Dancing with the Dead on Old Hill Cemetery


Halloween is to me a great time to have a community that gets together for a good time – I highly advise anyone to venture, if there is room, onto Marlboro Street this Sunday where the term ‘block party’ is brought to new heights.


So, please take the following as an unpleasant distraction.    The expression, “Truth is stranger than fiction” holds true in Newburyport.        This city is full of surprises and to the average citizen, perhaps safely hidden away.


In this case, for good reason!     This is just gross.


Just off of Greenleaf Street is the final resting place of the Pierce family on the slopes of Old Hill Cemetery.    The tomb is imposing – ornamental but still reserved, as fitting a respectable New England family. Inside, if the records are correct, you’ll find a drowning victim, a Civil War veteran and his family – three of which died of tuberculosis. Many of us wander graveyards in the day, and during the night as well, and Old Hill  Burial Ground is a great one for wandering.      Ghlee Woodworth holds tours occasionally there in her Tiptoe through the Tombstones Tours.


The Pierce Crypt has been singled out for unspeakable acts  and for some strange reason not just once but as many, if rumors persist, as often as five or more.

The first was in 1925, when teenage boys slipped inside, dangling on ropes lowered from above, unwrapped the corpses from their winding sheets, then poked the corpses, now nearly mummified, with sticks. They then propped the bodies so that they appeared to be attending a candle-lit séance. For the finale of the adventure, they put on the clothes of the rotting corpses and paraded around Frog Pond, which lies below Old Burial Hill.

The oddly attired teens attracted the attention of the local constables, confessed everything, the clothes were returned to their deceased owners, who were then once more neatly packed away, the tomb sealed and everything forgotten. There is no record what was done with the vandals.


Then in 1985, the tomb became a party house for a group of ten teens, part of a loose club. The tomb was broken into, corpses were once more unpacked and made honorary members of the club. Alcohol was poured down the throats of the decomposed corpses. Stories of more, unspeakable acts popped up as well, and the local police turned to the newspaper for assistance. A story was printed, revealing the fact that some of the occupants had died of tuberculosis, and whoever had been in contact with them should be tested immediately.


This ruse worked and the worried vandals came forward rather hurriedly to be tested.       Dummies!


In 2005, it happened again. This time, a delinquent who was already doing community service, broke into the tomb, severed the head and part of the collar bone off one skeleton with a rock, plopped the head on his shoulder and went back outside to

to freak out his coworkers. Which seemed to work, as they all fled with the possible exception of one, who took a snapshot of the fellow with the mummified skull on his shoulder. He then cavorted around the graveyard with the skull and bones. The photo found its way into the hands of the police, the fool was arrested, pled guilty and got two and a half years.


The door to the tomb is now thoroughly bricked up.


The Pierce Tomb is said to be haunted.     One theory is that the dead called and  possessed a passerby, who tended to be rather feebleminded, to do atrocious deeds.     I can’t imagine even in a drunken state to doing such a gross thing but of course, history shows that some people do the most bizarre acts for no apparent reason.


This might be a test so if you feel level-headed and advisably sober, it might be safe to briefly visit the tomb.   


But I wouldn’t linger!

-P. Preservationist

Cadaver eyes upon me see nothing.
I love the dead before they rise,
No farewells, no goodbyes.
I never even knew your now-rotting face.
While friends and lovers mourn your silly grave.
I have other uses for you, Darling.

                                                                -Alice Cooper


About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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