September 12, 2017

Bradford College: The Necronomicon, Strange Lights, and Ghosts

What is it about colleges and ghost stories? It seems like most colleges have at least one restless spirit wandering their hallowed halls. Maybe it's because young people are more perceptive of the supernatural, or maybe it's just that young people like a good scary story. Either way, if you want to find a ghost college campuses are a good place to look.

I grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts. When I lived there it was home to two colleges: Northern Essex Community College (NECCO to the locals) and Bradford College. I've never heard any ghost stories about NECCO, and Renee Mallett, author Haunted Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts, writes that "...it's not haunted in the slightest, at least as far as anyone has come forward to say." It's not a residential campus so that might be the reason why.

Bradford College, on the other hand, is the setting for many ghostly encounters and paranormal legends. Perhaps this is because it was home to thousands of young people for nearly two centuries. Bradford was founded as an academy for girls back in 1803, became a junior college in 1932 and then a four-year co-ed college in 1971. Bradford College closed in 2000 for financial reasons, and it's campus is now home to Northpoint Bible College.

Photo by Stephen Muise (my brother!)
My favorite story about Bradford College is that the Necronomicon, a legendary book of malevolent magic, is hidden somewhere in the tunnels beneath the campus. The tunnels are quite real, and a colleague of mine who attended Bradford said they were originally built so the wealthy young ladies of Bradford Academy didn't need to go outside in inclement weather. According to the legend, horror author H.P. Lovecraft was dating one of these young ladies in the 1920s and decided to hide the Necronomicon below the campus to keep it safely hidden away.

There are a couple reasons why this story is almost certainly just a legend. First, the fabled Necronomicon is not real. This mythical book was a fictional creation  Lovecraft used in many of his tales but it did not exist outside the pages of his stories. After his death several authors published their own versions of the Necronomicon, which you can still buy from Amazon or your local bookstore. I can't vouch for their magical efficacy, but they certainly aren't hidden under Bradford College.

The second reason this is just a legend? Lovecraft never dated anyone. There's no record of him having romantic feelings for anyone until he met his wife, and even then she talked him into their short-lived marriage. Lovecraft dating someone is more unbelievable than the Necronomicon.

Photo: Stephen Muise
A weirder and somehow more believable ghost story about Bradford was sent to me by someone who reads my blog. I'll call him Greg for the sake of anonymity. Greg was a freshman at Bradford College in 1980. One night in late September or early October of that year, Greg and some other freshmen were carrying a case of beer into their dorm when a sophomore named Larry stopped them in the hall. He explained that he didn't want to be alone that night. It was the one-year anniversary of something strange that happened.

He told them the following story. One year ago, Larry, his roommate Ray, and a couple other students decided to take LSD on a Friday afternoon after class. They had planned to take it outside on the beautiful campus, but rainy weather confined them to Larry and Ray's room. Things went poorly. As the acid kicked in Ray became extremely paranoid, and began to rant about a flashing red light in the corner of the room. No one else could see it. Ray started to scream accusingly at his friends so they left him alone (and tripping) in his room. Hours later Ray was still screaming about the flashing red light and was taken to the school medical facility. He never came back to his room, and several days later his father came and collected his belongings. No one ever learned what happened to Ray.

That was the end of Larry's story. Greg and the other freshmen kind of laughed at it, but a few weeks later Greg experienced something that made him reconsider the story. Greg had been hanging out in Larry's room and as he left he saw the words "WELCOME BACK RAY" appear on the door. They vanished as soon as he read them. This freaked Greg out but he didn't say anything.

The appearance of those words was the start of some weird occurrences in the dormitory. One night Greg was awakened by someone screaming in the room next to him. He listened through the wall but couldn't make out what was causing the commotion. Several days later he learned that one of the boys in that room had left Bradford College and gone back to live at his parents' house. The boy was upset because he kept seeing a flashing red light.

Greg also started to see a flashing red light, often out of the corner of his eye. Greg wrote, "I thought that either it was just my imagination or this dorm was really haunted and I was going to be its victim in some way." He had trouble concentrating and his grades began to fall. During this time Greg learned that another student had also supposedly seen a red flashing light, this time in the bathroom while he was drunk.

Hearing this did nothing to settle Greg's nerves. He continued to see the red light, his grades continued to fall, and he became deeply depressed. In the spring of 1981 he finally hitchhiked home and never returned to Bradford.

That's the end of Greg's story. I find it really fascinating and don't quite know what to make of it. Greg seems to think that "WELCOME BACK RAY" was a premonition that like Ray he too would eventually drop out of Bradford. If that's the case it came true. And did Ray's initial bad acid trip accidentally open a doorway for something uncanny to come through?

Photo: Stephen Muise
That story about the flashing red light is just one of many told about Bradford College. The most famous ghost story is that the campus is haunted by a spirit called Amy, who was a young woman who had an affair with a priest. When she became pregnant she either killed herself or was murdered by the priest. The college is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a drama professor who was murdered by student who impregnated her. Yikes! That's a lot of sex and violence for such a small college.

Are any of these stories true? I can't really say, but the folks at Ghost Encounters have investigated Bradford College and you can read their results here. Sometimes when you to college you learn things you didn't expect.

September 04, 2017

Milton's Ghost Road

I always imagine that Labor Day weekend will be warm and sunny. You know, it's the end of summer so we should spend one last day at the beach or have a big picnic. That's not always the case, however. The Sunday of this past Labor Day weekend was cold and rainy. It felt more like November than September.

Tony and I went down to Milton, Massachusetts for a little day-trip in the raw weather. Our main goal was to visit the Eustis Estate, a huge 19th century house that was recently opened to the public by Historic New England. It's a really beautiful building with some amazing architectural details, and they've restored the interiors with period fabrics and wall treatments.



Since it was a gloomy day and the house was relatively empty I kept thinking of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House. I don't mean that in a bad way either. The building has a lot of presence and would make a great setting for a movie. On a sunny day you might film something by Edith Wharton, but on a gloomy day it was definitely the setting for a horror movie.

Can you see the leaves changing? Autumn is coming early this year...
I didn't find any ghost stories associated with the Eustis Estate, but there is a haunted location in Milton just a few miles away. Although it just looks like a pleasant country road, Harland Street in Milton is supposed to be home to several ghosts. In fact, the locals call it Ghost Road. Perhaps I should write it this way: GHOST ROAD. That looks more frightening. And there are definitely some frightening stories attached to it.

The stretch of Harland Street between Hillside Street and Unquity Road has been said to be haunted for decades. According to Robert Ellis Cahill's book New England's Ghostly Haunts (1982), people living there complained so often of strange noises and ghostly apparitions that they finally brought in a group of psychic investigators.

This looks like a Ghost Road to me...
Two of the investigators, Elaine Favioli and Edward Ambermon, saw "jellyfish-like blobs with discernible ears and mouths," while other spirits appeared in human form. One was a woman in a long gown, and the other was an American Indian the investigators named Mingo. A Ponkapoag Indian named Mingo did live in Milton, but I'm not sure if this is really his ghost or if the investigators just used his name. As Cahill notes, an Indian ghost named Mingo also haunted the Barnstable House on Cape Cod. Are they the same ghost or just two unfortunate souls with the same name?

Those jellyfish-like blobs sound pretty creepy, and Ghost Road keeps it's creepy reputation even today. Several people on message boards claim the road is haunted by a family that walks up and down the road at night, and that the family is made up of an Indian ghost named Mingo, a headless Puritan woman, and her child.

