Dungeon Rock and The New England Frankenstein

The mystery isn’t in the technique, it’s in each of us. ~Harry Callahan.

The dark term dungeon isn’t a common moniker around New England, (unless you count Vermont’s arcane Popple Dungeon Road) yet alone the United States, so when I heard of a place in Lynn, Massachusetts called Dungeon Rock, of course I was interested. Interested enough to take the 3 hour drive from Vermont to the face paced town of Lynn. In a large tract of woods concealing a landscape of boulderous terrain and large ponds with icy waters gently lapping at gravely beaches, lies an especially craggy boulder at the top of a steep rise of land. If you were to get a little closer and squeeze your way through some narrow crevices, you may notice an iron door set in the rock. Behind that door is a knee bending steep staircase that descends into blackness with dripping cold water, twisting passageways, and steep drops in elevation before eventually ending in solid rock and dank water, where the ceiling becomes so low that crouching becomes necessary.

You could probably speculate a lot of practical reasons why such a cave exists. But you’d probably be wrong. It seems that dungeon is a misnomer, it’s not a dungeon at all (but certainly takes on that appearance) It’s actually the product of a man looking for pirate treasure with instructions given by a ghost.

The story behind this interesting location starts in the early 1600s. It was here at Dungeon Rock where where notorious pirate Thomas Veal is said to have buried a sizable treasure here, deep in a well concealed cavern. Veal himself was hiding out in the wilderness of Lynn, the lone survivor of a band of pirates who were caught and returned back to England where they were hanged for their misdeeds. Veal took refuge in the same cave where he hid his ill-gotten treasure. But misfortune struck in 1658 when an earthquake hit New England and sealed up the cave forever, with Thomas Veal inside.

Shortly after, treasure seekers began trying to extract Veal’s treasure, picking and digging around the rock where they suspected the cave once was. But all efforts proved fruitless. It was lost within the Earth. It was around then when the rock earned it’s moniker, Dungeon Rock, maybe due to the fact that it was said that the sealed up cave with it’s dead pirate owner was much like a dungeon.

Interest in the cave stopped until 200 years later, during the craze of spiritualism. The story of Thomas Veal and his treasure attracted the attention of Hiram Marble from Charlton, Massachusetts.  In 1852, he bought the property where Dunegon Rock sits, and sought out a spiritualist medium who contacted the ghost of the pirate and learned the precise whereabouts of the treasure.

He erected a house and a few outbuildings, and moved his wife and son there. Confident in the new found information and enthusiasm of finding a vast sum of wealth in the rocky New England soil, he saved a considerable fortune and began excavating operations. Day after day, he would chip at the unyielding stone, which then lead to using blasting powder and drills to dig deeper below the ground. Hiram would hold regular seances where he would have check-ins with Veal’s ghost, to direct the course of his mining. But despite all of his attention into his DIY project, he was only able to dig a single foot every 30 days. Then, in 1856, he ran out of money. But Hiram was committed to continue his laborious plan.

Moving at such a gruelingly slow pace, with no funds, one might wonder what exactly kept him going? The regular contact of Thomas Veal was probably the culprit, because Hiram still had an astonishing amount of faith. But maybe his efforts were about to pay off? His seances were recorded – the dialogue between the two were written down. One such written account revealed that the pirate told Hiram he was close, just one more curve needed to be dug! But that curve would require at least 12 feet of digging, which would take another grueling year of backbreaking labor.

By 1864, they had managed to dig an astonishing 135 feet of twisting catacomb. Hiram’s son Edwin even joined in. And as luck would have it, his big dig was drawing attention far and wide. So Hiram decided to capitalize on his new found fame, and charge people admission for a tour of the man made cave. With the admission funds, he continued to finance his project.

Dungeon Rock bonds were sold for a dollar, entitling the purchaser to a share of the treasure.

In November of 1864, after they had managed to borrow 200 feet of tunnel, Hiram died. Edwin followed his father to the grave in 1880, (and is buried beneath a Hemlock tree that grows right near the rock) leaving Hiram’s efforts as nothing more but a useless hole descending far below the ground of Lynn. The city eventually acquired the property in 1888.  While some family members bequeath personal heirlooms to their loved ones or elaborate (and often vain) monuments that decorate a community, Hiram Marble left a giant hole that is tainted with sadness and intrigue.

