October 10, 2009

October Monster Mania: the Dogtown Werewolf

The other night, I had a dream about the New England modernist painter Marsden Hartley. In the morning, I started to research Dogtown online. Surprise! Marsden Hartley painted there in the 1930s. What a strange coincidence.

"Dogtown" by Marsden Hartley.

Dogtown is surrounded by strange coincidences. Some of them, added together, may lead one to believe New England's only werewolf lurks on this stony (yet swampy) plateau.

But before the werewolf, the basics. Dogtown is located between Gloucester and Rockport on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. In the late 17th and early 18th century it was a village of about one hundred families, who had settled on the plateau as a refuge from pirates and the British navy. After the war of 1812 the coastal areas became safer, and most villagers moved to Rockport and Gloucester.

Only a handful of widows, independent-minded women and vagabonds remained, and they soon acquired a reputation as witches. The feral dogs they kept for protection gave the village its name. In 1830 Dogtown's last inhabitant, freed slave Cornelius Finson, was moved to the Gloucester poorhouse. Dogtown became a ghost town.

Dogtown is now a rugged 3,000 acre park where visitors can see the village's abandoned cellar holes, and large boulders that philanthropist Roger Babson employed local masons to carve during the Great Depression.

Does this boulder inspire, or just make you feel depressed?

Where does the werewolf fit in? Look at these coincidences:

  • According to the late folklorist Richard Cahill, the local Agawam Indians claimed their ancestors had heads like dogs, and that eating a certain plant would give anyone the same canine features. (Note: I haven't seen this folklore in any other sources, so I can't verify the Agawam Indians really believed this.)
  • In the early 1600's, the first European settlers on Cape Ann were regularly attacked by wolves.
  • One of Dogtown's last inhabitants, a woman named Daffy Archer, wore a wolf's tooth around her neck. FYI, she also made medicinal brews out of snail mucous.
  • In the 1890s, a Gloucester sailor named James Merry successfully wrestled to the ground a bull pastured in Dogtown. On the night September 10, 1892, he returned alone for a rematch, and was found dead the next day with his throat torn out. Friend's didn't think the wound looked like it was made by a bull. He died on the full moon.

James Merry commemorative boulder in Dogtown, borrowed from here.

  • On March 17, 1984, a Boston resident saw a large animal roaming the cliff's above Crane's Beach. Because of its size he thought it might be a mountain lion, but local wildlife officials insist no mountain lions live on Cape Ann. March 17 was a full moon.
  • On March 21, a dead deer was found on Crane's Beach. It had been mutilated, but not eaten. That same night near the road to Dogtown two teens saw a "gray monstrous dog-like animal, running into the woods. It had big teeth and was foaming at the mouth."

Those are the coincidences. Do they add up to a verifiable werewolf? Maybe, maybe not. But I suggest being extra cautious if you see any big gray dogs near Gloucester or Rockport.

My main resource for all this is Richard Cahill's Things That Go Bump in the Night. I don't think its available online, but you can find it at many New England gift shops.


Andrew D. Gable said...

The account of Merry's death in the Boston Daily Globe for September 12, 1892 makes it pretty clear he was gored through the chest.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Andrew!

Thanks for your comment. Does the Globe article have any comment from his friends about his wounds? Their comments on his wounds seem to be why Richard Cahill suggests his death was unusual (or even more unusual than being gored by a bull)!

Unknown said...

Crane's beach is in Ipswich, not part of Cape Ann at all and quite far away from Dog town. Not likely to be the same creature haunting Dog town. James was gored to death by the bull he had fought and thrown down. The bull had reached his full size by the time Merry tried again and clearly there was no contest that time. Chill is incorrect.

Bill O'Connor said...

For an animal to get to the vicinity of Dogtown from the Cliffs of Castle Hill at Crane Beach, it would have to traverse the length of Crane Beach (~3 miles), swim the mouth of the Essex River(~3/4 mile), traverse the length of Wingaersheek Beach(~2+ miles), then traverse the Mouth of the Annisquam River. Assuming, arguendo, the creature made it across the Essex & Annisquam, the animal would be in very close proximity to Dogtown after traveling a total of 6.25 Miles. Traversing the rivers on an outgoing tide would most likely carry one out to sea unless there was some kind of supernatural strength or other power involved (i.e. Changing back to human to steal a boat then back to a werewolf after crossing the river).

Regardless, there's still hope due to the fact that my six year old who frequents the wilds of Cape Ann with me insists that she is a werewolf. (The reason that we are reading this page! :)

Peter Muise said...

Hi Bill!

Thanks for the comment and for doing all that math. It's like a supernatural word problem! You do make an interesting point, but werewolves may not be purely physical beings but instead just spiritual emanations that take the form of wolves. For example, the Puritans thought that witches' souls could take the form of animals and wander around while the witches were sound asleep at home. Werewolves may be something similar, a psycho-spiritual phenomenon instead of a physical one.

As I've learned from THE SIMPSONS, that font of folk wisdom, anomalous data can always be explained away. "A wizard did it!" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVgVB3qsySQ

Thanks again for the comment!

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post Peter! For such a small part of New England, Dogtown sure has a bunch of legends, werewolves being just one of them.