August 20, 2023

Beyond Skinwalker Ranch: Orbs, Pukwudgies, and Sacred Chants

I don't watch a lot of paranormal TV shows, but I felt compelled to watch Beyond Skinwalker Ranch when I heard they filmed an episode here in Massachusetts. Pukwudgies, glowing orbs, and people wandering around a bleak wintry New England swamp? Count me in.

First, a little background. Skinwalker Ranch is a ranch in Utah where people have supposedly witnessed many strange phenomena over the years, like UFOs, Bigfoot, cattle mutilations, glowing orbs, and electromagnetic disturbances. The ranch is named after a type of legendary shape-shifting Navaho shaman, the skinwalker. Skinwalker Ranch has been the subject of books, movies and TV shows, including the History Channel's Secrets of Skinwalker Ranch. Beyond Skinwalker Ranch is a spin-off of that show, where paranormal investigators visit places that are not Skinwalker Ranch.

An illustration of a pukwudgie from Beyond Skinwalker Ranch

On July 18, Beyond Skinwalker Ranch aired an episode where two investigators, Andy Bustamente and Paul Beban, visit the Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts to find similarities between the weird phenomena there and what goes on at Skinwalker Ranch. The Bridgewater Triangle is an area in southeastern Massachusetts where a lot of strange phenomena have been reported, and was given its name by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman in the 1970s. I'm not sure when they filmed the episode, but Bustamente and Beban wear winter coats and you can see their breath, so I'm guessing sometime last winter or fall? I'm a sucker for anything filmed in the New England woods, particularly when the leaves are down, so I was hooked. 

Bustamente and Beban first visit three locations in the Triangle. The first is Skim Milk Bridge, an old Colonial-era stone bridge in West Bridgewater. The bridge was once part of a busy commercial route, but roads were rerouted and now it's part of a hiking trail in the woods. In 1916, a young woman went missing while canoeing, and her body was found under the bridge. There have been rumors since that time that the bridge may be haunted, but blogger Kristen Evans contacted me after reading this post and said the body may have actually been discovered at another bridge. 

Location number two is Anawan Rock, a large rock where Chief Anawan was captured by English colonists in 1676 during King Philip's War. Anawan was executed shortly thereafter. Much like Skim Milk Bridge, Anawan Rock is also said to be haunted. 

Finally, Bustamente and Beban wander into the Hockomock Swamp looking for pukwudgies, the small, hairy, magical humanoids that are said to lurk in the swamps and woods of New England. But before they head into the swamp, they talk with Raynham resident Bill Russo about his famous 1990 encounter with a pukwudgie. This is one of my favorite pukwudgie stories and is very creepy to hear. 

Andy Bustamente in Beyond Skinwalker Ranch

Do the Beyond Skinwalker crew actually find anything? They don't find a pukwudgie, but while walking around the swamp at night they do find an animal den which their infrared equipment shows to be very warm. They also hear something walking around and snapping branches. The investigators say this is strange, but maybe it was just a fox or a raccoon walking back to its cozy den? All of Bustamente and Beban's equipment also malfunctions at one point, leaving them with no recorded data. "No data is data," someone says at the end of the show. 

At another point, their equipment shows high levels of background radiation and their compasses all indicate that north is in different directions. I thought this was interesting, but a local resident who is with the two investigators expresses some concern about the high radiation. He raises a good point. Should people who live nearby be worried about radiation? No one answers the question, so I'm assuming they don't? 

The highlight of the episode is that they see two glowing objects in the sky. UFOs? UAPs? Call them what you will. They see the first one at Anawan Rock. Bustamente and Beban discuss playing some kind of Algonquin chant to summon the spirits haunting the rock, but since they don't have one handy they instead play a recording of a Hebrew religious chant that was used in an earlier episode. As the chant plays, a glowing object flies above them through the night sky. They insist it is not a plane, and although I suppose it could be a drone I was willing to suspend my disbelief. The weirdness of the situation was very appealing to me. Playing a Hebrew chant at a rock haunted by Algonquin ghosts to summon a UFO? It doesn't quite make any sense but seems very appropriate somehow for 21st century America. 

