Boston’s Mysterious Secret Tunnels

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I am not a native Bostonian, but have been residing now for almost ten years just an hour away from this iconic city. One, apparently, jam-packed with history—both legendary and secretive.

Underground tunnels are one of the mysteries of Boston’s history, and I’m not talking about the Big Dig. Local lore documents a series of tunnels that existed—may still exist—under Boston’s North End. Who built these underground passages and why?

History points to a privateer named Thomas Gruchy who lived and operated in Boston’s North End in the 1700s. A tunnel under his Commercial Street mansion connected his basement to the wharves, where it would have been easy to smuggle goods, thus avoiding the British tariffs or taxes. It is even speculated that the four plaster angels decorating the Old North Church, donated by Gruchy, were stolen from a French ship. These statues still stand in the church today.

That seems like a classic explanation for an underground tunnel, but what about the others? Writing from 1817 indicates a tunnel underneath a Lynn Street house, and another on Salem Street has a bricked up archway in its basement. It is said this blocks a tunnel that leads to the Copp’s Burial Ground.

In 1927, fantasy and horror writer H.P. Lovecraft crafted a tale called Pickman’s Model in which the North End secret underground tunnels play a key role. I mean, seriously—what better place to set a spooky story than in an underground tunnel, particularly one that leads to a graveyard?

IMG_0831On the campus of the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine where I work, underground tunnels still exist between some of the original buildings. These grounds comprised the Grafton State Mental Hospital in the late 1800s and up until the 1970s, when Tufts purchased the property. I’ve been in a couple of these tunnels, some of which have been repurposed for storage and animal containment. Others remain exactly as they were a hundred or more years ago.

Yes, there is a ghost story coming set on these grounds . . . it’s on my bucket list of supernatural suspense novels. I even have the plot and characters sketched out, and the title is “Electricity.” Stay tuned for that book to be released sometime in early 2018.

Although many of my novels are set in my native New York State, it appears there may be more fodder for spooky mysteries right here in Massachusetts than I’d previously suspected. Does anyone know of any other interesting sites I might explore? Please chime in under comments.

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Do You Believe In Ghosts?

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On the surface, this question seems simple enough. There are people who claim to have had sightings or other communicative interactions with the dead, and believe fervently that the events truly occurred. There are others who think the whole business is hogwash.

I’m not sure if anyone has done a study comparing the spiritual/religious status of ghost-believers vs. the non-believers: If you believe in life—or existence in some form—after death, then are you more likely to believe in ghosts? I believe this is probably true. People who believe that our consciousness—our spirit, if you will—dies with our bodies probably think belief in such supernatural phenomena is ridiculous.

What does science think? A 2015 article in Psychology Today written by Frank T. McAndrew, Ph.D. goes into the possible, scientific explanations as to why some people “see” ghosts. He concludes:

“There are really only three possibilities:

  1. The event really happened, just as the person has reported.
  2. The person truly believes that the event has happened, but it has not.
  3. The person is fabricating a story for some reason.”

Dr. McAndrew refers to ghosts as “sensed presences,” and outlines some of the common conditions under which individuals experience them. Some of these include changes in brain chemistry triggered by motion, stress, a lack of oxygen, or increased hormonal activity. Studies have even pinpointed the specific area of the brain where such “visions” might originate. Mourning individuals often experience sightings or other communications from recently deceased loved ones. Isolation is also a common “trigger.” But are all of these people who see ghosts believers in life after death? I would love to see a study done, and welcome those of you in the reading audience to chime in under comments.

Yet some atheists (those who do not believe in God, or any god) do believe in an afterlife. Hmm.

NBC News’ Website recently ran an article highlighting the fact that while there are fewer Americans who believe in God, more Americans believe in an afterlife. Huh? The author claimed it was a “millennial thing,” and psychologist Jean Twenge is quoted as stating:

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“It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality – thinking you can get something for nothing.”

Interesting thinking, but do these “entitlement millennials” believe in ghosts? Any of you out there? Come on, ‘fess up!

