Time to Walk in the Woods Again
Welcome to the November 2007 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published for over 70 years in Dublin, New Hampshire.
Time to Walk in the Woods Again
With the leaves gone and the ground bare, this is the month to discover weird rocks ‘n’ stuff …
There are lots of peculiar dry-stone “beehive” constructions in the forests around New England. And November is a great time to investigate such things. However, the people who own properties where you can view these mysterious stone formations have usually asked us not to publish any exact locations in Yankee Magazine. For instance, a few November Yankees ago, we made the mistake of describing exactly how to find a certain perplexing underground stone structure in the vicinity of Goshen, Massachusetts.
“Tarnation!” the property owner wrote me after the issue came out. “I wish you hadn’t printed that danged old legend about ‘the Goshen Stone Mystery.’ ” He went on to say that hordes of people had come to investigate, and he was afraid someone might fall down into this particular stone legend — and then, as he said, “sue the pants off me.” We were more vague about locations after that.
However, we’ve never needed to be careful about describing the location of New England’s most famous stone bunches, called Mystery Hill, in North Salem, New Hampshire. That’s the one with the so-called “sacrificial stone,” which has a groove all around the outside of it, supposedly carved thousands of years ago for the purpose of catching the blood of human sacrifices. Mystery Hill is in all the tourist brochures and is open to the public. To be sure, it’s an intriguing thing to see, but the explanation for it seems to change every few years.
At one point, for instance, a group of archaeologists decided that the stones were the work of Bronze Age people from the British Isles who crossed the Atlantic about 1200 B.C. and established a short-lived colony here in New England. Then some in the scientific community felt it might be the other way around. In other words, they decided that Europe’s stone-building culture, so strongly oriented to the heavens, as at Stonehenge, actually originated in North Salem, New Hampshire, about 4,000 years ago and then crossed the Atlantic west to east.
Some years ago, while visiting the Mystery Hill site, I met an old, seemingly knowledgeable gentleman who earnestly told me that it was the early colonists who built these stone structures to winter-store their turnips. When I asked him about the carved groove all around the huge “sacrificial” stone, he simply shrugged.
I’ve also seen the strange carvings—letters, crude figures, and such—emblazoned on rocks lying about what they call Round Swamp, near Sandwich, on Cape Cod, on what is now Otis Air Force Base property. Some maintain that they were carved by one Charles Nye in the late 1700s, during the last few years of his life, when he was sulking out in a nearby cabin because the love of his life, one Sal Pry, had married someone else. After Yankee published this tale and a few other mystery-rock stories, a Pennsylvania man wrote to say that maybe Charles Nye could have wandered out of that Cape Cod swamp as far as North Salem, New Hampshire. I remember replying to him that his theory really stretched believability… but hey, who knows?