The Merchant Hotel (Joshua Ward House)

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There are at least two spirits of vengeful witch hunt victims who
suffered grisly torture and death here.

The spirit of their sadistic torturer also resides here, perhaps wanting to hurt more people, yet
fearful about going to the other side.



An Exquisite Stay in the Heart of Salem – “RUM, PEPPER & A LITTLE BIT OF MYSTERY”

Set back from the street, with a large, sloping front yard, The Joshua A. Ward House is an impressive, three story, brick Federal-style structure that is now the home to the Merchant Hotel. Gone are the Higginson Book Company, and the Carlson Realty of 2010.

In their place is a chic boutique inn aimed at the modern traveler who likes to stay in a hotel with style, and doesn’t mind paying for it.

“The Merchant has now been renovated to be a luxurious boutique hotel in Salem, MA, with spacious rooms and high interior design in a private setting. Steeped in Salem’s shipping port history, yet with a dash of whimsy, we’re confident you’ll love staying at this historic gem offering pampering amenities, a curated small plates breakfast, and chic, modern touches.”(Merchant Hotel website)

While the hotel has “a striking interior design,” it still has some of the historic features of this two-hundred and forty three-year-old gem. Some of the magnificent woodwork was done by Samuel McIntire. Every room in the hotel has a fireplace.

Being a lover of historic homes, especially ones with well-done woodwork, in my opinion it is too bad that they covered all the woodwork and fireplaces with blue paint on the first floor, and painted over the woodwork and fireplaces in the rooms as well, in a variety of hues, depending on the color scheme of each guest room.

There is a lovely wooden central staircase that leads up to the guest rooms. The railing on the staircase is not painted over, but sprockets are white, and the walls are green. Well, they didn’t ask me!

On a positive note, in the common areas on the first floor, there is a small bar and tables to sit and enjoy upscale entrees to please foodies on one side of the lobby, and comfortable chairs on the other side by the blue fireplace. There are comfortable chairs and tables on the veranda in the back as well.



This large brick mansion was built for a retired sea captain turned merchant, Joshua Ward, in the mid 1780s. Joshua sold spices and rum, making him very rich and popular indeed. George Washington stayed here while visiting Salem in October, 1789, the honored guest of Joshua Ward.

This fine mansion was also a tavern once, and a variety of businesses because of its central location in downtown Salem.

In the late 19th century, it became an upscale hotel, called The Washington Hotel. By the mid-20th century, it had become a rather creaky structure, in need of restoration and renovation.

As land near downtown is valuable, changes were coming for this property, a building in need of TLC if it was going to be a viable business structure. Sometime in the 20th century, a multi-storied commercial building was constructed on the large front, sloping yard of the Joshua A Ward House, perhaps a sign of the mansion/hotel’s coming demise.

In the 1970s, when most of America had lost its mind and started to tear down wonderful old structures, a commercial developer submitted a proposal to the Salem Redevelopment Authority, to tear down this mansion, and build another commercial building behind the one already standing in the former front yard.

Fortunately, his proposal was turned down, and efforts were made to get the funds to restore this lovely old structure. It was restored beautifully, thanks to a grant by the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

The commercial building that had been built in the front yard was torn down, and the mansion’s front yard was restored! The former hotel was turned into a commercial enterprise, with businesses moving in to set up business offices.

When we first visited Salem, the Carlson Realty offices and the Higginson Book Company had moved inside. There were offices on the first floor, in both the library and the parlor. (We peeked into the entry way for a better look!) We saw mail boxes in the foyer, and offices in the various rooms on the first floor.

When we visited Salem in October of 2021, The Joshua Ward House had undergone another transformation. It was now a boutique hotel, called The Merchant, under the wing of the prestigious Larks Hotels Corporation which runs hotels that cater to people with money to spend on accommodations.

Needless to say, Joshua Ward House enjoyed a complete upgrade, with a blend of historic features and a new, hip decor. Its future is secure indeed!

I wonder if the changes have cheered up any of the upset spirits who reside here.



Joshua Ward built his mansion on the land that once was where the infamous Sheriff George Corwin had his house/jail, during the 1680s. Uh oh! Sheriff George Corwin, nick-named “The Strangler”, had the duty to interrogate suspected witches and warlocks, and carried out the painful death sentences, during Salem’s shameful witch hunting era, which took place in the years of 1692–1693.