While the world of logic and traditional science pooh-pooh the concept of the ghost, there are other organizations who strongly believe the “illogical” and “unexplainable” are possible. The Rhine Research Center, located at prestigious Duke University in North Carolina, centers its studies on all things paranormal. These are not Saturday night spoofs conducting technologically enhanced ghost tours, folks. These are smart, highly educated individuals who are respected, and supported, by the academic and intellectual communities. Their history is long (est. 1930) and their mission statement simply stated:

The Rhine Research Center explores the frontiers of consciousness and exceptional human experiences in the context of unusual and unexplained phenomena.  The Rhine’s mission is to advance the science of parapsychology, to provide education and resources for the public, and to foster a community for individuals with personal and professional interest in PSI.

Rhine defines “PSI” as the collective para-psychological phenomena, including extra sensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (PK: the ability to move physical objects with the mind), and the belief that the spirit survives physical death of the body. The Center conducts ongoing research studies, and publishes the Journal of Parapsychology, described as:

“…an authoritative resource for anyone interested in the scientific study of paranormal phenomena.”

So, some really smart people believe in the paranormal. Not just the overly imaginative or emotionally unstable.

What do I believe? Well, I write supernatural suspense. That should tell you something—I’m not the kind of person who could write a 100,000 word story about a phenomenon I don’t believe in. But I’m also a scientist (no, really). I work in a research laboratory for Tufts University, performing very left-brain activities for the majority of my weekdays. I am considered by my peers to be a logical, educated individual. But I still believe in ghosts?

Yes, I do. Have I ever seen a ghost? No. But I have, shall we say, “had contact” with spirits of the dead—some of whom I never met, but just knew of. I’ve experienced premonition dreams. In 1968, on the night Robert Kennedy was shot, I saw the entire tragic event happening in a “dream.” I was only ten years old at the time. I was the one to deliver the news as a “bad dream” to my parents the next morning, who did not yet know.

On Jan. 28, 1977, another famous person, Freddie Prinze Sr., shot himself in the head. During the very same night as he lay in a coma, I dreamed I had a “meeting” with him in the underwater cabin of a ship. He discussed with me the reasons for his depression and assured me of his wish to end his life. At 1 p.m. the following day, after his family took him off life support, he died. I was twenty and only had peripheral knowledge of who Freddie Prinze even was, let alone the fact that he had shot himself.

Nearly a year after my father passed away, I “dreamed” that he called me. I picked up my bedside telephone and heard him say my name. Shocked, because the logical part of my brain knew he was dead, I asked, “Daddy . . . where are you?” He answered that he was “Far, far away . . . but not too far.” He sounded very upbeat and said that he was fine. When I asked if he was with my mom yet (who had passed away three years earlier), he said, “Not yet, but very soon. That’s why I wanted to call and let you know I was okay—that we are both okay—before I leave. Don’t worry about us anymore.”

I awoke with the phone in my hand, silence in my ear.

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Yes, I believe in life after death, and I also believe in reincarnation. I think we are given more than one shot at this thing we call life. Many times I have said, about some seemingly undeserving individual who has been dealt a crappy hand in life, “He/she must have done something really bad in a former life.” The reverse is true, I believe, of people who appear consistently and irrationally lucky. They must have been freaking saints.

How do I express my interest and curiosity about the “next realm” of life after death? I write supernatural suspense. I create characters who are psychic, have unusual PSI-type powers, or who, for some reason, are “chosen” by certain ghosts to be their human contact. Are these people special in any way? Yes, I believe they are.

I know it’s hard for the younger generation to imagine this, but there was a time—before cable and satellite—when your “equipment,” i.e., your TV or your radio, had to have a very sensitive antenna in order to be able to pick up an electronic signal of a broadcast. If your equipment wasn’t very sensitive, you would see or hear only static or white noise. I believe communication with those who have passed into the next dimension is very similar. Some living people have sensitive antennae: some people do not.

