April 18, 2016

Ghosts of the Assonet Ledge

Yesterday Tony and I took a trip down to Freetown, Massachusetts to check out the Freetown State Forest. It was a beautiful day, so why not visit someplace reportedly full of weird paranormal activity?

I first read about the forest in Christopher Balzano's Dark Woods: Cults, Crime and and the Paranormal in the Freetown State Forest (2008). Balzano, a Massachusetts-based paranormal investigator, spent quite a bit of time talking with with Freetown residents about any strange experiences they may have had in the forest. As a result the book is mostly a collection of first-person accounts, which gives it an immediacy you don't find in books that are collections of older legends.

It also makes the book pretty creepy. The stories in it are the kind teenagers tell around a fire in the woods or that adults tell their close friends late at night after a few drinks. Ghosts? Little monsters? Serial killers? Undead witches? They're all in Dark Woods. To his credit, Balzano also acknowledges when there isn't any proof to back up a story, but that doesn't make these tales any less creepy.

Tony and I decided to focus our trip on the Assonet Ledge, a significant landmark in the Freetown Forest. (The word assonet is a Wampanoag word meaning "place of stones.") There are a variety of legends connected with the ledge, including stories of ghosts, weird lights, and malevolent little creatures.

Balzano proposes a few theories for why so many weird stories are associated with the Freetown State Forest. The area was possibly the site of Native American massacres at the hands of the Puritans, and it also sits inside the Bridgewater Triangle, an area notorious for paranormal phenomena.

After visiting the forest I can understand why it has a weird reputation. It was indeed creepy. I'm usually skeptical about the reality of paranormal phenomena, but as I've noted before it's easy for me to be a skeptic in the comfort of my well-lit house. Put me in the middle the woods and I'm more likely to at least admit the possibility of the supernatural. Put me in the middle of creepy woods and I'm almost a true believer!

Does this feel welcoming to you? Me neither!
Why was the Freetown State Forest so creepy? I suppose part of it was just the initial nervousness of being in a strange place, but part of it was the forest itself. Immediately after parking the path we were on led us through a grove of pine trees that had died from some type of infestation. Off in the distance we could hear gun shots from a firing range. I don't find either dead trees or random gunfire relaxing. I find them unnerving.

The walk to the ledge just got more unsettling as we went along. There were creaking trees - lots and lots of them. Eventually the creaking trees gave way to trees that moaned and banged against each other in the wind. Good Lord, get this city boy out of the woods! There was litter as well, and some graffiti. Were we going to meet woodland demons or surly teenagers? And which would be worse?

We didn't meet either. (We did meet some teens, but they weren't particularly surly.) However, once we got to the ledge we both stopped feeling unsettle. The ledge was really big - about 50 or 60 feet high - and despite some graffiti it was beautiful. It wasn't creepy, it was impressive.

He's hard to see, but there's a tiny person on top of this ledge. It's big!
I can understand why legends have formed around the Assonet Ledge. Here are just a few of them.

During the 17th century war between the Puritans and the Wampanoag and Narragansett Indians, several Indian warriors leapt to their deaths from the ledge rather than die at the hands of the English. Some visitors claim to have seen ghosts of Native Americans walking in the trees near the cliff. But as Balzano points out, the ledge and its pond didn't exist in the 17th century. Both are the result of 19th century granite quarrying. However, much of the land in the Freetown State Forest is actually a Wampanoag reservation, so there is an authentic Native American connection. Perhaps the ghosts died in some other way?

If that story doesn't strike your fancy, try this one. Many years ago, a young man and woman were deeply in love. They would meet secretly at the ledge at night because their families disapproved of their love. One night the woman arrived at the ledge and waited for her beau. She waited, and waited that night but he never came. In despair she threw herself off the ledge to her death in the cold water.

Tony and some perfectly well-behaved teens on top of the ledge.
Her spirit has haunted the ledge ever since. Many people have seen a woman's ghost walking along its top, and some have even seen her step off the edge. When she hits the water she disappears without even a splash.

It's hard to say if this story is true. It has all the hallmarks of a classic legend (doomed lovers, a ghost, etc.) but there has been at least one actual suicide at the ledge. In 2004 a man visiting the Assonet ledge leapt to his death in front of his friends and girlfriend. His family said he had no previous history of depression or ever expressed suicidal thoughts. In addition to this one authenticated suicide there are several that have been rumored, and some visitors to the ledge claim they've felt compelled to jump (but happily haven't).

Other weird phenomena beyond human ghosts have been encountered at the site. For example, glowing lights have been seen in the pond. Souls of people who died at the ledge, perhaps, or something else? The Freetown State Forest is said to be the stomping ground for Pukwudgies, small elfish creatures of Native American lore. I'll do a separate post about the Freetown Pukwudgies later, but they are said to delight in pushing people off cliffs...

