Wizard’s Glen

Ever since we started narrating our folklore collectively as a species, we’ve always marked the wildest places of our topography as incubators of contagion shotgun blasts for the darkest, grimmest things our human minds can create, existing in a variety of forms. These tales often like to hang around well into the intervening years where they should become obsolete, and yet, they don’t. We all deal with the dangers of the world in different ways. Sometimes, carrying on the traditions of talking about these kind of fabled places is a way of dealing with these dangers. And sometimes, these monsters reveal the most about humanity.

Wizard’s Glen in the Berkshires is a wild, picturesque depression between two steep-sided hills. Intersected by a lone, narrow and often washed out dirt road with it’s to-the-point name of Gulf Road, you are welcomed into this attention-grabbing area by tons of boulders that are stacked up the hillsides, some covered with some impressive and patriotic graffitic murals instead of the flippant teenage rabble I expected to find in such an area.

The name “Gulf” interested me before I even began to think about Wizard’s Glen.  The noun is a distinctive part of the obscure Vermont vernacular. Gulfs are known to the rest of the world as a large area of the sea or ocean that’s almost entirely surrounded by land, expect for its mouth. A Vermont gulf is a landlocked one – found in our mountains. We know them as deep ravines (or more dramatically, an “abyss”) that run between two parallel mountains or rises. To my knowledge, us Vermonters were/are the only ones to use the word in that sense. Vermont actually goes as far as to erect road signs to let travelers know that you’re passing through one. Granville, Proctorsville and Williamstown Gulfs come to mind, all of which are great drives. But finding a gulf outside of Vermont, even only in the form of a street name, was sort of cool to me. There is also a Gulf Road in New Hampshire near Brattleboro.

This particular Gulf Road runs east to west over the bumps that are the Berkshires. Both entry points are unobtrusive and start out as an unremarkable suburban street with storm drains, crumbling curbs and cobra head street light fixtures that run to the very point when suddenly, the pavement ends, and the obsessively trimmed lawns cease to exist, and you’re in a surprisingly sizable wilderness area that runs for about 1.8 miles between Lanesborough and Dalton. But at the slow speeds you are forced to crawl on this winding roadway, it feels much longer.

Wizard’s Glen

The area known as Wizard’s Glen, vs. the rest of the area that’s not known as Wizard’s Glen, co-exist very inconspicuously with each other. If it wasn’t for the wayfinding graffiti marked boulders, I would have driven right by it.

I got out of the car and noticed the temperature was a pleasant few degrees cooler, and the forest was soluble underneath a still silence. I immediately began to get interactive with my environment and started clambering on top of the boulders and under Hemlock boughs and inside the caves and crevices of undetermined pasts.

Godfrey Greylock described the diminutive gorge in 1879 as being “as though and angry Jove had here thrown down some impious wall of Heaven-defying Titans. Block lies heaped upon block; squared and bedeviled, as if by more than mortal art…”

I have to say, the stories about this place were far more waggish than it’s real life locality would suggest, which only intrigued me more. This place has spawned plenty of strange tales of the supernatural and the dreadful, and many of them are almost as old as New England is.

Someone had told me that the hollow is known for its strange sounds and echo-related properties, and claimed that if you banged on one of the rocks with a hammer, it would make a noise sounding like you were smashing the keys of a xylophone, while inexplicably, the surrounding boulders wouldn’t. However, that enticing theory was disappointingly proven false. Well, at least it didn’t work for me.

It was here that Indian priests and shaman centuries ago performed rituals, ceremonies and incantations amongst the rocks in the ravine known for its echoes. Because they revered this area to have special properties, it was said they even offered human sacrifices here to Hobomocko, the spirit of evil. There is a flat, broad square-ish rock known as “Devils’ Alter” where these cryptic sacrifices were said to be imposed. The rock today has faint traces of red stains on it, which some say is the remaining blood from the aforementioned occurrences – but the reality is the stains just come from iron in the rocks.  The unique name Wizard’s Glen was actually derived from these legends. And it makes sense – it’s aesthetically the type of place where strange happenings can’t be easily dismissed.

