I accidentally stumbled upon this shrub ensnared abandonment in a hardscrabble Vermont town, and decided to stop and take a look. This slumping and fading edifice sadly wasn’t all that out of place here. The portrait of town is a sad one. What was once a profitable industrial hub has been reincarnated as a sordid and depressed community.
At one time, the solemn property contained a few blue collar business on street level, with the upper levels awkwardly converted into several apartments accessible by a wobbly network of staircases that climb the back of the building. Inside is leprous with water damage, mold and lead paint that rains down onto the floors.
When I explore these locations, I like to perform less than scientific forensic analyses to do a little urban archaeology, to find evidence of human habitation and demise through the relics left behind and external historical research. Using observation, I do some on site assessments and try to piece parts of the story together. In this case, I discovered a sense of pathos amidst the foul odors and animal feces; there was eerie evidence of recent human life.
The entire building is anything but abandoned, it’s been reclaimed by squatters. Each apartment belonged to someone, through some sort of unwritten social agreement, with dirty mattresses and crumpled sheets in each unit. Some had small osculating fans that were actually plugged into wall sockets, and one apartment had several printed Kodak film photographs of strangers, quite a few of them were children, and the photos looked shockingly recent.
But my creepiest find was in the dark, dank basement, an eerie space that held several old walk in coolers and meat freezers that were glistening with fetid brown ooze and filth. I noticed that many of them had also been converted into bedrooms as well, with more mattress pads and bunched up piles of moldering blankets discarded into corners. I decided not to hang around for that long, just in case a current resident decided to head home.
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Bellows Falls is a great village, and has a history that goes back to it’s Abenaki populace who were lured here by the great falls, extends past White settlement who built an industrial canal to bypass the affor-referenced falls and continues today through it’s distinction as a tourist area and waypoint community for the Connecticut River Byway.
There is a cool yet controversial mid century mural painted on a wall downtown that nostalgically reads Bellows Falls is a good place to hang your hat. It’s also apparently a good place to chisel your petroglyphs.
The Bellows Falls petroglyphs are located on a few large boulders found in the dramatic gorge below the defunct Vilas Bridge that cuts down to the Connecticut River.
Basically, the carvings are an arrangement of rough circles with three dots inside, with some containing pairs of lines that radiate out from the top. It’s surmised that they depict a cluster of 24 odd sized faces, but there is some disagreement on exactly what they are, with arguments for human, animal, extraterrestrial, or other. The lines atop the circles prove to be just as interesting. It’s said that they could be anything from hair of that era, feathers from headdresses, deer antlers, sun rays, or alien antennas. But no one can say for sure.
We don’t even know how old they are, with estimates ranging from 300 to 3,000 years old – some considering them the oldest pieces of art existing in Vermont. What we do know however, is that they were made known in 1789, when visiting reverend David McClure from Dartmouth College wrote about them in his notes, and suggested that they were made by the Abenaki, the native people of the area.
The explanations of these cryptic images are plentiful. McClure speculated that they could be translated as an Abenaki warning that the site marked the location of “evil spirits”, a shamanistic idea that came from associating places like river gorges and waterfalls as a place to communicate with the spirit world. But that was contested by an Englishman named Edward Kendall, who while traveling through Bellows Falls in 1808, believed that they were nothing more than the banal doodles of a bored Abenaki fisherman on a slow day at the river. Plenty of other theories have morphed since then and include everything in between, from grave markers, religious symbols, aliens, memento mori from an important battle, depictions of people who had drowned in the rapids, and the carvings from Abenaki shaman who recorded their visions while hallucinating on the river’s edge.
But it may be the orientation of the petroglyphs which may tell us something of their significance. They face west, towards the village. If this isn’t just a coincidence, Abenaki lore dictates that west is the direction where an Abenaki soul travels after death, meaning that they may be preternatural wayfinding signs for their departed. Interestingly, the artificial industrial island made by the Bellows Falls Canal was at one point an important Abenaki burial ground. For decades afterwards, development on the island and local road construction projects would continuously surprise the laborers who unearthed numerous skeletons and artifacts, and became sort of a local spectacle.
Here’s where things get interesting. McClure’s description only mention three faces, which are greatly more detailed than what can be found on the bottom of the gorge today, leaving some to postulate that counterfeit ones have been added over the years.
In the 1930s, some misguided locals got together and had the carvings deepend to preserve them from the constant erosion of the river, damaging their value as historical artifacts and keeping their age and purpose still in the realm of the mysterious.
It actually amazes me that these petroglyphs have survived at all. During the nineteenth century, the Bellows Falls river/canal area was a hive of rambunctious industrial activity. Much of the river gorge was permanently reconstructed by dynamite blasts that were used to clear away log jams, which is a real disappointment, because it seems that those cliffs held more than a few curiosities. One sad account comes from sometime in the 1800s. A fascinating curiosity was found embedded in a rock near the Connecticut River; a baffling fossil of a five foot, clearly defined footprint that looked like it came from a bird, but the species was unknown. This caused quite a stir in both the scientific community, and the local one. What could have possibly made a footprint that big? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. Word of this important discovery got out and a group of rowdy locals found it first, and dynamited it out of existence. It’s very possible that there may have been more of these petroglyphs as well, that were destroyed to make a few bucks.
The petroglyphs are pretty easy to find. They’re located at the end of Bridge Street near the Vilas Bridge, which is the indefinitely crumbling bridge with grass growing through it’s deteriorating surface, and not the other better kept bridge that crosses the canal onto the island. Once you get to the “Bridge Closed” sign, they’re down in the gorge to the right of the bridge. The rocks have been marked with strips of yellow paint to guide you to their location, and if you have a camera with a good zoom lens, you should be able to see them. Or, you can do what I did, and take the “trail” to the left of the bridge, which I guess is a very debatable definition, and really was more of a distinguishable area of low brush that meandered between taller thick adjacent brush and trees, which eventually dropped you down a steep rocky embankment and into the gorge. From there, it’s all boulder clamber underneath the Vilas Bridge, but from this approach, you can get right next to them. My scratched and bleeding legs were worth it.
What I loved best about these petroglyphs, besides how they are still a lingering mystery, is the obscurity of them. There is no fences around them with colorful “keep out” signs, and no logos from local universities slapped down anywhere. They simply exist just outside town, quiet and more or less undisturbed.
The Bellows Falls Train Graveyard
In the cold days of winter in 2013, I explored and photographed scores of abandoned train cars that lined both sides of the Connecticut River. The yards and the scrapped rail cars are owned by the Green Mountain Railroad, which has a long history of perpetuating industry and travel in the Bellows Falls area, and as rail travel became secondary to the automobile, it left quite a few old passenger cars from the 40s and 50s parked along the river banks, slowly eroding with idle time.
One of my favorite adventures in Bellows Falls was just driving aimlessly around the narrow streets that climb it’s steep terraced hills above the river, checking out the different neighborhoods, which managed to be so enjoyable that it almost blocked out my friend Daniel blasting dub step on his car stereo and serially asking me “Chad! Is this your jam man? I bet you know all of these lyrics!”
The Abenaki and the Bellows Falls (VT) Petroglyphs – This great write up was paramount to my research on the petroglyphs.
Mystery is written in rocks of Bellows Falls – The Barre Times Argus, June 21st, 2009
Hayes, Lyman Simpson, 1907 History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont including the villages of Bellows Falls, Saxtons River, Rockingham – Cambridgeport and Bartonsville. 1753-1907 with family genealogies. There is a digital copy online you can view, if you’re so inclined.
My trusty old computer, which has admittedly been struggling to meet my needs over the years, has finally passed away. Sadly this unexpected event has put me in a tough situation, one in which I’m not financially able to escape from. The lack of a computer means I am unable to continue with Obscure Vermont for the foreseeable future. This has proven a very hard blow for me, as I’ve stated above, my blog means a lot to me. If you appreciate my blog, and what it represents, please consider donating. Any amount is sincerely appreciated, and would mean a great deal to me:
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For years now, I’ve heard talk of adventures in the caves and abandoned quarries of Southern Vermont, which compelled me to research them. The town of Dorset, northwest-ish of Manchester, has a remarkable 31 abandoned quarries within the town limits, and a drive through town offers some perspective here. Dorset is mostly mountainous, with the Green Mountains rising east of town, and a clump of formidable peaks that fill in the northwestern portion. The cluster of rocky eminents west of the Greens are part of the Taconic range, and consist of Mt. Aeolus, Owls Head, Netop and Dorset Mountain, sometimes called Dorset Peak. It’s here where the geography offered profitable geology; marble.
The oldest commercial marble quarry in the United States was carved into Dorset bedrock in 1785 in the village of South Dorset, along today’s Route 30. Over the next 130 years, about 30 more quarries would pit up the slopes of Mt. Aeolus and Dorset Peak. The marble expelled here was of such a fine quality, with attractive tints of greens and blues, that the demands multiplied and and Dorset marble soon found notoriety in several significant buildings in major cities across the United States, such as New York and Washington DC.
One of the quarrying operations accomplished here was the awesome Freedley Quarry, located 1,000 feet up on the eastern slopes of Mount Aeolus. Freedley was unique, because instead of a hole in the ground, it was quarried in a horseshoe shaped tunnel, with caverns and passages blasted through the foundation of the mountain. Servicing the quarry was an incline/funicular railroad, which was built to transport the large marble blocks extracted here down to the mill in East Dorset, which saved laborers from an arduous trip down the mountain.
But by the 1920s, the marble business went bust, largely because of the introduction of Portland cement, which became a cheaper and more convenient replacement. Most of the quarries in Dorset would be bought up by The Vermont Marble Company in Proctor, who then shut them down to consolidate business as demands continued to drop.
In the 1930s the ski craze hit southern Vermont, which would coax the area’s shift into tourism. For a brief time, Fred Pabst of PBR fame developed a J-Bar served ski area on the slopes of Mt. Aeolus, but not long afterwards, he decided to pull the lift and move it to Bromley. In the 60s, a larger proposed ski resort conceptualized as Dorset Hollow was proposed, but was killed shortly after it’s birth from tumultuous local opposition. If the resort had been built on Netop Mountain, it would offered a 3,000 foot vertical drop which would have made it the largest of any ski resort in Eastern North America. The mountains were left to be reclaimed by nature, but the marble industry has left a lasting impression here in a tangible way. One of those being the distinctive marble sidewalks that still parallel along Route 30 in Dorset village and are slippery when rainy.
Today, the assortment of quarries are popular with the outdoor adventurous type. A few locales and their sharp vertical walls draw cliff jumpers, some who like making edits of their leaps. The Norcross Quarry on Route 30 is a popular place to taunt trauma.
The mountains around Dorset Peak are unassumingly steep back country, which is combed with an expansive network of celebrated 4 wheeler trails and logging roads that draw off roaders in Jeeps, trucks and ATVs for a radius so large that many of the battered vehicles have out of state plates. Somewhere in those woods are a set of trails which are apparently so gnarly that some locals have dubbed them “World War 3”.
But as I was finding out, people in the know about such places don’t like to give up their locations, for the same reason that I often don’t disclose the places I explore; protection. These personal sanctums are in constant danger of being ruined by disrespectful visitors, or being closed down due to potential injuries making them a jeopardy to public safety or a liability to the property owner. It’s one of those double edged swords which I can sympathize with and be bummed by at the same time. Any invitation I receive is always met with me profusely expressing my gratitude.
Taking to the resourceful world of the internet, I discovered The Vermont Cavers Association and got a background on another intrepid hobby in the Green Mountain State; caving. Even though Vermont isn’t all that known for it’s caves, there are plenty of people here who seek them out all the same. The state’s geology doesn’t allow for the water permeation and underground flows that form the massive caves found farther south in Appalachia. Author and caving expert Peter Quick noted that Vermont may have around 60 caves that would stretch beyond 100 feet. But we still have a pretty impressive network here that is ardently admired (The quarries in Dorset are included on that list), with many new ones being discovered yearly. Some subterranean passages are described as squirming through twisting spaces the size of your body, which is a deal breaker for me. I’ll take my adventures free of claustrophobia, above ground.
On a humid early summer’s morning, I stopped by the Dorset Historical Society to speak with museum curator Jon Mathewson, an amiable and interesting gentleman, who helped point me in the direction of achieving my goal of getting up to a quarry. Inside the museum is a rather cool 3D map of Dorset, with all of the defunct quarries marked on the raised surfaces and information corresponding to each, some having amusing connotations like “Deaf Joe Quarry”. He directed me to the aforementioned Freedley Quarry, and told me where to find the class D roadway that would take me there.
Freedley Quarry, First Attempt.
The Freedley Quarry is easy to get to, as long as you don’t make the same mistake I did and accidentally hike up the wrong mountain, turn around and descend back down the mountain while breathing heavily, soaked in sweat and suddenly no longer caring if you found it or not.