Other people say they've encountered a man walking up and down Ghost Road late at night. No one knows who he is, and he refuses to show his face. A black car has also been spotted parked by the side of the road. It flashes its lights at everyone who drives past. Are the two related somehow? All of these ghosts (plus horrifying unearthly shrieks) are only manifest during the night. Happily Tony and I went during the day.

Ghost Road passes through swampy conservation land and Tony wondered why people often report paranormal activity near swamps, like this one or the Hockomock Swamp in the Bridgewater Triangle. It's a good question. I suppose one could argue people are misinterpreting natural phenomena as ghostly activity. Swamps are dark and full of wildlife, so maybe people hear frogs or foxes and think they are hearing human voices. Luminous swamp gas might be interpreted as glowing ghosts.


Still, that wouldn't explain things like a family of ghosts walking in the night or a black car parked by the side of the road. Swamps tend to be undeveloped (and therefore very dark at night) so perhaps they serve as blank slates onto which we can project our fears, be they restless Indians whose land we stole or faceless men who lurk in our neighborhoods.

Finally, I'll just point out that local American Indian tribes viewed swamps as gateways to the underworld. They felt they were good places to contact spirits and their shamans would visit swamps to find spirit allies or seek visions. They were not evil places but places of power. Maybe people today are seeing the spirits that have always been there but just filtered through a modern American worldview.

August 29, 2017

Howling In The Woods: A Terrifying Tarzan In Wellfleet

Imagine yourself alone in the woods on a late autumn evening. The leaves are down and bare tree branches rattle in a chill wind blowing off the nearby ocean. It's quiet. All you can hear is the sound of dry leaves crunching underfoot. Maybe the smell of snow is in the air.

Suddenly, in the deepening gloom, you hear a howl. You can't tell where it's coming from but it sounds close. You pause. Maybe it was just a dog?

Then you hear it again. It sounds closer this time. It's definitely not a dog. Is it a human? Maybe, or maybe it's something you don't want to face alone in the dark woods.

The thing howls again, even closer, and fear overpowers curiosity. You run for home like the Devil himself is behind you. For all you know, maybe he is.


In December of 1939, the Cape Cod town of Wellfleet was plagued by someone (or something) that screamed and howled in the night. It was a season for strange apparitions on the Outer Cape, for the this was the same time that Provincetown's more famous Black Flash was running amok a few miles down Route 6. Unlike the Black Flash, though, no one ever saw the source of the strange howls that were heard in Wellfleet. He, she, or it remained unseen.


The noises were focused in Wellfleet's Paine Hollow neighborhood, and were heard only at night. Some locals jokingly said they were being made by Tarzan, but others took the noises seriously enough to form an armed mob:
‘Tarzan’, in case you don’t know, is the name of our local phantom, a sequel to Provincetown’s ‘Black Flash’, maybe. Anyhow, the people were out the other night, armed with clubs and hammers and shot guns to track down the source of the strange noises that had tormented them for days. They combed Paine Hollow with minute precision, but ‘Tarzan’ remained elusive. (The Provincetown Advocate, "Tarzan Is Making Wellfleet Uneasy", December 14, 1939)
I suppose the noises were most likely made by a hoaxer, but The Advocate also suggests it was a local bull unhappy that his owner had locked him up during deer hunting season. Whatever it was, it's never a laughing matter when armed people go stomping through the woods looking to find a monster. Anxiety was running high that year on the Outer Cape. A sea serpent had been found in January in Provincetown, fishermen were afraid Nazi U-boats were lurking under the waves, and the Black Flash had terrorized Provincetown a few weeks earlier. People were stressed and ready to shoot something.


Happily, no one was shot and I couldn't find any information about the Wellfleet Tarzan beyond that one article. Maybe the hoaxer quit when he learned about the armed mob, maybe the cow stopped complaining, or maybe Tarzan swung back to the jungle. Either way, Tarzan made an impression on the people of Wellfleet:

The residents scoff at the thought of a phantom ‘Tarzan’ swinging through the tree tops South Wellfleet, yodeling like a sick sea-clam to scare little boys. But the good neighbors look beneath their beds before retiring these nights - I betcha! (The Provincetown Advocate, "Tarzan Is Making Wellfleet Uneasy", December 14, 1939) 

August 20, 2017

Something Monstrous Is Out There: The Truro Wild Man of 1879

I am fascinated by old stories about wild men in New England. What is a wild man? Well, I'm sure you're familiar with Sasquatch, who is said to be large, hairy and humanoid. Before the concept of Sasquatch caught on in the 20th century, though, folks in these parts reported seeing wild men. And yes, I just used the phrase "folks in these parts." It makes me feel like I should be smoking a corn cob pipe, but it's a good gender neutral descriptor and I'm letting it stay.

Anyway, back to the wild men. Unlike Sasquatch, who is supposedly a distinct species of animal, wild men are a little more ambiguous. The term was used to describe all sorts of strange beings: apelike monsters, humanoids covered in hair, and even people with mental illness who lived in the woods. A wild man was basically any human (or human-shaped) being who dwelt outside the boundaries of society. Invariably they elicited a terrified reaction from anyone who saw them.

Cornhill Beach in Truro
For example, citizens of Truro, Massachusetts were terrified when a wild man appeared in that Cape Cod town in May of 1879. I spend time in Turo every summer, and even though it's now a beautiful vacation town there are still a lot of big empty spaces. You can walk in the woods for hours and not see anyone, and even the beaches are devoid of other people at certain times of day. I suppose it's not surprising that a wild man would appear there.

The Truro wild man was first seen crawling in and out of the windows of an abandoned house by a group of school children. They of course reacted with terror and ran home to tell their parents they had seen a monster. The children described the wild man as gigantic and shirtless.

At first the adults in town didn't take the story seriously, but the children continued to see the wild man for several days in the vicinity of the abandoned house. Fear spread through the neighborhood and a search party was finally formed to find the wild man. They searched the abandoned house and the area around it but did not find the monster. It seemed that he had escaped.


The identity of the wild man was revealed a few days later. He was not a monster after all, but was actually a "well-disposed" man of Portuguese descent who was interested in buying the abandoned house. Apparently he had been climbing through the window so he could see what the interior looked like before he purchased the property. I don't know why he was shirtless.

That information comes from the May 29, 1879 issue of The Provincetown Advocate. Although in the end there was no actual wild man, I find it fascinating that both children and adults thought there could be a monstrous hairy humanoid wandering through town. Even if a real wild man was not in Truro there were wild men lurking in the shared Truro subconscious.


It's also interesting that the wild man in question was really someone Portuguese. People of Portuguese descent now compose a big part of the population in southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, but there was a time when mostly people of English ancestry lived in those areas. The kids in Truro were basically freaked out by someone from a different ethnic group. It's good that the story had a happy ending and that the "wild man" was not shot by a search party.

August 09, 2017

Vikings in Boston? Norumbega Rises Again!


"I have to-day the honor of announcing to the discovery of Vinland, including the Landfall of Leif Erickson and the Site of his Houses. I have also to announce to you the discovery of the site of the Ancient City of Norumbega." (Eben Norton Horsford and Edward Henry Clement, The Discovery of the Ancient City of Norumbega, A Communication to the President and Council of the American Geographical Society their Special Session in Watertown, November 21, 1889)


"If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” (Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz)

*****

If you've ever been to Kenmore Square in Boston you might have noticed a statue of famed Viking Leif Erikson in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue. I bet Leif wasn't as youthful and perky as this statue portrays him, but I'm willing to acknowledge artistic license. But more importantly: why is this statue here?
The author and Leif Erikson

Eben Norton Horsford helped put it there.