The best known story of the glen is of John Chamberlain, a hunter from Dalton about two hundred years ago whose whopper of a story was passed on in Godfrey Greylock’s book Taghconic: The Romance and Beauty of The Hills in 1852, when he interviewed Joseph Edward Adams, a ninety-year-old man who had heard it from the hunter eyewitness himself.

Chamberlain had killed a deer and was carrying it home on his shoulders, when he was overtaken in the hills by a storm. The tired man decided to take shelter in a cavernous recess in Wizard’s Glen. But despite his fatigue, he was unable to sleep and wound up laying awake, lying on the earth with his wide open in the dark. He was suddenly amazed when, according to him, he saw the woods bend apart, disclosing a long aisle that was mysteriously lighted and contained “hundreds of capering forms”. As his eyes grew accustomed to the new faint light, he made out tails and cloven feet on the dancing figures. One very tall form had wings, who the hunter thought to be the devil himself.

As Chamberlain lay watching the through the spiteful deluge from his cave shelter, a tall and painted Indian leaped on Devil’s Alter, fresh scalps dangling around his body and his eyes blazing with fierce require. He muttered a brief incantation and summoned the shadows around him. They came with torches that burned blue, and began to move around the rock singing some sort of harsh chant, until a sign was given, and a nude Indian girl, shrieking, and fighting, was dragged and flung viciously onto the rock.

The figures now rushed towards her brandishing sharpened weapons in their outstretched arms, and the terrified girl let out a shrill cry that the hunter said haunted him for the rest of his life. The “wizard”, (who I’m assuming is the prominent figure with the wings), raised an ax, as the rest of the group waited apprehensively for the oncoming carnalish blood bath. Lightning flashed and quickly illuminated the dark pocket of woods, and Chamberlain noticed the the girl’s face quickly fell on his. The look she gave him tore at his heartstrings. He gathered as much courage as he could, and decided to act. Grabbing his bible he traveled with, he ran towards the debauchery in self-righteous fashion, clutching it in front of him and hollering the name of his god. There was a crash of thunder. The light faded, the demons vanished and the hunter was left sopping wet in the middle of the woods in silence. When morning came, he had almost convinced himself that it was all a dream, until he realized his deer had vanished.

Though not much is really known about Chamberlain, it was apparently well documented at the time that he was “no lover of the Indian race,” which may explain more about the content or the intent of this fanciful legend than anything. In my humble opinion, this eyebrow furrowing story probably shouldn’t be taken as verbatim of a real event. Even as mythology or folklore, it lacks essentially what most of these tales are built on; meaning.

There is no good evidence that any Native American group up in our part of the country even conducted human sacrifices, but I do believe that Wizard’s Glen held some sort of ritualistic importance to the area’s original natives.

Hobbomocco is a real Algonquin deity, though, and was more so associated with darkness and the night. His name is related to all Algonquin words for death and the dead, and has no relation to the Christian idea of Satan, unless misinterpreted by, well, a Christian. In the Algonquin viewpoint, Hobbomocco is actually a side or nuance of the natural world, a potential source of dangerous visions and power, which can be obtained through communication, sort of similar to Voodoo deities, and how it’s said that with enough persuasion, you can persuade them to either carry out good or evil intentions.  I think the rather dramatic story of Wizard’s Glen may be more of a manifestation of the friction between two clashing cultures and their ideas, where everything else is sort of devalued, open for interpretation, or simply cast away.

There is also said to be a talus “cave” known cryptically as Lucky Seven Cave somewhere in the glen. However, after some time clambering around and almost rolling my ankle, I couldn’t find any opening that could shelter a human who wasn’t a small child, so either it’s long toppled, or I just didn’t have good directions. Some speak of covens, convergences and rituals still being practiced in the cave and around the site, given the various paraphernalia and shitty beer cans that you can find there. I find it interesting that this site may still be attracting modern day wizards, witches or spiritualists, or people that think they are these things, but when I visited, I had the beautiful place all to myself under the heat of the day, despite the fact that it’s a geocache location and the famous Appalachian Scenic Trail crosses Gulf Road near the glen, just east of there.