On my first attempt, I had brought my buddy John along for the adventure. Parking in front of the aforementioned road, which in reality was only a really muddy 4 wheeler trail, we entered the woods. Not remembering if I was supposed to take a left or a right at the first fork in the trail, we took a left. What I had assumed would have been at 20 minute walk in the woods turned into a laborious climb up Mt. Aeolus while making the futile effort of swatting at endless clouds of dive bombing mosquitoes and wondering if I was going in the right direction. I now understood why a railroad was built up here over a century ago.
The forests suddenly opened up due to a massive rock slide created by quarrying efforts that vanquished a huge patch of mountainside as they tumbled. The clearing offered impressive views of Emerald Lake cozily embraced by the narrow valley of Vermont, and beyond, the Green Mountains. Directly adjacent to the clearing, I found the Folsom Quarry. Folsom was semi-interesting, really just a cavity in the upper slopes of Mt. Aeolus, it’s visage bearing the scars from years of cutting, now left to the caprices of nature. But, it had some amusing points of interest. One was that Folsom was so high up in elevation (over 1,000 feet), that it never floods. The second was that it’s tall vertical walls gave it the traits of a natural amphitheater. It was cool, both metaphorically, and literally, as it offered relief from late June humidity, but it wasn’t the impressive catacomb like quarry I was so interested in seeing. Onward we trudged, as the trail zig-zagged up the mountain in a series of deeply rutted switchbacks. Eventually, I came across a startling find. A surveillance camera far from anything, powered by a lone solar panel, both attached to a wooden post. Nearby were some yellow diamond Nature Conservatory signs, announcing that I was now near the Aeolus Cave, and asking us to please keep away as part of an effort to combat the mysterious illness, White Nose Syndrome.
I had remembered Jon telling me about the Aelous Cave and White Nose syndrome, which was first discovered in Upstate New York in 2007 and made it’s debut in Dorset around 2008, as hikers and cavers began noticing the grisly site of scores of dead bats carpeting the floors of the mountaintop cave. The pre White Nose Syndrome Aelous Cave was the largest hibernaculum in the northeastern United States, but the fungus wiped out about 90 percent of it’s resident bat population. Today, the Nature Conservatory has designated the cave as a both a protected and research designated area.
Seeing this, I knew I had gone way too far. Descending back down the mountain, I decided that a few pizza slices accompanied by an IPA in Manchester was more appealing than trying the other fork in the trail. I was exhausted.
Freedley Quarry, Second Attempt
The rain had just came to a dull drizzle by the time we arrived back in Dorset. Somewhere under the fog was the mountain that we were going to hike, and carved into that mountain, the quarry. Parking at the now familiar trail head, me and my friend Eric embarked into the woods and damp mists. The trail split into a fork, and we took the right, hoping that this time we were on the right path. But another ten minutes into our trek up the washed out trail, we came upon yet another fork. I mentally groaned. Then I audibly groaned. How many trails were there on this mountain? Once again, the directions I had been given weren’t directions, and I had no idea what to do or had any sense of bearings.
That old saying “you can’t see the forest (or in this case, quarry) through the trees” was a very relevant concept at this moment. Any of these paths could potentially have lead to there. The trail actually had at least three unaccounted forks, and we hesitantly detoured on all of them, each contributing unenjoyable climbs up steep inclines serviced by trails reincarnated as mud slides due to the relentless succession of rain storms that had recently drenched Southern Vermont.
As we traveled deeper into the woods and past other defunct quarries that had long silted in with dirt and vegetation, I began to notice a viscous mist that was conspicuous from the rain and fog, accompanied by the wafting acrid stench of sulfur and gunpowder. That was a familiar smell. Someone was lighting off fireworks, and they were near enough where the expelled smolder could reach us. We both assumed that there were other people at the quarry engaging in some festive intimacy, and mentally prepared ourselves to deal with them as we would attempt to photograph the place. The supposition that we weren’t alone on the mountain was confirmed when a few people passed us on the trail riding in Jeeps, some exchanging greetings by waving, and others by flicking cigarette butts at us. I suddenly felt awkwardly out of place, being the only folks on foot up here.
Soon, we came across the creepy dampened ruins of what appeared to be some sort of old shack or hunting camp, which looks like it was the victim of a home made firework and exploded at some point, interspersing twisted and disintegrating artifacts throughout the overgrown brush along the trail. Among the debris were a scattering of beer cans and food wrappers, which told us that even way up here, people come and party/litter.
Ahead, we noticed a four way in the trail and could feel the air become a bit cooler, which was a good indication. To our left, the black mouth of the quarry soon became discernible through a thick strand of white Birches. The smoke was incredibly thick now, and as I slowed down to survey the area, I saw what I had expected to see; there was a rather large bonfire crackling where the cave met the open air. We also noticed the producers of the fire; three slovenly people who appeared to be in their late teens, two boys and a girl, and all of them were wearing hunter orange. For some reason beyond my rational, this seemed to make me a bit uneasy. The weather on the mountain was viciously sultry, far too hot to be clad in full body hunter orange. And why would you wear it in the summer when hunting season isn’t for another few months? We observed as the two fellows headed into the complete blackness of the cave, and the girl sat on what appeared to be a rock and plopped herself startlingly close to the fire.
At a complete standstill, I was about to ask Eric how he felt about approaching the cave and trying to take some photographs despite their presence there, but then came the pivotal point of our encounter. A strange sound came from the dark crevices from within the cave, what sounded like the wail of a goat. We waited in confused and uneasy silence. As our eyes strained for answers, we heard that terrible noise again, only this time, the situation became clear. It wasn’t a goat. Those guys were the ones making the noises.
We took a few steps backwards now, a bit alarmed, and suddenly not wanting to be detected. The two guys, completely unperturbed, continued their strange ritual of making those horrible goat noises inside the cave, loudly reverberating and making empty echos off the walls that sounded like something from a hellish nightmare. Later, me and Eric would both agree that what we had heard was the weirdest noise both of us have ever encountered. It sounded inhuman, and yet, we both knew it came from the mouth of one.
It was now when a new detail that I had overlooked before, came to light. None of them were talking to one another. Other than their contrived lunacy, none of them were actually speaking to one another, and wouldn’t for the entire time that we had stuck around. Then, all went silent, apart from the crackling of their fire.
One of them started to maniacally whistle, followed by a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, and then the other guy whistled back in the same manor. This pattern repeated for a few more minutes, followed by the ominous goat noises once again resuming. We waited there, obscured by thick brush and birch trees, for twenty minutes, partially because that the bizarre show that had been developing before us was somehow too tantalizing to walk away from. Then, the girl, who was still crouching by the fire, started making an awful wailing noise, that sounded much like a baby that was in great distress, and this went on for several minutes as we gazed at them from our hiding place with intermittent glances at one another, completely befuddled. The goat noises started back up, and still, none of them were talking to one another.
My disappointment couldn’t be contained. We were so frustratingly close to our destination, and yet, the ghastly activity coming from the quarry ensured I didn’t dare make a move to get any closer. I was far too nervous at this point. A large quarry this secluded was a perfect place for multifarious clandestine activity. Sometimes, the motives of sentient beings can be vexing. We spoke in quiet whispers, and made the decision to get the hell out of there. Just as we began to walk backwards, the mountainsides vibrated violently and grey sulfurous smoke spewed through the trees. They were now lighting off some heavy duty fireworks inside the cave.
Walking back down the trail, I couldn’t help thinking that we had somehow avoided some great danger, and a feeling of sweet relief crept over me. Not long after hastily retreating, we ran into two middle aged looking guys traveling up the trail in a Jeep. We stepped aside to let them pass, but they smiled at us and stopped, and both parties exchanged greetings.
“What are you guys up too?” the gentleman behind the wheel opened with, his eyes falling on our cameras. “We wanted to check out the Freedley Quarry” I answered. “Oh yeah? What’d you guys think?” asked the man in the passenger seat. “Don’t know, we never made it”. Both of them looked at us quizzically, probably because we were walking from the direction that the quarry was in, so we told them what we had just encountered, and why we turned around. The guy behind the wheel just looked at us like he was in a condescending state of awe, then said as a matter-of-factly; “well, it’s a free country”, and drove off. In all the excitement, I had forgotten it was the fourth of July.
Freedley Quarry, Third Attempt
This time, it was my friend Jay that accompanied me, who found my previous failed attempts and strange encounter pretty amusing. Only this time, we made it to the quarry without and setbacks, and spent three pleasant hours exploring it’s eye magnetic catacombs, flooded passages and exquisite shaft like opening that bore straight upwards through the roof of the mountainside we were underneath. Not surprisingly, the insides of the massive line diminishing space were colorfully graffitied on just about any available surface, and were a mixture of the usual things you’d expect to see graffitied somewhere. Names and dates, slanderous accusations, original artwork and conjurings of the more vulgar variety. The quarry floors were littered with trash and strangely, nails, and rubbed black from numerous tire treads of all the vehicle activity inside the cave. In the winter, the flooded insides freeze over, and people snowmobile up the mountain and utilize the quarry as an awesome skating rink.
Eventually, we were loosing daylight, and the quarry began to take on a more eerie pallor as the temperature dropped and the interior became a dark place haunted by the cacophony of dripping water. I’m glad I stayed persistent.
My trusty old computer, which has admittedly been struggling to meet my needs over the years, has finally passed away. Sadly this unexpected event has put me in a tough situation, one in which I’m not financially able to escape from. The lack of a computer means I am unable to continue with Obscure Vermont for the foreseeable future. This has proven a very hard blow for me, as I’ve stated above, my blog means a lot to me. If you appreciate my blog, and what it represents, please consider donating. Any amount is sincerely appreciated, and would mean a great deal to me:
Vermont roads are named after a profusion of different things. Indigenous plants (many which were sacrificed to make the road), local landmarks, geographical features, compass directions and dead white people. But some road names muddle people, and make you wonder just what the hell was the namer thinking. For example, West Haven’s Ghost Hollow Road may scratch some heads.
Another example that’s always attracted me are the several areas denominating the moniker “Lost Nation”, for a abundance of bases, spanning from a poignant yet overlooked commemoration of the Native American leagues who lost their nations when Vermont became Vermont, to the town of Essex’s case, an area of town so remote that the people who decided to settle and farm out there were so difficult to reach, that travelers were continuously getting lost. However, Paul Carnahan of the Vermont Historical Society surmises that the label may be more Biblical than Native American. There are lots of references to “Lost Nations” found in newspapers from 1800 to the 1850s and it seems to be religiously based, sometimes relating to the Lost Tribes of Israel. The title was bestowed to remote places, which were sometimes also considered to be Godless places. “New Boston” was also a popular term for these hard to reach places, as locals would groan that travel through parts of the state took so long that they facetiously quipped they might as well have traveled to Boston to get there. There are several New Boston roads throughout Vermont as well, including my particular favorite in the Green Mountain town of Chittenden.
I love to travel, and one of my favorite aspects of any road trip is to observe the surroundings viewed from my windshield in quiet fascination, regarding landmarks, street signs, monstrosities and natural splendor. But I also love my down time, which I often pass by pouring over Google Earth with sedentary amusement. A while ago, I discovered a back road down near Chester, intriguingly called Popple Dungeon Road. That almost immediately fired my imagination. What’s the story here? A google search revealed another surprise, there were two such roads in Vermont, another, much shorter stretch of gravel in Charlotte, a town where anything containing the term dungeon seems very incongruous. There had to be a story here. But what was it?
The interesting essay by Seven Days’ Ethan De Seife, and the book Popple Dungeon, Vermont: The Settlement, Farms and Genealogy of a Small Community in Vermont by Chester author Virginia Blake Clark offered some amusing clarity.
Let’s start with the tenebrous term Popple. Popple is a regional term, apart of the lexicon of the northeast and parts of the Midwest. It’s also a bit of skewed etymology, deriving originally from Poplar trees. But somewhere down the line, it became sort of an arboreal catch-all term for a variety of different trees, including Quaking Aspens, Cottonwoods and Alders.
In the 18th century, the perpetual trickle of people would find their way up into the rocky forests and undulating hills of southwestern Chester, and slowly hack farms out of the wilds. The isolated area would eventually grow to encompass 30 houses, 5 schoolhouses, and a few cemeteries. and spread into parts of Andover and Windham. There was a dirt road that followed the banks of the South Branch of the Williams River which became the main route into that part of town. The locals started to call that area “Poplar Grove”, named after the Poplar Trees that grew in clusters along the road.
The Dungeon part of the name gets a bit mysterious, and far less dramatic in it’s alternative. It doesn’t actually relate to it’s dank pit of despair namesake, which may disappoint the more morbid minded. It’s more of a trope which alludes to the similar associating characteristics – bestowed to a place that was dark and creepy in appearance. The Popple Dungeon Road that serpentines through the hills of Chester and Windham was lined with overhanging tree branches and thick brush where the boughs created a sort of tunnel, casting the rough road in eerie shadow. The atmosphere along this road was so redolent, that around the years that lead into World War 1, the local boys began to designate the area as “The Dungeon”, or, “Popple Dungeon”.
