August 03, 2021

Bottomless Ponds of New England: Monsters, Witches, and Dead Horses

I read a lot of books about local legends and folklore, and have discovered some weird things. I recently learned there are several bottomless lakes and ponds here in New England. Yes, you read that correctly. There are several bodies of water here that are immeasurably deep. And some have monsters in them...

One of these bottomless bodies of water is Hall's Pond in Brookline. Hall's Pond is located just off Beacon Street, one of the Boston area's busiest thoroughfares, and you can even take the Green Line trolley to it. Very convenient!

The pond is now part of Amory Park, and there is a nice boardwalk that leads you around it. The last time I visited it was teeming with fish, turtles, and birds. Hall's Pond used to be much larger and swampier, and is actually the remains of an ancient cedar swamp. The soil is quite peaty, and creates an oily sheen on the water. 

Hall's Pond in Brookline

The January 28, 1902 proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society, include the following information about the development of Amory Park:

The town's purchase was about eight acres, which includes a part of Hall's Pond, the dreaded hole and terror of youngsters, which was believed to be bottomless.

The 1954 - 1955 proceedings of the Society include the following reminiscence from one Mrs. Luquer:

The story goes that, in my childhood, one dark night, a man with his horse and buggy went down what he thought was Essex Street straight down to Beacon Street right down into Hall's Pond where there was quicksand and he was never seen again. I remember I often skated on the Pond and always wondered whether I was over the horse and buggy.

It's a grim story, but not as terrifying as the stories told about Dublin Lake in Dublin, New Hampshire. According to a July 26, 2017 issue of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, in the early 20th century people thought the lake was bottomless. More contemporary legends say it is the home of hideous monsters who live in underwater caves:

Lore surrounding the lake monster dates back to the 1980s, when a free-diver allegedly went missing after a routine dive. The diver was found a number of days later, naked and incoherently babbling about monsters. 

Another version of the story states a diver was using a diving bell when exploring the lake’s bottom, but the tether was not long enough as he descended. 

After heading down deeper to find the caverns, the diver disappeared. A group of hikers found the diver in the woods naked days later, with the diver once again was babbling about monsters. ("The search for the Dublin Lake Monster," Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, July 26, 2017)

I think the whole "naked diver babbling insanely about monsters" is pretty creepy. Perhaps those monsters are from another planet, because another legend claims there is a spaceship or UFO at the bottom of the lake. 

Dinglehole, a small pond in Millis, Massachusetts, is also believed to be bottomless. Much like Hall's Pond, Dinglehole was once larger and swampier. In the 18th and 19th century, legends said it was haunted by a headless ghost who misled travelers. People also heard the ringing of a mysterious bell near the pond, giving it the name Dinglehole. (The bell went "dingle dingle dingle.")

Hall's Pond in Brookline

A headless ghost and mysterious bell are bad enough, but the the Devil and his witches would gather near Dinglehole to celebrate the Witches Sabbath. The witches arrived in the shape of weasels, raccoons, and other small woodland animals. 

One evening, a local hunter was walking home when he noticed a large raccoon watching him from a tree. Unable to resist such an easy target, the hunter shot the raccoon and hit it squarely in the chest. Nothing happened to the raccoon. It sat there unharmed. Did the hunter notice a slight smirk on its face? He fired several more shots, each time hitting the raccoon, which continued to ignore the bullets.

Finally, it dawned on the hunter that this was no ordinary animal. He plucked a branch from a nearby witch hazel shrub, a plant known for its magical powers, and fired it from his rifle like a small harpoon. It hit the raccoon in the face. The animal then vanished. Several days later, the hunter learned that Murky Mullen, a local woman suspected of witchcraft, had an unexplained injury on her face. Clearly, she (or her spirit) had been wandering the woods in the shape of a raccoon. (That story appears in Ephraim Orcutt Jameson and George James La Croix's 1886 book The History of Medway, Mass. 1713-1885.)

Hall's Pond, Dublin Lake and Dinglehole are just three bottomless bodies of water I learned about while researching other things. I assume there are probably others out there in New England. Of course, modern science says a bottomless pond or lake is an impossibility. After all, the center of our planet is hot and molten. If a lake reached all the way down to Earth's molten core it would probably be some kind of volcano, not a nice body of water you can swim in or skate on. 

