In Episode 225, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger stroll the shores of Marblehead, Massachusetts, searching for the ghost locals call the Screeching Lady. Back in the 17th century, a pirate ship dropped anchor right off these shores, brought an English woman prisoner to the beach, and murdered her as locals watched. The victim’s shrieks have haunted these shores ever since.
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[OCEAN WAVES ON THE SHORE]
RAY: It’s a brisk day to be walking near the ocean in Marblehead, Jeff.
JEFF: It is, you can almost feel the icy mist coming off the crashing waves and drifting up here to Front Street.
RAY: There’s not much shore in this part of town. There’s a lot of buildings, mostly multi-family homes and things like that… And there’s a restaurant coming up here on our left.
JEFF: That’s The Barnacle restaurant!
RAY: I think I’ve heard of it.
JEFF: It’s a local icon here in Marblehead, Massachusetts. When the seas get rough, the waves have been known to crash over the windows of the building that sits right out over the ocean. So you can eat your seafood as the oceans slams up against you.
RAY: Good times. So did we come here for lunch?
JEFF: No, our destination is this tiny stretch of beach right next to the Barnacle Restaurant.
RAY: It’s not very big. Maybe four car-lengths wide, and maybe 20 feet of rocky beach between the wall and the water depending on the tide, I suppose.
JEFF: This is the place where they say you can still hear a ghost they call the Screeching Lady of Marblehead.
JEFF: Hi there, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 225 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. Did you know that so many story leads come from you? This one did. Thanks to Rebecca Del Giudice who emailed us about this strange tale. We love when you connect with us either through our super-secret Facebook group, our Web site, social media, or when you call or text our legend line anytime at 617-444-9683.
RAY: Before we go looking for this screeching ghost of Marblehead, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
JEFF: Nuwati Herbals has so many great products that have become part of our daily lives, AND part of our weekly adventures. When we told Kimberly and Rod about the story we’re chasing this week, they offered to help.
KIMBERLY: Rod, why are you putting Nuwati products in your satchel?
ROD: I have to rush out and meet Jeff and Ray on an investigation. They’re going to need some of our Howling Wolf tea for stress and sore throats, and some Wild Horse tea for fluid retention.
KIMBERLY: Why fluid retention?
ROD: Well, their investigation has something to do with swollen fingers…
KIMBERLY: Oooo good luck!
ROD: Road trip!
RAY: Road trip indeed! Thanks, for joining us on this one, Rod and Kimberly! We appreciate having you aboard.
JEFF: Yes we do. There’s a Nuwati Herbals tea for any occasion or situation including this one in Marblehead.
RAY: Let Nuwati Herbals help support your healthy lifestyle. Check out the Nuwati Herbals Web site to see all of their great products AND you legendary listeners get 20% off your order when you use the promo code LEGENDS20 at checkout. Visit Nuwati Herbals dot com. That’s N-U-W-A-T-I Herbals with an S dot com.
[OCEAN WAVES ON THE SHORE]
JEFF: I can see there’s a few stairs on that side of the wall that will lead us down to this little stretch of Marblehead beach next to the Barnacle Restaurant.
RAY: Like I said before, there’s not much beach here at all. It’s mostly rocks. There’s a cement slab that sticks out into the water a little bit.
JEFF: During the warmer months, people come here to set kayaks and paddleboards into the water. But it’s right here that they say a horrible gruesome act took place. A tragic event that still haunts Marblehead to this day.
[FAINT WOMAN SCREAM IN THE DISTANCE]
RAY: What was that?!
JEFF: That could be the screeching lady… Let’s head back to 1697 and head out to sea.
RAY: It’s October of 1697, and we sailing aboard a Spanish ship bound for America when suddenly…
RAY: Pirates attack the ship!
JEFF: This vessel is no match for the pirates, so the Spanish captain is forced to lower his sails and pray for mercy.
JEFF: But the pirates show almost no mercy at all. They slaughter the crew and passengers.
JEFF: They intend to take the ship and all of its cargo for themselves. It’s what pirates do.
RAY: But there’s on older English woman they haven’t killed. Look at her over there.
JEFF: Huh. Oh man, check out the giant green emerald on her hand. That’s some ring!
RAY: One of the pirates is trying to pull the ring from her fingers, but it’s not coming off. It’s stuck.
JEFF: She’s wincing in pain. This is horrible!
RAY: It looks like the pirate captain is stepping in… He just ordered his crew not to harm the old woman… for now she’s a prisoner.
JEFF: This whole scene is just awful. The crew are throwing the bodies of the Spanish passengers and crew overboard…
[BUILD UP OCEAN WAVES]
RAY: With a new vessel under their command, and a new prisoner walking the decks, the pirates continue sailing west toward the shores of Massachusetts. The pirates know they need to avoid the larger ports like Salem and Boston, because there will be heavily armed British ships looking out for pirates. So they head a little south of Salem and drop anchor just off the shores of the small village of Marblehead.