Another more amusing story comes from a frazzled school teacher who was stationed at the road’s district 15 schoolhouse, who was so exasperated by the rowdy boys he instructed that he supposedly uttered “This place isn’t Popple Grove, it’s Popple Dungeon.” The boys were proud of the new designation, and it proved to be a memorable sobriquet. Over time, the name began to spread into local parlance, and would make it’s way into local newspapers, become the unofficial moniker for the area, and eventually became the official name of the road printed on it’s ubiquitous green aluminum street sign. Sometimes, the miscellany on the list of most despicable things that humanity has produced prove to be the most memorable and compellingly investigatable.
Agriculture has always been an endlessly laborious affair in the Green Mountains. Vermont is notorious for it’s rocks, which farmers would find plenty of in their fields. An old Vermont joke is that there are new “rock crops” every year, normally found with dismay during the Spring plows. And it’s the truth. As the ground freezes and thaws in the winter and spring, it heaves up rocks from below, and sometimes, dissuaded farmers would find that rocks would be just about the only thing that would grow in their fields.
The last of the original working farms in Popple Dungeon went defunct in 1990, and the unofficial community has long since vanished, replaced by a road that mostly meanders through northern deciduous forest with permanent residences occasionally puncturing it. The only modern day indicator of Popple Dungeon is the street sign, which more or less intrigues or befuddles people.
So, how did this erroneous name migrate to Charlotte, to a private driveway that’s mostly flanked by open meadow and sunlight? As the story goes, the first resident of the Charlotte thoroughfare had a mischievous son years ago, who while traveling through Chester, decided he liked the street sign, stole it, and put it up in front of their driveway in Charlotte. In 1993, when Vermont started enhancing it’s 911 emergency response system, one of the stipulations was, in short, that all locations needed to be named or identified so emergency response crews knew where they were going. In the wake of this, the informal christening became official, and the town of Charlotte gave the driveway it’s own street sign.
But not everyone is fond of the name. Ed Amidon, a resident of the Charlotte road, told Seven Days that he’s continuously needing to explain the road’s name, which has became tiresome, especially when it comes to phone orders. “You spell it out, and there’s dead silence on the end of the line.”
Personally, I would be eager to list that address on my business cards or outgoing mail. I can’t really defend that statement, I just think it’s cool.
Humankind has an ego problem, and a great deal of us spend our lives trying to chase the triumphs of feeding it. It’s long been a unifying dream to make a name for ourselves, to leave a long lasting and inspiring mark for those we will never know, before we too become part of the inescapably strange ritual of being buried and having a slab of granite shoved in the ground where our body winds up, before being forgotten all together. Leaving a legacy can be worthy of heroism, admiration, peculiarity, the title of villain, or even, a nutcase. And depending on who you ask, it’s more about being remembered as opposed to the why.
I’d like to end this piece with another road name that I’ve always been very intrigued by. In the small village of East Dorset, is a road called Mad Tom Road, which starts in white clapboarded”downtown” East Dorset and turns to dirt as it heads up the hills into the Green Mountain National Forest. But this curious name isn’t singular. There is also a Mad Tom Notch nearby, a Mad Tom Brook, and even a commercial apple orchard all bearing the moniker. But WTF? Who was Mad Tom? What could have been done that was so significant that warranted branding in it’s honor?
In my amused reverie, I envisioned myself approaching an old timer sitting on a Dorset porch, A Judd Crandle type of fellow who squints his eyes at me and says something like “Folks around these parts don’t like to talk about that”. I decided to reach out to the Dorset Historical Society, and curator Jon Mathewson was able to explain it to me, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they get this question a lot.
Some people say that it is named after the Madtom catfish, but catfish prefer slow moving water, and probably don’t live in the Mad Tom Brook. But it’s easy to see why that would be a speculation, given that the Mad Tom Brook is a tributary of the renown Batten Kill.
My favorite speculation is that it was named after an early, insane settler named Thomas, but there is no actual record of such a person. I can only wonder what Thomas had to have done to have earned that unflattering yet very indelible nickname.
The most likely explanation is the aforementioned Mad Tom Brook, which was named after the old English term for a crazy person, “Mad Tom O’Bedlam,” or “Mad Tom.” Bedlam was the nickname unceremoniously given to London’s infamous Bethlehem Royal Hospital, which was an insane asylum. The rushing mountain brook was seen as a crazy, unpredictable cascade of water. If that is the case, than this comparison shouldn’t be alien to us Vermonters – A similarly named river in Vermont is the Mad River, which runs alongside Routes 100 and 100B from Warren to Middlesex, and is one of the state’s most popular tourist regions where famed ski resorts like Sugarbush and Mad River Glen can be found.
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One thing is indisputable; Vermonters have been experiencing and talking about weird phenomena for a good long time. While some of these oddities may be easier to explain or theorize, others, much to the chagrin of some, remain puzzling and controversial conundrums. I’ve written about a few of them here, using research and other information that has came to me over time. And I’m sure there is far more that has yet to make it into public consciousness. As to what the truth is, I’ll leave that up to the readers.
Newark’s Strange Hum
There are some people in the vicinity of the tiny kingdom town of Newark that are being bothered by a mysterious low-pitched hum, but no one seems to know where it’s coming from, or what’s behind it. To make matters more interesting – no one seems to have any idea exactly when it started. It first reached public attention in March 1997 when the Caledonian Record featured the mysterious hum in a story. But some residents speculate the hum has been around much longer, the debating ranging from months to years.
While we know almost nothing about the hum, there are a few peculiar attributes that we do know:
1. It occurs in places where there’s no electricity, and is even active during power outages.
2. Not everyone can hear it, creating some tensions amongst the locals. Even stranger, deaf people have noticed the hum, while others with perfect hearing cannot.
3. It can’t be detected by microphones or special low frequency antennas.
4. The most peculiar thing I’ve heard from my research, is that those who claim to have heard the noise, all describe their experience differently. Comparisons range from sounding like an electric motor running in the next room, to a deeper noise that seems to fade in and out and shuts off then turns on at random intervals.
Theories abound. The paranormal, UFOs, a government mind control device (perhaps located somewhere in the hulking ruins of the abandoned radar base on East Mountain nearby). And there are others who turn to science, suggesting culprits such as cell phones, power tools and microwaves. So, what could possibly be happening here?
Reaching out to Joan Bicknell from the Newark town offices, she explained that the humming actually is still ongoing to this day, but it’s nowhere near as tumultuous as it was over a decade ago. “The few people who heard it constantly say they don’t hear it consistently now” Bicknell explained. “It still happens, but not constantly…” Joan led me to another source, a gentleman named Tom Lasherleslie, who is one of the people who have heard the hum for years now, but, in an archetypal act of Vermont stoicism, sort of left the matter a mystery when I had sent him an email.
While bringing this up in conversation with my friend Ethan, he recalled that he was able to hear the Newark Hum very clearly next door in his former hometown of Sutton. In the winters, him and his friends used to ride their snowmobiles to a few high meadows on his friend’s property. When they arrived in the fields, they would shut off the snowmobile engines and the woods would be enveloped in a wintery silence, except for a very distinct noise that he would describe as sounding like “a giant industrial factory fan”. He could never pinpoint the noise, but he heard it very pronounced not only in the mountains, but at his house back in town. He swore this had to be the Newark hum, because there was no other explanation he could muster for the strange noise.
No definite answers has been brought forth yet, making this a modern day mystery. But strange noises beneath the ground are not unusual to New England. The most notable example would be the famous Moodus Noises, located in Moodus Connecticut, and the lesser known Nashoba Hill in Littleton, Massachusetts, a strange rocky hill where shuddering roaring and rumbling booms are said to emanate from inside the hill. As a matter of fact, the name Nashoba is an Indian word, dubbed by the Praying Indians which once settled there, meaning “The Hill That Shakes”. An old Indian tale tells of the four winds that were pent up in chambers that lay underneath the hill, trying to break free from their granite prison. Other theories suggest that a monster lives inside the hill, the earth acting as a barrier to keep the fearsome oddity from buffeting the town.
Underneath Border Skies; Defying Gravity in Richford.
Vermont’s northern boundary is a 90 mile straight line running from the mouth of the Richelieu River at Lake Champlain to the cold waters of the Connecticut River, a line that separates us from Quebec and conjures images of a sort of an “end of the world” to us living in the states – a halt before we venture into the great north land that is known as Canada, where we are foreigners. Life metaphorically stops at this invisible line, and is forced to exist below it.
It’s not surprising that the lands underneath border skies are awash in mysterious lore and mysteries.The hardscrable border town of Richford is one such town, with lingering tales of bootleggers and a giant bird that supposedly once terrorized the community, to name a few. My personal favorite is a tale of two buildings. The centerpieces of Richford’s downtown are the two stately brick buildings that stand opposite each other across the road, at the foot of the bridge.
Pictured below is The Boright Building. Legend has it that Mr. Boright built the building’s most upper level after its construction, just so his building could be the tallest in town. As a testimony to this, you’ll notice the brick work on the top is different than the rest of the building. As for his motive, whether it was just good natured competition or a grudge against a rival business partner, I’m not sure. Before the construction, the building pictured below this one was taller. Despite appearances though, it is said that the upper level is hollow, nothing was ever built inside.
But I’m getting side tracked here. Somewhere along the Canadian border near East Richford, is an area of country where gravity forces work in extraordinary ways. A dirt road that weaves its way along both sides of the border is said to be the subject of interest here, and it’s on this rural stretch of gravel where cars are said to defy gravity, and roll uphill! Though this fabled place has been covered quite a bit in Vermont folklore, it still manages to intrigue. There have been a good number of alleged experiences reported, one even claiming their car rolled up hill as fast as 15 miles per hour! (reality or hoax, I’ll never know).
However, my experience there in 2012 was pretty uneventful. It’s called Richford’s Mystery Spot for a good reason – namely because the exact spot, as is the exact road, is unknown. And asking around doesn’t really help. One amused cashier at a local gas station may hold the key to my disappointment however. He asked what car I was driving, while glancing out the window towards the pumps. At the time, we were in my friend’s Chevy Malibu. He chuckled. “Well, there’s your problem. These new cars are all plastic. There isn’t nearly enough metal in it to attract any sort of giant magnetic force”. Well, I never thought of it that way. Though I never had a moving experience here (literally and metaphorically), perhaps you have?
If you wish to seek Richford’s Mystery Spot for yourself, try driving along the East Richford Slide Road, a road that snakes its way on both sides of the border. From the limited information on the phenomenon, this road best meets the descriptions. Here, somewhere along this road, you might just find it.
If you’re interested into more puzzling earthly phenomena or actually being able to seek places where you will be guaranteed to defy gravity, check out Atlas Obscura’s Essential Guide to Defying Gravity for some cool stuff.
A Vanishing Roadway?
Vermont is full of stories of haunted thoroughfares, but this one is perhaps the strangest I’ve came across. Somewhere in the town of Lyndon, there is a dirt road that vanishes, and reappears. Not much is known about this baffling byway, such as where it’s exact location is, when it puts on it’s vanishing act, and why. I’ve asked quite a few Lyndon residents about it, but most looked at me like I was insane. But it’s an interesting story. My assumption is that no one lives on this undependable road, for surely there would be a great confusion when it comes to mail getting delivered to the right place.
A Desert In The Mountains
There is an interesting place name in the tiny town of Mount Tabor that has always held my curiosity; Old atlases marked an area of steep slopes and silent swamps as “Old Job”, deep inside the Green Mountain National Forest. It’s an unusual name, and seems to be of some significance. There is even a hiking trail named in its honor that leads deep into the national forest. But what is the story behind this unusual moniker? In the late 1800s, Vermont lumberman and entrepreneur Silas Griffith, established a lumber mill in the mountains of Mount Tabor, and a company town, which boasted around 50 buildings including a school, store, boarding house, a blacksmith, and stables would be constructed. The small community would be named Griffith in his own honor, but later it would change it’s name to Old Job, named after one of the mills.
Expansive logging was done, which stripped the Green Mountains of their fine timber. His mills produced great mounds of sawdust, which he also saw profit in, and sold them to ice houses such as The Bellows Falls Ice Company, which used the numerous amounts of sawdust generated from the operations to pack the ice in their rail cars, to keep it from melting on long commutes. Today, the town has vanished, and the wilderness has since reclaimed what was once hers, but slight remnants of the former community can still be seen – such as this massive pile of sawdust, a barren and dry wasteland amidst a sea of green, near the aptly named Old Job Trail.