Near Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge stands a plaque that claims: "On this spot in the year 1000 Leif Erikson built his house in Vineland." What? Leif Erikson lived in Cambridge? That'sjust  not true. The plaque is also the work of Eben Norton Horsford.

Further down the Charles River, in Weston, stands an anomalous stone tower. A plaque at its base claims the tower marks the site of the ancient city of Norumbega, which was a Viking settlement. Eben Norton Horsford strikes again.

Eben Norton Horsford
Horsford was born in 1818 in upstate New York. He trained as a civil engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and had a successful career as an academic, eventually teaching at Harvard for 16 years. According to Wikipedia, he specialized in topics like "phosphates, condensed milk, fermentation, and emergency rations."

Horsford is most famous for his reformulation of baking powder. He replaced the traditional cream of tartar with calcium biphosphate, which made it more reliable and effective. With this new formula he founded the Rumford Chemical Works and became a very wealthy man. You can still buy Rumford Baking Powder even oday.

Horsford made his money in the physical sciences, but his real passion was not baking powder or fermentation. It was proving the Vikings visited America before Columbus did. Horsford was not alone in his passion. The theory that Norsemen had been the first Europeans in America had initially been popularized by a Danish scholar named Carl Christian Rafn in 1837, and it found a lot of support in late 19th century America. At that time many Catholics from Southern Europe were immigrating into the United States, and the more established Anglo-Saxon Protestants (like Horsford) didn't like it. They also didn't like the fact that Christopher Columbus was a Catholic from Southern Europe. It just felt unseemly somehow!

A youthful and fresh-faced Leif Erikson

We now know that Norse explorers did reach the America's first, thanks to the discovery in the 1960s of a Viking settlement in L'Anse au Meadows, Newfoundland. Archeologists say the settlement was established around 1,000 AD and probably supported a maximum of 130 people. They did not stay long or make a lasting impact. So no, Columbus was not the first European to reach North America, but he was the first to make any real impact.

Horsford had no archaeological training, but he did have a lot of money to promote his theory that Vikings had not only come to North America, but they had come to Massachusetts. Conveniently, he found proof right in his own backyard.
The amateur archeologist claimed to have unearthed that proof — rocks that he said were the foundation stones of Erikson’s house — around the corner from his Cambridge home along the banks of the Charles River. “Horsford basically walked from his house, went to the riverbank, found rocks, and said, ‘Aha! This is a house,’ ” says William R. Short, an author and independent scholar specializing in Viking-age topics. “But they don’t look like the foundation stones of typical Viking-age houses. They look like the rocks of Cambridge.” ("Uncovering New England's Viking Connections," The Boston Globe, November 23, 2013.)
Horsford theorized, in his 1890 book The Discovery of the Ancient City of Norumbega, that the Norsemen had come to the Charles River basin in search of oak burrs (those large lumps that grow on the side of oak trees) which they used to make drinking cups and other items. They were so valuable that the Norse created a vast series of dams and canals across Massachusetts to transport them to the ocean:
At first the maser wood (oak burrs) would be gathered near the settlement, as we have seen; but the supply would soon be exhausted. The choppers must go farther. There were no horses, no roads. The obvious method of transportation was by water, - at first from the immediate wooded shores of the Charles, then from the shores of its tributaries, and the along artificial canals, conducting to these tributaries and the river. (The Discovery of the Ancient City of Norumbega, 1890, p. 29)
Horsford claimed to have found Viking-built canals in Newton, Weston, Cambridge, Woburn, Dedham, Brighton, and many other towns in Massachusetts. Skeptics argued that these canals and other stone structures had obviously been built by English colonial settlers, but Horsford said they had simply repaired pre-existing Viking canals. Again, he had no evidence to support his theory.

Oak burr!

How many Norsemen would it take to build all this? Horsford estimated about 10,000 of them lived in Massachusetts.


As I wrote two weeks ago, the name Norumbega probably comes from a mistranslation of the Italian phrase "non oro bega," meaning "no gold to quarrel about." Italian cartographers had put it on maps of New England to indicate there was no gold here. Horsford claimed the word Norumbega was an Algonquin interpretation of the word Norvege, meaning "Norway," and was the name of the Viking settlement. Needless to say, the local Indians have no memory or records of Vikings settling the Charles River.

Even during his lifetime Horsford's theories faced opposition from historians. For example, the Massachusetts Historcial Society opposed the effort to erect the statue of Leif Erikson, and one National Geographic Society publication even stated the following:

"The most incautious linguistic inferences, and the most uncritical, cartographical perversions, are presented in Eben Norton Horsford's 'Discovery of America by Northmen." (quoted in Horsford's The Problem of the Northmen,1889)

"Cartographical perversions" is a pretty strong condemnation. After his death Horsford's works fell into relative obscurity. I'm sure the changing demographics of Massachusetts's population probably had a role to play, as the state became increasingly Catholic. The particular anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiments that helped fuel his efforts died out.

 

Horsford's thriving Viking city may have been a delusion, but the monuments he erected remain to remind us of the mythical Norumbega and the real-life dreamers and eccentrics who make our region's history so rich. Even though Leif Erikson never sailed up the Charles River New England is still a strange and wonderful place.

August 02, 2017

Dublin Lake: Horrifying Monsters That Induce Madness

This week I was going to write another post about Norumbega, the Atlantis of Maine, but I'm putting that topic on hold for now. Something more interesting has come up: lake monsters so terrifying they drive people insane. Who can resist a story like this?

The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript recently ran an article about monsters that supposedly lurk at the bottom of a lake in Dublin, New Hampshire:

At its surface, Dublin Lake may be a family-friendly body of water – offering the region a place to fish, swim, and recreate – but dive deeper and you might not like what you find.

Legend has it that a yet-to-be-classified form of sea monster dwells in caverns at the deepest point of the lake, which is 100-feet according to New Hampshire Fish and Game.

While those who have allegedly seen the monster have been driven mad, that doesn’t stop some lake-goers from hoping they find Dublin’s underwater cryptid. ("The Search for the Dublin Lake Monster," The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, July 26, 2017)
Accounts of the Dublin Lake monster date back to the 1980s. According to one story, the monster was first encountered when a scuba diver became separated from his group and did not return to the surface. Several days later a group of teenagers encountered him in the woods, naked and raving about hideous creatures he had encountered in a cavern at the bottom of the lake. He was unable to describe them because their terrifying appearance had driven him completely insane.

It does look like monsters could be in here... (photo from Wikipedia)

I love it! That's a really fantastic legend and there is another version as well. In the alternate version, a group of scuba divers were using a diving bell to try to reach the lake's bottom. The tether was not long enough, so one of the divers swam down to the murky bottom. He did not return and his companions assumed he was dead. Several days later, hikers encountered a naked madman in the woods near Lake Dublin. It was of course the missing diver, who had been driven totally insane by the hideous creatures he saw. Due to his fragile mental state he was unable to tell anyone what the creatures looked like.

Most lake monsters are describable, and usually look like giant snakes or extinct plesiousaurs. They may be strange or unusual, but aren't ugly to a madness-inducing degree. That really makes the Dublin Lake monsters stand out. Some sources say the diver referred to something vaguely eel-like, but others are totally silent on what the creatures look like. Isn't it better to let the imagination run wild?