Historic post card image of Wizards Glen, via cardcow.com. Date unknown.

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More Wild Places

While I’m on the topic of gulfs, I’d highly recommend checking out what may be Vermont’s most beautiful; Granville Gulf, a rugged and impressive wilderness area of moss laden cliffs, ferns and waterfalls.

If you’re curious about more of our regional wild places with extraordinary folklore attached to them, my blog entry on Glastenbury and the popularly dubbed “Bennington Triangle” may be worth a read. It’s certainly one of my favorite Vermont tales to tell.

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Cemetery Safaris and Green Mountain Memento Mori.

Legacy is one of those nouns that we as humans are all united by. While all of us will leave some sort of mark behind, many of us mull over just what that will be. How will you be remembered?

Some of us make our mark in life through death, and on rare occasions, certain people achieve beyond that and find themselves exhibitioners of the long sought after status of immortality. Humans have collectively been searching for ways to cheat our other unity as a species since we first came into existence; death. And I have to say, we’re a pretty creative bunch, and have gone about it in a variety of forms that are sure to keep anthropologists and storytellers like myself pretty busy with the secrets that they keep. More interestingly – it’s actually been achieved before, but not quite in the way that we might have expected it, that is, it was successful after the postmortem.

Sometimes these surviving inclusions of this manifesto can be found in your local cemetery, memorialized in crafted monuments and in the psyche of regional denizens until enough time has passed for history to forget – if it ever does. Often, someone’s final resting place is our immortal legacy, and what has been left behind is what lives on for generations after our physical bodies return to the earth we’re buried in. The same concept can be said for the forsaken places I explore.

Vermont isn’t short of memorable memorialsm, a few of which I’ve highlighted in this blog post. Ethan Allen’s landmark grave in Burlington is a soaring vanity project of the state’s most pronounced hero, commemorated with a giant spindly pedestal topped by a rather valiant looking life sake statue of Allen himself, standing his limited ground mute and stubbornly. But the real mind boggle is that no one is sure if Ethan Allen is actually buried underneath his own monument, and if he’s not, where did he wind up?

Thanks to a 19th century Middlebury millionaire who was striving to start a cabinet of curiosities to aww his wealthy friends with, there is now a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy buried in Middlebury’s west cemetery. And, there is rumored to be a forgotten cemetery near Fays’ Corners where all of its inhabitants unintentionally became members of the exclusive club of dead remembered as they wound up as opposed to who they were, at the end of their line. The cemetery was long ago removed by a local farmer who wanted to expand his haying field. The graves were later returned, or at least re-propped back up, but the farmer had forgotten their original orientation, so he lined them up alphabetically. Today the tiny bone yard is shrouded in shadow light cast in all directions by the woods that have reclaimed the surrounding land.

In Middlebury's West Cemetery, a innocuous headstone has some rather strange markings. For example, the date of death is 1883, B.C! An error on the stonecutter's part, right? Nope. This is the grave of Amun-Her-Khepesh-Ef, Vermont's only royal figure, the 2 year old son on an ancient Egyptian king. But how did he wind up in Addison County? We have Henry Sheldon to thank, who over a century ago bought the mummy from a dealer in New York. A wealthy man and local oddities collector, he wanted the mummy to be the focal point of an ostentatious cabinet of curiosities he was building. But the mummy was in worse condition than the dealer said it was in, so he wound up disappointedly stashing it in his attic. It was rediscovered in 1945 by a curator of the related Sheldon museum. George Mead, head of the museum's board of directors, decided the best thing to do was to give the mummy a Christian burial by cremation and then buried the ashes in his family plot in West Cemetery, kinda like an adoption.
This is the grave of Amun-Her-Khepesh-Ef, Vermont’s only royal figure, the 2-year-old son of an ancient Egyptian king. But how did he wind up in Addison County? We have Henry Sheldon to thank, who over a century ago bought the mummy from a dealer in New York. A wealthy man and local oddities collector, he wanted the mummy to be the focal point of an ostentatious cabinet of curiosities he was building. But the mummy was in worse condition than the dealer said it was in, so he wound up disappointedly stashing it in his attic. It was rediscovered in 1945 by a curator of the related Sheldon museum. George Mead, head of the museum’s board of directors, decided the best thing to do was to give the mummy a Christian burial by cremation and then buried the ashes in his family plot in West Cemetery, kinda like an adoption.
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Fays’ Corners Cemetery, photograph by Kali Yuga. Used with permission.