JEFF: The pirates can see from shore that there’s no real defenses here in Marblehead, so they lower their row boats….
JEFF: And row to shore to pillage and plunder anything that may be worth pillaging and plundering.
RAY: Meanwhile, back on the pirate ship, the British woman who was taken prisoner is pacing the deck and staring at the shores of Marblehead. There are only a few crew members still on board the ship, and they’re below deck waiting for the other pirates to return. The woman sees the shore and believes this may be her only chance…
[SPLASH THEN SWIMMING]
RAY: She jumps into the cold ocean water, and starts swimming for shore a short distance away.
JEFF: In Marblehead, the pirates aren’t find much of anything worth pillaging. There are only a few nearby houses, and when the residents saw the pirate ship drop anchor, they ran for it and hid. These aren’t wealthy people, the houses don’t have much by way of riches. This stop is a bust for the pirates. And now they’re angry.
RAY: Just as the pirates make their way back to their row boats, they see the old woman soaking wet and catching her breath on the shore. Already angry at finding no loot in Marblehead, now they have to deal with an escaped prisoner… an escaped prisoner with a very large and expensive emerald stuck to her hand. And now the pirate captain finds himself forgetting the mercy he showed the British woman when she was captured. He no longer cares about any potential ransom. He draws his cutlass from his scabbard.
JEFF: Not too far away, some of the Marblehead locals are watching the scene unfold from the safety of their hiding place among the trees. They look on in horror as the pirate captain hits the old woman with the handle of his sword sending her to her knees.
[WOMAN CRIES OUT FOR HELP IN DISTANCE]
JEFF: They can hear the woman crying out for help, but no one dares to move from the hiding place. From this vantage point they can see the rage in the eyes of the pirates as one stabs the woman as she shrieks. Another pirate starts to saw away at the woman’s ring finger with his knife. The whole scene is too horrible to watch…. And then. Silence. Sickening silence as the pirates row back out to their ship and sail off.
RAY: When the pirate ship is out of sight, the Marblehead locals slowly approach the small stretch of beach only to find out what they already know. The old woman has been brutally murdered, and her ring finger severed. They gather her body…
[DIG DIG DIG]
RAY: And bury her in an unmarked grave nearby.
JEFF: The burial is not the end of the story. From this day on, locals often swear they hear something above the sound of the breaking waves.
[WOMAN SCREAM FOR HELP AGAIN]
JEFF: They hear the woman’s cries for help again and again… it haunts the town. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: They say the cries of that woman still haunt this tiny stretch of shore in Marblehead.
JEFF: Enough so that the story gets passed around town, and even made it into a few books. Robert Ellis Cahill wrote about it in his book, New England’s Ghostly Haunts. But the original source seems to be a story from a book called Miscellanies, published by William Tudor in 1821.
RAY: I read the account in Miscellanies, it’s only a couple of pages in the book. The author relates the stories he heard from a Mrs. A. She’s the person who told him about the Screeching Lady of Marblehead, which is exactly the words he used back in 1821. Tudor says in his book, and I quote, “I found she did not wholly disbelieve,” when it comes to Mrs. A buying in to the truth of this story.
JEFF: So Tudor believes that Mrs. A believes. We should point out that in the 1821 version of the story, there’s no mention of an emerald stuck to the finger of the English woman. Just that pirates captured a Spanish ship, they slaughtered most of the crew and passengers, they made their way to Marblehead, where they brought the English woman on shore and brutally murdered her as she cried out for help.
RAY: Tudor’s account goes on to say that the Marblehead men were off in their fishing boats for the day, and everyone else felt powerless to stop the murder.
JEFF: Stories do change and evolve over time depending on who tells them. And this region WAS a hotbed for pirates back then. The story is plausible. But either way, the basics of this legend have been around Marblehead for more than two centuries—a woman brutally murdered by pirates somewhere close by to this spot.
RAY: And 1821 is when it was first written down, as far as we know.
JEFF: Right. Some say the screams are still heard to this day because someone needed help. A matter of life and death! And people did nothing to offer assistance. Those kinds of decisions… or indecisions can haunt you forever.
RAY: We want to haunt YOU each and every week, so be sure to subscribe to our podcast because it’s free. Also, tell a friend or two about our show. Or post a review on Apple Podcasts. It all goes a long way in helping to build up our community of legend seekers.
JEFF: Be sure to check out the New England Legends television series on Amazon Prime – you can even watch our Creepy Christmas holiday special and start a new tradition in your family.
RAY: We’d like to thank our sponsor Nuwati Herbals, and our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL: Hi, this is Raylee from Oxford, Connecticut. Until next time remember the bizarre is closer than you think.