I suspect the idea of a bottomless lake reflects an older view of the world, one in which the universe was filled with water. We now know that our planet is a sphere floating in the void of outer space. Many earlier civilizations believed the world was a flat disc that floated in an infinite abyss of water. For example, in the Babylonian creation myth, the only two beings that exist at the beginning of time are Apsu, the primal god of fresh water, and Tiamat, the dragon goddess of the sea. There is no land. It only appears after Apsu and Tiamat are slain and the god Marduk divides the waters using Tiamat's corpse. 

A similar situation is seen in the Biblical Book of Genesis, where God separates the waters from the waters during the creation of the world. There is water above the world, and water below the world.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

So in a traditional Biblical view, the world looks something like this:

The Earth is surrounded by water, both above and below. This is alluded to in the Flood story, where not only are the "windows of heaven" opened to make it rain, but "all the fountains of the great deep broken up" as well. God is letting all the primal waters back in, returning the world to its primal state of chaos. 

I think local legends about bottomless bodies of water might reflect this older cosmology, even if accidentally. The ponds and lakes in these stories are not only immeasurably deep, but they are also associated with terrifying things. Dead men and dead horses, lost in the middle of the night. Monsters so hideous they cause insanity. Witches, ghosts, and even the Devil himself. The forces of chaos are lurking just below the surface, ready to drag the unwary down into the fathomless waters. These things are probably just lurking in our subconscious, not in the water, but I'd still be careful. You don't want to wander too far from shore and get in over your head. Who knows what you might find there?

*****

I wanted to give you an update on my new book, Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts. I got my author's copies the other day, and they look great. I'm really excited for people to read this one. 


It's currently available for pre-order on Bookshop.org, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Amazon, and most other places you buy books. It will be available on September 1, just in time for the fall and spooky season. 

July 17, 2021

The Whitehorse Tavern: Ghosts and A Pirate!

The historic Whitehorse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island is on a lot of lists. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. It's on a list of the world's oldest restaurants, coming in at number 10. The Boston Globe recently placed it on a list of of the best places to eat in Newport. You get the idea. It's a historic and prestigious restaurant.

Those are some good lists to be on, but here's you should really care about: the 10 most haunted bars in America. There are a lot of haunted bars in this country, and the Whitehorse Tavern came in at number five. 

The Whitehorse was originally built in 1653 as a home for Francis Brinley, one of the early Newport colonists. Brinley sold the building in 1673 to William Mayes, Sr., who opened a tavern in it. His son, also named William Mayes, took over operation of the tavern in 1702. I don't think he paid too much attention to the business, though, since he also worked as a privateer for the English. 

A privateer was basically a licensed pirate. Mayes had permission from the English government to attack and steal from French ships, since they were one of England's political rivals at the time. Later, Mayes just became a full-on criminal pirate and raided ships sailing in the Indian Ocean, no matter who they belonged to.

After a decade of sailing the high seas, Mayes returned to Newport and resumed his duties at the tavern. His sister, Mary Mayes Nichols, took over after his death, and the business remained in the Nichols family for nearly two centuries. It acquired the name Whitehorse Tavern in 1736. The building was briefly a boarding house in the early 1900s before once again becoming a tavern. 

Hotels, restaurants, and bars often have ghost stories attached to them. It makes sense (if you believe in ghosts). Lots of people move through buildings like that, and they leave their spiritual mark on the place. The Whitehorse has been in use for almost four-hundred years, and many people have stayed there in its incarnations as a tavern and a rooming house. A lot of lives have been lived there, and some have probably ended there too. 

One ghost haunting the Whitehorse is said to be the spirit of an elderly overnight guest who died many years ago. He now wanders through the tavern in Colonial-era clothing, and is often seen by staff and guests near the fireplace in the dining room. He's also been seen in one of the bathrooms. HauntedHouses.com, which has a nice writeup about the Whitehorse, notes that this ghost sometimes pesters female guests, which is creepy, and not in a supernatural way. 