Nineteen men and women were executed under his watch; either hung by the neck, suffering a slow strangulation, if they were lucky enough to survive the cruel interrogation process. Sheriff George Corwin turned out to be a sadist, and came up with dastardly methods, such as tying the accused prisoner’s neck to their ankles, until blood came out of their nose. On more than one occasion, the accused was crushed by rocks to either get a confession or a denial. The tortured often cursed his/her accusers, the judge and Sheriff George Corwin.

There are at least two spirits who were victims of Corwin’s torture chamber with sour attitudes who are stuck here. They have strong feelings about their unjust ends.

Sometimes entities haunt the land where their house/business/jail once stood, only too glad to move into the next structure built there, especially if they are trying to work through their restlessness caused by trauma, or get their story told, and/or seek justice.

National Aviary, PA (Past Confederate POWs or inmates now love this marvelous place where they find peace and enjoyment. It was built on the land where a prison once stood, which produced many miserable and traumatic experiences for all).

Willard Library, IN (The spirit of the Gray Lady had been haunting the field near the water canal where she drowned for years, but moved into the library when it was built on her field. She finds some peace in the Children’s Room).

Little Bighorn Battlefield, MT (The Stone House apartments and other living quarters for staff, and the Visitor Center, were all built on the battlefield. Traumatized spirits of soldiers have moved into the apartments, and other spirits of soldiers enjoy browsing the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center, trying to understand what happened. All spirits are working on getting relief for their restlessness and feelings of terror).

Joshua Ward House (Merchant Hotel), MA (Joshua Ward built his mansion on the land where the infamous Sheriff George Corwin had his house/jail, during the 1680s. Uh oh!

Two of the accused witches, an unknown woman and Giles Corey, didn’t make it through the sadistic torture routine, and are very angry and upset, wanting the living to bring justice.


The spirits of people who did dastardly things to others find themselves stuck where they committed their crimes. Some of these spirits still want to continue to torture the living but can’t, so they settle for frightening them.

Shanghai Tunnels, OR (The crips were a gang of merciless kidnappers who would grab men to be sold to ships as cheap labor, and women to be sold to brothels. Their prisoners were cruelly treated in the tunnels under the city of Portland, causing some to die in captivity. Clairvoyant mediums have seen them in the tunnels; hulking dark shadowy figures, with burning red eyes, perhaps a sign of eternal damnation. Their spirits yearn to continue to kidnap but they can’t in spirit form).

Comedy Store, CA (The basement was used to torture and kill anyone who crossed the mob in control during the ’20s and ’30s. A black-hearted spirit thug appears as a large black mass that shows its evil intentions. He is stuck in his workshop where he broke kneecaps and killed people. He would love to kill the living, but all he can do is be menacing).

Irma Hotel, NE (The spirit of a former bully/killer guest is residing without paying. He appears to be stuck, and misses torturing people. Perhaps he hasn’t done anything to guests and staff because he is afraid of being made to leave through an exorcism or blessing. So he appears in front of guests, talks tough, and enjoys scaring the less experienced paranormal investigators).

Joshua Ward House (Merchant Hotel), MA (The sadistic spirit of George Corwin is stuck because of the evil he did. He yearns to bully the living using his words through EVPs, and actions that create nasty surprises for the living but in most cases doesn’t permanently injure, though he has tried to kill in at least one instance, mentioned in the Paranormal Findings section below).



The spirits of George Corwin and two of his victims keep the living company, but are not pleasant to be around. The spectral victims may be looking for the spirit of George, and the living to punish him.

Cold spots throughout the building that are not caused by anything outside point to spirits here with anger issues, andobsessional quirks, who are trying to get relief from their strong feelings.

The Spirit of a Woman

She is described as a stressed-out person with black hair in a rather wild hair style. No one looks good after dying from a torture session.

She is thought to be one of the victims unjustly executed. She isn’t a happy camper, and her anger keeps her here.

She may not know that she is dead.

Her apparition has been reported, roaming the hallways throughout the building, perhaps confused.

When a photograph was taken of a realtor for a publicity shot for the Carlson Realty, the angry image of this malevolent female spirit was caught on film, standing in one of the mansion’s hallways.