An Audible Stretch of Sand
Somewhere in the annals of local lore and mystery, there is a beach somewhere between Cumberland Head and South Hero, that is said to inhabit an unusual property. According to the lore, which is almost as elusive as the beach in question, there is a beach where the sand is said to make dog noises. Supposedly, if you fill 2 zip lock bags together with sand from this beach, and bang them together, the result is supposed to resemble a dog barking. Oh, and once you leave the beach, this strange phenomena is said to stop working. Maybe you’ve been here before? If so, you certainly have more incite than I do…
In Whitingham lies a small body of water called Lake Sadawga, which can be seen off Route 100. Though the vast Harriman Reservoir just to the north may be larger and boast more mountain scenery, tiny Lake Sadawga has it’s own natural wonders to gawk at that are just as breathtaking, if you can spot it that is…
There is a rare natural phenomenon that can be found inside the small lake; a floating island about 100 acres in size, that moves around the lake. (Older newspaper accounts actually said that the island appeared to be growing in size at one point!) If spotted, it would be a strange and inspiring landscape indeed.
The lake was named for Indian Chief Sadawga, who made his summer camp along the shores of the lake centuries ago. But little is known about the commemorated chief. According to folklore, he once swam under the lake’s entire floating island without taking a single breath. But perhaps more compelling is chief Sadawga’s disappearance. Legend has it that him and a group of Indians had departed his summer camp on the lake, and canoed up the Deerfield River. But somewhere on their journey, he vanished without a trace. His friends had no explanation to what happened to the chief. Some assumed he had drowned, while others weren’t so sure, the components were simply unknown. The mystery remains unsolved to this day. The floating Island however, is easier to explain.
Known long ago by locals as “Swimming Land”, the floating wonder has captivated Vermonters for well over a century. In 1890, a 6 foot stone dam was built at the outlet to the lake to benefit manufacturers along the Deerfield River, which also raised water levels by 6 feet and the lake size by roughly a quarter. At the time, there was some speculation whether the island actually floated or not. Because no part of the island had ever been more than two or three feet above the water, curious locals were wondering how the dam would effect the floating island. Would it rise with the water levels, or would it sink?
It took 48 hours for the lake waters to rise to the top of the dam. The island proved to be buoyant. But, about four chunks between one and three acres in size, had broken off entirely from the larger landmass, and swam around the lake independently. Sometimes they’d spread out at a measured distance of 50-60 rods from the main island, and other times they would be clustered together – the smaller ones floating around faster than the main island because it was easier for the wind to carry them.
The remarkable main island moves around much slower, historically from the east to west shores, and remarkably has never came within a quarter mile of the north shore. The island could also support and sustain life. There was a small forest of tamaracks that grew there – with trees reaching up to 25 feet high. It was supposed that the island’s proximity to a marshy area at the south end of the lake provided enough vegetable matter in the water to keep the trees in a healthy condition. Between the trees were said to be a lush growth of Cranberry and Alder bushes. Today the island still contains a mixture of swampy growth, weeds and trees.
It was said that getting on the island was remarkably easy, but the real danger was sinking through once you stepped on it! Most of the surface was spongy and soft, but there were also parts that were incredibly solid. An old San Francisco Globe interview from 1890, spoke with Whitingham resident Judge Hosea B. Ballou, a former Windham County Judge, who recalled he used to boat out to the island as a kid and catch Bullpout through it, by using a scythe to pierce holes in the surface ground, which he said was made from some sort of vegetable mold.
Today, the floating island still exists, and some say still floats slowly and lazily around the lake. Though sadly, my trip down to beautiful Lake Sadawga last summer was uneventful. I was en route to Massachusetts and didn’t have enough time to try to hang around and enjoy the beautiful lake. Maybe next time.
A View of Sadawga Lake. Two floating islands are shown in the central part of the picture, and behind them is the main floating island which they became detached from. | Popular Science Monthly, September 1911
Cross-section the two floating islands. One theory is that the large island grew out from the shore and was eventually broken off by high water levels | Popular Science Monthly – September, 1911
While researching this story, I discovered that our neighbors in the Bay State also have a bona-fide floating island, a ten thousand square foot one, in a ten acre body of water called Island Pond. According to Boston.com, the island is estimated to date back centuries. The base is constructed out of a webbing of tree routes, with the trees acting as sails, sending it careening slowly around the pond. Scientists think that methane gas keeps the island afloat, and also contributes to a funny smell that locals say it has. Though a floating island can be awe inspiring, it can also be a nuisance. Sometimes the island crashes into things, taking out fences, docks, boathouses and trees on property that borders the shoreline, irking local residents. And sometimes, the island gets marooned on the shoreline. When that happens, it has to be towed back to the center of the pond. In October of 2005, that exact scenario happened, and it took eight men using two cables that were capable of pulling 45 tons, three hours to move it. The total bill came to around $5,000 – which came out of the wallet of the local Catholic Diocese, who owns the island.
Water From Where?
In certain parts of Burlington, more notably around the YMCA on College and South Union, it is said that the sound of rushing water can sometimes be heard faintly coming from below the building. While this puzzling experience is said to happen rarely, it’s possible that the answer may come from the lost ravine that once bisected the downtown district in two, that will filled with garbage in the 1800s to create more land for developing. At the bottom of the ravine ran a stream, a tributary of the Winooski River, which dumped into the lake around where Maple Street runs into Perkins Pier. Some speculate the stream is still there, despite the ravine being filled in over a century ago.
Recently, I was excited to find out that The Vermont Digital Newspaper Archive was created, with the goal of scanning old newspapers from Vermont’s past and uploading them online for anyone to browse and enjoy. Especially someone like myself, who loves uncovering the state’s weird and lost history. Back in the day, newspapers sometimes ran stories about oddities, before the exploitable and unvenerable pop culture fanaticism of today. Though they were more or less intended as space fillers, they were straight to the point, and more importantly, they fascinated people. After spending hours of exhaustively searching the intimidatingly vast archives, which currently tops out at 260,000 pages, I used as many key words as I could muster and began to stumble upon a few intriguing mentions.
One find comes from a Green Mountain Freeman article (a defunct newspaper from Montpelier), dated January 25th, 1871. In Sheffield, on land owned by William Gray, there was a stone oddity. Through faded type, I was able to read that it was a large granite boulder, with a strange indent at the top that the paper called a “spherical excavation”, that was always filled with water. There was no visible or identifiable water source however, and yet, the stone bowl was always full. Even on the driest of summer days it would be full, so rainfall could be ruled out as the culprit. More curiously, the water levels were known to never run over the edge, it filled up and stayed full. Mr. Gray recalled dipping a cup in and pouring some of it out onto the ground, and how it immediately refilled and stopped precisely before overflowing.
This spectacular find came from a Green Mountain Freeman article from 1874; Thomas Paddock claimed that his small farm in North Pownal was under supernatural assault, when his property was pelted and battered by a mysterious shower of stones that rained from the sky. The baffled Mr. Paddock suggested that someone must have invented some sort of giant catapult that was capable of hurling stones a great distance and yet couldn’t be seen from his dooryard, in an attempt to solidify an explanation for an otherwise baffling event.
Digging deeper into this, The Burlington Freepress and Times described Paddock as a “respectable farmer of excellent character”, so for this to be some sort of yarn well spun or attempt at publicity would be out of character for the quiet man, who actually was attempting to keep the strange occurrence a secret. But word got out, and it spread. Starting in October, the stones continued to rain day and night, and they hit his house, barn, yard, and various outbuildings. They varied in size from tiny pebbles, to four or five inches in diameter. But in November, a boulder weighing more than 20 pounds dropped out of nowhere, and made a three inch impression where it landed on the ground. I was pleased to see there was far more to this curious story. In the book Green Mountains, Dark Tales, by Joseph Citro, he explained in a bit more detail.
An unusual observation was that when the stones touched down, they wouldn’t skip or bounce as one normally would if thrown by human hand, instead, they would continue to roll along, as if propelled by some unseen force. Some were actually seen rolling up hill! Stranger, the stones were said to be hot to the touch, even on cold Winter nights. Some stones hit his house with force brutal enough to break the shingles on his roof. Mr. Paddock’s theory of a giant catapult no longer seemed to make sense.
Around this time, Spiritualism was in it’s heyday, and many people with scientific curiosity came to the Paddock farm to witness this peculiar phenomenon themselves, and attempt to offer some incite, with hopes to validate that the spirit world was in fact real. Because of the farm’s proximity to a train station in nearby North Pownal, investigators, mediums, reporters, and curious tourists had easy access to the seemingly cursed site, and they came in droves. Thomas Paddock, who by this point was becoming distressed, even offered a reward of one dollar to anyone who could solve the mystery. Remember, a buck went a lot further back in those days.
Many tried to duplicate the phenomena, but failed. They couldn’t see how stones could roll uphill or up and over the pitch of the roof without intervention, and the source of the heat that was so commonly reported, remained a head scratcher. The twenty pound boulder was also curious, for no one was able to replicate the indent in the ground when they attempted to toss a rock of similar weight and characteristics, they only succeeded in making a slight impression.
Eventually, it was an intrepid group of investigators from nearby North Adams, Massachusetts, who came forward with a suspicion. After interviewing Mr. Paddock, his family, and his hired hands, it was a hired boy named Jerry who came under suspicion, as he was the most frequent witness to the phenomenon. Jerry seemed to be very interested in all of it, and animatedly spoke with them and said how much he believed in spirits and how he would wondrously watch the falling rock displays. And just as Jerry grabbed a pail and went to the barn to start his chores, a stone fell and hit the roof of the house. Everyone heard it. The witnesses saw the stone soar from the direction of the barn, and as ran to investigate the stone, Jerry, who had also heard the stone, immediately was able to point out where it had landed. The stone had soil on it from the garden, where Jerry was in only moments ago. They made their conclusion, and decided that Jerry had to be the force behind all of this. Whether they deemed Jerry as a prankster or someone with poltergeist abilities, it’s hard to say. They seemed to be happy with their conclusion, and the visitors stopped coming. But we’ll probably never know exactly what happened at Thomas Paddock’s North Pownal farm.
The Orb Of The Valley
A famous (in the realm of Vermont weirdness anyways) and strange light is said to float around the deep hollows of the remote Lost Nation area, located in the hills that make up the Bakersfield-Fairfield town line. The glowing orb is said to be roughly the size of a basketball, hover around 8 feet above the ground, and move slowly and silently through the woods. Called “The Orb Of The Valley”, it may be a spook light, UFO, swamp gas, a spirit, or something totally unknown. More interestingly, it may also possess some sort of intelligence which enables it to take notice of it’s environment and move around trees and other obstacles. Another peculiar characteristic it has, which sets it apart from other stories of floating lights and orbs across the county, is that it can stop and observe a curious or startled bystander, before continuing on it’s way to wherever such things go.
Barre is a town of colorful stories, many which are told from the famous granite veins that gave the town life, and the wild monuments made from it that can be found in the town’s numerous cemeteries and downtown plazas. However, there is one monument in particular that holds my curiosity. A valiant statue made of local granite stands as a stark gray centerpiece to Barre’s Vermont City Park. Erected in the 1920s and officially named “Youth Triumphant”, the courageous cynosure, boldly resting against giant sword and observing Barre traffic, acts as an almost startlingly bold memorial to local veterans. But this seemingly innocuous statue seems to be known to others for another reason entirely.
Its unofficial nickname, “The Whispering Statue”, might tell you why. Local lore maintains that if you whisper to someone at the other end of the plaza, they will be able to hear your voice as clear as if you were standing right behind them.
So, how does this acoustical anomaly work? The best description I was able to get was that if 2 people sat at opposite ends of the horseshoe shaped granite bench behind the statue, the acoustics will somehow “bounce” off the statue and travel to your partner in waiting. And as the theories claim, they will be able to hear you as if you were whispering into their ear. But someone else told me that in order for it to work, the trick was that you had to sit so that the statue blocked your view of the other person. When I visited however, the traffic noise was so thunderous, I could barely hear myself speak to my friend standing next to me. The desolate park lies at the confluence of Routes 302 and 14 in the center of town.
Was this bizarre game of telephone somehow incorporated into the statue’s original design? Or perhaps this was just an accidental feature of its framework discovered sometime after it was completed? And most importantly, have you tried it? Did it work?
On a sandy plateau that climbs above a remote stretch of waterfront bike path south of North Beach, in an area the locals call “the back 40”, is a natural phenomenon known as the “Burled Forest”, a patch of woods that have been deformed by the fierce southwestern winds that blast off the lake.
Each tree sports multiple “burls” – enlarged growth areas – along its trunk. The trees are Box Elders, whose branches are easily snapped off by the strong wind gusts which are particularly prevalent here. The wind prunes the trees into some Seussian and grotesque forms that aren’t found anywhere else nearby.
Walk around and you’ll notice not only many trees containing these burls, but that several have new branch sprouts on their bulbous trunks. While it’s not unusual to see new growth on a tree, this actually offers some incite behind the phenomenon. When the malleable green sprouts get larger on their way to becoming full fledged branches, they enlarge the trunk a little, creating burls. As they grow heavier, they become more vulnerable and susceptible to breaking off in heavy wind gusts, which many do. This cycle has been continuously repeated over the years, re-shaping the trees. Evidence of this lies all around you, the forest floor is strewn with dead branches underneath the tall grasses and weeds.
