August 16, 2015

Melonheads Part I: A Trip Down Dracula Drive

If you ever travel the back roads of Connecticut's Fairfield County late at night, you might see an old blue Ford Granada barreling down the road. In 2015 Granadas are officially antique cars, but that's not what makes this car so unique. It's remarkable for the the people - or creatures? - that ride in it.

Back in the 1980s, a group of girls from Notre Dame High School in Fairfield decided to go out joyriding after a Friday night football game. Their names: Megan, Sue, Kim, Deb, Jen and Karen. Just a group of all-American girls looking for harmless fun, they got into Deb's blue Granada and set off into the dark night.

After driving around for a while they decided to go someplace spooky: Velvet Street in neighboring Trumbull. The locals had given Velvet Street the nickname Dracula Drive because of the strange things that supposedly happened there. Megan told her friends that strangest of all, little monstrous humanoids with huge heads were said to live in the woods surrounding Dracula Drive. Why not try to find them?

The girls drove down Dracula Drive and parked the car. They left the headlights and climbed out into the cool autumn air. The woods were very still and very, very dark. Other than the headlights there was no illumination - no streelights, no houses nestled among the trees. The girls were alone in the night-time woods.

Laughing with nervous energy they started to walk down the road, hoping yet fearful of seeing the monsters who supposedly lived in the woods. After walking a couple hundred feet they heard the car door open and slam behind them. The engine started and the car barreled down the road towards them. Someone had stolen Deb's car!

The girls jumped into the woods to avoid the car as it charged towards them. The Granda's thieves were illuminated by the interior light. They were the size of children with disproportionately large heads and were clad in dirty rags. Their eyes glowed with orange light, and they cackled wildly as they drove past the girls. The tail lights disappeared into the distance.

Megan, Deb and their friends had found what they were looking for. They had found the Melonheads.

I first read about the Melonheads in Joseph Citro's Weird New England, which is where the story about the stolen car comes from. After doing some research, I learned two things. First, Melonhead legends are very localized in New England. Stories about Bigfoot, ghosts, witches and UFOs can be found everywhere in this region, but you'll need to go to the Nutmeg State to encounter Melonheads. (Melonhead legends are also found in Ohio and Michigan, but more on that later.)

Second, the legend is not that old, at least in New England terms. Some of our legends go back to the first English settlers or even to the Algonquin Indians. Melonhead stories can only be traced back to the 1960s, and don't appear in older collections of New England legends like Botkin's Treasury of New England Folklore or Dorson's Jonathan Draws the Longbow.

Melonheads are small, spindly little humanoids with heads the size of melons. But what exactly do they do? Mostly they terrorize teenagers, as so many American monsters do. The Melonheads lurk in the rural areas of Connecticut where they live a feral lifestyle, sustaining themselves by eating small animals, stray cats, and human flesh (when given the opportunity). A hiker gone missing in the woods? A runaway teen who never comes home? Blame the Melonheads. Some people say they eat anyone they catch, while others say they do something even worse: turn them into Melonheads. While that seems far-fetched, some people also claim the Melonheads communicate by telepathy, so if they are psychic they may have powers unknown to the average human.

Several towns in Connecticut have roads that pass through Melonhead territory. Velvet Street (aka Dracula Drive) in Trumbull and Monroe is the most famous, but other towns have their own special streets. Shelton's Saw Mill City Road, Milford's Zion Hill Road, and Marginal Road in New Haven are just a few of the streets where Melonheads lurk.

Where did they come from? One origin story ties the Melonheads to New England's Puritan past. Way, way back in the 1600s a family from the Trumbull area was accused of witchcraft by their town's elders. The family was banished into the surrounding wilderness, where it was assumed they would starve to death. They didn't. They survived by hunting and gathering, and when their young children reached maturity the brothers and sisters interbred. The family remained isolated in the woods, mutating from generations of inbreeding and a diet of wild animal flesh, but increasing their numbers to become the Melonhead tribe people encounter today.

An alternative story claims the Melonheads are really escapees from a mental asylum. According to this version of the legend, an asylum operated in the area from the 1860s to the 1960s, but mysteriously burned to the ground one day. Every staff member and most of the inmates perished, but a few were never accounted for. Locals claim they escaped into the woods, where they interbred and became the feral Melonheads.

I am not a debunker. I don't think it is an interesting or fruitful activity, and I don't want to discount what people experience. However, even if people are encountering something strange in the Connecticut woods, I don't think these two stories are historically true. There's no record of a disastrous insane asylum fire in the area, and there aren't any records of people being banished for witchcraft. People found guilty of witchcraft were flogged, jailed, or even executed, but they weren't usually banished.