The Spirit of Giles Corey

Both Martha and Giles Corey had the nerve to criticize the witch trials.

He was accused of being a warlock because he defended his wife, who was accused first.

He refused to make a plea, so that his lands and fortune would remain with his family, and not be taken by the Massachusetts Colony which had come up with this rule to gain the fortunes of those who pled, and were found guilty, which was the verdict most of the time.

Giles was tortured with rocks crushing him. All he said was, “Give me more,” in defiance.

Before he was crushed to death, he cursed Sheriff Corwin, who died later of a sudden heart attack.

The spirit of Giles is still furious, taking no comfort in the fact that his curse not only worked on Sheriff Corwin, but on many other sheriffs who followed in the years after his horrendous death.

He splits his personal appearances between the Merchant (Joshua Ward House) and the Howard Cemetery located next to the old jail, perhaps waiting for Sheriff Corwin to go to work.

He hides behind the trees while watching.

He still blames the people of Salem.

Shows his Anger

He has appeared to people as an angry man, glaring at them in indignation.

Trash cans have been turned over, books have been pulled from their shelves, and rooms have been found in disarray.

Candles have been taken out and melted.

The Spirit of Sheriff George Corwin

An older male spirit has been seen, sitting in a rocking chair by the parlor fireplace.

Items are moved around the mansion.

Candles are bent into the shape of an S.

Corwin’s Sadistic Obsession

Back in the mid-1980s, people first began to report being choked by an unseen spirit, probably the creepy spirit of George!

He probably still does this, when he thinks he can get away with it. In one instance, he nearly choked an investigator to death.

He likes to relive all his memories of the fun he had torturing his prisoners in the basement.

He likes to try to frighten the living who bother him, or who try to get EVP’s.


During the Carlson Realty offices and the Higginson Book Company years, staff had many interactions with these three spirits. The spirits probably do the same things with the staff and guests of the Merchant Hotel. Just avoid the spirit of George Corwin.

The Polaroid photo of the agitated female definitely let them know that she was there and not in a good place.

The Spellbound organization’s founder and former head investigator Mollie Stewart had her own experience with the spirit of George. He left a scary EVP on her recorder on the first floor. In a gravely voice, she heard, “I want to keep you!”

Just stay out of the basement! This is the place where George has a lot of power, as two investigators found out.

Salem’s Most Haunted- The Joshua Ward House Part 1

“Two other paranormal investigators, Mary and Robert, were taking preliminary recordings in different parts of the house. She was setting equipment up in a third floor room. Robert was in the basement. Mary realized too much time had passed. Where was Robert? Mary raced down to the basement. Robert lay writhing on the floor barely alive, struggling to breathe.”

“Mary wrangled him into a sitting position, and shook him into consciousness. Robert was struck from behind and his throat was seized. He whirled around to face his attacker, there was no one there! Yet the strangling sensation continued. It felt as if two vice-like hands were wrapped around his throat, trying to choke him to death. Mary apparently found him in just the nick of time! His neck had massive bruising consistent with what is seen on victims who have been violently choked.”



Yes indeed! It is still considered one of the most haunted places in Salem.

It sounds to me like the spirit of George Corwin is a dangerous spectral resident who needs to be removed by an exorcist. Perhaps this has already happened. The two other spirits of the woman and Giles Corey are probably still there, unless they have been helped with counseling from a medium who guided them to cross over.

The changes to the building may have agitated them, unless they liked the new look! Giles Corey was a rich landowner and he may appreciate the amenities offered, which may distract him from the anger that is keeping him here.

What is making them angry is perhaps still feeling the presence of their killer. If he can be banished, they may find peace and leave too.



148 Washington Street
Salem, Massachusetts 01970

The Joshua A Ward house can be found just one block south of Town House Square, in the heart of historical Salem. It once overlooked the South River, but this part of the river was filled in at some point in time.


  • Salem’s Most Haunted- The Joshua Ward House Part 1
    May 28, 2016
  • “The Ups and Downs of Saving Buildings” on
    “The Haunted History of Salem” on
    Joshua Ward House page on
    “The Witch of the Joshua Ward House” by Matt Forde on
    Joshua Ward House page on

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Salem Haunts in Massachusetts