So, what’s the reason for this? Why here, while the surrounding woods are unaffected entirely? The answer lies in what is literally below your feet, the sand. The bluff is practically a giant sand mound that rises above the lake. In sandy and wind battered conditions like this, Box Elders love to grow, especially when the soils are continuously disturbed by varying intrusions, such as human interaction or natural elements like the wind. This also explains why this seems to be a rather isolated occurrence, as the woods around the area don’t have the same formations.
The Abenaki Indians of the region called Box Elder pilkimizi – which can be literally translated to “new land tree.” The indigenous name takes note of the tree’s propensity to colonize “new land”, because of their ability to grow in some pretty uninhabital areas.
The area is combed by well worn human trails that have worn actual trenches out the sandy banks, as the small patch of woods is a popular highway and shortcut used by local youth to get from North Avenue down to the bike path. If you dig a little, you can find bits of brick, broken china, and other artifacts that suggest this place may have been a former dump, a find not uncommon in Burlington’s less developed areas. Some of the trash, like a creepy collection of rusted cages, a few abandoned strollers and old pallets, has been lugged and recycled just down the trail and used for the foundations of dirt jumps, a collection of mountain bike trails kids call “Boscoe’s Trails”. But that’s another mystery it seems, because no one has been able to explain the reason behind that moniker. I asked around. No one seems to know who the hell Boscoe is.
To some, the grandeur of nature is proof that the universe has a sense of humor. A natural oddity like Balancing Rock, resting high on the slopes of Mount Elmore, is one such example. This boulder, roughly 20 feet long and 6 feet high, is poised off the ground by the significantly smaller rock that it rests on, after a glacier dropped the massive rock here during the last ice age. Others speculate a wilder theory, that the massive boulder once tumbled down from the higher slopes and impossibly came to rest in it’s current precarious position. Today, the gravity defying boulder is inside the beautiful Elmore State Park, and can be accessed by a hiking trail that climbs the ridge line of Mount Elmore. Though it’s safe to climb on, just be weary, you wouldn’t want to unbalance balancing rock.
Have anything weird or interesting to share of your own? Let me know!
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Most people my age aren’t likely to recall Frontier Town, a once prominent destination turned ghost town in the woods of tiny North Hudson, New York, but there are plenty of people who will tell you that it used to be great, and once integral to the once-thriving Adirondack tourism heyday of the mid 20th century.
I’ve mentioned Frontier Town before in an earlier blog entry, but never truly got around to exploring it until recently. Frontier Town is a massive place, it’s kitschy ruins stretch unassumingly from the roadsides of Routes 9 and 84, and far back out of sight on the sprawling property at the bottom of shady hollows and a myriad of cold swamps that pulse with mosquitoes in the summers. Because the property is so large, it’s very difficult to get a good idea of just how much there is to see, until you start exploring for yourself. It’s taken me 3 trips to see a good deal of it, and I still feel like I’ve been unprepared with every visit.
My trips started back in 2012, which were focused on the assortment of abandoned motels and cabins lining Route 9 that once served the motel, and slowly, I would move inwards.
In 1951, Arthur Bensen, a Staten Island entrepreneur who installed telephones for a living, toured the northeast with $40,000, to find a location suitable for building his dream project which would be far more ambitious than his current profession; an amusement park. 267 wooded acres in North Hudson would seal the deal, and despite having no construction skills and no real income after purchasing the property, he went to work. He was known for his amiable personality, someone who was convincing and charismatic, and got many North Hudson locals on board with helping him build the theme park, despite some of them thinking that both him and his idea was crazy. But his tenaciousness and optimism paid off, as his dream began to take shape. Using his 1951 Chevy, he would drag timber behind his car to build many of the log cabins around the site that still stand today.
Bensen was also known to be a quick thinker and good at improvisation – and it was these skills that ultimately would shape the park so many would come to love. His original vision was to build a Pioneer Village, but shortly before opening, the appropriate costumes for his employees never arrived. So, Bensen made a trip down to New York City to purchase some, and returned with Cowboy and Indian costumes instead, which were the only ones he could buy in such a short notice. But he wasn’t worried, and with a little creative re-imagining, Frontier Town was born, officially opening on July 4, 1952.
He soon constructed Prairie Junction to keep with his new theme, which was modeled after your stereotypical Main Street of a dirty wild west town. The low rise wooden buildings were all connected by a broad wooden porch, consisting of a saloon, music hall and a shop selling Western themed clothing. A rodeo area was built nearby, which held two of them a day would allow children to participate. Stagecoaches, trains, tracks and covered wagons would all transport visitors around the park, and outlaws on horseback would rob the trains and engage in shoot-outs.
Frontier Town wasn’t just loved by the tourists and generations of wide eyed kids who made memories there. It was also loved by the locals. The park employed many Adirondack area teens, who spent their paychecks on college tuition. Many friendships and romances were also forged here, some which would last life long, and would later be recalled wistfully on Frontier Town message boards and fan-sites that pop up on Google searches about the place.
Employees wore period costumes, and would teach bemused onlookers how to churn butter, demonstrate how yarn was spun, or cook pea soup in an iron kettle over a fireplace, which was said to be a favorite of loggers in the Adirondacks.
The park would come to it’s peak popularity in the 1960s and 70s and then would enter an inevitable period of decline. The times were changing. The construction of the Adirondack Northway would lure traffic to bypass North Hudson and cut travel time dramatically. Now, travelers no longer needed to depend on Route 9 to get to the Adirondacks from New York City. Some speculate that the park really declined when a new transgressive era ushered in parents becoming uneasy with their kids playing with guns, which was more acceptable when Westerns were all the craze on TV and the silver screen. As one Frontier Town enthusiast wrote on a comment thread; “Cowboys and Indians were big time. Every kid had a gun and a cowboy hat”. Others blame broader travel opportunities that came with the construction of interstate highways and air travel, making places like Frontier Town obsolete.
In 1983, Art Benson sold Frontier Town to another development firm, and would pass away 5 years later. The park was closed until 1989, re-opening with additions, such as a miniature golf course. In 1998, Frontier Town closed for good due to failing finances and weak attendance. The property was seized in August 2004 by the county for past-due property taxes. The stagecoaches, trains, buggies and the tracks were all ripped out and sold, as well as other paraphernalia. Collectors can still find mementos at Gokey’s Trading Post just down the road, which is where a lot of Frontier Town relics ended up during the massive auction after the park’s closing.
Today, awkward and fantastical ruins falling apart in silence underneath the Pines are all that remains of Frontier Town. A walk around the property reveals the tragic process of decay and entropy which is sad and breathtaking to behold, as you reflect on society’s impermanence.
I visited during the dark wintery cold of January, and returned during a far more pleasant 50 degree April Sunday, so my photos are a mixture of winter and early spring shots.
When I took my research to the internet, I found a cool Facebook page, Frontier Town Abandoned Theme Park Now And Then, with tons of great old photos to gaze at. It’s incredible what the transformative power of nature can do to a place in a short time.
Frontier Town in it’s Postcard Prime
Frontier Town, 2015
Joining me for my adventure was my friend Bill Alexander, creator of Vermonter.com, who filmed our walk around the grounds.
Donating is appreciating, and appreciated! Seriously, any amount helps!
Those who know me know that I’m a huge cartography buff. That love really perpetuated when I was 10, when my mother bought me a DeLorme atlas of Vermont, and I became enthralled with it, thoroughly memorizing every detail I could. But what is it about maps that are so irresistible to me?
Maybe because of their limitless potential, and their ability to unlock the mysteries of our world. Maps tell us how things in this world relate to one another, they take data and turn it into something tangible, something understandable, and maybe something that provokes thought or feelings. Several different types of information can be conveyed at the same time, melding several different ideas into a united idea. Lines to convey topography, more lines to convey boundaries between rock layers, towns, states and countries. More lines for faults, colors for bodies of water, forest land and types of climates. Maybe it’s because maps provide some sort of order, putting everything where it needs to be. Or just the opposite. They’ve always helped me make sense of my thoughts and ideas, and even draw ideas from things that haven’t been categorized or plotted yet.
I loved getting to know the great state I lived in. But one place really stood out to me.
A perfect square, that yellow dotted line indicating it was the boundary of a town, with the word “Glastenbury” printed inside. But inside the square, there was nothing but contour lines, indicating several mountains and rugged wilderness. I was enthralled by the fact that this town apparently had nothing in it. In the very top left corner, in small print, was the word “Fayville”, plotted on a dotted line that seemed to be a secondary road, meandering its way from Shaftsbury deep into the hills, and ending in the middle of nowhere. Even for rural Vermont standards, this was pretty desolate. I knew there was something different about this place, it challenged my young and naive view of the world. Why wasn’t there anything in Glastenbury like other towns around it?
It had a mystery to it, and I wanted to know more. My first act of familiarizing myself with Glastenbury was to make the trip down to that curious place on the map called Fayville. Myself and a few friends departed in his pickup truck and drove up the bumpy forest road into a strange clearing in the middle of the hills. Here, underneath summer humidity, we found old cellar holes almost entirelly hidden by tall grasses, beneath the shade of gnarled apple trees. At the bottoms, under layers of decaying leaves and dirt were iron bands, old horseshoes, and other various relics that hinted at human habitation once being way up here. It now made sense, Fayville was a long abandoned village that still appeared on maps.
As we were wondering around, the once sunny July afternoon became dark and cloudy, as a gusty wind picked up and tangled the long grasses. And it came fast, so fast that none of us were aware of a change in weather until things got dangerous. We were suddenly at the mercy of a freak ferocious thunderstorm that seemed to emanate out of nowhere, and became so violent that we literally retreated down the mountainside, in fear of the dirt trail washing out, leaving us stranded in the middle of the national forest. But when we got back down to the flats in Shaftsbury, it was sunny and dry. To make things far stranger, gas station attendants in Arlington were baffled that a thunderstorm – especially one of that magnitude – had passed through the area without them noticing it. Freak storms are common in New England, it’s by no means a rare phenomena here, but the conditions were just right to make this a head scratcher. I still have no explanation to this day.
Over the years, I began to dive into research, and soon would discover that I had stumbled upon one of the most interesting stories I had ever heard, which remains as one of the earliest examples of what got me interested in Vermont curio. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to write about this place that has long held my attention, to pay it reverence for having an integral part of my life, and also, because I love a good story.
But Glastenbury is perplexing and complex, and something I found a little difficult to write about, mostly because there was so much information to take in. I wanted to be tactful with how I approached it, balancing the resilient history, excellent folklore, and my own thoughts. When I was finished, the only conclusion I could draw is that there is no conclusion. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In southern Vermont, northeast of Bennington, lies an incredible area of backcountry. It’s a vast area, roughly 36 square miles of unbroken wilderness, with 12 peaks over 3,000 feet in elevation, the centerpiece being Glastenbury Mountain at 3,747 feet. Mostly occupied by the Green Mountain National Forest, this is a surprisingly large stretch of wilderness for Vermont. It’s name sake comes from it’s largest mountain, and the ghost town that used to be there which also bore the same name.
Glastenbury seems to yield a prolific Google search, but despite the hits, the information about the vanished community is vague at best, with much that seems to be copied and pasted from one website to the next. That’s where Tyler Resch’s invaluable book Glastenbury, History of a Vermont ghost town, emerged beaconlike in the darkness.
The town of Glastenbury was charted in 1761 by land grabbing Benning Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire. Wentworth was quite the character – granting as many towns in then unestablished Vermont as he could, with the intention to provocatively challenge New York, which also claimed the same land. Of course, Wentworth’s grants doubled as a lucrative endeavor, as he made sure to set aside some acreage for himself.
But Wentworth had no idea of the local geography, and simply drew lines on a map. Though Glastenbury tips it’s hat to a legendary place in England, Vermont’s titular community seemed to be ill fated from the very beginning. The rough and forbidding terrain and short growing season didn’t lure any settlement until the 1800s.
Because they had a mountain of wood to burn, the town embraced the lumber and charcoal industry, and began to slowly prosper as it lured settlement and business. Though Glastenbury town itself is a large area, it only contained 2 small settlements near the western border; the logging town of Fayville in the north, and later, the settlement of South Glastenbury. While Fayville is more known by people looking at a map, South Glastenbury is normally what is profiled in every article I’ve read. The two villages were never connected, the mountainous terrain was so steep that roads were never built.
South Glastenbury became the heart of town, and the headquarters of the majority of the charcoal operations, with 12 brick kilns erected along the cleared hillsides. A massive loggers boardinghouse, and company store – the only store in town, were built to serve the village. A few homes, a meetinghouse and a crude one room schoolhouse were also built for the few kids who grew up there. Because South Glastenbury sat at the confluent of two different branches of Bolles Brook, where the headwaters met and began their descent down the mountains, the small village became known as “The Forks”.
Life here was tough. It was a wild town, sort of a last frontier in Vermont. It was the kind of place where men out numbered the women, and the law often didn’t exist.
