July 25, 2009

A Haunted Restaurant in Provincetown?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently took the ferry down to Provincetown for the day.

Provincetown always seems infused with the supernatural to me. It's this hyperactive little beach resort surrounded by the vast coyote-haunted emptiness of the National Seashore, and the even vaster emptiness of the Atlantic Ocean, that is quite literally at the end of the world (or at least Cape Cod).

P-town has a lot folklore surrounding it. Of course it was the first place that the Pilgrims landed before they moved on to Plymouth, but it also supposedly has a haunted restaurant: the Martin House.

According to Thomas D'Agostino's Haunted Massachusetts, the Martin House is inhabited by multiple ghosts. One seems to be the spirit of Captain Tracy, who lived in the building in the 1700's. A misty outline of a sea captain has been seen in the upstairs dining room, accompanied by strange cold spots. The ghost of Mrs. Tracy has also been seen.

The other ghosts may be the spirits of runaway slaves who sought shelter in the Martin House when it was part of the Underground Railroad. A small family of African American ghosts has been seen in a secret passage between two chimneys, and the ghost of a young slave girl has been reported to play pranks on people who sleep in the small upstairs room.

Paranormal investigators don't think the ghosts are malicious, but simply curious. Unfortunately, the Martin House seems to be haunted by something worse than ghosts these days - a bad economy. It hasn't been open for business in a couple years, and is up for sale. If you have the money, you might be able to get a good deal on a famous building filled with spirits.

July 18, 2009

Nix's Mate: Pirates, a Curse, and Dutch Water Spirits

No pirate corpses were visible the day I sailed past Nix's Mate.

Last week a friend and I took the ferry from Boston to Provincetown. One of the sights we saw as we cruised through Boston Harbor was Nix's Mate, a very small island topped by stone pyramid. It may be only be 200 square feet, but it has more folklore per foot than any other island in the harbor.

WHERE DID ALL THE LAND GO? Nix's Mate was originally a 12 acre island where sheep grazed. Now, it's just a tiny rocky shoal that's entirely hidden during high tide. What happened? According to Skinner's Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, in the 1630s a certain Captain Nix was murdered in a ship anchored off the island. His first mate was convicted of the crime, and sentenced to death by hanging on the island. As he was led to the gallows, he shouted "God, show that I am innocent. Let this island sink and prove to these people that I have never stained my hands with human blood." After the sailor was executed, the island slowly began to sink into the sea, proving his innocence. (A more boring explanation is that the land was quarried for gravel.)

WHAT'S IN A NAME? There are a few explanations of where Nix's Mate got it's catchy name, which it's had since 1636. The first is that was named after Captain Nix's who was hanged there. However, there are no records of Captain Nix or a sailor being executed on the island in the 1630s. This leads to the second explanation - that Nix's Mate is really a garbled version of nixie scmalt, which is Old Dutch for "wail of the water spirits." Allegedly, a Dutch passenger on a boat muttered this as he heard the waves pounding against the island's cliffs. (You can read more about the water spirits known as nixen here.)

PIRATES! Although there is no record of Nix's mate being executeded on the island, three actual pirates are known to have been hanged there, with their bodies left in the gibbet as a warning to other would-be pirates. The most famous of the three was William Fly, who was executed in July of 1726. Fly refused to repent during his trial, and wanted to die as bravely as he lived. According to Robert Cahill's New England's Cruel and Unusual Punishments, Fly walked to the gallows carrying a flower, and smiled at the executioner as the noose was put around his neck. Other sources claim that Fly even helped tie the noose around his own neck. The corpses of Fly and the other pirates were buried on Nix's Mate, and are now probably at the bottom of Boston Harbor.

July 13, 2009

White Horse Magic!

Feeling lucky?

My last post I noted Ethan Allen wanted to reincarnate as a white stallion (and may have done so). It's no accident he selected a white horse for his next body, because they loom large in the folklore of New England.

Here are some examples of lore about white horses:
  • A person should count the horses that walk by them, but only those that are white. After three white horses have gone by, the wisher should shake hands with the first person they see, and make a wish. The wish will come true.
  • To bring yourself riches, spit over your pinky when you see a white horse.
  • It is said that dreaming about a white horse is a sign of trouble. This is an example of the well-known oneiric principle that dreaming of something positive (for example a marriage, a birth, or a lucky white horse) often foretells its opposite (spinsterhood, death, or misfortune). However...
  • Some 19th century Yankees claimed instead that dreaming about a white horse foretold riches for the dreamer.
Clearly, these all made a lot more sense when New England was rural, agricultural, and horses were the transportation of choice. I think it would take me a lifetime to see three white horses go by in my neighborhood today.

(All horsey magic courtesy of Clifton Johnson.)

July 05, 2009

Special Patriotic Independence Day Post: Ethan Allen's Life After Death

In honor of July 4th, here's some interesting information about Ethan Allen, Revolutionary War hero and leader of the famed Green Mountain Boys, the Vermont militia that captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British without using force.

Ethan Allen was a bit of a loose cannon and a freethinker. He was also a Deist, and wrote a book called Reason, the Only Oracle of Man, that outlined his unorthodox religious views. It was an attack on Christianity, the Bible and the clergy. Unsurprisingly, it got bad reviews.

In 1785, which was late in his life, Ethan Allen discussed metaphysics with J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, a Frenchman who became an American citizen and wrote a series of popular books titled Letters from An American Farmer. Ethan Allen remarked that if the transmigration of souls was indeed true, he hoped to return to earth as a magnificent white stallion so he could roam the hills of Vermont.

Allen died in 1789. Although the public viewed him as a national hero, clergymen took a dimmer view, one going so far to call him "one of the wickedest men that ever walked this guilty globe."

According to B.A. Botkin's Treasury of New England Folklore, shortly after Allen's death a large white stallion, unclaimed by any farmer, was seen roaming freely across the green hills of Vermont. Ethan Allen's remains have never been located by modern historians.