Another distinctive feature of this legend is that some accounts claim air-filled caverns exist at the bottom of the lake. This is where the creatures live, which seems to imply they aren't your average giant eel or aquatic dinosaur. Who knows what they are?

Some of you may have a prurient curiosity about why the diver is found naked. What happened to his diving gear and scuba suit? Well, your curiosity will not be satisfied. No one knows, which makes this whole thing even creepier.

To sum up: the Dublin Lake monsters are so hideous they drive grown men insane, they might dwell in air-filled caverns, and for some reason they want to take your clothes off. All of this combines to make a really great legend.

Although a lot of local residents weren't familiar with the story they became enthusiastic when they learned about it:

“I haven’t heard of the legend but I love it and hope it’s true,” said Augusta Petrone, of Dublin, who said that as a child, she heard a rumor that the lake didn’t have a bottom. “I’m 80 years old and I used to not believe a lot of things. I’m hoping they find Atlantis..."

I think that's a great attitude to have about your local monster. Scuba diver Maurica Smith was also excited about the legend:

“I would definitely love to go out to Dublin Lake again, to explore a little deeper,” said Smith. “I’ve also heard that there is a space ship down there, which would be cool.”

It sounds like there are several legends circulating about the lake, perhaps inspired by its great depth. If anyone knows anything else about Dublin Lake please leave a message in the comments.

*****
You can read more about the Dublin Lake monsters at Cryptopia. Hopefully it won't drive you insane!


July 27, 2017

The Lost City of Norumbega: David Ingram's Journey


"Everything about Norumbega is in dispute." 

Kirsten Seaver, "Norumbega and 'Harmonia Mundi" in Sixteenth-Century Cartography,"
Imago Mundi, Vol. 50, 1998

*****
In 1568, a young Englishman named David Ingram joined Captain John Hawkins as a crew member on one of his ships. Ingram was from the small town of Barking in Essex, and apparently he was looking for adventure - and was willing to overlook the nasty fact that Hawkins was a slave trader whose coat of arm was emblazoned with the image of an African child in chains.

Ingram set sail with Hawkins for the Caribbean with six vessels, but when they reached the coast of Mexico the fleet was attacked by Spanish pirates. Four of Hawkins's ships were captured by the Spaniards, and more than two hundred of his men (including Ingram) were forced onto the remaining two ships. There was not enough food or water for so many men and survival seemed grim. Captain Hawkins was not a compassionate man, so he put ninety-six men ashore near the Tampico River in Mexico. He gave them money and bolts of cloth, keeping the food and weapons for himself, and then sailed off.

The money was useless - there was nowhere to spend it and nothing to buy - but I suppose they could have traded the cloth with the local Native Americans. They didn't get a chance, though, because shortly after being put ashore a band of Native Americans captured the sailors, robbing them and killing those who resisted. They then told the survivors to head west to a nearby Spanish settlement.

Many of the crew headed west, but David Ingram had other ideas. Maybe he was afraid of the Spaniards, maybe he didn't trust the Native Americans, but he and several others decided to go north. They were aiming for the North Atlantic Coast, where Ingram knew English fishing boats visited the region's teeming fisheries. It was more than a thousand miles away.

For months Ingram trekked across North America, getting food, shelter and directions from various tribes along the way. By 1569 he made it to the coast of Maine with at least two other English companions.

Ingram's story sounds pretty incredible, doesn't it? Was it really possible for someone to walk from Mexico to Maine in one year in the 1500s? His journey seems almost unbelievable, but once he reached Maine things got really bizarre. Ingram claimed that he discovered a vast Native American kingdom filled with gold and silver in Maine. It was called Norumbega.

An early map showing Norumbega's location in Maine

According to Ingram, the people of Norumbega dressed in the softest animal pelts and decorated their bodies with gold and pearls.
"All the people generally wear bracelets as big as a man's finger upon each of their arms, and the like on each of their ankles, whereof one commonly is gold and two silver and many of the women also do wear great plates of gold covering their bodies and many bracelets and chains of great pearls." (Emmie Bailey Whitney, Maine, My State, 1919)
Gold and pearls were outrageously plentiful in the kingdom. The rivers were filled with pieces of gold as large as a man's hand, while pearls could be gathered by the fistful. Ingram himself collected large amounts of pearls upon first arriving but threw them away because he got tired of carrying them. It didn't really matter because he could always just pick up more.

The Norumbegans were friendly and led Ingram to their leader, a king named the Bathshaba who lived in the city of Arembec. Ingram claimed that Arambec was about half a mile across, and its buildings were roofed with precious metals. The Bathsheba received Ingram in a hall whose roof was supported by twelve pillars of polished crystal, whose walls were lined with gold, and whose ceiling was made of silver. In other words, it was really nice. 

The Bathshaba took pity on Ingram and gave him furs to wear, a house to live in, and a wife to cook for him. It sounds like a good deal, but Ingram was still eager to return home to England. He eventually found a French ship bound for Europe and returned made his way to London.

Francis Walsingham
Back in England Ingram became something of a celebrity. He told his story to eager audiences in pubs, and discussed Norumbega with leading intellectuals like Dr. John Dee, who was Queen Elizabeth's astrologer and Shakespeare's inspiration for Prospero in The Tempest. Ingram also told his story to Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's secretary and spymaster, who in turn told it to Richard Hakluyt, a clergyman and author who was promoting English exploration. Hakluyt published an account of Ingram's journey called The Relations of David Ingram in 1582, and also included it in his influential 1589 book The Principall Navigations Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation.

Several expeditions tried to reach Norumbega, but none were successful. In fact, no one ever found the city, even when Maine was successfully colonized by the English.

I suppose this is not surprising to you. We all know, from our vantage point in the 21st century, that there was no city of precious metals in Maine. It never existed. Even Hakluyt grew suspicious of Ingram's story, and removed it from later editions of The Prinicipall Navigations. It's not even entirely clear if Ingram was ever even in North America (which he claimed was full of elephants).

Why did people believe him? Well, the Spanish had actually discovered large cities in Mexico, and they were indeed filled with gold, so it seemed plausible these cities might exist elsewhere. A place named Norumbega, or something similar, had appeared on a Portuguese map of North America in 1548. The French explorer Jean Alfonce de Saintonge claimed he visited Norumbega in the 1540s, and found a city "with clever inhabitants and peltries of all kinds of beasts." Saintonge doesn't mention gold, but animal pelts were very valuable, so wouldn't gold be found there as well?

In short, Ingram didn't make up Norumbega out of thin air. Europeans already believed it was an actual place. He was building on some preexisting stories and some of his details do seem plausible. For example, he claims the Norumbegans ate a lot of quahogs and piled up their shells on the shore. It is true that Maine's coastal tribes ate a lot of shellfish, and those piles of shells (called middens) can still be seen today.

Ironically, the name Norumbega may come from a misunderstanding of an archaic Italian phrase "non oro bega," which means "no quarrel about gold." The historian Kirsten Seaver claims that early Italian explorers noted this on a map as a way of telling others there was no gold in the region (and therefore no reason for colonizing countries to quarrel). "Non oro bega" was then written by later mapmakers as "aranbega," and finally as Norumbega. A note indicating a lack of gold finally became a mythical city full of it.

As I mentioned above, many of Ingram's contemporaries came to doubt his story, and English colonists in the region found no trace of Norumbega. The Native American groups in Maine also have no traditions or history regarding a city of gold. You would think that it would recede forever into the realm of myth, but that isn't the case. As I'll discuss in my next post, Norumbega rose again in the 19th century.

