Lightning tore the blackened sky like a scalpel through buttery flesh.
Gnarled fingers of cold clawed at anything exposed, turning metal into ice and destroying skin.
A full Moon illuminated the empty cobblestone streets.
Amidst this brutal New England winter, candlelight provided a view into a mysterious residence at the center of town. The silhouette of a male figure could be seen pacing before an attic window. If one gazed into these secret proceedings using a spyglass, they might catch a glimpse of an aging man mixing concoctions amidst a laboratory.
Diminutive cauldrons bubbled. Steam emitted from simmering, makeshift beakers. By contemporary standards, the scene would have appeared archaic, a mad scientist attempting to reanimate the dead.
A pot was turned three-quarters to the left. A flame was stoked. Wrinkled hands dispensed a carefully calibrated amount of liquid into a goblet. As the heavens crashed around him, the man brought the chalice to his lips. Thunder shook the walls, as he drank. Swallowing the acidic fluid, he wondered, would he soon be able to live forever?
Area 51; the Bermuda Triangle; Roswell, New Mexico. Malden, Massachusetts, doesn't generally top anybody's list of paranormal hotspots. Besides an average number of purported hauntings, what supernatural claim could this enchanting East Coast community possess? Only the possible birthplace of the secret to immortality.
His name was Ephraim Gray, and like most small town recluses during the mid-19th century, his mysterious, nocturnal schedule kept neighbors in a state of wonder.
And then there was that hideous odor emanating from his home. What was it? The stench of harsh chemicals? Was Ephraim conjuring up the undead? Was Mr. Gray a Victorian era Dr. Frankenstein?
For years, only Ephraim and his manservant were made privy to the unusual events taking place within the Gray household.
And then, one day in 1850, Mr. Gray's live-in attendant reported that Ephraim had died of natural causes, whilst the town of Malden slept the previous evening.
The assistant claimed Mr. Gray had been a self-trained chemist, spending the greater portion of his life developing an elixir that would guarantee him immortality. According to the servant, although Ephraim had failed to perfect his solution, he had ingested enough of whatever potion he did create to make certain his corpse would withstand the process of decay.
Being the heir to his master's estate, the attendant was ensured Ephraim's legacy only upon having made certain Mr. Gray's corpse was transported directly to the Malden Cemetery, without stops for autopsy or embalming. Living up to his word, the assistant carried out his employer's single request.
Of the mysterious elixir of immortality, the formula was never found.
Enter a handful of Harvard students some two decades later; a group curious about Ephraim's grand quest. The assemblage trekked to Mr. Gray's crypt, in hopes of uncovering whether or not his corpse had actually staved off the ravages of decay. Prying open the coffin, there's no way the students could have prepared themselves for what they found; a perfectly preserved Ephraim Gray, lacking even the slightest hint of decay.
Their questioning appetites satiated, the students sealed the casket, once again entombing Mr. Gray below ground. They then made a solemn oath to keep their midnight grave tampering to themselves, lest they be expelled from medical school.
As the 20th century roared in, propelled by gasoline engines on metal-spoked tires, the need to relocate the Malden Cemetery arose, making way for a road directly through the burial grounds. The exhumation of caskets went off without a hitch, until cemetery employees hoisted one Ephraim Gray's coffin from the Earth, and found it to be abnormally light. Upon opening the funerary box, the grave diggers discovered the sarcophagus empty.
The mysterious disappearance of Mr. Gray's body caused word of the young medical students' excursion to surface.
The pupils, now all middle-aged, swore they had resealed Ephraim's coffin with extreme care, leaving his corpse where they found it.
To this day, the whereabouts of Ephraim Gray's cadaver remain a mystery. How the body disappeared is also a conundrum. Is it possible Mr. Gray unraveled the secret to immortality? Does he continue to walk the Earth, destined to live forever, while the rest of us age and eventually die?
Have you ever met someone who seemed too knowledgeable about a century past, as though they could have only obtained such wisdom through first-hand experience? Look closely. Does that person seem to defy the aging process? If so, take heed. You may be in the presence of Ephraim Gray.
© 2011. Hugh Mungus
Citro, Joseph A. (2005). Weird New England: Your Travel Guide to New England's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. pp. 16-17. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN: 1402733305