Other ghosts haunting the premises include a young girl who cries, and a presence that watches over the tavern and its staff. The latter is said to be mostly benevolent, and might possibly be the spirit of a former owner. This is something often reported at other long-running restaurants - business owners like to keep working after their deaths. For example, see my 2019 post about Local 186 in Provincetown.

The Whitehorse is only open for dinner this summer, so Tony and I weren't able to go inside during our recent Newport day trip. Maybe next time we'll get to try the food - and try to see a ghost in the bathroom. 

*****

This is totally unrelated to the Whitehorse Tavern, but I wanted to share some exciting news. I have a new book coming out in September. Here's the cover:

The cover makes me chuckle every time!

As you can probably guess, Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts is about... well, witches and warlocks from the Bay State. For many years I looked for one book with all the local witch stories. I never found one, so I wrote it myself. It contains dozens of legends, historical accounts, and paranormal encounters, dating from the 1600s to the 21st century. So much witchcraft!

Although the book doesn't come out until September, you can pre-order it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, and Books A Million. Why delay? You know you'll want a copy as soon as the nights start to get longer...

July 05, 2021

The Newport Tower: Vikings, Knights Templar, and Benedict Arnold

This weekend Tony and I took a quick day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. It was cool and rainy, which is perfect weather for exploring historic seaports with a history of strange happenings. 

One sight I really wanted to see was the Newport Tower, located in Touro Park. The Newport Tower is an old stone structure that has stood for centuries on a hill overlooking the harbor. It is protected by an iron fence these days so sadly you can't get too close to it. There are several theories about about who built the tower, and why they did so.

For example, it is sometimes called the Viking Tower. In the early 19th century, a Danish archeologist theorized the tower was erected by Norse explorers who came south to Rhode Island from Vinland (the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and New Brunswick) centuries before Columbus visited the New World. I am not quite sure why the Vikings would have built such a tower, but the theory was quite popular. 

In the 19th century, many Anglo Americans embraced the theory that Vikings had journeyed far down the Atlantic coast. As I mentioned a few years ago, some even believed there had been a vast Viking metropolis along the banks of the Charles River in Massachusetts, where Boston and Cambridge now stand. This simply isn't true. The only known Viking settlement in North America was in Newfoundland, which only supported around 150 people, and only lasted for a few years. There's no evidence for Viking settlements in New England. 

Nineteenth century Anglo-Americans were open to the Viking theory for political and cultural reasons. Many of them were disturbed by the large number of Catholic immigrants entering the US from southern Europe at the time. They also didn't like that Christopher Columbus, an Italian Catholic working for Spain, had been the first person to open up North America to European colonization. They wanted to believe a Northern European, like themselves, had done this first. While it is true that Vikings reached North America long before Columbus, they made very little impact and didn't stay very long. 

Back to the Newport Tower. The Viking theory was just the first of several theories claiming the tower had been built by some forgotten European explorers who came before Columbus. Perhaps the tower was built by Irish monks in the 6th century. Or maybe it was the Portuguese. Some people have even suggested it was the Knights Templar, fleeing to North America from persecution in the 14th century. The New England Antiquities Research Association has an extensive monograph outlining the various theories here

Unfortunately, there's no good evidence to support any of them. There isn't any evidence that Irish monks or the Knights Templar came to Rhode Island before Columbus, and most historians and archaeologists believe the Newport Tower was actually built by Benedict Arnold, the first royal governor of Rhode Island, sometime in the 17th century. (Note: Benedict Arnold's great-grandson, also named Benedict Arnold, was the notorious Revolutionary War traitor.) 

Arnold refers to a "stone-built mill" in his will, and the Newport Tower is located near the site of Arnold's home. Documents from the early 18th century refer to "the old stone mill," and carbon-dating suggests the tower's mortar dates to the late 17th century. The tower is similar to other stone mills in England, and archaeological excavations at the tower didn't unearth any artifacts older than the colonial era. 


I think the evidence indicates pretty clearly that this tower was built by Benedict Arnold (or someone hired by him). Surely someone in 17th century Newport would have mentioned discovering a giant stone tower of unknown origin when they settled the area, but they didn't. Instead, they mention a mill built by Governor Arnold. Not everyone may share my opinion, but I think a 350 year old stone windmill is still pretty cool, even if it wasn't built by Vikings. 