July 19, 2017

Spend Your Summer Vacation With Sasquatch and H.P. Lovecraft

Do elementary school students still need to write essays about what they did on their summer vacation? I seem to remember this was a common practice when I was a child, but honestly I'm not sure if it's a real memory or just something that I saw on TV a lot.

Either way, I usually spent my summer vacations swimming in a nearby pond, playing Dungeons and Dragons, riding my bike, and doing children's theater. These activities were supplemented by long periods of reading musty paperbacks, mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror, but also paranormal and occult books too. Erich Von Daniken, Charles Fort, John Keel, Charles Berlitz - I was an indiscriminate reader of weird stuff. These authors confirmed my suspicions that the Bermuda Triangle was a gateway to Atlantis guarded by UFOs flown by Sasquatches from the hollow Earth.

Of course I'm kidding about those UFOs (well, mostly), but I suspect a lot of my readers had similarly strange summers. Unfortunately that sense of untrammeled possibility tends to shrink as you get older, as does the amount of vacation time you get. It's hard to focus on Sasquatch when you've got bills to pay and a family to care for.

If you want to immerse yourself in high weirdness this summer but have limited time, you might want to try one of these short but intense experiences: NecronomiCon Providence, and the International Cryptozoology Conference 2017. Spend a weekend experiencing strange New England at its best! It's almost as good as spending the whole summer reading musty old paperbacks.

Author H.P. Lovecraft

NecronomiCon Providence takes place August 17 - 20 at Providence's Biltmore and Omni hotels. This multi-day convention celebrates the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft, Rhode Island's master of horror and weird fiction. Lovecraft included a lot of authentic local lore into his stories so folklore buffs should find plenty to enjoy. NecronomiCon is a mix of popular culture programming and academic lectures so really there's something for everyone.

For example, if you're in an intellectual mood you can attend a lecture on non-Euclidean geometry (one of Lovecraft's favorite tropes) or one titled "The Madness of Minds: Consciousness and Materialism in Lovecraft’s Fiction." Heady stuff! Other sessions feature panelists discussing Lovecraft's well-documented and unfortunate racism. If you're in a pop culture mood, you can watch a Lovecraftian film, play a role-playing game, or take a virtual walking tour of Providence. And you won't want to miss the tongue-in-cheek Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast. It's a weekend of fun and unspeakable chaos for the whole family! I've attended NecronomiCon in the past, and when I left my mind was overflowing with strange and uncanny knowledge.
  
If you'd rather head up north, you can attend the International Cryptozoology Conference 2017, which will be held on Labor Day weekend at the Clarion Hotel on September 3. This looks like it will be a fantastic conference. It features well-known speakers like Linda Godfrey, who investigates werewolf and dogman sightings, Loren Coleman (one of the leading figures in American cryptozoology) and Joseph Citro, one of my favorite New England folklore writers. I am sure that spooky stories will abound.

A new documentary about the Mothman of Pleasant Point will also be shown at the conference. I love the Mothman stories, so I was excited to hear about this. Attendees will also have the opportunity to learn about sea serpents, Sasquatch, and even hear from an expert on how to carve Bigfoot sculptures with a chainsaw. Again, fun for the whole family, but you may want to keep the chainsaw away from the kids. 

When you go back to school (or work) you'll definitely have something to talk about. If other people say things like "I went fishing and camped in the White Mountains this summer," you can smile the confident and knowing smile of one who has experienced strange things before you share your bizarre summer adventures.

July 10, 2017

Vermont's Giant Prehistoric Frog

Have you ever seen the movie Trog (1970)? It's a British horror film and was the last movie that Joan Crawford made before she died. It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one of my favorites.


The basic premise is this: some handsome young spelunkers are exploring a cave when they encounter something terrifying. The surviving spelunker is driven insane by what he saw, but anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford) believes he has seen a prehistoric hominid. She manages to capture the creature, names him Trog, and tries to teach him to be human. Of course it doesn't go well and by the end of the movie Trog is ripping off people's arms, setting fires, and terrorizing small children.


There are many things to like about Trog: Joan Crawford, stop-motion animated dinosaurs, bad dialogue, and a gory ending. But I really like the idea that lurking underneath our mundane landscape are ancient, prehistoric beings frozen in time waiting to emerge and amaze us. It's been the premise of a lot of horror movies, but none are quite as good as Trog.


I don't think anyone now really believes that there are prehistoric monsters sleeping in suspended animation below our feet, but in 1865 some miners in Vermont discovered something deep under the Green Mountain State. It was not Trog, but was instead a frog. The New York Herald ran the following article on October 20, 1922:

Vermont's Monster Frog

Unearthed 114 Feet Underground by Workmen In a Mine Shaft
To The New York Herald : In the summer of 1865 workmen while digging in a new shaft at an ochre mine at Forestdale, Vt., unearthed a huge bullfrog at a vertical depth of 114 feet underground. The frog lay dormant in a sort of pocket or miry hole, and aside from the fact of its being found at so great a depth its large size and its excellent state of preservation attracted attention.

The frog was 14 inches long from the tip of its head to the end of its spine, which is really big, but otherwise resembled an ordinary bullfrog. At first the miners just thought it was dead, but it soon began to twitch and eventually revivified. After showing it to several townspeople the miners brought it to a pond, where it lived and croaked loudly for many years.

The reporter goes on to speculate that the giant frog had been hibernating for thousands of years, and had been frozen underground during an ice age. (This is almost exactly the same plot as Trog!) The frog story was told to the Herald reporter by one Frank Rogers of Brandon, Vermont, who claims to have seen the frog emerge from the mine when he was 15 years old.


Sadly, I think this story is probably a hoax, and it was not the only story of its kind. Joseph Citro cites several similar ones, some dating back to the 1700s, in his book Weird New England. This 1922 story may just have been the latest version of a long folklore tradition. Giant frogs also figure in some Native American myths from New England, like this one about how the hero Glooskap defeats a giant frog, so the local obsession with monstrous frogs could be something that predates English settlement.

I recently read Alan Moore's Lovecraftian comic series Providence. One character proposes the following interesting idea: the subterranean, the past, and our subconscious are all the same thing. According to this character, when we dig underground we are digging into our past, and also digging into our subconscious dreamworld. So perhaps those Vermont miners found something subconscious that wanted to see the light of day. Hopefully it was happy croaking in that pond.

July 04, 2017

New England Folklore In The News: UFOs, Sasquatch Graffiti, Monomoy and Witch Talk!

There has been a surprising amount of strange New England folklore in the news this week. Summer is usually a slow time for news, but I guess that doesn't hold true if it's really weird and unusual.

UFOs in New Hampshire

First up, someone in Merrimack, New Hampshire took a photo of an unidentified thing in the sky on June 26. What is it? An alien craft? A giant space jellyfish?

Something strange seen over Merrimack, New Hampshire
The photographer sent the photo to NH1 News and several other websites. A NH1 meteorologist thought it might be the sun refracting off some clouds, while the people at UFO Sightings Hotspot thought it was probably just a lens flare.

