If you ever travel the back roads of Connecticut's Fairfield County late at night, you might see an old blue Ford Granada barreling down the road. In 2015 Granadas are officially antique cars, but that's not what makes this car so unique. It's remarkable for the the people - or creatures? - that ride in it.
Back in the 1980s, a group of girls from Notre Dame High School in Fairfield decided to go out joyriding after a Friday night football game. Their names: Megan, Sue, Kim, Deb, Jen and Karen. Just a group of all-American girls looking for harmless fun, they got into Deb's blue Granada and set off into the dark night.
After driving around for a while they decided to go someplace spooky: Velvet Street in neighboring Trumbull. The locals had given Velvet Street the nickname Dracula Drive because of the strange things that supposedly happened there. Megan told her friends that strangest of all, little monstrous humanoids with huge heads were said to live in the woods surrounding Dracula Drive. Why not try to find them?
The girls drove down Dracula Drive and parked the car. They left the headlights and climbed out into the cool autumn air. The woods were very still and very, very dark. Other than the headlights there was no illumination - no streelights, no houses nestled among the trees. The girls were alone in the night-time woods.
Laughing with nervous energy they started to walk down the road, hoping yet fearful of seeing the monsters who supposedly lived in the woods. After walking a couple hundred feet they heard the car door open and slam behind them. The engine started and the car barreled down the road towards them. Someone had stolen Deb's car!
The girls jumped into the woods to avoid the car as it charged towards them. The Granda's thieves were illuminated by the interior light. They were the size of children with disproportionately large heads and were clad in dirty rags. Their eyes glowed with orange light, and they cackled wildly as they drove past the girls. The tail lights disappeared into the distance.
Megan, Deb and their friends had found what they were looking for. They had found the Melonheads.
I first read about the Melonheads in Joseph Citro's Weird New England, which is where the story about the stolen car comes from. After doing some research, I learned two things. First, Melonhead legends are very localized in New England. Stories about Bigfoot, ghosts, witches and UFOs can be found everywhere in this region, but you'll need to go to the Nutmeg State to encounter Melonheads. (Melonhead legends are also found in Ohio and Michigan, but more on that later.)
Second, the legend is not that old, at least in New England terms. Some of our legends go back to the first English settlers or even to the Algonquin Indians. Melonhead stories can only be traced back to the 1960s, and don't appear in older collections of New England legends like Botkin's Treasury of New England Folklore or Dorson's Jonathan Draws the Longbow.
Melonheads are small, spindly little humanoids with heads the size of melons. But what exactly do they do? Mostly they terrorize teenagers, as so many American monsters do. The Melonheads lurk in the rural areas of Connecticut where they live a feral lifestyle, sustaining themselves by eating small animals, stray cats, and human flesh (when given the opportunity). A hiker gone missing in the woods? A runaway teen who never comes home? Blame the Melonheads. Some people say they eat anyone they catch, while others say they do something even worse: turn them into Melonheads. While that seems far-fetched, some people also claim the Melonheads communicate by telepathy, so if they are psychic they may have powers unknown to the average human.
Several towns in Connecticut have roads that pass through Melonhead territory. Velvet Street (aka Dracula Drive) in Trumbull and Monroe is the most famous, but other towns have their own special streets. Shelton's Saw Mill City Road, Milford's Zion Hill Road, and Marginal Road in New Haven are just a few of the streets where Melonheads lurk.
Where did they come from? One origin story ties the Melonheads to New England's Puritan past. Way, way back in the 1600s a family from the Trumbull area was accused of witchcraft by their town's elders. The family was banished into the surrounding wilderness, where it was assumed they would starve to death. They didn't. They survived by hunting and gathering, and when their young children reached maturity the brothers and sisters interbred. The family remained isolated in the woods, mutating from generations of inbreeding and a diet of wild animal flesh, but increasing their numbers to become the Melonhead tribe people encounter today.
An alternative story claims the Melonheads are really escapees from a mental asylum. According to this version of the legend, an asylum operated in the area from the 1860s to the 1960s, but mysteriously burned to the ground one day. Every staff member and most of the inmates perished, but a few were never accounted for. Locals claim they escaped into the woods, where they interbred and became the feral Melonheads.
I am not a debunker. I don't think it is an interesting or fruitful activity, and I don't want to discount what people experience. However, even if people are encountering something strange in the Connecticut woods, I don't think these two stories are historically true. There's no record of a disastrous insane asylum fire in the area, and there aren't any records of people being banished for witchcraft. People found guilty of witchcraft were flogged, jailed, or even executed, but they weren't usually banished.
The forests in southern New England are not old growth forests. They haven't been here for 350+ years. Most of the original forests in Connecticut were cut down to carve out farms, and only started to take over again in the 19th century when people abandoned the farms for the mill towns or moved out west to more fertile lands in New York and Ohio. In other words, I don't think there have been enough woods for a family of inbred monsters to hide in for three consecutive centuries.
But, having said that, I still think something interesting is happening with the Melonhead legends, and I'll write about that next week. Stay tuned!
*** UPDATE: Part two now online! ***