I’m not willing to pay the $20 image purchase fee – but the website historicmapworks.com has an 1869 Beer atlas map of Woodford that you can check out – and this is one of the few maps I’ve came across to feature South Glastenbury in it. The map is sideways, so look for “District 2”, beyond the Woodford town line, and the black dots that represent buildings plotted around Bolles Brook.
With a profitable timber industry came demands. People needed to get up into town, and lumber and charcoal needed to get down. The steepest railroad ever built in the United States was constructed as the solution, which started out as a sarcastic suggestion turned into a defiant reality. Starting in Bennington and ending at The Forks, The Bennington-Glastenbury Railroad was formed in 1872, the tracks climbing an astonishing 250 feet per mile at 9 miles long. But depending on a finite resource eventually created the end of the charcoal and logging industry and the mountains were logged until nothing larger than a sapling remained on the slopes.
But the railroad was still around, and they wanted money. The question was, what to do with it? In 1894, the railroad re-billed itself as The Bennington-Woodford Electric Railroad and the town reinvented itself as a tourist destination, using the railroad as a way to bring tourists up into South Glastenbury. The railroad switched over to using more reliable trolley cars instead of traditional rail cars, because they were stronger and more reliable, especially given the elevation they would have to climb.
Much time and money were invested into retransforming the town – turning the brawny old loggers’ boarding house into a hotel and the former company store into a casino. No details were overlooked, and both buildings became showpieces. They wanted Glastenbury to stand out from other summer resorts. After painstaking labor and expenses, the town opened up as vacation destination in the summer of 1897, and had a successful first season.
However, the barren mountains stripped of all their trees, were very prone to flooding and soil erosion. A year later, a devastating flood washed out the tracks, putting an end to the town for good. It’s high elevation and isolation ensured that no one tried to rebuild it, and the buildings fell into ruin under the silence of the mountains.
The population of Glastenbury dwindled down to almost nothing, which later got the attention of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in the 1930s when they learned that all 3 members of the Mattison Family were the entire town, and held every office. Because of this, the state of Vermont disorgonized the town in 1937, the first time the state ever did such an act, and the area was reclaimed by the wilderness.
It’s even more interesting to think about that a town with such a galvanizing and unique history was actually so tiny in stature. Though many people who write about ghost towns robotically love to use descriptive terms such as “hub” or “thriving”, Glastenbury was really neither – it’s peak population climbed to around 241.
Apart from the town’s fascinatingly unique story line, it may be the obscure and inexplicable events that allegedly happened on it’s slopes that has really given the town it’s considerable attention. The area has since given birth to terrifying legends, if not actual monsters.
“The Bennington Triangle”
While my love of maps inadvertently lead me to my interest of Glastenbury, their ability to organize information and draw conclusions was useless here.
Glastenbury Mountain and the surrounding area has long been considered one of Vermont’s most haunted places. In 1992, local author and folklorist Joseph Citro coined the term “The Bennington Triangle” to describe the area, and the designation not only stuck, it grew immensely in popularity. Over the years, the phrase has been been featured in books, websites and television shows, to the point where the name has taken a life of it’s own.
The theories and enthusiasm have quickly escalated and have continued to morph and stoke the fire. Many are quick to glamorize the region without being objective, only further propelling it into the blurred haze of fact and embellishment.
To better understand the hysteria here, let me try to summarize the more colloquial regional portrait for you.
It started with the native Americans, who refused to venture onto Glastenbury mountain. Fearing the land was cursed, they only used the land to bury their dead. But maybe it was because of a cross wind that met on the summit of the mountain. Even today, hunters will tell you that because of the disorienting winds, it’s very easy to get lost in the woods.
There is also a baffling legend of some sort of enchanted stone somewhere in the mountains, which is said to open up and “swallow” a human being in seconds if it’s stepped on. Another reason they avoided the place.
The weirdness continued when colonial settlers came to the area, whose vague and un-researchable accounts tell of weird sounds, noises and odors that would come from the mountain. But there are human things at work here as well, and those have been documented.
In 1867, there was an alleged wild man sighting, where a mysterious misanthropic specter would venture down from the woods (some accounts say he lived in a cave in Somerset) pull back his coat, and expose himself to unsuspecting women in Glastenbury and nearby Bennington. He was also said to brandish a revolver for intimidation. Whoever he was, he was eventually ran out of town and faded into obscurity.
On April 4th, 1892, Fayville mill worker Henry McDowell went haywire and murdered John Crawley by bashing him in the head with either a piece of wood or a rock, depending on the story. He fled town, but was later apprehended in South Norwalk, Connecticut, where he made a full confession. However, he was babbling on about voices in his head that wouldn’t leave him alone, and as a result, was sentenced in the Vermont State Asylum in Waterbury. But he escaped by hiding in a railroad car carrying a load of coal, never to be seen again. Some say he returned to Glastenbury, and others claim that he still remains hiding on the slopes to this very day. But by now, he would be an impossibly old man, which takes on an eerie resemblance to the tale of Doctor Benton coming from the mountains of New Hampshire.
On the opening day of Vermont’s first hunting season in 1897, 40 year old John Harbour, a respected Woodford resident, was mysteriously murdered at his deer camp in Bickford Hollow, a remote area in the hills south of Glastenbury. While hunting with his brother and family friend, they heard the blast of a rifle, followed by him crying out “I’ve been shot!”. They immediately turned around and searched for him, but it wasn’t until 11 AM the next morning when they found him, his legs protruding out from underneath a Cedar tree. However, something wasn’t quite right. His loaded gun sat neatly beside him, as if it was purposely put there. But something was wrong. His body was a distance away from where he was shot. They now knew that John had to have been moved. But by what? Did he crawl there after being shot? Did he receive human help, possibly by the shooter? There were no signs of him having walked or crawled to his final resting place, no clues at all. The mystery remains unsolved to this day.
It was after these two murders that signaled both the beginning of Glastenbury’s slow decline, and the establishment of it’s reputation as a mysterious and haunted place. Sometime in the early 19th century, a stagecoach full of passengers were making their way over the mountains near Glastenbury, near present day Route 9 in Woodford. It was well past dark and a violent rain storm was washing out the road. The rain was coming down so hard, it soon forced the driver to slow down to a crawl as the thunder cracked the night sky. Things became so bad that the driver eventually came to a complete stop in the dark and wet mountain wilderness. As he hopped down from his perch with the lantern to get a good idea of the situation, he noticed something peculiar illuminated by lantern light. There were unfamiliar footprints in the mud just ahead of him.
The rain hadn’t washed them away yet, so they had to be fresh tracks the driver reckoned. His observations revealed that the tracks were widely spaced, suggesting that whatever had made them was tremendous in size. He noticed the horses were beginning to get spooked, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about those tracks. What made them? He soon hollered back to the passengers and asked for their opinions. At this point, the horses were going wild, which was spooking the driver. That meant that something was skulking nearby, and it might just be what made those tracks…
As the passengers began to step out, something dealt a savage blow to the side of the carriage. Now, all of the passengers scrambled out of the carriage, completely terrified. The blows kept coming, until the whole thing tumbled over on it’s side.
The quivering passengers and driver huddled together in the dark, the rain stinging their faces. Then the creature came into view. Though it was almost impossible to see, two large eyes could be made out staring at them. A vague detail described the brazen creature as roughly 8 feet tall and hairy, before it shambled back into the woods. Shortly after, whatever had attacked them had became dubbed as The Bennington Monster.
Another interesting theory suggests that the Bennington Monster is actually the horrifying transformation of the Glastenbury Wild Man. After he was chased out of the region, he took back to the woods and dwelled, becoming cannibalistic, deformed and insane, wearing animal firs and attacking lone stagecoaches coming over the mountains.
Giant hairy monsters that topple stagecoaches are all good for earning a place an official spook status, but it was the disconcerting events that took place after the town became disorganized in 1937 that have really cemented the area into the public’s imagination and paranormal concrete.
Glastenbury is where one of Vermont’s most frightening mysteries took place, and what’s more captivating is that it really didn’t happen all that long ago. Beginning in the last cold months of 1945, people from the area began to vanish without a trace.
The first one to disappear was 74 year old Middie Rivers. He was a native to the area and worked as a hunting and fishing guide. Because of his job, he was completely familiar with the woods. One day, Rivers led four hunters up onto the mountain. Things were going fine, until their trek back to camp. Rivers got a bit ahead of the group, and vanished completely. Expecting to catch up with him at the camp, the hunters began to panic when they didn’t see him there upon their arrival. Police and a group of volunteers combed the area for hours. But Rivers was an experienced woodsman, so they were fairly confident they would find him in no time. But search attempts continued for over a month, and no trace was ever found. Local lore has it that Rivers disappeared near Bickford Hollow, the same place John Harbour was murdered.
The next person to vanish is the most infamous of all the Bennington Triangle disappearances, the case most talked about. on December 1, 1946, 18 year old Paula Welden decided to take a hike on the Long Trail. she left her dorm at Bennington College and walked into the woods. She was easy to spot, because of her bright red coat. Plenty of people saw her that day, including on the Long Trail itself. But Monday came, and Paula didn’t show up for her classes. The college called the sheriff’s department. 400 students and faculty members assembled to help look for their missing classmate. A massive search party of 1,000 people, bloodhounds, helicopters and even a clairvoyant, combed the area diligently for weeks. A $5,000 reward was even offered! But on December 22, all efforts came to an end. There was no body, no clothes, no evidence, nothing. The quality of Paula Weldon’s search party was met with scrutiny, and because of this, it lead to the formation of the Vermont State Police. Another interesting detail I uncovered was that to this day, there are people who think it’s bad luck to wear red while hiking Glastenbury Mountain.
The third person to disappear was on Columbus Day in 1950. 8 year old Paul Jepson was waiting for his mother in his family’s pickup at the dump they were caretakers for. But when she came back, he was gone. Like Paula Welden, Paul was wearing a red jacket, so he should have been easy to spot, but Mrs. Jepson couldn’t find him anywhere. Frantic, she called for help, and another search was launched.
Hundreds of townsfolk joined the search, scanning the dump and the surrounding roads, even the mountains. They implemented a double check system, where as soon as one group finished searching an area, another group would search the same area. Even coast guard planes were brought in. But all was useless. Bloodhounds borrowed from the New Hampshire State Police lost Paul’s scent at the intersection of East and Chapel Roads. Local lore says that Paul’s scent was actually lost at the same place Paula Welden was last seen. After the search had been called off, Paul’s father disclosed a peculiar piece of information. Paul had mentioned that he had an inexplicable “yen” to go into the mountains lately. Paul’s disappearance made him the third to go missing in roughly the same area. Was there a pattern here?
Maybe. Or maybe not. It was said that there were pigs at the dump his family were caretakers for. One popular theory at the time which the newspapers suggested, was that Paul wondered off and was eaten by the pigs, thus explaining his disappearance.
Others speculate that Paul was actually abducted near East and Chapel Roads, carried away in a car. That would explain why the bloodhounds lost his scent. But we’ll never know for sure. Either way, the newspapers did what they do best and ran wild, and soon, others started to wonder what was going on here?
Two weeks later, On October 28th, 53 year old Freida Langer had left her family’s camp east of Glastenbury Mountain near the Somerset Reservoir to go hiking with her cousin. She was an experienced woodsman and was completely familiar with the area. About a half mile from camp, she slipped and fell into a stream. She decided to hike the short half mile back to camp, change her clothes and catch back up. She never returned.
When her cousin got back to camp, he was startled to learn that not only had she never came back, but no one even saw her come out of the woods.
Local authorities were quick to launch another search, alarmed at another unfathomable disappearance in the area. Once again, all efforts proved to be hopeless. They found nothing. The Bennington Banner picked up on the story, and raised a disturbing question: How did Langer disappear completely in an area she was so familiar with?
On December 1st, 1949, James E. Tetford had been visiting relatives in northern Vermont. He boarded a bus in St. Albans, en route to the Bennington Soldiers home, where he lived. But he never arrived. Somehow, he had vanished without a trace without ever getting off of the bus. Even the bus driver had no explanation!
This account seems to be continuously accepted as proof of paranormal happenings, without further questioning the events. It’s worth mentioning that by the time James was actually reported missing, it was at least a week after the fact, when the Bennington soldiers home finally decided to call his relatives to figure out if he was actually coming back or not. By the time the police were involved in the investigation and got around to interviewing the bus driver and other passengers, it had been two weeks, and no one really remembered anything. But some information did arise. James was last seen by a friend of his when his bus made a stop in Burlington, and guessed he might have gotten off there, offering another possible explanation to his whereabouts. But regardless, his disappearance still remains a mystery. I don’t really see a connection here to the other disappearances, but I guess because it happened around the same time frame and James did live in the area, it has just been lumped into the big picture.
And perhaps one of the most arcane disappearance took place on November 11, 1943. As Author David Paulides tells in his book Missing 411, 37 year old Carl Herrick went hunting in the woods of West Townshend, about 10 miles northeast of Glastenbury. At some point during the hunt, Herrick and his cousin, Henry, were separated. Henry eventually made it back to camp, but Carl didn’t show up. As dusk began to fall and Carl still hadn’t arrived, Henry immediately contacted law enforcement, just as the snow began to fall.