The photographer didn't actually see the object/flare with their naked eye, only through their camera. They wrote the following on UFOStalker.com:

I took my kids to the park, clouds came in and it got dark, the sun was shining threw the clouds on the right so I started taking photos as it was beautiful as I was looking at the pictures I captured I noticed it away from the sun under the clouds not with my eyes with my photo.  so here it is no idea what it is but it's interesting

New Hampshire has a long and venerable history with UFO sightings. And as many people know, one of the most famous UFO abductions allegedly occurred in the Granite State when Betty and Barney Hill had an unusual encounter on a lonely road in 1961. Were they really abducted by aliens, or is there another explanation? Their niece Kathleen Marden recently spoke at a UFO convention in Roswell, New Mexico. You can read her thoughts on the case here

Bigfoot Graffiti in Kennebunk, Maine

Meanwhile, people up in Kennebunk, Maine were disturbed by strange activity of another kind. Not alien abductions, but rather someone defacing property with spray-painted images of Sasquatch. CBS News reports that Kennebunk police arrested a 36-year old man they say is responsible and charged him with criminal mischief and possession of drugs. There's no word on what motivated him to paint images of Sasquatch around town. 


Weird Tales from Monomoy Island

The Boston Globe recently ran an article about Cape Cod's Monomoy Island. Currently uninhabited, Monomoy once was home to a small village of fishermen and their families. The Globe notes that the islanders also had the reputation for being shipwreckers:

On stormy nights, Monomoyers would walk a limping old horse down the beach with two lanterns hanging from a pole mounted on his saddle. Mariners trying to get around the Cape would mistake the lanterns for the lighthouse, turn too soon, and wreck on the bars. The most sinister version of this story has the villagers murdering the ship’s crew. Wrecking continued until as recently as 1909, with the wreck of the Horatio Hall. Today, many homes in Chatham have china and silverware from the Hall and other wrecks.

Someone in the comments posted a link to an article in Cape Cod Life that downplays the shipwrecking and argues instead that most of the Monomoyers actually tried to save people from shipwrecks. That same article also notes that the island was haunted by a ghost called Old Yo-Ho who stalked Monomoy's shore at night, carrying a lantern and endlessly calling out his own name. 

Image from Cape Cod Life. 

Let's Talk About Witches!

Do you want to hear me talk about witchcraft? If you said yes, this is your lucky day. WAMC, an NPR affiliate from New York, interviewed me for their podcast "Listen With The Lights On." I talk about an early witchcraft trial from Springfield, Massachusetts, a young lady who was tormented by a spectral witch in the 1840s, and some teenage boys who encountered something witchy in the Freetown State Forest. 

That's it for this week. Who knows what weird stories will show up next? I'm hoping they're as good as these were!

June 27, 2017

Did H.P. Lovecraft Believe In Witches?

New England produced three of the world’s most famous horror authors: Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, and H.P. Lovecraft. They are all great in their own ways, but I find myself re-reading Lovecraft’s stories more than anything the other two wrote. Maybe it’s his overwrought prose, maybe it’s all those hideous tentacled monsters, or maybe it’s because he used a lot of authentic New England lore in his writings. Folk beliefs, legendary places and bizarre history all show up in Lovecraft’s work.

He also incorporated New England’s witchy history into several of his stories. In “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” a wealthy young Providence scholar learns that one of his ancestors was an evil alchemist who fled Salem to escape the 1692 witchcraft trials, while in “The Shunned House” a man in Colonial Providence is suspected of witchcraft:
“Etienne’s son Paul, a surly fellow whose erratic conduct had probably provoked the riot which wiped out the family, was particularly a source of speculation; and though Providence never shared the witchcraft panics of her Puritan neighbours, it was freely intimated by old wives that his prayers were neither uttered at the proper time nor directed toward the proper object.”
And of course, “Dreams in the Witch House” is full of witchcraft, as you might guess from the title. The story tells how college student Walter Gilman rents a room in an old house once inhabited by a witch named Keziah Mason. Mason escaped the Salem trials in 1692 by drawing strange diagrams on the wall of her jail cell; legends say she and her ratlike familiar spirit now haunt the house where Gilman is staying.

Still from the 2005 film Dreams In The Witch House.
 It turns out the legend is true, and soon she tries to get Gilman to become a witch:

“The expression on her face was one of hideous malevolence and exultation, and when he awaked he could recall a croaking voice that persuaded and threatened. He must meet the Black Man, and go with them all to the throne of Azathoth at the centre of ultimate Chaos. That was what she said. He must sign in his own blood the book of Azathoth and take a new secret name…”

Much of this is classic New England witchcraft lore (although the name Azathoth is Lovecraft’s own creation). Lovecraft incorporated other types of New England lore into his stories so it’s not really surprising.

H.P. Lovecraft

What is surprising is that Lovecraft believed that witches were real – at least to some extent. Lovecraft was a materialist and didn’t believe in magic or the supernatural, but he did think there was something real behind the legends.
“Something actual was going on under the surface, so that people really stumbled on concrete experiences from time to time which confirmed all they had ever heard of the witch species. In brief, scholars now recognize that all through history a secret cult of degenerate nature-worshipers, furtively recruited from the peasantry and sometimes from decadent characters of more select origin, has existed throughout northwestern Europe…” (H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters, 1929 – 1931, 1971, p. 178, edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei)
According to Lovecraft, this cult was once the dominant religion in Europe but was forced underground by the “more refined, evolved and poetic polytheism” practiced by groups like the Druids, the Romans and the Norse. In retaliation to attacks by these dominant groups the cult turned to malevolent magic and became identified as witches.

Lovecraft didn’t think many of these real witches came to New England as settlers, but he suspected that a few of them did make their way to Salem.
“For my part – I doubt if a compact coven existed, but certainly think that people had come to Salem who had a direct personal knowledge of the cult, and who were perhaps initiated members of it. I think that some of the rites and formulae of the cult must have been talked about secretly among certain elements, and perhaps furtively practiced by the few degenerates involved… Most of the people hanged were probably innocent, yet I do think there was a concrete, sordid background not present in any other New England witch case.” (H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters, 1929 – 1931, 1971, p. 181, edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei)
Although this theory may seem strange now, Lovecraft wasn’t the only person who thought this way. It was widely accepted in the early 20th century. In the letter laying out his theory Lovecraft acknowledges Margaret Murray’s influential 1921 book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Murray was a prominent British Egyptologist with an interest in folklore and witchcraft. The Witch-Cult claimed that people accused of witchcraft in Europe were actually members of a pagan religion that secretly survived the Christianization of Europe.

Margaret Murray

Murray’s book received a mixed response when it was released. Critics felt she took the alleged witches’ confessions too literally and distorted the historic record to fit her theory, but the general reading public was more appreciative and Encyclopedia Brittanica even asked her to author their entry on witchcraft. Lovecraft was just reiterating an accepted theory of his day. Current historians discount Murray’s hypothesis and don’t think there was a secret witch cult in Europe or Salem. 

So even though there wasn’t really a secret witch cult in Salem, H.P. Lovecraft thought there might be. It just adds to the strange mix of folklore that makes New England such an interesting place.

June 21, 2017

The Black Flash of Provincetown: Hoax or Horror?

The first time I heard of the Black Flash was back in the early 2000s. I had bought a copy of Joseph Citro's Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Horrors and Hauntings (1997). This is an excellent book and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in local folklore and spooky stories.

It also contains a lengthy section about the Black Flash, a mysterious entity who supposedly terrorized Provincetown in the late 1930s and early 1940s. I have vacationed on the Outer Cape for many years and was intrigued to learn about this local legend. Provincetown has a lot of strange characters, but the Black Flash was strange even for P-town.

According to Citro, the Black Flash first appeared in the fall of 1938 when children in Provincetown reported a sinister figure lurking in the dunes or hiding behind trees. They described the entity as being about 8’ tall and dressed all in black. He wore a long black cape and black hood that covered his head. Some children also said he had long silver ears and flaming eyes.