June 25, 2021

Bigfoot At the Cemetery Gates

I love Bigfoot stories, and the weirder they are the more I like them. Here is a particularly spooky one from Rehoboth, Massachusetts. I first heard it on the Unsolved Mysteries podcast episode "The Creatures of Hockomock Swamp," but it appeared in the local news before that. 

*****

In the spring of 2019, thirty-seven year-old Tracy Manzella was visiting her parents at their Rehoboth home. Tracy and her siblings had grown up in the house, which is situated on a very woodsy road. As a child, Tracy had always felt like something in the woods was watching her whenever she was outside, but she never saw anything strange. 

Rehoboth sits within the fabled Bridgewater Triangle, and although Tracy was aware of the legends and paranormal sightings associated with the Triangle she had never seen anything strange herself. Members of her family had seen strange lights in the sky or near their house, but not Tracy. Not until that cold, drizzly, spring day in 2019

Tracy had gone for a run on the country roads near her parents' house. As she made her way back, she passed by an old cemetery that sits nestled in the woods about fifty feet from the road. She had gone by it countless times before, but this time as she ran by she saw something very strange. An enormous creature stood in front of the cemetery gates.

Image from the film Abominable (2006)

The creature was humanoid, and covered in stringy red hair. It was massively built, with broad shoulders and a broad chest. It was also really, really tall. Tracy estimated it must have stood fifteen feet high. It reminded her of an ogre or a troll.

What stood out most about this fantastic creature, though, was its face. Although it was not close to the road, Tracy could see fangs, and its gray-skinned face was demonic-looking. She sensed that the creature was evil. 

Tracy was terrified. She was afraid the creature would notice her and chase after her. Luckily it didn't. Tracy ran back to her parents' house, where she drew a picture for her mother of what she had seen. 

She has not seen anything strange since then. In October, 2020, Tracy Manzella told a Taunton Gazette reporter the following:

"It's the last experience in the Bridgewater Triangle that I would have personally wanted to have. Not because of how scary it was, or unsettling, but simply because of all of the legends of the Bridgewater Triangle that I have read about over the years or learned about. To me, the Bigfoot sightings always seemed like the most ridiculous and far-fetched of all of the things that people have seen," she said. "...I just feel like this particular experience is so outlandish that it's hard to believe if someone tells you that this is what they've seen." ("Exploring the Bridgewater Triangle: Our reporter and photographer head out when the lights go down and the legends come out," The Enterprise, October 27, 2020).

In some ways, her encounter seems like a typical Bigfoot sighting: a large hairy humanoid was briefly seen in the woods. On the other hand, the creature was really big, even for Bigfoot. Fifteen feet tall is enormous! The fangs, demonic face, and overall evil vibe are also atypical for Bigfoot sightings. 

Local paranormal investigator Christopher Pittman was quoted in the podcast, saying that almost everyone who reports seeing a Bigfoot in the Bridgewater Triangle describes something slightly different. Witnesses describe creatures of different heights, with different colored fur, and a variety of faces. None of them are the same. So perhaps there isn't a typical Bigfoot encounter, even in relatively small area like the Bridgewater Triangle. 

I don't think that Bigfoot is a physical animal, although many people would disagree with me. I think people who encounter Bigfoot are probably having a mystical experience of some kind, and that Bigfoot is a land spirit or genius loci, as the Romans would call it. The Romans and Greeks believed the wilderness was haunted by satyrs, centaurs, and nymphs. In America, we believe it's haunted by a large hairy humanoid. 

The fact that Tracy saw the giant creature near a cemetery also seems significant somehow, as does its menacing appearance. Cemeteries are of course believed to host to a variety of supernatural beings, including ghosts, vampires, and occasionally demons, but the way this creature blocked the cemetery gate immediately made me think it was some type of guardian.


