Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Lady in Black: A Boston Harbor Ghost Story

One of the things I love the most about writing is that it gives me an excuse to do lots of research on all sorts of things. I sometimes worry that if the FBI ever monitored my Google history I'd be in big trouble. As I am working on The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed, Volume 3 in my Beacon Hills Chronicles series, I am delving deeper and deeper into ghost stories and hauntings. It's quite fascinating. Yesterday, while doing some research on Boston Harbor Islands I came across the legend of the Lady in Black, a Civil War era ghost story that has an amazing story behind it.
Corridors inside Fort Warren

Fort Warren on George's Island was built in the 1840s and used as a prison to hold Confederate soldiers and those suspected of being traitors. One of the prisoners was a young soldier from Georgia named Andrew Lanier. While imprisoned at Fort Warren, Lanier wrote to his young bride, Melanie, and told him where he was. Melanie, obviously a spunky Southern lady, decided to bust him out. She traveled to Boston and then to the town of Hull, located at the tip of a long peninsula with high hills overlooking Boston Harbor. I have been to Hull and the views of Boston Harbor are just spectacular.
Fort Warren on George's Island

So Melanie camped out in Hull and, with the help of a spy glass, staked out Fort Warren. When she had her bearings and her plan in order, she disguised herself as a man, and on a dark and stormy night (of course it was dark and stormy night) she rowed across the harbor armed with a pick-axe and a pistol. She located where the Confederate soldiers were being held and was able to squeeze through a slat into the prison. The soldiers then hatched a plan to use the pick-axe to tunnel to the fort's armory, arm themselves, and take command of the fort.
Entrance to Fort Warren on George's Island

Naturally the plans went awry and, in the scuffle that ensued, Melanie's gun went off and the bullet struck her husband and killed him (there are a number of variations on the story of how this happened.) Melanie was arrested, tried, and condemned to death. She was hung (hanged?) and her body was buried somewhere on George's Island. The legend says that, to this day, her ghost, dressed in the long black-robe she wore at her hanging, wanders the tunnels and corridors of Fort Warren.
Fort Warren on George's Island

I've been a nut for ghost stories ever since I was a kid and we used to sit around campfires toasting marshmallows and scaring the b'jesus out of each other with stories about golden arms and ivory soap floating. So, naturally, I wove the story of Melanie into COL3. Viv, my intrepid ghost-hunter, her doting but nervous boyfriend Joe, and a gigantic monk called Brother Maksim are determined to rid GrammyLou's townhouse of the mysterious spirits that have claimed it. This is from yesterday's scribblings:
Boston Harbor Light in the foreground and The Graves Lighthouse in background, as seen from Hull

Down a long drive, a weather-beaten salt-box style house sat next to a long greenhouse, all surrounded by neat gardens.
“It's beautiful,” Viv said as she got out of the car and stretched. “What a view!”
“No kidding, huh?” Joe got out beside her. He shaded his eyes with his hands and pointed. “That's Boston Lighthouse right in front of us but see that light farther out?”
“Yes.” Viv followed suit, shading her eyes. “Where is that?”
“That's called The Graves Light. It's nine miles out from Boston. When I was a kid our class went on a boat tour of the harbor lighthouses.” He turned and pointed in the opposite direction. “See that?” He pointed toward a flicker in the loom above the water.
“Another lighthouse?”
“Yeah. That's Minot's Ledge. I bet on a really clear day you can see all the way to Provincetown.”
“I'm going to go knock,” Tom said, coming up behind them. “That's George's Island over there.” He pointed to a rise of land just beyond Boston Light. “You've heard that ghost story, haven't you?”
“I forgot all about that.” Viv turned to look. Every school child in Boston had heard stories about The Lady in Black of George's Island.

Inside Fort Warren on George's Island

Thanks for reading.


  1. I always wondered what that island was, every time I fly into Boston! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sometime when you are in Boston you should take the tour. It's very interesting!


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