Today, the cave is sealed off by an iron door that is open for a few hours each day in the warmer months, or upon special request by a park ranger, which is how I was able to get in on this particular blustery November day.

Dungeon rock can easily be missed. Though it’s one of the highest points around you, it looks like all of the other rock and boulder outcroppings scattered around the woods, and there are quite a lot.

Once you find the rock, you enter through a narrow crevice that leads to the door, which leads into a cold, wet and dark cave. The daylight immediately vanishes and leaves you having to turn on your flashlights and headlamps, which are necessities to explore the cave with – especially navigating the thin wooden steps leading down to the cavern floor that is so slick, it offers no traction. From there, this dank enclosed space twists and turns deeper below the earth, each corner a specific blueprint from a dead pirate. That’s something to ponder as you scramble around down in the dark. Eventually, the cave becomes too small to stand up in and dead ends abruptly in a pool of orange stagnant water. Once back outside, it’s not hard to see why Dunegon Rock is probably one of the strangest places in New England.

Maybe the lesson here is if you probably wouldn’t trust a pirate in the mortal world, why trust one in the afterlife?

Rocks, rocks, rocks...

Rocks, rocks, rocks… (the Hemlock tree nearest the rock is where Edwin is said to be buried)

Dungeon Rock

Dungeon Rock

DSC_0651_pe

DSC_0655_pe DSC_0660_pe DSC_0663_pe

the original blasting holes can still be seen

the original blasting holes can still be seen

First turn and a bunch of rocks to stumble over

First turn and a bunch of rocks to stumble over

another turn

another turn

before descending down a slippery rock slope, further bringing us down

before descending down a slippery rock slope, further bringing us down

more rocks to stumble over, the cavern ceiling getting lower

more rocks to stumble over, the cavern ceiling getting lower

the roof still getting lower

the passageway still getting lower

another drop

another drop

and yet, another climb down a slippery rock wall

and yet, another climb down a slippery rock wall

end of the line err cave.

end of the line err cave.

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Oh no! It's a pirate ghost! Just kidding, it's me.

Oh no! It’s a pirate ghost! Just kidding, it’s me.

I guess at one point, someone made a fake pirate chest and turned it into a geocache in the cave, which may have disappointed a few explorers, but admittedly is still pretty cool. I didn’t come across it on my visit however, or a real pirate chest for that matter.

Dungeon Rock is location in Lynn Woods, and can be found on their website

High Rock Tower and the New England Frankenstein

We set off for Lynn, Massachusetts in search of adventure, but little did I know that my real adventure would actually be finding my way around on the harrowing Massachusetts road system. We became frustratingly lost out of staters, the one ones being honked at by locals. With the streamline pace of Route 1 traffic and that famed Massachusetts aggressive driving, the actual transit part of this trip was far more awe inspiring, in it’s own sense. Being from Vermont, the endless sea of strip malls, billboards and 6 lane roads was far more monstrous than pirate ghosts and claustrophobia. But everyone who gave us directions and tried to get us back on track was very friendly, and had that sort of funky vibe that I like to find in other people.

There was another sight in Lynn that I wanted to visit. It’s not abandoned, it’s actually in a manicured park right in the middle of town, but given our time going in circles around our previous circles, we never did make it.

But the story is a fantastic one, and still remains as one of the most bizarre stories I have ever heard.

Rocks are an everyday part of life in New England – most likely because of their abundance and something not so easily gotten rid of. Lynn is no different than any other New England town in that aspect. Just driving around through several neighborhoods with bucolic street names, rocks were everywhere. On lawns, in cemeteries, making up beaches that ringed ponds.

