The Disappearing Men of Boston

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In fifth and sixth grades, one of my favorite moments of class was when we got to go to the library and read. There was a corner where the books on paranormal activity were kept, and I’d occasionally pick up a compilation on ghost hauntings and read a bit of it – only a bit, for I was soon too scared to turn the pages. Like the Loch Ness monster or the Abominable snowman, those ghost stories carried an unsolved mystery to them, the notion of something being off. They originated somewhere, there had to be something to them, but the veracity of it, the existence of such hidden evils, was always suspect. It was the only thing that kept me from going completely sleepless.

Black and white photographs of haunted staircases, of blanks walls covered in faded Victorian wallpaper, and doors slightly ajar, would come back to my mind at night, and I spent many hours frightened of every sound that emanates from a sleeping house. It wasn’t the existence of ghosts or monsters that horrified me, it wasn’t the damage they might do – it was the mystery of it. The absence of knowledge or proof was what bothered me, and that worked both ways. If it couldn’t be proven that they existed, how could it be proven that they didn’t exist? That same fear came to me the other day as I looked up at a poster of young man who was missing in Boston – Zachary Marr. On the platform of the Downtown Crossing Red Line, hordes of people rushed past his smiling image. He watched over all of them, as blind to their worries and concerns as they were to his, but I saw it all.

It had a title straight from clickbait hell: “Boston’s Mysterious Vanishing Men.” Of course I fell for it, then went down into a dark hole of conspiracy theories and paranoid speculation. For a few years, and in similar fashion, men in Boston were reported missing, then found dead a while later in a body of water – usually the Charles River or the harbor. In each instance, the men had gone off on their own, usually late at night, and often after a few drinks at a bar. They were all considered accidents, moments of drunken stumbling that resulted in unfortunate circumstances when a city has such easy access to water.

Still, something bothered me about these stories. Some vague underlying sense of dread and danger, some small seed of ‘What if?’ coupled with an inability to completely dismiss the connections made between cases. I don’t know the statistics, I don’t know how often such accidents happen. At the same time I find it hard to believe that such happenings are the work of some mastermind serial killer. As always, it’s the not knowing for certain that bothers me most. That’s what creeps into my head sometimes.

Boston’s lost boys, gone mysteriously missing then found in the water days or weeks later, haunt the most morbid corners of the mind, residing there partly resigned, partly pleading for help, partly at peace— or so we want to believe. It’s a haunting that spooks through its missing pieces, just like those ghost stories spun such fear through their very mystery.

I walk the streets and notice things differently now. The marks of men. The remnants of the lost. A single sock. A weathered Brooks Brothers collar point. A muddy comb missing several of its teeth. Ghostly items. Faded with weather and time and neglect. The forgotten. An eerie uneasiness settles over some nights now, and only when I lock the two formidable entry doors behind me do I feel a sense of relief.

UPDATE: Sadly, Zachary Marr’s body was just found in the Charles River.

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