At first the adults in town just dismissed these accounts as stories from kids with overly active imaginations. But that changed when an adult woman named Maria Costa encountered the Black Flash in October. She was walking by Town Hall when the Black Flash jumped out from behind the bushes and started to chase her. He made a strange buzzing noise like a giant insect. Costa was terrified and ran into a nearby coffee shop, where she hysterically explained what happened. Several customers ran outside but couldn’t find a trace of the Black Flash. He had vanished.

Other people were also accosted by the Black Flash that fall. For example, a teenage boy ran to the police station after the creature jumped out at him on his way home from the library. He was terrified and in tears, and told the police the Flash had spit blue flames at him.

The Black Flash had the ability to leap over tall fences, and some locals even said he had springs in his heels. For example, a man named Charles Farley saw the creature lurking in his backyard and fired his shotgun at it. The Flash just just laughed and jumped, unharmed, over an eight-foot fence. He then disappeared from view.

Commercial Street in Provincetown (from Wikipedia)
In another case, the police got a call one night that the Black Flash was in a school playground, which was surrounded by a tall fence. Four police officers entered the yard with flashlights and pistols drawn. They got a good look at the Black Flash, and one officer swore his face was really just a silver painted mask. They told the Flash to surrender or they’d fire, but the Flash just laughed and jumped over the 10-foot fence that surrounded the school. Then he once again disappeared.

According to Citro, the Black Flash terrorized Provincetown for about seven years. The last time the Flash appeared was in December of 1945. Four children from the Janard family were playing in their yard on Standish Street when they saw the Flash creeping toward them through the fog. They ran into their house, terrified. Their parents weren’t home and they didn’t know what to do.

They could hear the Flash turning the doorknobs of the house, trying to get in. The youngest children hid behind chairs, but the oldest boy, Allen, filled a bucket with hot water and ran up to the second floor. He could see the Flash outside right below him. He opened the window and dumped the bucket of water on the Flash’s head. The Flash let out a startled gasp, and then slunk off like a wet cat.

And that was the last time the Black Flash was ever seen in Provincetown.

All this may sound like an urban legend, but there is evidence that something really occurred. On October, 26, 1939, The Provincetown Advocate printed a front-page article titled "Fall Brings Out the Black Flash. Hard Winter Certain As Cabin Fever Stories Start." To quote from the article:

It ain’t usually until “cabin fever” time that the balmy stories start. After folks have been penned up here for too long a time, in too little space, with just the same faces to look at every morning, afternoon and evening, then the crazy yarns begin circulating.

But winter seems to be shutting in early this year. Here it is only October and the “Black Flash” has been prowling, scaring kids so that they won’t go out nights and won't go to bed, grabbing women, jumping over ten foot hedges with no trouble at all. “Chair springs on his feet” is the explanation.

On November 9, the paper ran a short follow up piece titled “Chief Denies Current Rumors.”

Chief of Police Anthony P. Tarvers this morning absolutely denied the rumors current that the so-called “Black Flash” had been captured. “As far as I am concerned, the Black Flash is dead and gone,” said the chief.

Those are the only newspaper accounts of the Black Flash that can be found. You might notice that according to The Provincetown Advocate, the Flash was only active for a few weeks, not several years. The more extended and elaborate stories that Citro cites didn't appear in the papers, but were collected by the writer Robert Ellis Cahill for his book New England's Mad and Mysterious Men, which was probably first published in the 1980s. (My copy doesn't have a publication date in it.)

Cahill went to Provincetown and interviewed many locals about the Black Flash. He includes their stories in his book, and has a few accounts that Citro didn't include in Passing Strange. For example, Cahill writes how a pool shark named Eight Ball Eddie was convinced the Black Flash was really a gay man in drag who got his thrills by scaring people. Note: Eight Ball Eddie said all this in much blunter and homophobic language than I'm using.

After sharing his theory with friends, the pool shark finally encountered the Flash on his way home late one night. Eight Ball Eddie described him as large tall man, but definitely a human in a costume, not a monster. He wore a black hood, and had silver eyes that glowed in the dark. Eddie told him to get out of his way, but the Flash didn't. Instead, he lunged at Eddie and slapped him on the face so hard Eddie fell over. The pool shark ran home in panic, pursued by the Flash until he reached his door. The next morning Eddie's face still bore a red handprint.He was less dismissive of the Flash after that!

There were several theories about who (or what) the phantom was. As mentioned above, a few locals thought the Black Flash was a gay tourist who had stayed past the summer season and was terrorizing the town from a shack hidden in the dunes. Others thought he might be teenager John Williams, who was quite fast and a weightlifter. But although Williams was athletic enough to be the Black Flash he was a sailor and often at sea when the Flash appeared.

Francis Marshall, a retired Provincetown police chief, told Cahill that the Black Flash was actually four men who terrorized the town as a hoax. Marshall refused to divulge their names, but said that two of them were already deceased by the time he spoke to Cahill.

Spring-heeled Jack (from Wikipedia)
So perhaps the Black Flash was really just a short-lived hoax whose legend grew in the telling, but there are interesting parallels between the Flash and Spring-heeled Jack, a legendary monster from England. Spring-heeled Jack was first seen in London in 1837; the last sighting was in 1904. Like the Black Flash, Spring-heeled Jack was described as tall human-figure dressed in black, often with a black hood on his head. Some witnesses said he had fiery red eyes, and others said he could spit out blue fire. He was called Spring-heeled Jack because he could jump so high people thought he had springs in his shoes.

All of this is very, very similar to the Black Flash. If you believe in the supernatural, were they the same entity? Or were people just telling similar stories?

I also see some similarities between the Black Flash and the scary clown hysteria that the US experienced last year. In both cases, people reported entities whose sole purpose was just to scare people. They both seem to be people in costumes, but there also seem to be some supernatural elements to the stories as well as human pranksters.

When I go to the Cape this summer I'll keep my eyes peeled for the Black Flash, but hopefully he won't slap me if I see him!

*****

In addition to the sources I cite, you can read more about the Flash in Provincetown Magazine, and in this great blog post by Theo Paijmans. I first wrote about the Black Flash several years ago but wanted to revisit this fascinating story now that I had more information.

June 13, 2017

UFO Hunters Rescued By Police

Being a paranormal researcher probably has a lot of risks associated with it. You might get kidnapped by Bigfoot, for example, or maybe abducted by aliens. Ghost hunters even occasionally bring home a spirit with them, which isn't usually a good thing.

Happily, I think most of those risks are pretty rare. Has anyone been kidnapped by Bigfoot in living memory? This doesn't mean monster- and ghost-hunting are risk free, but the risks are usually just those associated with being outdoors in isolated areas. You know, things like catching Lyme disease, falling and breaking a leg, or stumbling upon a group of drug-using teenagers.

On Thursday, June 8, three young UFO hunters had to be rescued from the Blue Hills, which are located just south of Boston. The three teenagers had come from the Plymouth area to watch the skies for strange objects. For those of you not familiar with them, the Blue Hills are the highest hills in the Boston area so they afford a good view the night sky.

Unfortunately the trio was a little unprepared for their excursion. It took them longer to climb to the top of Buck's Hill than they thought, they hadn't brought any flashlights, and one of them was only wearing slippers. To make things worse, the terrain was wet and extremely rocky. They didn't have any trouble getting to the top of the hill, but rather than risk descending in the dark they called for help.