And it’s these rocks that have drawn some other truly spectacular characters apart from The Marble family. Further south of Dungeon Rock, is the highest elevation in town, a rocky bluff rising to about 170 feet fittingly called High Rock. The top of the bluff is adorned with a large stone tower called High Rock Tower, which functions also as an observatory. Back in the 19th century, when spiritualists weren’t aiding Hiram Marble in his quest for pirate’s treasure, they were convinced the geology of the area held some sort of special energy field, and acclaimed the Lynn area as “nature’s warehouse of infinite magnetic force.” – the centerpiece being High Rock.

I read about this story in author and folklorist Joseph Citro’s book, Passing Strange, and I was so intrigued, I wanted to see it for myself. In this tale, another gentleman with a compelling and ambitious idea is profiled here.

John Murray Spear was born in Boston in 1804. Not long after, his father died, immediately thrusting young John into the working world so he could help support his family. John was a product of his family values, and had a kind spirit, gentle nature, showed generosity and an eagerness to learn, which no doubt helped him progress steadily in life.

From early in his youth, John Murray wanted to become a preacher, and with much determination , he soon rose to that goal. His amiable personality made him well liked, and he eventually would conduct his first sermon in Brewster. After that, it was official, he was ordained by the church and became a passionate and forward thinking Universalist Minister.

But things took a completely different turn, when one night, when he was wide awake, his hand suddenly took on a life of it’s own, picked up a pen, and began writing – a process called “automatic writing”. When he was done, he observed the results. The script directed him go to Abington to provide medical aid to a man he had never met before, David Vining. More strangely, the note was signed Oliver, the name of a dead friend that once nursed him back to life after a brutal beating in Portland, Maine.

From here on, John and his dead companion Oliver Denett reunited, and struck up a partnership, with Oliver assigning him other requests to provide medical aid to wealthy individuals. Willingly, he was happy to comply without question, but there was one thing. John knew absolutely nothing about medicine. He would always travel to his destinations on foot at night, and would reliably find that he was always able to help his victims, the spirits would see to that. Over time, the spirits’ influence on John became so powerful, that one night during a seance, they instructed the now inspired reverend to for-fill his new destiny, to revolutionize the world, and to achieve divinity.

Like many others, he became heavily influenced by the Spiritualist movement,  so much so that Spear would attempt a Frankensteinian experiment of his own, right here in New England. He began to embark on a journey that involved alchemy, the odd conversion of science and religion and a series of bizarre experiments that he hoped would achieve a stupendous result; he was going to play god, and create life.

In October of 1853, he began planning what would be his transformative accomplishment – a mechanical apparatus that would draw it’s power from those aforementioned rocks and harness their incredible powers. Though he was destitute in the art of science, physics and biology,  he soon began construction on his electrical machine, with blueprints drawn up by who else, his spiritual advisers. He took his operation to the ledges of High Rock, a place where spiritualists professed they saw angels. In the thoughts of Spear, no location would be more fitting.

The original High Rock Tower, built in 1847 and burned in 1865. The cottage to the right is Hutchinson’s Stone Cottage, the place where John Spear was said to have built his “Electrical Infant” through his seances. Photo courtesy of Lynn Museum

It was said that his workshop was on the dining room table inside a stone cottage owned by the Hutchinson family, who also owned High Rock at that time. Other accounts say it was a woodshed.

Soon, his contraption would begin to take form.

“From the center of the table rose two metallic uprights connected at the top by a revolving steel shaft. The shaft supported a transverse steel arm from whose extremities were suspended two large steel spheres enclosing magnets. Beneath the spheres there appeared [..] a very curiously constructed fixture, a sort of oval platform, formed of a peculiar combination of magnets and metals. Directly above this were suspended a number of zinc and copper plates, alternately arranged, and said to correspond with the brain as an electric reservoir. These were supplied with lofty metallic conductors, or attractors, reaching upward to an elevated stratum of atmosphere said to draw power directly from the atmosphere. In combination with these principal parts were adjusted various metallic bars, plates, wires, magnets, insulating substances, peculiar chemical compounds, etc… At certain points around the circumference of these structures, and connected with the center, small steel balls enclosing magnets were suspended. A metallic connection with the earth, both positive and negative, corresponding with the two lower limbs, right and left, of the body, was also provided.” -from a write up by Robert Damon Schneck, Greyfalcon.us

The idea was with this precise peculiar arrangement, motion -or, life – would be the result. He would call his invention the “Electrical Infant”.

