and the one fatal mistake that ended it. Be aware for those trying to find this, it is buried so deep behind thorns and brush and there is no real pathway to get to it. Be prepared to bushwhack and possibly ruin your clothes. I did both when I visited.

Medfield State Hospital, 28 Hospital Rd., Medfield, Ma.

On the grounds of Medfield State Hospital

    Creepier than a cemetery might be an abandoned mental institution. The Medfield State Hospital is easily one of the creepiest places I've been. At its peak it had 58 buildings on its nearly 900 acre campus. Open from 1896-2003 it held as many as 2,300 patients at its peak. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 the staff created their own cemetery which still exists. Problems arose as it became commonplace for patients to simply leave the grounds and roam into town. The buildings began to deteriorate even before its closing in 2003.

    In the years since the buildings remained as a reminder of what once was. They stand as an abandoned neighborhood of sorts, each building blood red in color with white paint of the window shutters running alongside making it appear that the windows are crying.  The first time I visited I remember there being almost no sound, no wind, no animals, only a single beige sedan slowly driving the property. Straight out of a nightmare.  The second time I heard what sounded like a drill or electric saw inside the old vocational rehab building. I asked the town if anyone was working inside there on that day but got no reply.

    In 2014 the Town of Medfield bought the property and have been working on repurposing it as a piece of living history. It is possible to walk the grounds and experience a truly eerie sight, try it earlier or later in the day for maximum effect.  

Lizzie Borden House, 230 2nd St., Fall River, Ma.

An exact replica of the sofa where Andrew Borden was murdered. 

    Perhaps the creepiest spot in Massachusetts is the site of its most infamous crime. The Lizzie Borden House in Fall River is a must-see. To sum it up Lizzie Borden was arrested in 1892 for the ax murders of her father Andrew Borden and stepmother Abby, although she was acquitted in 1893. The brutality of the murders shocked the nation. Lizzie ended up spending her remaining years in Fall River despite being ostracized by the community.

    The house doubles as a museum attraction and a Bed & Breakfast. There are regularly scheduled tours of the home complete with gruesome photos of the crime scene including the bodies. I have taken the tour and standing in the spots where Andrew and Abby Borden were axed to death is truly creepy. However I can only imagine spending the night in the home. Laying awake at night wondering if the sound you heard was the spirit of Andrew or Abby wandering the halls. Or having to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and walking around in the dark in the home. I would definitely recommend the tour and if you're feeling daring spending a night there.

Gettysburg Battlefield, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pa.

The battlefield at Gettysburg

    The final spot I am including is far outside of New England yet needs to be experienced at least once. One of the most haunted spots in all of America, if not the world, is the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. One can either drive the route to the battlefield from the museum or you can walk. I chose to walk the half-mile trail through the woods to get to the actual battlefield. It is creepy as you walk out and see the large black and white photo posters of soldiers from the Afghanistan War hanging from the trees.

    The battlefield itself has been home to untold numbers of paranormal activity. More than 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing in total on both sides of the Civil War battle. With so many lives ended suddenly in one area it is natural that the field is full of spirits. The battlefield is decorated with many monuments and an overwhelming feeling of sadness thinking of the loss of life there. In order to truly get the creepy experience at Gettysburg stay until after dark and see if any apparitions appear or sounds fill the air. I stayed until a little after dark visiting the neighboring Gettysburg cemetery and then had to make the rather unsettling walk back a half-mile to the museum parking lot. All the while walking through the woods I had to remind myself it was only deer I heard roaming around in the brush.

    These are my favorite scary places I've been. Are there others on the Cape or New England that I missed? Have a happy and spooky Halloween!


My first eBook in 10 years, In Their Footsteps, featuring the interesting stories of Cape Cod's history, is on sale at

No comments: