Is this a real ghost at haunted Gilson Road Cemetery, Nashua, NH?
This “ghost photo” was taken at Nashua’s Gilson Road Cemetery when we were researching ghosts and hauntings. It’s one of my favorite “What is this?” pictures.
I took this ghost photo with a $6 disposable Fuji camera. On that night, a group of us were testing inexpensive cameras to see what an amateur could expect when taking photographs at random in a haunted location.
By the time I took this photo, the fog was just starting to roll in. We could see clearly without a flashlight, and many of our cemetery pictures were normal, but the mist became a factor later in the night.
The photo after this one was also sharp. It looked identical to the first of the three. There was no photographic evidence of humidity or fog, just a few orbs. It’s typical of what we see in photos from Gilson.
No one was smoking. There were no houses nearby when this picture was taken, so there was no risk of wood smoke from a fireplace, either.
(Since then, a subdivision has been built immediately across the street from this cemetery.)
What is this weird, swirly mist…? Is that a gravestone to the right?
It should be, because that’s what the camera was pointing at.
We’ve had dozens of letters from readers, suggesting everything from a ghostly finger to the Virgin Mary. This is our most popular real “ghost photo.”
Whatever it is, it’s weird. And cool. And yes, this is real. It’s not altered from the original film print in any way at all.
I don’t think that it’s scary, but some people do. In fact, it reminds me of an old InfiniteFish background, in a way.
Camera: Fuju disposable Quicksnap, 800 ASA Developed at: One-hour processing, Shaw’s Royal Ridge, Nashua Location: Gilson Road Cemetery, Nashua, NH When: 26 Nov 1999, about 5 p.m.
2012 update: After testing photography techniques, I’ve realized that this might be the result of exhaling while taking the photo.
However, there’s a problem with that theory. The orbs in this photo… they’re not consistent with other false anomalies (with the same camera) from exhaling.
That’s part of debunking: Not just saying “it might be ___,” but also confirming that it’s consistent with the new theory.
Ocean-Born Mary is one of America’s most famous ghosts. However, only a few parts of her legend are true.
Here is the actual story, according to Henniker records that I researched, on-site.
Ocean-Born Mary really was born in 1720 aboard a ship, the Wolf. Also, her life was spared by the pirate Don Pedro, just as the story claims.
Mary’s father, Captain James Wilson, died soon after they landed in Boston, and his widow, Elizabeth, took Mary to Londonderry, NH, where she claimed the land Capt. Wilson had been granted.
Elizabeth married a second time, to James Clark (great-great grandfather of Horace Greeley, the man who said, “Go West, young man.”). She died about 1732.
1732 was also the year that the Wallace family, originally from Scotland, arrived in Londonderry, NH after living in Burnt Mills, Northern Ireland. (Burnt Mills is not on modern maps, but this is the town mentioned in historical accounts.)
Mary’s Happy Marriage
Thomas Wallace married Mary Wilson on December 18th, 1742.
And yes, she was actually six feet tall, with red hair. And, true to the legend, she wore a gown made from the silk given to her parents by Don Pedro.
The “Ocean-Born” Mary and Thomas Wallace did, indeed, have a daughter and four sons: Elizabeth, Thomas, Robert, William, and James.
However, “Ocean-Born” Mary wasn’t widowed early in life. In fact, Thomas Wallace, Sr., and his wife Mary lived a long and happy life together, until his death on October 30, 1791.
He is buried in Hill Graveyard, in Londonderry, NH.
More family history: Their daughter Elizabeth married Major (later Deacon) Thomas Patterson of the NH Militia; he was the son of Peter Patterson. They had at least one child, Robert Patterson.
Thomas Wallace, Jr., was a distinguished Revolutionary War hero.
Sons Robert, William, and James married sisters, respectively, Jeanette, Hannah, and Anna, all daughters of Robert and Mary Moore of Londonderry.
Mary’s Later Life
“Ocean-Born” Mary Wilson Wallace moved to Henniker on July 6, 1798 at age 78, and spent the rest of her life with her son, William, about a quarter-mile from one of her other sons, Robert Wallace.
Robert is the one who built the mansion that, today, is supposedly haunted by Ocean-Born Mary.
But… William’s journals and the census records suggest that Mary never lived in that house.
Mary died in 1814 and was buried in William Wallace’s family plot, as described in the legend, in Centre Cemetery. (That’s a little odd. Why wasn’t she buried with her husband, back in Londonderry?)
The romantic tale of Don Pedro cannot be documented after the encounter outside Boston Harbor.
So far, I haven’t found a land grant giving him 6,000 acres of land around Henniker. Though it’s unlikely the grant was that large, I can’t rule it out, either. The problem is: the grant was probably in his real name, not given to “Don Pedro.” So, I’m not sure if I’ve overlooked a record of his land grant.
However, Robert Wallace, who built the mansion, was considered a wealthy landowner with a deed to 300 acres surrounding the home. Even 300 acres is a very large piece of land, and could include a significant area around Henniker.
The silk wedding gown was very real, and worn by several of Mary’s descendants at their own weddings. Pieces of the gown remain, in the D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and in the public library of Henniker, NH. It is a lovely faded teal green silk, in a brocade style, with small teal flowers and white stripes through it.
Where Mary Lived – and Where She Didn’t
The home that Mary actually lived in was reported to be haunted and – after it was abandoned for a few years – the town purchased it in 1844. It was turned into a poorhouse, known as “Wallace Poor Farm.”
In later years, it was reportedly destroyed by vandals. (The history of that house is just odd enough to make me wonder if it really was haunted… perhaps by Mary. Maybe, as the story was passed from one generation to the next, people confused the brothers’ houses.)
The “Ocean-Born Mary” house, as her son Robert’s mansion is known today, was owned by several families before it was bought in 1917 by Louis Maurice Auguste Roy, author of The Candle Book.
The Roys and Mary’s Legend
Mr. Roy and his mother purchased the house and restored it, after hearing rumors of a ghost.
Soon after completing work on “the Ocean-Born Mary house,” the Roys opened their doors to the public.
They charged admission, and Mr. Roy told colorful tales about Mary Wilson Wallace and the ghost which his mother claimed to have seen many times.
So, it’s possible the Robert Wallace’s house was haunted.
However, Mr. Roy’s stories were laced with fiction.
For example, the phantom rocking chair was never Mary’s, and it rocked because Mr. Roy placed it over a loose floorboard that extended the length of the room. By shifting his weight on it, from the other side of the room, Roy could make the chair sway.
Then, Mr. Roy enticed visitors with his story of the lost fortune of Don Pedro, still buried somewhere in the garden where the pirate had died.
And – as if he didn’t seem enough of a charlatan at that point – Mr. Roy rented shovels to the tourists, for 50-cents each, so they could dig for treasure in the back yard.
The descendants of Mary Wilson Wallace were not amused.
Despite that, Ocean-Born Mary became one of America’s best-known ghosts. After all, the public love stories of adventure, romance, and real-life ghosts.
The ‘Ocean-Born Mary House’ in Recent Years
Mr. Roy died in 1965. Subsequent owners of the home, while intrigued by the legend, have done everything possible to discourage curiosity-seekers from trespassing.
They even moved the road in front of the house, blocking tourists from invading their privacy.
The house last appeared in Yankee magazine in September 1996, where it was in the “House for Sale” section, listed at $875,000.
If that house is haunted – and it may be – it is probably not Ocean-Born Mary who walks there.
The first half of the story – in which the pirate spares the life of the crew and passengers, when the baby is named for his mother – is romantic enough to spark legends. The rest of the Don Pedro story appears to be made up by Mr. Roy.
Oh, “Ocean-Born Mary” may still haunt at least one house in Henniker, NH, and appear in locations around town, especially at Halloween.
Remember, October 30th is when her husband, Thomas Wallace, died. That kind of anniversary – plus any spectral energy at Halloween – could explain why stories of her ghost appear at that time of year.
If You Visit Henniker, New Hampshire
Henniker is a lovely town and it is home to New England College and Pat’s Peak skiing area.
Henniker’s Centre Cemetery is a classic New England graveyard, and perfect for picture-taking, if you like stark and eerie images. Mary Wilson Wallace is buried there.
However, the Ocean-Born Mary ghost story is clearly drawn from Green Lady traditions (because she haunts a house, not a family), and the story of appearing on a horse-drawn coach is straight out of Irish legends.
Mary Wilson Wallace is probably not haunting her son’s home, but she may still haunt Henniker.
If you’ve encountered her ghost, I hope you’ll leave a comment and share your story.
Special thanks to Colleen D. of Henniker’s public library,
for her time and assistance in locating materials about Ocean-Born Mary.
Also thanks to Mike Wallace, one of Mary’s relatives,
who provided useful information for our research.
Without a doubt, parts of the story are entirely true. In fact, reports may have understated the severity and scope of what happened at that house.
The current owners of the home insist that the house is not haunted. Since I’ve seen how some people can — without any effort — counteract even the most intense paranormal activity, I believe the house may not seem haunted right now.
I’m equally convinced that, based solely on the murders, it’s unlikely that the house is clear of residual, ghostly energy.
Did the house retain potential ghostly or malicious energy? Were the Lutzes telling the whole story? I’m not sure.
This week, I watched a documentary questioning the hauntings at the ‘Amityville Horror’ house.
On one hand, I try to be very respectful of researchers’ subjective and psychic experiences.
On the other… Well, several years ago, I explored another classic “ghost story,” the Ocean-Born Mary tale, supposedly haunted by Mary Wallace.
(That said, I’ve heard from the daughter of the psychic who went to Henniker, NH with Hans Holzer. She is confident that something haunts the famous house. I haven’t done enough research to identify who that spirit might be. We only know that it’s probably not Mary Wallace.)
Since that Henniker, NH research, I tend to be extra skeptical about sensational hauntings.
The Amityville documentary was inconclusive. Each side — believers and skeptics — maintain the truth of their claims.
I’ve been skeptical ever since I read that the Lutz family let their children sleep in the same beds where the previous residents’ children were murdered.
Was that true? I don’t know.
As a parent, I can’t even think about doing that… even under the most compelling financial circumstances. But, it certainly increases the horror level when the story is told.
That possibility (if it is true) makes me question whether the Amityville “horror” was planned as a hoax from the start.
Oh, the interviews with Mr. & Mrs. Lutz seemed sincere and compelling. They probably believed the story (or most of it) as they told it. And, it’s a very good story.
I also believe that they could have been working with false memories, which are a volatile area of psychological study; I’m reluctant to say that anyone is lying.
Also, during the show, Ed Warren commented that ghosts are seen telepathically. I want to clarify what he was probably talking about:
In most cases, it’s rare to see a full figure, solid-looking ghost. Most of our perceptions aren’t visual… not in the way we usually see the world around us.
However, many of us have seen ghosts and briefly confused them with actual, living people. For example, I’ve seen two ghosts that looked like real people at Gilson Road Cemetery in Nashua, NH.
One of our team researchers — with a third-degree Black Belt in Karate — was so convinced that one of the Gilson Road Cemetery figures was real, he tried to physically block the figure from attacking me.
So, that ghost was not seen telepathically, but in real life and by several of us at the same time.
The Amityville documentary emphasized the importance of physical evidence. While no proof will be enough to convince a determined skeptic, it can tilt the scales when someone isn’t sure about a haunted site.
I’m still not sure about the Amityville house. Even the police reports raise questions.
(For some time, it seemed that there was an unreported body among the victims. Later, the police said it was a filing error. That kind of dramatic mistake – in the records of an infamous case – is an anomaly in itself. I don’t know what to think of it, but it’s odd enough to be significant.)
Ghost hunting remains a subjective study until we have more proof. When the Amityville house was a sensation, ghost investigations were handled very differently from today’s research.
Although paranormal studies can be fascinating and personally meaningful, researchers should always collect as much evidence as possible. From EMF to EVP to ‘ghost photos’, it’s key to document everything that provides proof of anomalies in haunted settings.
As the Amityville house reminds us, there may not be an opportunity to collect additional data, later.