May 18, 2020

Orgiastic Gnomes Terrorized a Massachusetts Family in 1895

I want to thank Simon Young and Chris Woodyard of the Fairy Investigation Society for telling me about the following bizarre story. 

Here's a trigger warning - there is sexual assault involved. 


Newspapers in 19th century America often printed some pretty outrageous stories. Publishers wanted to sell papers, and sometimes the stories that sold best were about weird supernatural phenomena, like this one about a family persecuted by goblins. 

The story, which was printed in the July 6, 1895 issue of The Cincinnati Enquirer, begins by describing an abandoned house in a village in Worcester County, Massachusetts. The house is "sadly dilapidated, with ragged roof and windows, in an inclosure, overgrown by brush and weeds, at the mercy of the elements, for nobody enters its creaking doors nor approaching it nearer than necessity demands. To old and young alike it is the abode of mystery and dread—of specters to torment and vanquish the strongest man!"

Many years ago a family named Dane lived in the village. They were prominent members of the community with ancestry dating back to the Puritan era. The Danes lived a respectable and unremarkable life. One day Mrs. Dane was home alone with a servant when the crockery and dishes began to fall off the shelves. At first the two women were puzzled, but they grew scared once the dishes were thrown at them by invisible hands. Even the broken pieces on the floor flew about the room, cutting the Mrs. Dane and the servant. When the men of the family returned home that evening the poltergeist activity occurred again with greater ferocity, knocking over chairs, bureaus, and mirrors. 

Up until this point the story is a classic haunted house story of the kind that has been told in New England for centuries. But it gets weirder. 

The Danes decided to leave their house and stay with their neighbors, the Grahams. The weird phenomena follow them. The Grahams' house is filled with the sounds of wood being chopped, furniture breaking, and strange voices issuing threats. This goes on for a while, until one night during a thunderstorm all hell breaks loose. 

During the storm the families' candles are mysteriously extinguished and the house is plunged into darkness. But the Grahams and Danes are suddenly not alone. Illuminated by flashes of lightning, they see that the house is filled with monstrous, foul-mouthed gnomes: 

When lightning projected vivid flashes into every nook and corner of the Graham domicile it was found to be peopled with an innumerable multitude of gnome-like creatures, with large eyes and noses, perpendicular mouths, a superabundance of hair on heads and chins, and complexion of bright green. These monsters laughed grimly and made threatening gestures. As an evidence that they prided themselves upon their hideousness the most grotesquely hideous among them were the leaders of their orgies, and gave the word of command, supplemented by voluminous profanity (The Cincinnati Enquirer, July 6, 1895, p.6)

The Danes decide to leave the house, hoping that the hideous gnomes will follow them and spare the Grahams. The gnomes have other plans, though. All the members of both families find themselves unwillingly propelled into their beds where they are unable to move. Then - there's no other way to say this - the gnomes rape everyone. 

Then began an orgy of grosser kind than can be risked in a description for the public eye. Truthfully might these devoted people have felt that “Hell is empty and all is devils here,” for in the bottomless pit no darker devilments are devised. The house was suddenly illuminated by phosphorescent gleams, making the green gnomes still greener, and at once their acts were of the grossest and most utterly indescribable obscenity. Those old tales of phallic orgies in Pompeii seem to have been rendered tame and semi-decent in comparison... (The Cincinnati Enquirer, July 6, 1895, p.6)

At one point the gnomes also whip their female victims with "illuminated wires" and two of the women "carried the marks of the devil’s flogging as long as they lived." Yikes!

The gnomes disappeared when the sun rose, but they returned to the house every time there was a thunderstorm to torment the Danes and Grahams. They turned bread into rats and meat into snakes. They threw a blood-like fluid onto people that caused festering sores, and threw real human blood on the walls, permanently staining them. 

The Danes and Grahams held a prayer meeting to exorcise the evil gnomes. The little monsters failed to appear during the next thunderstorm, but the Grahams' house was instead pelted with boulders that smashed the windows and lodged in the fireplace. During the same storm a "luminous apparition" also appeared in the sky, denouncing the Puritan witchcraft trials of the 1600s. 

The article ends inconclusively. The Dane house is destroyed by lightning and villagers see green gnomes dancing in the flames as it burns. The Graham house becomes abandoned and is eventually destroyed. But it's not clear what happens to the two families or the gnomes, or even which haunted house is being referenced at the start of the story. 

There's a lot to think about here. It's interesting that the story appeared in an Ohio newspaper. If it had appeared in a Massachusetts paper readers would have wanted more details, like the village's name or the years when it happened. They would also have suspected it wasn't true. But perhaps to an Ohio reader Massachusetts was a distant land where people used to hang witches and weird things happened*, or at least a place where people told strange stories like this one. 

Parts of Ohio were settled by New Englanders, so it makes sense that a story like this appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer. And some aspects of it do seem authentically New Englandy to me, like the poltergeist activity (which has been reported in this region for more than 300 years) and the connections to the Puritans and the witch trials which are alluded to. 

The weirdest part of the story obviously is those evil, hyper-sexualized green gnomes. There are plenty of local stories about fairies and other Little People, but nothing like this one. I'm going to assume they came from deep inside the author's imagination. At least I hope so. 

*OK, both of those are true. 


Robert Mathiesen said...

A quick check of a genealogical website shows that families with the uncommon surname Dane lived in Worcester County, Mass., in the town of Brooikfield in the 1700s; and in the 1800s the same surname is found in Cincinnati. The more common surname Graham also tuens up in both those places. I suspect that the 1895 article rests on a story told by a descendant in Cincinnati. Like all such stories, it probably grew more colorful in the retelling over the hundred years or so between the original events (whatever they were) and their publication in the newspaper.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Robert! Thanks for doing that research. It makes me wonder what the original events really were. They are probably much tamer than this story...

Chris Woodyard said...

The author of this piece, who signed himself 'T.P.' published multiple stories in the Cincinnati Enquirer. He seemed to have an obsession with sex and blood and 'weird'. Here's what I've written about the goblin orgy and another visitation from strange entities at Halloween, also written by 'T.P.,' whose identity I have yet to discover. 'T.P.' seems to have chosen his plot-points by drawing supernatural motifs at random from a hat.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for the follow up Chris! Please let us know if you ever discover the identity of T.P.!