“Black Agnes”

But perhaps one of the most infamous grave sites in Vermont is the monument of John E. Hubbard in Montpelier’s Green Mount Cemetery. But it’s the curse that is attached to his monument that has earned its reputation with paranormal aficionados who chase such tales, and gave me a reason to visit it’s whereabout graveyard. As a matter of fact, my own interest in the idea and mystic of curses began when I heard the story of Montpelier’s “Black Agnes” when I was a child.

Green Mount is located on the outskirts of Montpelier. The cemetery crawls 35 acres up the side of a rolling hillside that runs parallel to the Winooski River just outside the nation’s smallest capital city. You’ll know you’ll there when you see the rather large Gothic stone freestanding arch that marks the entrance.

Green Mount began as a bequest of a local benefactor, who purchased 35 acres in 1854 so the city could bury it’s dead on a nice piece of land, at a time when many existing New England cemeteries were reaching capacity and communities were looking for alternatives outside the city limits. The cemetery is on a gentle slope that rises above Route 2/State Street and overlooks the meandering Winooski River and it’s fluctuating moods; it’s monuments and entombments underneath the shade of old hardwood trees. I couldn’t help thinking of this song when I strolled through trying to find my oddity.

The affor-referenced Hubbard was a local philanthropist and celebrity, and his ideas saw that he spent much of his life in controversy, before dying in 1899. Hubbard’s aunt who died a decade before him, wanted to leave her sizable fortune of $350,000 to the city of Montpelier – about 9 million in today’s money – asking it go towards financing a new library and part of the construction of the front gates and a chapel at Green Mount Cemetery. But Hubbard decided to contest her will and squandered her fortune all for himself. In addition to arguing that his aunt wasn’t “of sound mind” when she wrote up her will, he also allegedly bribed city counselor members not to fight him in court. The whole fiasco struck Montpelier-ites as strange. Hubbard wasn’t exactly short on cash, and that move easily made him a detested citizen of Vermont’s capital city.

But after his death, the Montpelier Argus and Patriot reported the contents of his will, and were surprised to learn that Hubbard generously gave the city $125,000 for a new library, $25,000 for a chapel and gates at Green Mount Cemetery, and $85,000 to establish Hubbard Park, the tree clustered hillside that rises above the state house. Hubbard seemed to be a misunderstood gentleman of some perplexities, that were only beginning to unravel after his death. And those include his death itself. Local lore still permeates today that Hubbard jumped off the stone lookout tower in the titular named park and committed suicide, regardless that the tower wasn’t completed until well after his departure.

Austrian sculpture Karl Bitter was commissioned to cast this rather fraught looking bronze statue for his grave site – a shrouded figure that seems to be in a perpetual state of sorrow. Though over the years it has weathered and turned a greenish hue, it is still just as captivating in its transformation. While some say that the monument was supposed to be the Virgin Mary, the anatomy was actually intended to be male. After it’s installment, the memorial almost immediately became a local curiosity. In an interesting account I was able to find; Mrs. Sumner Kimball wanted to buy an even-tempered horse in 1902, and she thought a good test of its calmness would be to bring it to Green Mount Cemetery and take the horse to Hubbard’s grave. As she told the seller; “if she don’t shy at that, I’ll take her.”