Saying goodbye to the Assonet Ledge.
Tony and I didn't see any ghosts or Pukwudgies, and we definitely felt less creeped out as we walked back to the car.  I still don't think I'd want to spend the night in the Freetown State Forest, though. It's easier for me to be a skeptic here at home!


Sue Bursztynski said...

Nope, can't see a figure on the ledge unless it's that thing in the middle that just looks like a treetop...?

Amusing to hear that there are legends about something that couldn't have happened because the ledge wasn't there at the time. There are ghost tours in York, England, and I'm told you can see Roman legionary ghosts marching along what would have been the road back then, but because it has been built over they're knee deep in the current road. Only thing is, would they be marching through an area where they hadn't died? Oh, well, I guess it's a matter of how you define a ghost. Maybe it's just a sort of film of past events?

Dan said...

I can't begin to tell you how extremely depressed seeing that graffiti on the ledge just made me, so much that I can't even get angry about it. I guess in a certain way that makes it even worse.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Sue! Thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay in responding. There is someone wearing a white jacket with black sleeves on top of the ledge, and he does look like maybe a tree or a bush.

I too have heard that story about the Roman ghosts. (I would love to see them!) There are lots of different theories about what ghosts really are. One theory claims they are conscious souls who are unaware they have died, but another theory claims that some ghosts are just psychic recordings of events that happened in the past. This is why some ghosts just repeat the same actions over and over. As you say, they are basically a film of the past.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Dan!

Thanks for the comment. Yes, there was a lot of graffiti. The ledge is apparently a party spot for teenagers. I think the rangers periodically clean it off, but people just write more on it.

Linda said...

Fascinating post and lovely photos. Thank you so much for sharing and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada.

Peter Muise said...

Linda, thanks for the comment. Glad you like the photos! I am sure Montreal must have a lot of fascinating folklore...

Anonymous said...

Great place to visit me and a friend of mine actually walked out there at midnight ... Very creepy many Coyote tracks however no puckwudgies , no ghost , and no orbs in our pictures that were taken , and believe me we went on a mission, to be open minded in hopes of witnessing something, however nothing happened .... Still a great hike through a forest with exceptional history .. If the day time dnt creep you out, try a late night walk might change ya perception it's a 35 min walk to the ledge on fairly flat ground ... Great article well defined I enjoyed the hike and read despite my experience tonight .....

Sincerely JWR

Anonymous said...

I live within less than a quarter mile from the Assonet Ledge and can tell you that there have been a number of the tragedies not widely broadcast so as not draw in the morbid and curious. Suicides, accidents, not to mention the devil worshippers (read the book "Mortal Remains" about the coven wannabees that practiced in The Ledge area). Our woods scream - yes, they literally scream - at times. Its a weird sound. The only two ghosts the residents of the Town of Assonet see with any regularity are what we believe to be poor little Mary Lou Arruda tied to a tree in the forest and left to die in the early 1980s. You can hear her crying out there. And a young lady killed on Copicut Road - near where the dirt road turnout to the Ledge is located - on a foggy night when she was run off the road on the curves of Copicut Road and hit a tree. If you were at the Ledge - you likely drove Copicut Road and saw how narrow and snakelike it is. Probably about 1986 or 1987. We see these on a not frequent but more than occasional basis.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for the recent comments! I believe we did go in through Copicut Road. The forest was quite a creepy place that day!

Parkrangerkyle said...

I have been a seasoned hiker/hunter in the Freetown state forest area for about 15 years now. I’ve seen everything the forest has had to offer. Back in the early 2000’s me and and a few college buddies of mine were doing a day hike of the forest and it was extremely easy to get lost because of the poorly marked trails, not to mention all of the extra unmarked trails that are everywhere but not on the trail map. I’ve seen some weird looking animals in those woods that I’ve never seen before, heard the forest literally scream at me, seen weird shadows inside of the woods where the tree’s canopy is so thick no light is allowed in, found arrowheads, but I’ve also found some really cool looking rocks. The Forest has its history, not really in faith and religion however the area there has some type of energy. Weirdest thing I ever saw was an opossum gutted and nailed to an old elm tree near the Copicut reservoir at the southern edge of the forest. Never been so disappointed in the human race than at that point I actually removed and buried the poor creature. 2nd weirdest thing was an old abandoned ranger station building deep in the forest of baker dam path with a whole bunch of satanic graffiti all over it. I still go hiking occasionally or walk my dog in the state forest almost and I don’t ever feel threatened or afraid by “spirits” however I do come across sketchy characters every once and awhile that make me realize the biggest threat in those woods are other people.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha the "Ledge" is actually a former quarry from the 1800's . It didn't exist during the Indian War & is not mentioned in any books written about King Phillips War.