September 28, 2008

Aaah! Haunted apples!

There's an old story from Connecticut about a 17th century farmer named Micah Rood. One night a traveling peddler came to stay at Micah's farm; the next morning he was found dead under one of Micah's apple trees, and his money and wares were nowhere to be found. Micah professed his innocence, and since there were no witnesses he wasn't charged with the crime. But ever since that night, the apples growing in his orchard had a deep, blood-red spot in their center.

I suppose this story developed to explain a certain variety of local apples that have a red spot near the core. I've never seen Micha Rood apples for sale, but maybe they're just a Connecticut variety. Charles Skinner's recounting of the legend is online here.

You can see a trailer for Micah Rood horror movie on YouTube. Keep your eyes peeled for the creepy apple doll!

September 23, 2008

How Do Ya Like Them Apples?

I'm a big fan of the farmer's market in my neighborhood, particularly at this time of year. Apples, squash and potatoes - yum!

The other day I was eating an apple (it was a Red Free), when I noticed that the skin was kind of thick. Not inedible, and still tasty, but thick.

"That's funny," I thought.

Then I noticed all the other apples I bought had thick skins.

Something about thick apple skins rang a bell in my mind. I looked through some of my books, and saw an explanation in Clifton Johnson's What They Say In New England:

Thick apple skins mean a cold winter is coming.

The squirrels with extra bushy tails! The unusually chilly September! It all made sense.

I like snow and cold winters, so I'm glad signs are pointing that way. If you don't want to think about winter, peel your apples before you eat them.

September 12, 2008

Olde Gaye Pilgrims!

Plimoth Plantation is holding some special programs for gay families this Saturday, September 13. The museum's historians will discuss what life was like for gays in ye olde dayes (hint: unpleasant), and a member of the Lakota tribe will talk about Two-Spirits, gender and sexuality among Native Americans. Sounds interesting! Naturally, the day ends with a big Thanksgiving style feast.

Hearing about this program piqued my interest, so I pulled out our copy of Improper Bostonians. This handy tome, compiled by the History Project, details the mostly forgotten history of gays and lesbians in Massachusetts since the 17th century.

Not much is known about homosexuality among the Algonquians living in New England in the 17th century. Their population had already been decimated by European diseases when the Pilgrims and Puritans arrived, and war and social disruption soon followed. Improper Bostonians does show some risque ithyphallic rock carvings from the Kennebec River, but those could be interpreted in many ways.

We do know how Puritans and the Pilgrims viewed homosexuality - they didn't like it! Two men were executed for the crime of sodomy in 17th century Massachusetts. Puritan clergy preached against sodomy, fearing it would bring down God's wrath on the colony. Happily, no one is being executed for sodomy these days, though Pat Robertson has warned Disneyworld that God will destroy them with a hurricane for hosting gay events, and other right-wing preachers have blamed New Orleans' inundation by Hurrican Katrina on gays.

Let's send some good vibes to Plimoth Plantation and hope they have good weather this Saturday.

September 10, 2008

A rhyme about crows

This morning when I woke up, I heard a crow cawing loudly outside my window. This little rhyme came into my head:

One crow sorrow
Two crows mirth
Three crows wedding
Four crows birth

I read this years ago in Clifton Johnson's 1896 book, What They Say in New England, a Book of Signs, Sayings, and Superstitions. Johnson traveled around western Massachusetts collecting bits of lore from his neighbors, and compiled them by topic (weather, plants, etc.) in one book.

I've never tested the validity of this rhyme by seeing what befalls me immediately after hearing or seeing a crow. I was sad this morning that I had to wake up, so maybe the rhyme was correct about "one crow=sorrow." This rhyme is contradicted by another bit of lore Johnson collected claiming "An even number of crows flying overhead is a sign of bad luck", but is verified by another that "To have a crow fly over the house is a sign of death."

Scientific validity probably isn't the point. Instead, these rhymes and sayings point to the ominous (omenous!) reputation crows have had in American and European folklore for thousands of years.

The rhyme is definitely catchy - it's been stuck in my head since I read it years ago.

September 07, 2008

Jeff Berlanger's Weird Massachusetts

Author Jeff Berlanger has an article on about weird attractions in Massachusetts. He covers a mix of places historic (Dungeon Rock), paranormal (the Bridgewater Triangle), and kitschy (the birthplace of tupperware in Leominster).