Who knows? Maybe we all have the capability to “tune in” to the energy of a soul whose physical body is gone, but whose energy remains here on earth. If we don’t believe in life after death, though . . . if we don’t believe in ghosts, there’s no way that person’s energy can communicate with us. Our power switch is essentially turned off.

After all, the life force—our spirits—are forms of energy. The first law of thermodynamics tells us that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred from one form to another.” So what happens to our life force, our spirit, when our body dies? It can’t just go away, disappear, no longer exist. It has to go on, somewhere, somehow, in some other form.

Do you have sensitive antennae? Do you believe in life after death?

Do you believe in ghosts? Please share in comments. All viewpoints welcomed.

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Claire Gem is the multi-award winning author of five contemporary novels, three of which fall under the genre of Supernatural Suspense. You can find out more about Claire and her work at her Amazon Author Page or her Website.

The Mystery of Van Gogh’s Death

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It has been accepted knowledge for over 100 years that Dutch Post-Impressionist artist, Vincent Van Gogh committed suicide in 1890. His tortured life, during which he exhibited more than one obsession and some very unusual, self-injurious habits (like eating paint) which would seemingly substantiate this theory. But details are sketchy, and in 2014, more than one publication not only questioned the theory, but provided some forensic evidence that Van Gogh may, in fact, have been murdered.

In this November, 2014 article in the UK Independent, gunshot expert Dr. Vincent Di Maio is quoted as saying the forensic details of Van Gogh’s wound do not coincide with a bullet having entered his body from close range.

This is the theory extended by Pulitzer Prize winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith in their bestselling, 2011 biography of the artist, Van Gogh: The Life. These authors believe Van Gogh was accidentally shot by some neighborhood boys who had been bullying him. The artist’s deathbed claim that his wound was self-inflicted was an effort to protect the boys. The authors of this biography consulted with Dr. Di Maio to substantiate their theory.

Di Maio claimed that in none of the forensic accounts on record were evidence of ““soot, powder tattooing and searing of the skin around the entrance (the wound).” Surely, if one were to place the barrel of a gun against their skin and pull the trigger, these marks would be evident.

But the art community was incensed at this new theory. Apparently, the world had become accustomed to, even enamored with the romantic notion of Vincent’s last pathetic act. A curator for the Van Gogh museum is quoted as saying, “Vincent’s suicide has become the grand finale of the story of the martyr for art, it’s his crown of thorns.” (Vanity Fair, Nov. 7th, 2014)watercolour-2168706_640

But scientific, forensic evidence doesn’t lie. There were no powder burns, even on either hand of Van Gogh who, with the black powder used to load guns at the time, would surely have been soiled if he had been the one to fire the shot.

So what is the truth? Did Van Gogh truly turn a gun on himself, in the middle of a cornfield, in the middle of executing a painting? Within days after ordering a large number of paints with which to continue his work? It has always seemed odd to me that one, even one as emotionally erratic and impulsive as Van Gogh, would have acted so irrationally, so spontaneously under these circumstances. Why not in his room, alone and despairing as Vincent often was? And why, although Vincent was a prolific letter writer, was there no suicide note?

Could it be that the bullying young boys who had been taunting him truly shot him “accidentally”? Or is there a more sinister explanation?

There is also speculation that the severing of the artist’s ear two years earlier was not his own doing, but an injury inflicted on him by his contemporary and supposed friend, Paul Gauguin. Is it possible Gauguin had something to do with Van Gogh’s murder? History reveals that although Gauguin left the house they shared in Arles in 1888 after Van Gogh’s ear injury, they continued to correspond. Gauguin even proposed the two artists open a studio in Antwerp—in 1890, the year of Van Gogh’s death.

The historical facts and the cultural sentiments collide, and so the mystery continues. All we have left are the canvasses on which Van Gogh poured out his passions. It’s too bad the paint can’t speak. Perhaps if we could access the memories of the artist through the DNA embedded in the linseed oil and pigments he left behind, we would finally know the truth.

