Spider Gates- Leicester, MA


Photocredit: Ethan Ireland, 2020

“Dear Ancestor”

Your tomb stands among the rest

Neglected and Alone

The name and birth date are chiseled out

on polished stone.

It reaches out to all who care

It is too late to mourn,

You did not know that I exist

You died and I was born.

Yet each of us are cells of you

In flesh and blood and gone

Our blood contracts and beats a pulse

Entirely not our own.

Dear ancestor, the place you filled

one hundred years ago

Spreads out among the ones you left

Who would have loved you so.

I wonder if you lived and loved,

I wonder if you knew

That someday I would find this spot

And come to visit you.

Anonymous

What is it about a cemetery that draws lovers of the macabre and mysterious in? Is it their ominous presence as monuments to the dead? Perhaps it’s the legends that surround them or maybe it’s the energy they give off. Cemeteries are places to grieve and mourn, but also to learn of those that existed long before even your grandfather existed. Each headstone tells a story and each place has its own mood or vibe. When I see a cemetery, I feel the energy in the air and see the history scribed on the stones. I find it cathartic, and I’m certain some of the long forgotten owners of the graves do too. It’s almost as if they are there to be acknowledged, silently asking me to learn about them and remember them.

Not only are cemeteries a place to mourn, they are also hotbeds of legends. Tales abound in historical texts of violent deaths, gruesome rituals and angry spirits lurking just behind the cemetery gates. I’ve always had a love of local ghost lore and after moving to Massachusetts, I couldn’t resist the temptation to explore many legends that the 400 year old Bay State had to offer. In fact, I lived a stone’s throw away from the second oldest cemetery in America, the “Old Burying Point.”

Through an acquaintance, I learned of the cemetery known to other ghost lovers as “spider gates” or the “Friends” cemetery. It’s a Quaker burying ground secluded in the woods near Leicester, Mass. The grounds are meticulously landscaped, the property is well maintained and it gives off a feeling of isolation and peace. The nickname “spider gates” is attributed to the wrought iron gates at the front which have their own legend to add to the several that already exist here.

Photocredit, Ethan Ireland, 2020

Let’s put this into context. The gates themselves aren’t that old, in fact they were installed only about 70 years ago yet they seem to epitomize the cemetery and to increase its eeriness. The oldest graves in the cemetery go back to the early 1700s, therefore the nickname for the cemetery is relatively new. There are multiple allusions to why these gates were installed. One urban legend says that these gates are representative as “portals to hell.” Another legend says that the gates were installed to either commemorate the loss of a young man within the grounds of the cemetery in 1943 (which we will get into in a moment) or they were to keep a young 1950s crowd from spook hunting in the cemetery after hours after the death of this young man. (1) Whatever the cause, it’s up to you to decide what you believe.

Ethan Ireland, 2020

Legend has it that a boy of Greek decent hung himself within the cemetery walls in 1943. The story goes on to say that his family donated the gates (which allegedly represent the Greek Myth of Arachne) to the cemetery in commemoration of the boy’s death. (2) The problem that I have with this is that it is tough to verify the authenticity of the story. Yet another site lists the hanging as occurring in the 1980s. (3) Allegedly, you might encounter his presence here regardless.

Ethan Ireland, 2020

The headstone on the far left in this frame shows that of Marmaduke Earle. Legend has it that if you walk around this gravestone 10 times at midnight and then whisper “Marmaduke speak to me” AND THEN put your ear against the top of the stone, Marmaduke will THEN and ONLY THEN whisper sweet nothings (or terrible somethings) in your ear. (4) Please also note that the cemetery is ONLY open during daylight hours so this myth is a hard one to legally bust. While I have no qualms walking through a cemetery at night, this one is WAY off the beaten path and I’m not keen to walk through the woods in the dark…alone. Plus trespassing and getting caught is no fun since the Worcester and Leicester police routinely patrol the main road looking for teenagers after dark.

Ethan Ireland, 2020

Consider even what it takes to reach this cemetery. You can put “Friends cemetery Leicester” in any GPS and it will bring you to the main road. What it doesn’t tell you is how to get here. It took me two tries on two separate days to find it. Here’s a pro tip. Park your car at the road and walk around the yellow gate. Follow the path and you can’t miss it. Probably about a 10 minute walk one way. I couldn’t imagine doing it in the dark though.

Ethan Ireland, 2020

It’s a scenic walk nonetheless. I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary per se. There are other legends surrounding the cemetery. There are rumors of a cult that had nighttime rituals at a spot within the grounds known as the “altar.” This so called altar was simply where the meeting house for the quakers (who the cemetery belongs to) once met. (5) It’s a flat-ish spot of land that is marked by 4 corner pieces where the foundation once stood. I, unfortunately, didn’t get any decent pictures of the altar during my visit as I learned of it after the fact.

Ethan Ireland, 2020

Is there something supernatural about “Spider Gates?” Perhaps in a mythical sense. Is there any proof to these legends? Not really. There may be some truth in the stories but there isn’t any way to know because urban legends spread quicker and stick around longer than actual facts in small New England towns such as these. My visit was unremarkable. It was peaceful, scenic, even beautiful. I was a little spooked being in the middle of a 300ish year old cemetery in the middle of the woods, but I didn’t have an experience that was compelling. Perhaps maybe you have or maybe you will should you visit.

Sources:

  1. https://drivinvibin.com/2021/08/26/spider-gates-cemetery/
  2. https://www.trytoscare.me/legend/spider-gates-cemetery-leicester-massachusetts-2/
  3. https://www.scaryforkids.com/spider-gates/
  4. http://www.boudillion.com/SpiderGates/spider.html
  5. https://terrordaves.com/2012/06/13/spider-gates-cemetery-truly-haunted-probably-not/


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