Boston is an old city, and old places tend to have a lot of ghosts—or at least a lot of ghost stories, if you don’t believe in the supernatural. Given our city’s age, it shouldn’t be a surprise that paranormal investigators think we have lots of ghosts here. Haunted theaters, haunted dorms, haunted bars and, of course, haunted cemeteries. If it can be haunted, we probably have one in Boston.
You can add haunted hotels to the list. The Omni Parker House on Tremont Street is America’s oldest continuously operating hotel: it first opened for business way back in 1855. According to tradition, multiple ghosts haunt the rooms and hallways of this venerable establishment.
Many, many people have passed through the Parker House, so it’s hard to know exactly who these ghosts are. Perhaps they are the souls of some of the hotel’s famous guests. Actor John Wilkes Booth stayed here once in the years before he killed Abraham Lincoln, as did Lincoln’s widow after her husband was assassinated. Presidents such as Ulysses S. Grant and JFK also spent the night here, as did entertainers like Judy Garland and the Grateful Dead.
But which of these former guests haunts the ninth and tenth floors, where a man in Victorian clothing is often glimpsed? Hotel lore claims he’s the ghost of Harry Parker, the hotel’s first owner. A guest said this ghost once appeared at the foot of her bed and asked if she was comfortable, so that sounds about right.
The ghost of a traveling liquor salesman supposedly haunted Room 303 for many years. The man had killed himself in the room and his spirit refused to move on. Guests complained that Room 303 always smelled of whisky, and that the bathroom water would turn itself on and off. Strange shadows were also seen flitting across the walls. Rather than bring in an exorcist, the management simply turned the room into a storage closet. The haunting abruptly stopped. Apparently, not even a ghost wants to spend eternity in a broom closet.
It is also rumored that the spirit of Charles Dickens lingers at the Parker House. Dickens first visited America in 1842, before the publication of A Christmas Carol, but when he returned in 1867, he was a celebrity. His tale of Scrooge and Tiny Tim had made him enormously popular across the country.
When Dickens visited Boston that year, he stayed at the Parker House. He gave sold-out public readings at the Tremont Temple in late November and on Christmas Eve. The public couldn’t get enough of Dickens, and the Parker House had to post guards to keep the adoring fans away from him.
The mirror he used to rehearse in front of is still in the Parker House and is mounted in one of the hallways. Several years ago, a workman cleaning the mirror saw condensation from someone’s breath appear on the glass, as if somebody were standing next to him. He turned around but the hallway was empty. He went back to cleaning the mirror, and once again, the condensation appeared next to him. The workman gave up and refused to ever clean that mirror again.