But imagine if someone possessed this ability? In my upcoming novel, heroine Rachel Parrish is a DNA analyst with a strange phobia—oil paintings. It seems that even as a child, Rachel could hear “voices” coming from the amalgam of linseed oil and pigments. Skin cells contain DNA, the genetic blueprint of a person. And genetic memory is real. Science believes that memories are held in DNA and preserved.

Rachel Parrish is called upon by my hero, museum curator Duncan Nicklas to help identify some paintings in an unprovenanced collection. One of these paintings is suspected to be a Van Gogh. But will Rachel be willing to brave her fears to help him?

“Pigments.” It’s all in the touch.van-gogh-700604_640

Stay in the loop and be the first to know when Claire’s upcoming novel, “Pigments,” becomes available. Sign up for her newsletter at her website, www.clairegem.com.

Abandoned Asylums

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Today I’m going to intrigue you into my latest release, Spirits of the Heart, a story set in an abandoned mental asylum. Talk about restless, unhappy spirits . . .

From Spirits of the Heart, a Haunted Voices novel:

When the child looked up, Miller gasped. Behind her, against the fence, a bright red McDonald’s French fry box clung to the base of the chain link. Directly behind her, yet he could see it clearly. That’s when he realized he could see .  . .right . . .through her.

Shock seized in his chest, causing his breath to hitch. He staggered to his feet and took a shaky step backward.

I must be imagining this.

When the child spoke again, her voice echoed, as though from within tiled walls.

~~~

An addiction counselor & a security guard struggle to free two, lost spirits trapped inside an abandoned mental asylum.

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Laura Horton returns from college to move in with an old friend & start her career. But her homecoming is jarring. Her friend’s moved out, leaving Laura alone with the gorgeous but intimidating ex-boyfriend—in a house that snugs up to an ancient graveyard.

Officer Miller Stanford is a man with a shattered past. His alcoholic dad destroyed their family, a weakness Miller is terrified will consume him too. The last thing he needs is a sexy, blonde addiction counselor watching his every move. When he begins to see specters in the dark, he starts questioning his own stability.

But Laura sees her too—a pathetic child-spirit searching for her father. Can they unravel the mysteries of Talcott Hall without jeopardizing their love—and lives—in the process?

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Please check out the other MFRW Book Hooks for this week HERE.

ESP – Do You Believe?

A proposed study by Duke’s Rhine Research Center focuses on the effect of positive feedback on participants being tested for extra-sensory perception, or ESP. Since many who believe they may possess this ability suffer from self-doubt, the study provides subjects immediate, subliminal, auditory feedback when they make a correct selection.

So, can we learn ESP? Using the concept of Pavlov, can transmission of thoughts be taught?

Why not? I believe that, like a radio, every one of us has a certain ability to send and receive signals. Brain impulses are electrical charges, after all. Why can’t these charges radiate from our heads and be picked up by those who have more sensitive receiving capabilities?

In my youth, my younger brother became fascinated with HAM radios. Even though his equipment was dime-store quality, and his antennae feeble at best, he was amazed that at certain times of the day he could pick up transmissions from as far away as Australia – and we lived in New York. Why? Because of the phenomena whereby radio waves bounce off the ionosphere and return to Earth, repeatedly, in wave-like patterns. Why then is it so unbelievable that a thought “wave” generated by someone who lives far away couldn’t undergo this same effect?

Psychics and those who communicate with others telepathically may not have so much a unique power as one that has been critically developed. A skill, not a gift. Belief plays a strong role in our ability to do anything. I believe the same goes for psychic ability.

But what about those who communicate with the dead? Same logical premise. “Life,” as we know it, is energy. When our bodies die, that energy must go somewhere. What’s Newton’s law? “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred from one form to another.” A living person’s energy may well remain here on Earth, for a time, or for eternity. No one knows that answer for sure. But why is it so difficult to believe a soul’s energy can communicate with those who are open to receiving those messages?

Have you ever experienced a psychic phenomena? I’d love to hear about it in comments. I’ll select a random participant to receive a free digital copy of my latest release, Spirits of the Heart.