They see the other glowing object when they're out looking for pukwudgies. Again, it flies above them through the night sky, and this time one of the Beyond Skinwalker crew says the FAA shows no planes flying near them. This glowing object appears spontaneously without any Hebrew chanting. The crew doesn't get a pukwudgie, but does get another UFO, which is a good consolation prize. 

Overall, I enjoyed the episode. It was great to see some local people and locations on the show, and I liked seeing the UFOs, whatever they were. Did Beyond Skinwalker Ranch find any definite evidence of weird paranormal phenomena? Not really, and I doubt anyone ever will. By it's very nature, the paranormal can't be pinned down, categorized, or satisfactorily explained. That would just make it normal, not paranormal. It's the little hints at an answer, and the mystery itself, that keeps us watching these shows, and lures us into the New England swamps and woods.

August 08, 2023

A Nantucket Ghost Story: The Man with the Long Chin

Nantucket is a playground for the very wealthy these days, but that has not always been the case. In the past, the island has been home to Native Americans, Puritans, Quakers, whalers, and an assortment of artists and eccentrics. Nantucket has a very long history, and a long history usually means ghost stories. 

After the whaling industry collapsed in the mid-19th century, Nantucket became sparsely populated. There wasn't a lot of economic development on the island, which meant that very few of the old historic houses were torn down to make room for new ones. Those old houses are now mostly vacation homes for the wealthy, but there may be some unexpected guests stopping by to visit, as the following story indicates. 

The oldest house in Nantucket. 

It comes from Blue Balliett's 1984 book, The Ghosts of Nantucket: 23 True Accounts. I bought this at a used bookstore a few years ago, and really enjoy it. It's full of old-fashioned ghost stories, and also has some charming line drawings of old Nantucket houses. 

Back in July of 1981, a seven-year old girl named Jesse and her parents were invited to a dinner party at an old house on India Street in Nantucket. The adults were having a great time at the party, but Jesse was the only child there and quickly became bored. To keep her entertained, one of the hosts suggested she take a tally of interesting items in the house: candlesticks, mirrors, brass doorknobs, etc. 

The adults could hear her counting in a nearby room counting as they talked and ate dinner. But their dinner conversation was suddenly interrupted when Jesse ran into the dining room, terrified and exclaiming that she had seen a strange man in the house. Her parents and the hosts followed the frightened child into the room where she said she had seen the man, but there was no one there. 

Jesse said the man had a very large chin and was wearing a strange, dark blue suit. He had tipped his hat to her and then vanished into thin air. Although she had been scared, Jesse said he seemed friendly. She emphasized repeatedly that he had a long face and very large chin. Since Jesse was safe and unhurt, the adults at the party didn't take her story very seriously. After all, children do have active imaginations. 

Vintage photo from Ebay

A few weeks went by, and Jesse and her parents had mostly forgotten about her strange experience. One afternoon they were invited back to the old house on India Street, and the owners showed them something they had found in the attic. It was a line drawing that showed people attending a garden party at the house, probably from the 1940s or 1950s. 

When Jesse saw the drawing she said, "That's him! The man with the long chin." One of the people in the drawing was indeed a man with an unusually long chin. Some text on the back of the drawing identified everyone in it. The long-chinned man was William Hunt, a previous owner of the old house. 

After doing a little research, the current owners of the house learned that William Hunt had committed suicide in 1961, twenty years before he tipped his hat to Jesse. 


This is a very satisfying ghost story to me. It has an old house, someone encountering the supernatural, and proof at the end that the encounter was real. That proof is often a major aspect of classic ghost stories. For example, think of phantom hitchhiker stories. Someone always has to independently verify and identify the hitch-hiking ghost. "That girl hitchhiking was my daughter, and she died on this night twenty years ago on the way to her prom. You saw her ghost!" Or this story, from Cape Cod: "That seaweed you found only grows on the bodies of people who drowned. You saw the sailor's ghost!" 

In these older, classic ghost stories, someone who did not witness the paranormal encounter has to confirm it was authentic, or someone finds a piece of outside evidence (a piece of seaweed, a drawing, etc.) that confirms the encounter. It's what makes these stories satisfying. If this story just ended with Jesse telling everyone she had seen a long-chinned man it wouldn't quite feel the same.