Locals began calling his new creation “The God Machine”, and that was probably fitting in terms of where the story is going. Spear wanted it to be the equivalent of a modern day new messiah, something that would forever change humanity. The machine would symbolize a newborn baby, much like Jesus in the christian faith, and all babies need a mother. Around this time, he had convinced a woman only known as “The New Mary” to be that mother. Apparently as time progressed and construction commenced, she began to show signs of pregnancy.

The total cost of parts and vital minerals needed was around $2,000, and rather than a detailed precise plan, each component was added in no particular order, much like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Honestly, the description of this machine baffles me, and far exceeds my imagination, but I was able to find an illustration online of what it may have looked like.

A rendering of Spear’s “God Machine” – from The Fortean Times

Fast forward 9 months – or one pregnancy term – and Spear’s creation was finished, the final product being roughly the size of a dishwasher. Now was the moment of truth, would it be cable of infusing life?

On the big day, “New Mary” was the key component of the inaugural unveiling. She laid down in front of the machine while showing symptoms of labor, and then sat up and symbolically touched it. What happened next was controversial.

Somehow, his calculations came together, and what the spectators beheld was astonishing, it moved! Accounts from even the most skeptical agreed that the thing did in fact move, somehow. But while some accepted it as truth, others were convinced that the movement was most likely caused by wind and magnetic forces. But regardless, his creation supposedly did exactly what he promised it would. So, what would Spear do now with his giant machine?

Sadly, nothing. An angry mob who were furious that Spear was conducting an act of blasphemy, or playing god, destroyed the machine, which broke his spirit. He never made another attempt at recreating his Electrical Infant.

A lot of questions probably surface here. What sort of impact would Spear have had on modern society today if he had continued his experiments? Is High Rock really this so called conductor of magnetic forces? Are these properties still present and detectable today? Today, High Rock Tower stands on the hilltop, which shelters and observatory and related delicate equipment inside (Google maps geotags it as an observatory with a powerful telescope). Maybe they chose a good spot for other reasons than the view? I wish I got to see it.

 

Though I wasn't able to visit in person, Google Street View allowed me to do some armchair adventuring.

Though I wasn’t able to visit in person, Google Street View allowed me to do some armchair adventuring.

High Rock – Location, History and Legends

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6 Comments on “Dungeon Rock and The New England Frankenstein

  1. Hi, Chad —

    Fascinating article!

    I’ve been studying the history of Spiritualism in general, with a special interest in New England mediums.

    Do you by any chance have the name of the medium that was advising Hiram Marble?

    If so, I might be able to provide you with more information about the medium.

    Looking forward to your next article!

    Regards, Loren

    • Hi Loren,

      Thanks for the comment! Through my research, I wasn’t able to dig up all that much on her name sadly – all I was told was that it was a woman. But, I may have a few sources I can reach out too still… I’ll see what I can do, and get back to you!

  2. One of the best articles I’ve read on Dungeon rock. Great work! was there last spring. Wanted to get some photos for my blog lostinnewenglanddotcom. but could’nt get in. The door was chained. how did you get in? But I did managed to get two tick bites and had to go to the emergency room and have them removed, anyway keep up the great work,Dave

    • It sounds like we both came away with something, Dave! (although, photographs are the much preferable alternative haha) Every time I go adventuring further south, I find at least 1 tick on me before the day is over. They’re terrible.

      I had heard from a few other people that the dungeon is only open during certain times, so I shot an email to the park ranger of Lynn Woods and set up a time where I could get inside. I’m not sure if they would open it up in the winter – they seemed to be packing up the outdoor furniture and closing up the ranger house when I had arrived, but you could ask?

      Send an email to lynnwoodsranger@aol.com and they’ll help you out. You can also get some information of the park’s webpage, http://www.flw.org/

  3. fascinating. amazing what people were compelled to do via the spirtualist movement. imagine finding an iron door in the rocks like that not knowing at all what its about..

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