People often ask me if New England is weirder or scarier than other parts of the country. I’ve been asked this by podcasters, other writers, and even personal friends. It would be easy for me to respond with a joke about scary Massachusetts drivers, our weird infatuation with Dunkin Donuts, or the frightening price of housing. But I generally avoid going for the easy laugh and try to answer the question sincerely.
Certainly, it seems that New England has a reputation in popular culture as a strange place. I usually mention that the world’s three most famous horror writers all came from New England. Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849) was born in Boston, and although he left as a child he returned when he was 16 to work and enlisted in the army. He didn’t remain in Boston long, and although he thought the Bostonian literary establishment was uptight he still published his first book with the byline “a Bostonian.”
The second writer is H.P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937), who was born in Providence and spent most of his life there. Lovecraft incorporated lots of New England history and legends into his fiction. He definitely understood the weird appeal of the region’s moldering Puritan cemeteries, old coastal towns, and dark woods. Lastly, there is the legendary Stephen King (b. 1947), who was born in Maine and still lives there. Many of his novels, including classics like Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary, are set in Maine.
I like to think there's something unique about New England which inspired these three influential writers. Certainly, New England has some strange history due to the Puritan colonists who came in the 1600s. They brought over their beliefs in witches, ghosts and the Devil, but not the more charming folklore like fairies. That definitely shaped our region's culture. And like most of the United States, our region has its history of violence, racism and genocide. Perhaps all these things, combined with a sometimes strange and dramatic landscape and our long dark winters, helped inspire Poe, Lovecraft, and King. (The author Faye Ringel explores these themes in her book 1995 book New England’s Gothic Literature.)
But does this really mean New England is weirder or scarier than other parts of the country? And how would you even go about measuring these things regionally? I wouldn't know how to even start, but someone has tried. Cycling Frog, a THC and CBD company in Seattle, compiled a ranked list of the scariest states in the country. Vermont ranked number one, Maine came in second, and Connecticut placed fifth. Not too bad for such a small part of the United States!
The other New England states are apparently not as spooky. New Hampshire was 14, Rhode Island 19, and Massachusetts was way down the list at 35. I feel ashamed as a Massachusetts native that we ranked so low. Massholes, we need to try harder to be spooky.
Upon reading this list two questions came to my mind. How did they rank the states, and why did a CBD/THC company do this? Sadly, I can only answer the first one. Cycling Frog looked at how many of the following each state had:
1. Serial killers (from murderpedia.org)
2. Haunted locations (from frightfind.com)
3. UFO sightings (from National UFO Reporting Center)
4. Ghosts (from ghostsofamerica.com)
5. Top 100 horror films set there (from IMDb.com)
To measure equitably across states, they wanted to show how many of each phenomena the states have per 100,000 people. For example, Texas had the most number of serial killers with 890 (!), but it has a very large population. This means that Delaware, which has a much smaller population, actually has the highest number of serial killers per person, with 41 serial killers per 100,000 inhabitants. According to Cycling Frog, this makes Delaware the most murderous state. (Note: Massholes, we do NOT need to try harder at being serial killers.)
Vermont was ranked the scariest because it had the highest number of UFO sightings and haunted places per person, and also had a high number of ghost sightings as well. That's pretty impressive, which is why they think Vermont is the scariest state. But is it? When I think of Vermont, I tend to think of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, rolling green hills, and peaceful hippies. Maybe all that peace and love is just a cover for the true horrors of Vermont.
Let's face it, I don't think this survey is statistically valid, but it is fun to think about as we approach Halloween. Apparently if you live in Vermont, Maine or Connecticut you're ensured a spooky Halloween. The rest of us may just have to console ourselves by eating extra candy corn and Twix.