In several European cultures, people believe that a cemetery is guarded by the spirit of the first being buried there. In many cases the guardian will be a human spirit, but sometimes it might be the spirit of an animal that was killed and buried explicitly for this purpose. For example, in England cemeteries are often guarded by spectral black dogs (called church grims) which are believed to be the ghosts of dogs killed and buried there. Cemetery guardians need not be so specific, either. A local friend of mine will pour out water or leave a coin for the guardian when he visits a cemetery, but I think he just considers the guardian the spirit of the place, not the soul of the first creature buried there. 

So did Tracy Manzella see the cemetery's guardian spirit? I really don't know, and it's not something that can be proven, but the creature's size, position and terrifying visage certainly would prevent anyone from entering that graveyard. It's just speculation on my part, and I certainly don't think the first being buried in the cemetery was a fifteen-foot demonic creature. She may have experienced something else entirely, but I enjoy tying these modern paranormal encounters with older streams of myth and folklore.   

June 13, 2021

A Vermont Black Cat Death Curse

 Many years ago, a farmer was walking home through the countryside late at night. He felt a little spooked because the road was dark and lonely.

After walking for a while he saw a strange procession walking towards him in the gloom. Nine black cats were carrying a tiny black coffin draped in velvet. It was a funeral procession. 

As the cats walked past him, one turned to the farmer and said, "Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead." The farmer was too shocked to reply and the cats processed off into the darkness.

The farmer was relieved to get home. The fireplace cast a cheery glow, and his wife greeted him with a bowl of warm soup. Their cat lay sleeping by the fire, as it did most nights. Everything seemed normal. 

As he ate his soup, he told his wife what he had seen. "And then," he said, "one of the cats turned and spoke to me. It said, 'Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead.' What do you think that means? Who is Tom Tildrum or Tim Toldrum?"

Upon hearing this, the farmer's cat opened its eyes and stood on its hind legs. It seemed to grow in size and importance. The cat said, "Tim Toldrum's dead? Then I'm the King of the Cats!" It howled triumphantly and flew up the chimney, never to be seen again. 

*****

You may have heard that story before. It's an old folk tale called, appropriately enough, the King of the Cats. There are many versions of it, mainly from England, Scotland, and Ireland, but there are some from continental Europe as well. The gist of the stories is usually the same, although the cat names vary: Dildrum and Doldrum, or Madam Momfort and Mally Dixon, or Dan Ratcliffe and Peggy Poison. At the end, though, the humans always discover their humble domestic pet was secretly a special supernatural being. 


A strange New England version of King of the Cats was printed in The Journal of American Folklore in 1908. Author Clara Kern Bayliss noted the following:

WITCHCRAFT - At Shaftsbury, Vermont, eighty years ago, the belief in witches was quite general, and even the children knew the rhyme which brought disaster into the family circle; for it often happened that a witch would come down the chimney in the form of a black cat, and say, - 

"I, Tattaru,  

Tell you

To tell Tatterrier

That sits by the fire

That Tatterags is dead."

And soon after that some of those sitting around the fireplace would sicken and die. (Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 21, No. 82 (Oct - Dec., 1908), p. 363)

The similarities with the King of the Cats story are obvious. The black cat which speaks, the cryptic names and announcement of a death, and even the fireplace - all of these are shared with other versions of the story. But rather than ending in a surprise revelation, the Vermont version ends in death. 

It's kind of strange to see a playful story transformed in this way, but it's totally understandable given New England's history and culture. England, Scotland, and Ireland have lots of lore about fairies and other magical beings. A story whose ending reveals that a common house cat is magical nobility fits in well with fairy lore, and some version of the King of Cats are explicitly about fairies.

When the Puritans colonized New England they did not bring their mother country's fairy lore with them. However, they did bring lore about witches. Lots and lots of it! 

It was believed that witches could transform themselves into animals, and sometimes even speak in animal form. So in the Puritan worldview, a talking cat would not be feline nobility or a fairy, but would instead be a malevolent witch. And what do witches do? Cause misery and death. The core for the story remains, but the ending is quite different and reflects old New England's grim culture. 

One thing I really like about Bayliss's account is this:

...for it often happened that a witch would come down the chimney in the form of a black cat...

I have so many questions about that word "often." Was this a weekly occurrence? Monthly? Life in 19th century Vermont sounds really dangerous. It makes me glad I don't have a fireplace.