January 21, 2019

Two Encounters with Pukwudgies in Lawrence, Massachusetts

One of the nice things about writing this blog is that sometimes people share strange stories with me. Last week someone I'll call Miss S. wrote and told me about some unusual things that happened to her family thirty years ago. She said I could share them so here they are.

The first incident happened to Miss S.'s brother Bob. He was just a child at the time (maybe seven or eight years old) and was watching TV with some cousins at his grandparent's house in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They were sitting on the couch, which faced the TV but had its back towards a doorway into another room.

As they sat there watching TV Bob felt someone pull on the back of his hair. He thought it was his cousin Sandra and he told her to stop. Sandra denied pulling his hair. A few seconds later he felt it again. Again he yelled at his cousin, who still said she didn't do it. A few more seconds passed and Bob once again felt someone tug on his air.

He turned around angrily, expecting to see one his cousins hiding behind the couch. But his anger turned to surprise when he saw who was there. Instead of a cousin, he saw a little old lady with long white hair. And when I write little, I mean quite small - she was only two or three feet tall. When she saw Bob looking at her she quickly started to run towards the front door of the house. She disappeared into thin air before she reached it.

Bob was understandably surprised by this, but when he blurted out what he had seen his grandmother told him not to worry about it. "Don't worry," she said. "They're friendly.'

The second incident occurred one day when Bob's mother took him and his cousins, including Sandra, out to the movies. After the movie was over they returned to their grandparents' house. The door was locked. No one was supposed to be home so they were surprised to see through the window that a lamp was on in the living room. Sandra peered through the window to see if she could see her grandparents. She jumped back from the window and screamed "I am getting the f***k out of here!"

Bob's mother stepped up to the window and looked inside. She saw a very short old man with long white hair run out of the living room. She gathered the kids together and they quickly left.


Miss S. says that her brother and mother still talk about these two incidents. They say that in retrospect they should have known something odd was happening in the grandparents' home. They would sometimes find the tin of coffee opened and spilled onto the floor, and bottles of Coke stored in the attic opened and half drunk. When asked about these things the grandparents would just shrug and say they had rats, but can rats take the metal caps off glass bottles?

In her email Miss S. wrote that she thought these were encounters with pukwudgies, the magical little people from local Native American lore. The beings her family members saw were short, fast and had very long hair, which certainly matches some of the descriptions from local Algonquin lore. That lore also describes them as being mischievous but shy, which matches these two encounters.

It's important to note that historically Native American lore from New England includes a wide variety of little people known by many names. It was only in the late 20th and early 21st century that pukwudgie, a word of Ojibwa origin, has become widely used to describe them. I use it because it is a convenient term that people are familiar with.

I think it's also important to point out that Miss S.'s grandparents, mother, and brother are of Mi'kmaq heritage. The Mi'kmaq are a Native American group originally from Canada's Maritime provinces and parts of Maine. Mi'kmaq legends tell of small beings called the wiklatmuj or pukulatmuj. They enjoy playing tricks, including tying knots in people's hair. Was this what the old woman was trying to do to  Bob? 

It seems possible that since the grandparents were Mi'kmaq they weren't worried about having the little people in their house. They understood that they were just part of life. A family of European descent unfamiliar with these beings would probably have called an exorcist!

Most local Native American groups tried to foster good relationships with the pukwudgies. Like any neighbor, they could be malicious when treated poorly and helpful when treated right. Miss S. says she has never seen the little people herself, but when she moves to a new house she always does something her mother taught her. She leaves a small spice cake on the back steps the first night she moves in. She says her house is peaceful and her garden very productive.

It may seem strange that pukwudgies would appear in someone's house since they are usually associated with woods and forests. The grandparents' house was in an urban part of Lawrence, so it was definitely not a rural environment. However, I have found at least two other cases where a small, fairy-type being has appeared in someone's home. In one case, a house in Somerville was allegedly haunted by a troll. I've also read about a house in Weymouth that might have been inhabited by a mischievous pukwudgie. Are some accounts of haunted houses actually caused by pukwudgies instead of ghosts? That's probably an unanswerable question.

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