But perhaps it’s what we don’t know about this solemn grave site that is the most baffling. The grave is more known by its official yet inexplicable nickname; “Black Agnes”, but no one is quite sure who coined the nickname, or why. And perhaps more puzzling is the frightening curse attached to it.

However this grave site became the instrument to a curse is most baffling. There is no information on the origins of the curse and when its nasty thorns began growing in urban mythology. Legend has it that if you sit on the statue’s lap, (some say it has to be at night, while others argue at all), you will suffer terrible misfortunes, and possibly even death. 

The most popular accompanying urban legend tells the story of three local teens from an area high school who all decided to put the curse to the test and visit Black Agnes one night. Illuminated by the light of the full moon, all three of them sat on the statue’s lap as the witching hour approached. After nothing happened, they all piled back into the car, feeling bravado in their curse debunking accomplishment. But within one week, one fell down a flight of stairs, breaking his leg. One was hit by a car and the other drowned when his canoe capsized in the Winooski River. Maybe it was just a coincidence that all three incidents were apparently less than two miles away from the statue at the time. Or at least that’s what the story says.

Needless to say, this narrative has made the statue a local landmark, and a hot spot for curious teenagers either looking for a thrill or asking for trouble.

After doing a little further investigating into this curse, I found that Hubbard’s monument isn’t unique. Karl Bitter had sculpted a few similar prototypes, and exhibited one at the 1904 World’s Fair. He called his creation Thanatos, which was inspired by the Greek personification of death. There are also a few surviving examples of Thanatos still existing in other cemeteries nationwide. So I guess the metaphor here is that sitting on Hubbard’s monument is the equivalent of sitting on the lap of death. Sure, that’s creepy and emblematic, but not enough people are aware of that information, making the curse a lingering mystery still.

Whether you believe in curses or superstitions or not, a lot of people aren’t taking chances. I’ve spoken to a few people about the statue, and there have been those who outright scoffed at the curse. But when I asked if they would sit on the statue’s lap, they hesitated and eventually admitted they wouldn’t. Is there something to this curse business? I suppose one may never know, unless you’re brazen enough to plop down on Black Agnes’s lap yourself.

Youtuber Ian Burnette made a short video for the Green Mountain Film Festival’s 48 Hour Film Slam in March 2013 which partially features a cameo of Black Agnes, and my good friend and frequent accomplice to my adventures, Eric Downing. Curse or no curse, the story is compelling enough to continuously inspire people and create other monsters.

Whether you believe in the business of curses or not, it is true that the dead can kill you, and they don’t need a creepy story or supernatural mojo to do it. Old civil war era cemeteries like this one have a secret that is literally just raising to the surface. These old graveyards may be leaking toxins, or, the arsenic used in old embalming fluids, into local groundwater. Two centuries ago, it was customary to have a wake for the deceased which could last several days to a week, depending on who you were, and the family didn’t want the body decomposing while it was laid it out in their parlor, so they were pumped full of arsenic to preserve them until the visitors stopped coming and they could be put six feet under. Arsenic was eventually banned in the early 1900s because of its toxicity, but enough corpses were pumped full of the stuff to leave a lasting effect, the real dangers being that today, many of us – especially who dwell near cemeteries, know little about arsenic or it’s dangers.

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I visited in 2011, heading back up to college after spring break. I declined sitting on his lap.

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The Bowman Mausoleum 

If you wish to visit with Cuttingsville’s most famous denizen, you can find the stoic man of mystery in the village’s only cemetery that is directly across Route 103 from an attractively restored Queen-Anne style Victorian mansion that he once referred to humbly as his summer home. 

I’m talking about John P. Bowman. The real Mr. Bowman is long deceased, but a poignant, life-sized monster of masonry is an exact effigy of the intriguing gentleman, and can be found lurching along a hillside cemetery that rises slightly above Route 103.

