Published in the Village Reporter November 19, 2008 written by my friend Elizabeth "Beth" Coughlin, author and photographer.
Recently there has been a lot of talk about “unexplainable happenings” in the East Street area of Topsfield, Massachusetts As stated in an Oct. 22 Village Reporter article, the show Ghost Hunters recently aired a show about a home in that part of town that has reported alleged hauntings. Linda McKeehan bought the home from relatives 20 years ago.
Ghost Hunters aired the show on the Topsfield “Farmhouse” on Nov. 5 2000 on the SciFi Channel after the show's production department came to town to investigate.
The crew stayed in the house overnight using cameras that could film in the dark, as they kept all the lights off in the house. During filming, two separate doors violently slammed shut.
Initially the front door slammed locking a crew member out of the house. The second time, the bathroom door shut on a cameraman who was following a cast member around the house.
Another incident occurred when Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, the two stars of Ghost Hunters, knocked on a wall and asked whoever was haunting to knock back. It did.
Perhaps the most visual finding was when a coat hanger flew across the bedroom and landed on the floor next to Jason. Grant put the hanger back on the coat rack and once again the hanger went flying across the room and landed on the floor.
This symbolic connection was offered after the program aired by a descendant of Isaac Cummings, Leigh Cummings, who lives in Houlton, Maine. Although he is not a believer in the “paranormal”, Leigh Cummings wrote in an email that, “The throwing down of the hanger (twice) is just far too symbolic.”
Common thread What does Isaac Cummings and the Witch Hysteria have to do with it?
The historic trail begins in 1652 when Isaac Cummings purchased 150 acres of land in Topsfield, later known as the Cummings-Hobbs-Bell place (Image below). The acreage he bought would have included Linda’s home on East Street as well as others.
During the “Witch Hysteria” of the late 1600s, history tells us three local women were hanged as witches, Sarah Wilds, Elizabeth How, and Mary Towne Easty. Both Elizabeth How and Mary Towne Easty, relate back to the Cummings Family.
This photo, taken by Leigh Cummings, shows a memorial for Mary Easty that is part of the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial (dedicated 1992) in downtown Salem. It is adjacent to the 17th century Charter Street Old burying Point.\
The decision to convict Elizabeth How as a witch and sentence her to death was the result of the testimony of Isaac Cummings (2nd generation aged about 60), his wife Mary Andrews, their son Isaac Cummings Jr and Mary’s brother Thomas Andrews of Boxford, as well as others. They testified that because they had refused to lend one of the How daughters their mare, it mysteriously became horribly abused one night later. The mare ends up dying and the Cummings barn narrowly escapes a fire. Elizabeth How (the wife of James How Jr) was hanged on Gallows hill in Salem on Tuesday, July 19th, 1692.
The second local Witch that was hanged and related to the Cummings Family is Mary Towne Easty. Her niece (through her brother Joseph) married John Cummings in 1688 and two of Mary’s granddaughters, Abigail and Sarah, married Cummings men, both named Joseph (1712 & 1714). Tragically in 1729, on Christmas Eve, Joseph died of smallpox and 17 days later his wife Abigail succumbed to the same disease, leaving five orphaned children.
It is also important to note Mary Easty’s sister Rebecca Nurse was also hanged as a witch and another sister, Sarah Towne Cloyes was charged but never tried. In January, 1693 the grand jury dismissed the charge against Sarah.
Mary Towne Easty, who is called “Mary Easty, the self-forgetful” is known for a remarkable second petition she wrote in prison, awaiting her execution. According to The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society, volume 13, written by Mrs. Abbie Peterson Towne and Miss Marietta Clarke, “This petition stands by itself and is probably the most remarkable petition in the English language.”
In part it reads “I Petition to your honours not for my own life for J know J must die and my appointed time is sett but the Lord he knowes it is that if it be possible no more Jnnocent blood may be shed…”
Mary Towne Easty was executed on September 22, 1692 on Gallows hill in Salem.
At the end of Ghost Hunters both Grant and Jason reassured Linda that the “paranormal” things going in the house were nothing to be afraid of. In their opinion the “ghost” was just trying to communicate with her.
Although neither Mary Towne Easty nor Elizabeth Howe lived in the house that was featured on Ghost Hunters, it is important to remember the history of the land. Some viewers said the hanger was just that, a symbolic reminder of the “Witch Hysteria” and the lessons to be learned from it.
By the way, both Lucille Ball and author E.E. Cummings, e.g., are descended from Isaac and Mary Andrews Cummings. There is a cemetery in Topsfield, located on private property, that the Topsfield History book (History of Topsfield, George Dow) tells us holds over 100 souls from the Cummings-Lamson-Smith Families. The Smiths are direct ancestors of Joseph Smith, Mormon Leader.
From The Village Reporter October 22, 2008 This was the first article of 3 When Linda McKeehan bought her Topsfield home from relatives twenty years ago she had been warned not to buy it and at the time she did not know why, however, now she does. For the last twenty years Linda and her three daughters have been experiencing unexplainable happenings in their home.
They have seen lights turn on and off, doors shut on their own, sounds of someone walking up and down the hallway, coins dropping, children laughing, singing, banging, balls bouncing, objects moving, and the feeling that someone is watching. Most of these unexplainable events occurred while someone was alone in the house and usually at night. Linda explains, 'The most common thing is when someone is coming to the house expecting nobody to be here because they are checking on my home while I am away, and instead they hear laughing, singing and music."