The search for Carl lasted three days without finding a trace. But towards dusk on the third day, Henry stumbled upon Carl’s body. He was laying on the ground in the woods, motionless, his loaded rifle found leaning against a tree seventy feet away. Henry reported finding “huge bear tracks” around Carl’s body, but the official postmortem was baffling. Carl was reportedly squeezed to death, his lung was found to be punctured by his own ribs. What sort of bear squeezes a human to death? It would be an impossible act.
In Joseph Citro’s Passing Strange, (which was another heavy source for this article) he further mentioned a Burlington Free Press article dated October 25, 1981 reported that a trio of hunters disappeared somewhere near Glastenbury, and not surprisingly, that too remains unsolved.
Additional Theories and Searching for Answers
If you take these other accounts into consideration, this raises the number of disappearances from four to nine, which begs the question, what happened here? Where could nine people vanish to without a trace?
This is what we do know. The victims ages ranged between 8 and 74 and were evenly divided between men and women. Time is also a pattern. The disappearances all happened during the same time of the year – the last 3 months – and many of them were last seen between 3 and 4 PM. The rest is up for debate.
Because of the vast scope of the wilderness area and it’s inaccessibility, the task of finding a body is difficult. The conditions could easily ensure that someone’s remains would never be found again, regardless of cause of death. Depending on who you ask, there is a pattern there.
Speculations abound, adding many more layers to this fabled region’s already weighted and transgressive reputation. Could the Bennington Monster still be stalking the slopes, carrying its victims to some cave on the mountain? Maybe. As recently as 2003, Winooski resident Ray Dufresne saw something peculiar on his drive down Route 7, near Glastenbury. What he first thought was a homeless man stumbling around in a snowsuit, turned into an alleged bigfoot sighting upon a closer look. That story immediately blew up and was even picked up by local news stations. While some skeptics dismiss it as a prankster in a Gorilla suit, others aren’t buying it, and plenty more sightings have been passed down by word of mouth from the Bennington area, all which remain unaccounted for.
Or maybe, could these unfortunate people have accidentally encountered that enchanted Indian stone, and were swallowed in seconds?
Alien abduction is another hypothesis. Many reports of UFO sightings and strange lights in the sky have been spotted over the Glastenbury wilderness over the last century. Most notably, a “flying silo” shaped anomaly was see over the skies of Bennington by Don Pratt in 1984, which seems to be the go-to example for extraterrestrial sightings in the area.
But my personal favorite was designated by John A. Keel, an American journalist and influential UFOlogist, who used the term “Window Areas” to describe these places, or, some sort of inter-dimensional doorway or vortex into another world. New England seems to have a fair share of them. The legendary Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts which has similar phenomena, and the summit of Mount Washington are two of the most notable.
Perhaps the most tangible answer could be something all too familiar, a serial killer. “The Bennington Ripper” and “The Mad Murderer of The Long Trail” were all monikers given to the possibility of a sinister suspect that lurked in the wilds, but no evidence was ever found to prove this. The police during that time were not familiar with serial killers or how they operated, so even if it was the work of such a killer, the facts would have gone undocumented.
Adding to the seemingly ever growing list of theories, this one might be the most plausible. Near the former village of South Glastenbury, there are a few old wells. Some speculate that Middie Rivers accidentally tumbled down a well while on his hunting trip. His party, being unfamiliar with the area, never thought to check. As for the others….
An odd footnote to all of this; the body of Freida Langer did eventually appear, seven months after she had vanished. But sadly, this wouldn’t be of any help. It was in an area that search parties knew they had combed thoroughly, near the flood gates of the Somerset Reservoir. It was a completely open area, and anything there would be impossible to miss. And yet, here she was. Or, what was left of her. Her remains were in such gruesome condition that no cause of death could ever be determined.
Even More Strangeness
Enigmatic situations aren’t contained to the past, things reportedly continue to happen here to this day. Countless internet searches have dug up numerous unusual tales posted on message boards and blogs from hikers, hunters and curiosity seekers.
In the book Haunted Hikes of Vermont, Author Tim Simard mentions a one time incident of hearing a ghostly train whistle while hiking along the West Ridge Trail, miles away from both any functional railroad track, and the old rail bed that runs up into South Glastenbury.
One harrowing account I was able to dig up took take place on Columbus Day in 2008. This time, 2 Long Trail hikers were making their way through the Glastenbury wilderness. While hiking, they ran into a young man named Dave, who helped rebuild fire towers along the trail. They started talking about the mountain’s reputation, which at this point seems almost impossible not to do if you’re visiting. They had heard about the disappearances and shrugged it off as out of control tall tales. But Dave had a weird story to tell of his own. Dave spent some time on Glastenbury mountain restoring the fire tower on the summit, and would work up there for extended periods of time.
While camping in Goddard Shelter, his friends reported that there were nights that he would sit up in his sleep and laugh uncontrollably, and other nights when he would wake up screaming. Dave was considered a down to earth and smart guy, so this behavior had his friends extremely concerned, and disturbed. He had never acted in such a way before. I’ll never know if Dave had any follow up episodes, or an explanation behind these bizarre actions, the thread ended there.
Another story I was able to dig up only adds to the unscrupulousness of the region. In the book Ghost towns of New England, Author Fessenden S. Blanchard spoke with Arlie Greene – the oldest surviving member of the Mattison family. Greene recalled the old days in Glastenbury, and one particularly enigmatic, and possibly nefarious, incident. Two local men went fishing on the Peters Branch – one went upstream and the other went downstream. One of them was never seen again. A short time after the disappearance of the fisherman, someone found a human skull sitting on a tree stump near the brook. Some speculated Panthers got to him, but others weren’t so sure…
Arcane Stone Cairns
Yet another mystery, dressed in the forest light and acting as silent witnesses to times gone by. This enigma is far more benign than the previous ones I’ve covered, but is still just as vexing. There are a series of inexplicable cairns scattered around the mountain, and no one is quite sure why they exist. There are theories to why they are there. Farmers built them long ago while clearing their pastures, or several passing hikers on the Long Trail built them, to act as beacons in bad weather. But nothing adds up. The cairns were built in high elevations where farming never took place, and most of them are located miles away from the long trail in heavily forested areas. So what are they? The work of the Bennington Monster? Perhaps playful hikers built them wanting to add another Glastenbury mystery? For now, these giant piles of stones offer no explanations.
What About Today?
Though Glastenbury is a ghost town and designated wilderness area, it’s anything but deserted. A myriad of outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, snowmobiliers, college students, history buffs, paranormal investigators and hunters all flock here to the undisturbed wilderness – trekking up the expansive network of forest roads, hiking trails or silent waterways, all realizing just how special it is here.
Today, there are about 8 residents that chose to live in this strange paradise. They love it’s obscurity, and I can see why. There are no other towns quite like Glastenbury in the northeast – and with only one road in town, a winding dirt road that snakes its way in no less than 2 miles, privacy is in abundance. And if you know about Glastenbury, there seems to be a sense of pride that comes with your knowledge of this obscure area, if not something that conjures a romantic notion of fantasy. As a matter of fact,”Chateau Fayville”, the last original house in Glastenbury and the former Mattison homestead, was put on the real estate market – and it looks like a nice place.
But there are several people who aren’t all that enthusiastic about its menacing repute and “Bennington Triangle” folklore – mostly because they’re not a fan of ghosts, curses and the bad, inflated outlook it brings to the area. Skeptical people will be quick to assure you that everything has a perfectly logical explanation. As for me, I’m one of the skeptics.
So, is there truly something phenomenal about Glastenbury that has yet to be comprehensively explained? Do curses and monsters really claim their victims? Well….this seems to be a controversial subject of much enthusiastic debate. I’ve heard it all. At the end of the day, some people surmise firmly to their untenable thoughts. I suppose it’s all subjective.
During the height of the disappearances, the local media ran wild with the stories and theories, which not surprisingly, got out of hand, creating vicious accusations and conspiracy theories. If you’re a fact checker, it’s worth noting that Middie Rivers was the only actual person to vanish within the town of Glastenbury itself. All the others were in neighboring communities, many on the Long Trail in Woodford.
To add to this, Author Tyler Resch is one of those who thinks the area is widely exaggerated, and has created preposterous theories carried by inertia. He once noted that he was surprised that more people actually hadn’t vanished, because the wilderness is in fact so large, and it’s very easy to become hopelessly lost if you stray from the trails.
Others argue that numerous things could have happened to the missing hikers. They could have fallen down an old well, or gotten lost and frozen to death, perhaps taking shelter in one of the numerous caves on the mountain which few people ever venture near. Another theory is that they were the unfortunate meals of a Catamount or giant cat, which would surely dispose of any evidence of a body.
If you put all of these pieces that I’ve covered together and add the intrigue of a town attempting to survive against all odds but still vanishing into the wilderness, you can easily draw a conclusion about something creepy and supernatural existing here. After all, the region does have great triggers for spook stories. I’m personally awe struck that such a plethora of incidents are all linked to a single area.
But at the end of the day, everything is relative. 4 hikers did disappear, and people have claimed to see weird things in the woods. The only absolute truth about all of this is that people swear these things happened. Whether the culprit was something awesome and sinister or innate, is the quandary here. Who knows for sure.
In finality, the Bennington Triangle certainly isn’t in danger of being forgotten anytime soon.
Additional Stuff! (Because this entry wasn’t nearly long enough)
Youtuber Matt Garland made this awesome documentary on the Bennington Triangle, which is in my opinion, a great watch.
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A few days ago, I passed through the village of Willimantic, Connecticut, and noticed an almost impossible to miss, curious landmark in the center of town. A relatively new bridge over the Willimantic River features 4 giant statues of bullfrogs resting on oversized spools of thread, each frog twelve feet tall and weigh a solid ton.
Officially known as Thread City Crossing, the four lane, 476 foot bridge was built in 2000 to replace an older bridge that had reached end of it’s functional life. For reasons that need no explanation, locals call it The Frog Bridge. So, what’s the deal with this weird bridge?
Willimantic is well-known as the Thread City because of the textile mills that once produced high quality thread there, which explains both the name of the bridge and the presence of the giant spools of thread found at both of the span’s entrances. But what about the frogs?
The answer here harks back to a harrowing night in the summer of 1758, when the town of Windham, where the village of Willimantic is, was suffering a terrible drought and the French and Indian War was on everyone’s mind. One dark July night, the already restless townsfolk were roused from their sleep by a frightening cacophony of wailing that filled the humid night air.
When it didn’t cease, many started to panic. Some took cover, fearing vengeful Indians and a possible attack. The volume of the raucous became so reveille that others suspected that the only explanation was that the world was ending. People were even convinced they heard the names of other townsfolk being called from the darkness – with some fleeing into the streets, looking for a telltale sign.
Other more methodical citizens armed themselves with their muskets, formed a group, and went after the source of the commotion. But nothing ever attacked.
As morning came, the frazzled residents of Windham finally figured out what happened as a group of patrollers embarked up a nearby hill and were met with an illuminating sight. They discovered scores of dead frogs were the source of the horrifying noises, who had fought for the last remaining puddles of water in a drought-stricken mill pond known as Frog Pond.
Fast forward almost 260 years after, and four frogs now adorn a bridge in town and have came to the forefront of American roadside kitsch, though I’m not sure what or who exactly inspired the offbeat idea, I thought it was cool.
“NEW ENGLANDERS They buried their emotions deep, Long years ago, with care; And if a stranger dares to dig He finds but granite there. — Catherine Cate Coblentz — Driftwind, May 1925”
A few days ago, I was traveling through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, a compelling region that I wish I had taken the time to explore more of when I was a college student in the Northeast Kingdom, far before the ugly reality of adulthood trimmed the fat off things. While Vermont tends to have a more settled and civilized feet at times, New Hampshire is crucially different, it’s north country is essentially one giant patch of wilderness, which some say is roughly the size of Wales.
Part of the great Appalachian chain, it’s difficult not to be in awe of the rugged magistery of the White Mountains, whose hulking mountaintops rise out of view above the clouds, or the deep V shaped natural excavation of Franconia Notch, it’s walls carved from the oldest rocks around.
The small town of Bethlehem, New Hampshire, has been around since 1774, and in the last days of 1799, it would adapt it’s current moniker, shared with the city of the same name on the other side of the world, though the origins behind the naming of New Hampshire’s settlement are a bit of a mystery. A drive down Route 302, the main drag in town, reveals one of the most architecturally impressive Main Street’s I’ve visited. A great collection of showy Victorians with some of the most ornate and complex woodwork that I imagine a human mind could ever devise. Busy roof lines punctured by wandering tactile patterns that sat next to humble Bungalows that have been very well preserved. Bethlehem’s exceeding aesthetics can be owed to the town’s heyday as an early tourist destination.