I first became antiquated with Mr. Bowman as a child. I saw him whenever we would venture down to my deer camp in East Wallingford for a weekend. His mansion was a rather faded, spooky old place which was then an establishment called “The Haunted Mansion Bookshop”. I had no idea that the name wasn’t just a gimmick, the mansion was, and maybe still is presently, purported to be haunted.

But it was what was across from the old mansion that really drew my attention as a young boy; the somber granite mausoleum with a grief-stricken, proportionally accurate statue of Mr. Bowman frozen in mid kneel along the steps that leads to it’s gated front entrance, depicted wearing a 19th century mourning cloak as well as clutching a key and a wreath in his hands – his blues reflected in the grays of his marble eyes that purposely gaze at the family tomb. Even as a kid, I knew there was something, well, a bit different about the Bowman mausoleum. And as I grew older, I realized that quite a few other people seemed to share my sentiment towards Bowman and his estate.

John Porter Bowman was born in neighboring Clarendon in 1816 in an area of town referred to as Pierces Corner, which today is practically little more than the intersection of state routes 103 and 7B. Educational opportunities were limited for Bowman, but his ambitions landed him employment at a Rutland tannery at the age of 15, where he spent five years learning the art of turning animal hides into fine leather, before leaving to start his own tanning business near Cuttingsville. In the early 1850s, he became so well-liked in the local community that he was either coaxed or self-inspired to run for a seat on the Vermont legislature. He won.

But he much preferred  business over politics, and in 1852, moved to Stony Creek, New York in search of opportunity. And he found it, in the form of a 6,000-acre plot of Hemlock forest, where he started a far more ambitious tannery business. The civil war brought great fortune to Bowman, as there was a huge demand for boots, saddles and other leather made wartime paraphernalia. He hired dozens of people, became a venerable figure of the region, and eventually fell in love and married Jennie Gates from Warren, New York. They ambitioned to building a grand summer home in his home state of Vermont where they could raise a family.

While he prospered financially, his personal life didn’t fare as generously. The couple’s first child, their daughter Addie, died as an infant in 1854. Their second daughter Ella survived much longer, but perished in 1879 at the age of 22, when she eventually succumbed to an illness she was fighting. Not long after, in 1800, Mrs. Bowman followed their daughters to the grave.

The agonized Mr. Bowman sought to find some relief. Shortly afterward, he hired labor crews and sent them to Cuttingsville, Vermont to begin construction on that aforementioned lavish Victorian summer home that his family would now never get to see.

During this time, he became obsessed with death; perhaps as a way to cope with his loss, or maybe influenced by the rise of spiritualism. He drew up additional blueprints to his Cuttingsville compound. Now, they would include a grand Neo-Egyptian mausoleum which would become a monument to his departed, and a local tourist attraction.

The colossal project took over a year to complete, and was the creation of 125 sculptures, stone cutters and laborers, the final cost exceeding $75,000. Construction of its facade ordered 750 tons of Vermont granite, 50 tons of Vermont marble, over 20,000 bricks and over 100 loads of sand. And they did a great job; the robust structure still stands proudly along the roadside, almost looking as if it was brand new construction given the great shape it’s in. But it may be the ghostly statue of Mr. Bowman that is the crypt’s most startling piece of artistry. His cloaked figure, clutching that wreath and key, kneels down on the front steps, peering at the front gates.

In 1887, he sold everything in New York and moved to his new digs in Cuttingsville, broken and alone. According to a few accounts, he would make it a point to look out the window each morning and gaze at the family crypt, a ritual he would keep until 1891, when he finally died, alone and sad, forever becoming a figure of misery.

He had no heirs, and no one to leave the house too. He was wealthy enough where he was able to start a trust to take care of his property long after his death. And this is where things get weirdly fascinating.