The State Police arrived on the scene with several patrols, police dogs, and even a helicopter. They eventually found the teens and led them down the hill along a less treacherous path. So, although they probably should have been better prepared at least the trio was wise enough to know when they needed help.
 
The story has a happy ending, but it's made even happier by this: the UFO hunters found what they were looking for. One of the teens who is a self-described "UFO magnet" told WHDH-TV the following:

"We saw a couple we had never seen before... We saw these two ships that had like these bright spotlights and then we saw this weird orb thing that was like a spotlight..."

She also told The Boston Globe that,

“We should’ve brought flashlights and charged our phones and maybe brought better hiking gear,” she said. “But it was overall very worthwhile because it was a beautiful hike.”

As far as seeing the UFOs, she said: “It was very interesting, but also pretty creepy.”
Better creepy than dangerous. If you're going to explore lonely places at night please be careful out there. I don't think the aliens will get you but the ticks, rabid raccoons and slippery rocks just might.

June 04, 2017

The Nantucket Merman

I've always liked monsters. Well, at least I like reading about them. I've never met one face-to-face but plenty of New Englanders have. People see all sorts of things around here: Bigfoot, extraterrestrial creatures, pukwudgies, and even the occasional lake monster.

What people don't see much of these days is mer-people. Mermaids and mermen don't seem to be very common around here now, but in the past they were apparently more plentiful. For example, an aggressive triton was seen off the coast of Maine in the early 1600s, while a sailor named Captain Dodge exhibited a mermaid's corpse in a Boston museum in the 1820s.

A merman was even seen off the coast of Nantucket. The year was 1714, and a minister named Valentyn was sailing past Nantucket's Great Point when it happened. Here is a quote from the good reverend's journal:

“It appeared like a sailor, or a man sitting on something; and more like a sailor, as on its head there appeared to be something like an English cap of the same color.

We all agreed he must be some shipwrecked person. After some time I begged the captain to steer the ship more directly toward it. … We had got within a ship’s length of him, when the people on the forecastle mad such a noise that he plunged down, head foremost, and got presently out of sight.

The man who was on watch at the masthead delared that he had… a monstrous long tail.” 

There's something a little creepy about that account. I can imagine the ship's crew going from "Oh, look there's a sailor in the water" to "Oh crap, that guy's got a giant fish tail!" in just a few panicky moments. I know I would.

That may not have been the only sighting of a mer-person near Nantucket. According to folklorist Edward Rowe Snow, the keeper of Great Point's lighthouse claimed to have seen something humanoid crawl out of the ocean and head into nearby Coskata Woods in the early 1900s. Some other locals claimed to have seen signs of something living in the same forest.

Great Point Light from Wikipedia.
The Coskata Woods are very old and have not been logged since 1711. It makes sense that an ancient primal sea being would want to visit an ancient forest.

Perhaps memaids and mermen are still swimming in the waters off our coast. I hope so, because I do like monsters. And make no mistake, mer-people do have a monstrous side. Folklore tells of mermaids who sink ships by raising storms or abduct handsome sailors to be their lovers, while mermen and tritons sometimes attack young women walking alone on the beach. So though I hope there are still some mer-people out there, I don't want to meet one face-to-face, and hope you don't meet one either.
 *****

Most of the information about the Natucket merman can be found in Edward Rowe Snow's book Legends of the New England Coast

May 28, 2017

Wild Men In The Woods: Strange Creatures Seen In Haverhill, Massachusetts

I was born and grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Like most classic New England mill towns, it was big enough to qualify as a city but small enough so I felt like I knew everything about it. I was wrong. Something I didn't know when I lived there: it was also home to a couple of hairy wild men. Hideous subhuman monsters lurked in the woods surrounding the city.

Maybe I suspected this even as a child. When I was quite small I saw Lon Chaney Jr. in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Chaney of course played the Wolfman in this low-budget 1948 comedy. The movie also featured Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange) and Dracula (the great Bela Lugosi himself), but somehow only Chaney's lycanthropic anti-hero managed to worm its way into my brain.

Lon Chaney Jr. in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein
After seeing Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein I had a nightmare where I looked into a mirror and saw myself as a werewolf. I woke up screaming. Later I had a dream that I was in my backyard when two hairy hands grabbed me from behind. Again, I woke up screaming.

Around the same time I saw a movie called Dinosaurus (1960). The plot involves construction workers accidentally awakening hibernating dinosaurs and a Neanderthal caveman. The dinosaurs didn't scare me, but the caveman did. A scene where the Neanderthal looked into a house's windows haunted my dreams, and I had a nightmare where a caveman was peering into my family's living room through the windows.

Perhaps these were just the dreams of a little kid who was easily terrified by bad movies, but maybe I knew deep down that something weird, hairy and humanoid was lurking around Haverhill. Recently my childhood suspicions have been confirmed: two wild men have been seen there in the past.

A still from Dinosaurus
In the summer of 1826, a Haverhill man named Andrew Frink came down with a heavy fever. His family treated it the best they could, but he grew worse and worse by the day. Eventually Frink became completely delirious. While his family was not looking he climbed out of bed and ran from the house.

Several days later, people reported seeing a "wild man" at the edge of town. Hoping that it was really Andrew Frink, a search party scoured the woods. Much to their surprise, the wild man was not Frink, but was "literally a wild man from the woods."

The story comes from George W. Chase's The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts (1861), and Chase goes on to write:

It was supposed from his appearance he was some unfortunate, who, having perhaps met with some disappointment in life, had, in a fit of insanity fled from society.

Chase doesn't say what happened to the wild man. Perhaps they just let him go back into the woods. Poor Andrew Frink was found several weeks later. His body was found in a stream where he had apparently drowned while delirious.

A wild man reappeared in Haverhill in July of 1909. Here is an article from the July 14, 1909 issue of The Boston Post:

WILD MAN HUNT ON IN HAVERHILL

Haverhill, July 12 - The police of this city have been searching the woods near Gile Street and towards Newton, N.H. for a wildman who has been terrorizing the residents in that vicinity. He appears at dusk, very lightly clad. 

That's it. I couldn't find any more information. Did they catch the wild man, or did he escape to have lightly-clad adventures elsewhere?

Wild man stories were common in nineteenth century and early twentieth century newspapers. Sometimes the wild men were described as apelike beings similar to Bigfoot, as was the case with the Winsted wild man from Connecticut. At other times the wild men seemed more human, as if they were primitive forms of mankind that had yet to emerge from the wilderness. Or perhaps they were civilized humans that were devolving to a more animalistic state.

Wild men have been part of Western civilization for thousands of years. Somewhere out there, where the fields turn to forests and the roads end, strange animalistic men have always lurked. In the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh, the gods send a wild man named Enkidu to harass King Gilgamesh. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed the forests were full of satyrs, wild half-human creatures, and they are even mentioned in the Bible.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. (Isaiah 13:21)

John the Baptist, who roamed the wilderness wearing animal skins, also has some characteristics of the wild man archetype, although he's portrayed more positively than the satyrs that Isaiah fulminated against. In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, wild men were believed to haunt the forests, and nobles often covered themselves with leaves and hair to impersonate them during masquerades. Today, Americans see Bigfoot or Sasquatch hiding among the trees.

If wild men can be found in so many places, why not also in Haverhill, Massachusetts? Now that I'm an adult I'm not frightened by scary movies (well, maybe a little), but I do still wonder if there are wild men out there in the woods, waiting for the right moment to show themselves and peer into the living room window.