Linda also talks about another incident where friends have driven up to the house expecting her not to be there and all the lights are on in the home. For years her daughters have felt it too. One daughter explains, "I'll feel like someone is in the room. Sometimes the TV will go on by itself and lights too." Linda, however does not always feel safe in her home. She explains, "Some nights I feel afraid, and two of my daughters will not sleep here alone over night."
All of these things are what helped lead up to Linda contacting the show Ghost Hunters. A co-worker of Linda's had told her she should send her story to the show Ghost Hunters. A reality based show that appears on the SciFi channel on Wednesday nights at 9pm. According to the SciFi channel website, "This one-hour weekly reality show from the creator/executive producer of American Chopper follows a group of real-life paranormal researchers as they investigate hauntings throughout the country."
After several months of waiting and then some phone calls back and forth it finally came to be. On Friday October 3rd the team of investigators along with the two celebrities who lead the investigation, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, showed up at the McKeehan house to film the Ghost Hunters show. They filmed all night Friday and Saturday night until midnight. Linda says, "They really did a great job, they were fantastic. They were very sincere about what they were doing."
What they found during taping will have to wait until the show airs, sometime this fall, but Linda confirms that they did find things. In fact at one point the team got locked out of the house by a door that frequently shuts on its own locking people out of the house. Perhaps the most interesting part of Linda's story may have come from looking into the history of the East Street area of Topsfield. What history tells us Linda does know some historical facts about her home from her relatives and neighbors. Her house was in fact a cottage house that was part of the working farm her step-father's family, the Pym family, had bought. The Pym family bought the entire farm, including the cottage, from Mr. John Lawrence sometime after 1937. Mr. Lawrence was a wealthy leather maker who was known to have entertained the Prince of Wales at his home. He had bought the property from the Robinson Family who owned 70 or more acres in that area of town. In the 1600's there was also a mill in that part of town, known as the Hobbs Mill, which was owned by the Hobbs Family.
Although all these historical facts are fascinating they still do not explain the haunted happenings occurring in Linda's home. That is where Norm Isler comes into the picture. Norm Isler is the President of the Topsfield Historical Society. He was asked to be interviewed for the show Ghost Hunters in order to shed some light on the history of the East Street area of Topsfield.
Kris Williams (seated on left) and President of the Topsfield Historical Society Norm Isler during their taped interview for the show "Ghost Hunters" to air sometime this Fall on a Wednesday night at 9 pm on the Sci Fi Channel. photo by Elizabeth Coughlin
What Norm explained was that houses back then did not have street numbers so it is difficult to know exactly where someone lived. However the Topsfield Historical Society has kept excellent records through the years. Some of these records can be found at the Topsfield Library in the reference section. Topsfield Historical Collections , start at Volume I and go up to volume 33 (1982). In the Topsfield Historical Collections Volume III, 1897, a Miss Marietta Clarke wrote this, "they do say that this last Hobbs House is haunted. It is a fact that a family left the house on account of the unexplainable noises heard therein.
Doors opened noiselessly, mysterious footsteps were heard crossing some of the rooms. At times a fearful clamor broke out in the old blacksmith shop and all the spinning wheels were set a whirling."
What is fascinating about the writings of Miss Marietta Clarke from over 100 years ago is that it sounds a lot like what Linda and her family have been experiencing today. Although it may seem tragic not to be able to know which house belonged to whom, one can't help but find Ms. Clarke's historical document intriguing, perhaps even validating. Sometimes...understanding the past helps to release the mysteries of today. The Cummings Family
Here is what readers said about this! Post your comment and let us know
Chris Pester This is an excellent story! Love the blog. All so informative with some great character, wit, and charm! Thank You
Great blog post, with a lot of good info
Where I grew up in Framingham, there was a part of town called 'Salem End' which was where Sarah Towne Cloyes and about a dozen related families set up an expatriate community in 1693. Town founder Thomas Danforth was a member of the original tribunal that looked into the witch hysteria, but apparently always disagreed with what was going on, and offered 800 acres to the Salem families to relocate. Some think he even helped Sarah and her husband get out of Salem to Framingham before she could be hanged.
Tranquil Waters Designs Wow, that is really fascinating! Thanks for such a wonderful write-up! Jo Ann Butler The Salem Witch trials never fail to fascinate. One could be accused of witchcraft just because a neighbor had a bad dream, and such accusations could easily turn fatal. Thanks for a very interesting post! Gina Paulhus
Great write-up and lovely accompanying photos. Jim Morrocco
So interesting! If there was ever a good example of the old cliche' "If the walls could talk...", boy, what words we would hear to go along with all the mysterious sounds and happenings??? Very glad to hear that "At the end of Ghost Hunters both Grant and Jason reassured Linda that the "paranormal" things going in the house were nothing to be afraid of. In their opinion the "ghost" was trying to communicate with her." Makes you wonder... Knowing today of the many ways history comes alive, as we learn things from the past, if only there was a way to effectively communicate with life after death. Oh, what we could learn! And how it may change history. Great accounts! Thanks for sharing! And as if that isn't enough... so close to home makes it even more interesting and exciting! Jim Morrocco Francine Corbett Voltz Interesting article. I will try to catch a rerun. Thank you for sharing.