In 1805, the Old Man Of The Mountain was discovered, and by 1819, a path was created that carved its way up to the summit of Mount Washington. The White Mountains, their fresh air, craggy and almost daunting landscape and the mystique of their geographic curiosities were beginning the shift into a tourist area, and Bethlehem found itself conveniently in the middle of it’s many prominent attractions, which proved to be good for business.
In 1867, the railroad came to town, bringing tourists from the urban hubs of Boston and New York City. By 1870, a building boom period began, which would eventually create 30 grand hotels that lined Bethlehem’s streets which all tried to out-do each other in garish grandness and opulence. With so many establishments being built and wanting money, standing out from the competition was paramount. Seven trains a day roared into the village, dropping of scores of passengers at five depots. Bethlehem was soon attracting well heeled people from all around who were building their summer “cottages” in conspicuous stiles, that were blown up to colossal sizes and scaled up the hillsides that rise, sometimes rather dauntingly, out of town. Even the famous Woolworth family and the enterprising swindler P.T. Barnum had their eyes on the place. So many wealthy settled here that an event called “the Coaching Parade” came into fruition, which was pretty much the wealthy elite flaunting their massive wealth and ostentatious carriages around town, which Barnum called “the Second Greatest Show on Earth.”
But the decline of the White Mountains would have the same story that parallels other American vacation destinations of the same era and caliber;the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century would be the beginning of the end, as tourists were now no longer limited to only seeing places the railroads could bring you. As a result, the grand hotels eventually vanished, and the tourism culture changed.
One of these hotels was The Maplewood.
Opening in 1876, this hotel would soon become a showpiece, your textbook example of an incredibly lavish 19th century resort which unabashedly marketed itself as “The Social and Scenic Center of The White Mountains”. It would eventually grow to ginormous proportions, encompassing it’s own 18 hole country club, casino, cottages, and was served by it’s own train station, Maplewood Depot. I guess I can see how their claim could hold it’s own. As a friendly New Hampshirite pointed out to me; in the glory days of rail travel in the White Mountains, the small Victorian station rivaled the most revered of north country stations, such as Crawford and Fabyan.
Maplewood Depot was abandoned in the early 20s in the wake of the automobile, and the hotel it served would function for a few more decades, before burning to the ground in January 1963. Today, the grounds have been revitalized as the Maplewood Country Club, with striking views of the Presidential Range. But sitting in the woods behind the links, the old train station can still be found, now leaning at a dramatic angle in it’s slow decay, wasting away in silence as the town thrives around it.
Most of the details depicted in the postcard, such as the expansive porches and apex tower have long faded into postcard memory. The former railroad line had it’s tracks pulled shortly after the station went defunct, but the right of way can still be detected, a ruler straight path that is slightly less overgrown than the woods around it.
The station truly appears ghostly, skulking in the middle of the woods. Minus a few new-ish looking armchairs that have been toppled over, and most likely an addition to the building after it’s abandonment, it’s completely hollowed out, with empty doorways and tall, narrow windows. Inside, time has not been kind to the wooden structure. Much of it had long succumbed to weather damage and vandals, and portions of the original wooden floors had been ripped upwards as the building slowly sagged over the years, forming a jagged rip that ran the partial length of the room. I was a bit surprised at how clean this place was still, completely void of the graffiti and beer can piles which are found in many abandonments. I was still able to climb the narrow wooden stairs that curved around a brick chimney, revealing three rooms that were more or less intact, apart from some holes in the floor.
It’s a spooky place, especially as the winter winds hit the building, creating strange noises. I’m sure it takes on a far different atmosphere once the leaves fill out on the trees, blocking out even more light from reaching it. It’s almost startling to think about the fact that this place used to be a train station, and today it’s nothing but a trembling corpse that gives almost no clues to it’s former life. And at the rate that the place is leaning, I’m rather amazed that it’s still standing.
Maplewood was also apparently featured in the short concept film American Ruins, and after glimpsing the short trailer, it’s completely sold me. The effects and videography are mind blowing, which no doubt took hours and hours and hours of patience, producing and editing. Maybe someday I’ll aspire to creating something great like this.
Over The Notch
Route 3 used to be the main route to get from the top to the bottom of New Hampshire, and still pretty much is, though it’s a bit quieter today in light of the construction of Interstate 93 which practically parallels the road. Both routes are pushed together when they run through mountainous Franconia Notch, joining to form the unique Franconia Notch Parkway, the main access road to all of the scenic points in Franconia Notch State Park, and the tourist attractions and motels farther south in the town of Lincoln.
Passing through the notch, I couldn’t help but gaze at the jagged stump where the Old Man of The Mountain used to be, now being battered by fierce mountain winds and the puffs of snow spray they send. The famous rock profile crumbled in 2004, and after much controversy, the state decided not to synthetically re-create it. Despite the formation’s disappearance, the Old Man is still used as a state marketing icon, and can still be found awkwardly on a variety of things from license plates to state route shields. It will be weird to think about there being a day where no one remembers seeing him in person.
In Lincoln, I stopped at an Irving Station to get gas and a coffee, and got an unexpected surprise in the form of a rather large mural of what looked like a seemingly friendly alien who was hitchhiking, which took up a rather large chunk of wall near the entrance of the store. Not exactly what I’ve came to expect from a stop at a gas station. On the top of the painting were the words; “First Close Encounter of the Third Kind, Betty and Barney Hill, Sept. 19th, 1961.” I recognized the names. The Barney and Betty Hill abduction case is the most infamous in all of UFOlogy.
My amusement was carried from the wintery cold to inside the store, where I noticed the extraterrestrial theme continued in the form of wall to wall paraphernalia, photocopies of newspaper articles and other copied information related to both the Betty and Barney Hill case, other alleged incidents, and an assortment of fan images from science fiction TV shows and movies.
The shop owner who was behind the cash register at the time, caught me staring, and enthusiastically explained to me that right across the road from that exact store, was the actual site of the abduction. However, a friend of mine, as well as some commenters over Facebook, argued this fact, and said that it actually happened a farther down the road, where Millbrook Road meets State Route 175 in Thornton.
Though I can really take or leave UFOlogy, more so on the leave side, I found this offbeat memorial and it’s fanaticism interesting enough to write about.
As the story goes, on the night of September 19, 1961, husband and wife Barney and Betty Hill were traveling South on Route 3 to their home in Portsmouth, NH, when, according to their claim, were followed by a spaceship near the present day Indian Head Resort, and eventually accosted by some sort of extraterrestrial crew, taken aboard their craft, examined, and then released on the side of Route 3 in the early morning hours of September 20 as the sun’s first rays would begin to grey the New Hampshire skies.
The collection I saw above me mounted on black poster board was originally smaller in size, and more of a quirky secret, located on a wall inside the unisex bathroom. The current owner of the gas station has only owned the store for a few years now, and told me how disrespectful visitors kept stealing memorabilia and eventually, he grew sick of it and moved all of it around the store, so everyone could still enjoy it, but couldn’t grab a keepsake. As an extra precaution, they also outfitted the store with lots and lots of security cameras. They apparently get a lot of interested people who stop by, so they also sell alien key chains, bumper stickers, shirts and books about the Hills near the door. I neglected to buy a souvenir, but did get my coffee.
Have a weird encounter of your own? There is also a blank black board outside to the left of the mural, where you can share your own stories. I noticed that stuff had been written there, but nothing UFO related, which I suppose didn’t surprise me.
I didn’t think of this until after I had gotten back home and was writing up this post, but I have sort of a strange tie in to all this. A location I explored last year reported seeing unidentified flying objects hovering above the skies shortly before Hill incident happened, but as for an actual connection between the two events, that remains subjective.
If you’re interested, just take Route 3 through Lincoln, New Hampshire, and look for the Irving Station near the Indian Head Resort.
Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a changing attitude on mental illness. Children with intellectual and learning disabilities would no longer spend their days festering at home, thanks to a bunch of bureaucrats putting their heads together and creating special institutions for them to live in. Some parents sent their kids to these places to give them a shot at a better life and access to help they couldn’t provide. Other parents, who didn’t know how to deal with their children, now had a resource and exhaustingly shipped them away.
While many of these institutions were brought forward with virtuous intentions, social philosophies would soon change towards World War 2, when the American Eugenics Movement and Darwin’s theory of natural selection would become popularized and propelled by misguide politicians, scientists and physicians. These “schools” became warehouses for the poor and the mentally retarded. Society was now wanting to revoke their existence in order to form a wicked idea of the perfect human race, free of degenerates, which is something that makes my flesh crawl. In these ghastly places, unfortunate kids were locked away, denied education, and suffered isolation, neglect, physical abuse and force sterilization. These sort of places got away with these crimes against humanity for over a century.
This undisclosed 876 acre state school was constructed in 1922 to serve these troubled youth, and would expand to encompass 50 buildings. While many institutions before this one were gloriously centered around magnificent Kirkbrides, times had changed, and this facility was streamlined, focusing more on functionality in the form of duplicate buildings which were pretty drab.
Though it’s considered a school by name, that’s a misnomer. No forms of education were carried out here, this was a warehousing facility. It was built to house around 700 residents, but shortly after it opened, it far exceeded it’s capacity, topping out at around 1,500 between the ages of 1 and 18, all housed in 13 dorms.
The fate of the hospital sadly followed suit with most others in the United States, and is the stuff of nightmares. The usual suspects – overcrowding and understaffing, lead to the campus to sink into deplorable conditions. Because employee responsibilities were stretched so far, treatment of the those in their care became atrocious. Many of the children were left unattended, and would wonder the halls, moaning, and covered in their own excrement. Others who were physically handicapped would be simply left restrained to their beds and forgotten, often for weeks. Sometimes, if a stubborn inmate was really unlucky, all their teeth would be removed to make feeding them easier, especially force feeding. If they weren’t neglected, many staff members would physically beat them to keep them under control, or worse, because they felt like it. If this wasn’t bad enough, the buildings were deteriorating because of neglect and no funding to maintain them, and eventually, that lead to a vermin infestation.
Conditions and life here were unknown to the outside world, until 1971, when the father of a patient filed a class-action lawsuit against the school, claiming that its young residents were not only the victims of sexual abuse, but were also living in horrific conditions. He wrote of abhorrent things like; “maggots wriggling inside or crawling out of the infected ears of several helpless, profoundly retarded persons while they lay in their crib-beds.” Investigations began making their way in, as public outrage exploded. From there, the school awkwardly hobbled along, sinking further into a spiral of decline until all operations officially ceased in 1992, leaving the sprawling property a hazardous and continuously corroding ruin which is ambivalently being forsaken by those who don’t want to think about it, or kept alive by a different population of urban archaeologists and curious adventurers, contributing to it’s fluctuant story line.
A Winter Visit
I heard the end was coming. Asbestos abatement had began in a few buildings, and plans had been announced to slowly begin demolition on the school. I didn’t have to sneak around much. Though the entire property was covered in snow drifts that often came up to knee deep levels and filled my boots, the attitude here was relaxed. Other photographers meandered their way around various buildings, and a few people were walking their dogs.
A majority of the buildings were sealed up, but a good amount had their doors torn open, and security was nowhere to be seen. Many of the buildings were boarded up and were pitch black. If it wasn’t for the wintery cold, the mold and asbestos inside would have probably been insufferable. Others had entire sections which had completely collapsed.
Though there was much to see, most of the buildings were void of anything of interest. The auditorium was by far the most splendid place to explore, and also the most dangerous. The overcast and bleak landscape made the cavernous interior more sad and dreary that day. The entire building was coated in a dangerous layer of ice, so moving around the collapsing structure had to be done carefully and methodically. Some of the wooden floors were more soggy than I felt comfortable with trusting, and every staircase was coated so thickly with ice that I had almost debated not taking the risk climbing them. I was already exploring an abandoned hospital, I didn’t need to visit a real one! But I took the risk, and I’m glad I did. The floor plan kept continuing, and became a bit of a maze as more hallways and staircases kept revealing themselves.
Below the rotting auditorium was one of the better finds, the old gymnasium, a spacious area outfitted in grungy yellow hospital tile that was coated with mold and rot. The basement area consisted of two levels, and it was inky black. The lowest level was filled with knee deep water, with a layer of ice underneath, making passage treacherous. With the aid of our maglites, we made it into the gym. All I could hear was a roaring cacophony of dripping water raining down from the decaying abyss above our heads which ran down the back of our necks. It was so cold downstairs that I could see my breath in the beam of my flashlight. A friend of mine later told me that it wasn’t much different during the warmest months of the summer.
Another find worth photographing was the large cafeteria building far back, and the old power plant complete with dysfunctional and rusting machines sitting in dark spaces. The wooden floors in there were suspicious so I didn’t spend a great deal of time inside. Though I had arrived relatively early, I was surprised at how much time I spent shooting here, and now I was loosing daylight. Between that, and the effort it took to trudge through the snow, I was exhausted.
But I’m glad I got to see such a place, an epoch of human history and how far we’ve came, or maybe how far we still have yet to go. If the powers that be stick to their schedules, it should be luxury condos and mixed use space come next summer.