Though no actual documentation offers proof of this, the story goes that Mr. Bowman left some peculiar details in his will, where he willed his servants to prepare a freshly cooked dinner every night, turn on the gas lamps and turn down the bed-clothes, as if they were expecting Mr. Bowman to return from the dead and walk through his front door. The strangeness continues to morph. Somehow, the mansion began to inspire myths of phantom crying babies, wispy and frail phantoms moving silently down the halls, and even a secret spot where a vast amount of money was hidden by Mr. Bowman himself, still unfound and within the walls, or under a floorboard, or something…

The hidden treasure is more easily debunked. Though Mr. Bowman instructed that none of his property or belongings should ever be sold, by 1950, the deceased millionaire’s extensive fortune finally was depleted, and the trust went bankrupt when the coast of up-keeping the large property became too much – so all of his paintings and furnishings were auctioned off. If there was any amount of cash left behind, it was probably spent well before that time. The claim of a crying baby is curious to me, as no children ever lived in the house.

Some even claimed that Bowman’s large statue inexplicably came to life, and could be seen slowly walking around the cemetery at night or gazing at his mansion across Route 103. Other stories I heard in passing was that local kids claimed that if you visited the statue at night, his eyes would move and follow you, or even blink. A July 27th, 1950 article printed in the Rutland Herald offers some amusing incite. the wife of a long time caretaker admitted to the interviewer that people kept pressuring them for spook stories about the place, until her husband who had had enough, said: “if they wanted a story, I’d give them one”. While that isn’t necessarily condemning evidence of all of this being nothing more than yarns well spun, it certainly makes me wonder.

If these claims are true, I wasn’t fortunate enough to witness any of the bizarre phenomena while I visited on a beautiful Spring afternoon. But the Bowman statue and tomb are both incredible works of art and craftsmanship.

I can see why his statue would make someone uncomfortable, though. The well-captured expression of his eternal grief is pretty evocative.

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The handsome Bowman mansion, restored and called “Laurel Hall” – as seen from the front steps of his across the street mausoleum. I would have snapped a better picture, but all of my weird detours had made me late and I needed to rush back to Burlington.

Grave With A Window

New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery is more or less unremarkable, as far as cemeteries go I suppose. That is, apart from one entombment. Among the faded and weathered headstones that are eternal witnesses to the passing generations and the turning of the seasons, is the grave of Dr. Timothy Clark Smith.

Walking through the cemetery, you’ll notice a mound of earth roughly 4 feet in height. On the top is an unremarkable looking square slab of Granite, which really doesn’t allude to the fact it’s supposed to mark a corpse’s final resting place. But upon closer investigation, you’ll realize that there is something more to this seemingly innocuous block. In the dead center of the granite slab is a Plexiglas window. Stained with years of condensation and scratches from the sputtering seasons and many other curious visitors, you find yourself peering down into an eerie undertone blackness underneath the ground your standing on. What is this?

During the 17th century, there were a number of premature burials, enough to make the general public a bit uncomfortable. Medicine was still in it’s momentum of advancement, and as a result, an unfortunate number of patients had a sleeping sickness, or a state of illness that could make the victim appear to be dead, but later to awaken in a cold, dark grave, very much alive. Medicine has thankfully came a long way since those days, and today, we know this strange state of sleep as Narcolepsy.

The horror stories continue. There have an unfortunate number of terrifying accounts in which bodies were accidentally dissected before death, and a few cases in which embalming was started on the not-yet-dead. Not surprisingly, urban legends of people being accidentally buried alive began to surface and spread. Legends tell of coffins opened to find a corpse with a long beard or corpses with the hands raised and palms turned upward, their fingers worn down to the bone as they literally tried to claw their way of their tombs, scratch marks being found on the wooden lid of their coffins.

To stretch the imagination further, Some superstitious old New Englanders didn’t blame these horrifying accounts on premature burial. Instead, they blamed the most logical answer they could muster, the victim had to be a Vampire. Evidence of unfortunate souls being found in a different position after unearthing their graves, with bloody stumps for fingers scared people, and the evidence was used to inspire famous tales as Rhode Island’s Mercy Brown, who innocently became the most infamous Vampire in New England history.