Berlanger is the author of the book Weird Massachusetts , which is brought to us by the same people who produced Weird New England. I own Weird New England - it's an entertaining and heavily illustrated coffee table book. Weird Massachusetts is the same type of book. It would make a good gift for a kid who's interested in these things, or someone who wants a quick overview of the bizarre things in the Bay State. Joseph Citro and Dianne Fould's Curious New England covers similar content, but is aimed at an older audience, is a small paperback, and includes explicit driving directions to the various locations.

It's interesting that all these books use words like "weird" or "curious" to describe things that in the past would have been part of everyday life. "Of course there are little monsters in the woods, sea monsters on the beach, and ghosts almost everywhere else", our ancestors would say. "What else would there be?" It would be weird for them if the world were otherwise. John Josselyn wouldn't be surprised by any of it!

September 03, 2008

Dungeon Rock: Pirates, treasure, and spirits

Jason and Peter eye the entrance to Dungeon Rock.

Pirate treasure! Spirit guides! A mysterious cave! Dungeon Rock in Lynn has all this, and it's right off Route 1 outside of Boston.

The stairway goes down...

The Dungeon Rock story, which is recounted in many books, goes something like this: In 1658, a pirate ship was spotted off the coast of Lynn, Massachusetts. After it departed, one of the pirates, Thomas Veal, took up residence under an enormous rock in a wooded part of Lynn. A rumor spread that Veal had a large treasure with him, but it couldn't be substantiated before he was buried under the rock by an earthquake.

... but the tunnel goes down even deeper!

In 1852, a Spiritualist named Hiram Marble and his family came to Lynn, determined to find the pirate treasure under Dungeon Rock. Guided by spirits, Hiram and his son Edwin chiseled their way into the rock. And chiseled. And chiseled. They dug for 28 years, following the direction of their spirit guides. Hiram died in 1868, and Edwin followed him in 1880, but they never found the treasure.

In July 2008, Tony and I went with our friends Jason and James to explore Dungeon Rock. (If you decide to go, check with the park ranger first to make sure it will be open). Even though the day was insanely hot, and we brought inadequate flashlights ("Are you crazy?", Jason said when he saw our pathetic LED flashlights), the trip was great for 3 reasons:

Jason near the bottom, holding one of our inadequate flashlights.

1. It's easy to get inside Dungeon Rock. There are stairs, and the Marbles' tunnel is large enough to walk upright. But it did get wet and very slippery towards the bottom, so be careful!

2. There are no vermin. The tunnel is sealed with a large iron door at night, so you don't have to worry about raccoons or bats. We didn't even see any spiders. Hmm. Maybe that iron door is designed to keep something inside?

3. The tunnel is just freaky (in a good way). Although the temperature outside was above 90 degrees, the tunnel was so cold we could see our breath. New Enlgand doesn't have a lot of caves, so this may be normal. But as the man-made tunnel spiraled down and down into solid rock, I realized how weird Dungeon Rock is. The Marbles spent years of their lives creating a long dark path to nothing!

Me, dazzled by the flash. Or is it cave madness?

Hiram Marble was hoping to prove the validity of Spiritualism by finding the treasure. Some writers say his tunnel to nowhere proves that Spiritualism is invalid, but wouldn't the Marbles have to be guided by something to spend so many years chiseling away? Maybe they really were guided by spirits, but maybe the spirits wanted to have a good laugh.

You can find out more about Dungeon Rock and Lynn Woods here.

September 01, 2008

Spaniel Puppy - the Culinary Sensation of 1672!

From John Josselyn's New-Englands Rarities Discovered:

The Moose Deer, which is a very goodly Creature, some of them twelve feet high, with exceeding fair Horns with borad Palms ... The flesh of their Fawns is an incomparable dish, beyond the flesh of an Asses Foal so highly esteemed by the Romans, or that of young Spaniel Puppies so much cried up in our days in France and England. (p.19).

I'm glad he doesn't provide any recipes for cocker spaniel dishes. However, he does claim that the Indians he met in Maine used necklaces of moose fawn teeth to ease teething pain in their infants.