The forests in southern New England are not old growth forests. They haven't been here for 350+ years. Most of the original forests in Connecticut were cut down to carve out farms, and only started to take over again in the 19th century when people abandoned the farms for the mill towns or moved out west to more fertile lands in New York and Ohio. In other words, I don't think there have been enough woods for a family of inbred monsters to hide in for three consecutive centuries.

But, having said that, I still think something interesting is happening with the Melonhead legends, and I'll write about that next week. Stay tuned!

*** UPDATE: Part two now online! ***


Patrick Harker said...

First off, I like your blog! Fun stuff!! Secondly, I have a buddy from that area, and he has a couple melon head stories of his own. Mostly, regarding friends of his running into them while hiking/camping and stuff. It's more believable than your typical folklore monster tales..

Peter Muise said...

Hi ABC Ninja! Thanks for reading the blog! If you have any stories you can share, please do! I am a big fan of stories about monsters in the woods - particularly when other people encounter the monsters.

One interesting thing about the Melonheads is that their origins are not ascribed to anything supernatural or extraterrestrial, but only scientific processes like genetics and evolution. Does that make them even more believable I wonder?

Anonymous said...

Having driven through Fairfield en route to NYC last week, I spared a fleeting thought for the melonheads of Dracula Drive. Thanks for the blog!


Wade Tarzia said...

The Melon heads legends are a favorite in my college literature class when I start the unit with folklore and legend. I have the students tell the legends they have heard and the melon heads version with the asylum motif is common. I don't think any of them over the years have repeated the Puritan outcast motif, though -- interesting!

Peter Muise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Muise said...

Hi Anonymous - Thank you for reading!

Peter Muise said...

Hi Wade! Thanks for the comment. Have you ever collected the legends your students tell? It might make for an interesting book. I would definitely buy it!

Wade Tarzia said...

Peter, I have thought about asking them to send me these first assignments via e-mail so I could have the texts available. But I was worried about infringing on their rights in some law that I probably do not know about (i.e., authority figure and state employee benefits from student assignments, etc.). I suppose if I made this voluntary and got their permission somehow, it might be OK.

Anonymous said...

I have searching my family's history and came across . A photo of a baby with a Melon Head . The where about of what happened to this baby is unknown >

Daryl P said...

I had heard of stories about these Melon Heads and this place called Dracula Drive from kids in school. The year was 1996 and we didn’t have cell phones yet. I was 16 years old and I had just learned to drive back in March and loved to explore new places. I decided to go to this place Dracula Drive with 4 friends and see if we can spot the Melon Heads. We went one day after school (Fairfield High) and drove to Velvet St which was somewhere in Trumbull close to Easton. As we started off everything seemed normal and upon entering the street there were a few houses. As we went further down the road it began to look spookier and it was a winding and twisted dirt road. To our right on top of a hill was a house or building which many people said was the insane asylum where the Melon Heads lived. To the left the hill dropped and it was all woods/forest. It was fall and the leaves were orange and yellow and were half on the trees and half on the ground. We didn’t see nothing that day but decided to go back another day. We went back a few times. One day a few weeks later we decided to go and it was a little cloudier than usual. It was still light out but the sun was setting. We drove down the road and can hear the dry leaves crackling under the tires. The woods looked bare from all the leaves fallen off the trees. We saw all these wild pheasants all over the place. Not exaggerating there must have been hundreds! I had never seen a pheasant before but knew what they were because I had seen pictures of them in books. It became really strange as more and more pheasants kept coming down the hill and crossing the street in from of our car. I couldn’t keep driving or I would hit them so I slowed down to a crawl. The 3 girls in the back were freaking out. Me and my friend Bobby in the front were kind of laughing but were also a little freaked out. Then one of them said, “Let’s just go!” I started to go skittle faster but the damn pheasants kept running down the hill crossing the street in crazy flocks! It was so weird. I said, “I don’t want to hit them.” So they said let’s just back up. (There wasn’t enough room to do a U-turn so I put the car in reverse and the car wouldn’t move! Now we were all panicking! I quickly put the car in park, then drive then back to reverse. The car spread backwards and we ended up with the back drivers side stuck in wet leaves and it felt like that part of the car was handing off the hill a little. We went back into drive and can hear the wheels spinning, then reverse, then drive. We were stuck and freaking out. The girls kept screaming out, “Stop playing!” And I was like, “I’m not!” I had never been stuck before and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t said maybe we should get out and push the car, and the girl said no way we are not opening these doors. Me and Bobby also didn’t want to get out. LOL...I kept trying and eventually got to get the car to speed forward and the pheasants scrambled out of the way! We continued down the road and finally left. We were so scared we decided to never go back!

Daryl P said...

Note: “Dracula Drive” is actually called Velvet Street.

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