June 12, 2009

Snapping Turtles, UFOs and a Witch's Estate


The Muddy River - full of mysteries and big turtles!

This morning while walking along the Muddy River in the Boston Fens I saw a big snapping turtle sitting in the grass. For the Algonquians of southern New England, turtles were considered emissaries from the watery netherworld, and bridged the gap between humans and spirits. (More information can be found in Kathleen Bragdon's Native People of Southern New England, 1500-1650.) I was afraid it might take one of my toes back to the netherworld, so I kept my distance.

I walk along the Muddy River all the time. It weaves through some interesting Boston neighborhoods, and has a lot of folklore attached to it. Cheri Ravi (author of Haunted Massachusetts - Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Bay State), claims that North America's first UFO was seen over the Muddy River in 1638. Puritan settler James Everell and two friends were rowing on the river one night when a large luminous square object appeared in the sky above them. It changed its shape, first into a swine and then an arrow, and flew back and forth between Charlestown and Boston. When it vanished, the men realized they had traveled a mile up the river against the current without even rowing. The original account can be found in John Winthrop's The History of New England, 1630-1639. I don't think Puritans used the word UFO!

Anne Hibbins, a wealthy Boston widow who was executed for witchcraft in 1656, owned a three-hundred acre farm called Stanford on the Muddy River. I don't know exactly where Stanford was located, or what's there now - Wheelock College? Longwoood Medical Area? Expensive condos? The full story of her trial can be found in D.Brenton Simons Witches, Rakes and Rogues.

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