A well-respected man, Timothy Clarke Smith, born 1821, could boast a rather long list of accomplishments in his life. Among many things, he was a schoolteacher, a merchant, a clerk for the Treasury Dept. and obtained his degree as an MD in 1855, which led to his position as a staff surgeon in the Russian Army. But the good doctor also ruminated over those postmortem horror stories and developed a fear – not of dying, but of not being dead. He was terrified at the possibility of being buried alive.

That sentiment wasn’t unique. It was happening so often, that some swindlers decided to cash in on it, and create a market for “safety coffins”

These new models of coffin included glass lids for observation, so people could see in, or out. Ropes from the inside of the coffin were attached to bells fastened on the surface, so that if the poor soul were to wake up six feet under, they could ring it in a panic and hope someone is nearby enough to hear it – which is said to be where the popular sayings “saved by the bell” and “dead ringer” originated from. Breathing pipes were also constructed to run air into the coffin, to sustain the misdiagnosed corpses until they could be rescued.

Dr. Smith was going to make sure this wouldn’t happen to him, and gladly paid up for such an arrangement, which he was buried in at the time of his death in 1893 and has no doubt overshadowed any of his other noble life pursuits. Beneath a grassy mound of earth in New Haven, a tomb was constructed with a six-foot cement tube that protruded the surface into a 14×14 inch piece of Plexiglas. This was to allow groundskeepers or visiting family members to check in on him, just in case they saw his disgruntled face staring up at them through the window…

For extra protection, a bell was supposedly placed in his hands that he could ring in case he woke up. But who could hear a bell under 6 feet of earth? And If he were alive, how long would the oxygen really last?

According to old records from the cemetery sexton, the burial vault has two rooms. One for Dr. Smith (with the window) and the other for his wife. The burial vault is arched with stairs (capped by the stone in the lower front of the mound) and leads to the two rooms, with the viewing window at the top of the shaft.

People from years ago claim to have peered down the window and stared directly at the skeletal face of Dr. Smith, along with a hammer and chisel placed on his chest. But today, you can barely see anything through the condensation that has occupied most of the glass surface, which may make the trip slightly disappointing for some visitors.

If you wish to see this literal monument to a man’s insecurities turned extraordinary tourist attraction for yourself, take Route 7 to the small farming community of New Haven, and make a turn on Town Hill Road. The cemetery will be about a mile or two down the road on your right, just look for the rather large mound of Earth right by the entrance and the square slab dead on top. You can’t miss it.

Here is a neat visual of what your money might have gotten you – should you have decided to purchase one of these special graves. It seems that this model comes with what looks like a periscope, but in actuality, the person buried could spin the handles and it would turn above, letting who ever came and checked on the cemetery that the person moved.

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“A dreamless sleep, emblem of eternal rest”

I once heard a theory that it’s better to have an interesting headstone than to have been an interesting person, because the headstone will be around for much longer.

While I think that theory is open to interpretation, in the case of Lyndon Center’s G.P. Spencer, he certainly left his mark, where even after his passing, he remains a well-remembered figure with his grave pointing an accusatory finger at Lyndon denizens, long after the others that weren’t so kind to him have turned to dust and vanished into fading records.

The story as I know it goes that Spencer, born 1825, was a proudly stubborn atheist in Lyndonville, a suspiciously treated minority absorbed into a larger population of hardscrabble northeast kingdomers that identified as being religious in one way or another. Unlike today’s more tolerant attitudes and Vermont’s time-tested reputation for being far less religious than the rest of the country, the folks of town shunned Spencer.

A stone cutter, he decided to fashion himself a grave that would spitefully give himself the last word in the form of a wrap around epitaph which has weathered to points of illegibility. So I had to look it up.

His epitaph reads; “science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teaching, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas and most of these dogmas have been false.

All stories about gods and Devils, of heavens and hells, as they do not conform to nature, and are not apparent to sense, should be rejected without consideration. Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe, the supernatural does not and cannot exist.

Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to be lead by a light above.

The lips of the dead are closed forever. There comes no voice from the tomb.
Christianity is responsible for having cast the fable of eternal fire over almost every tomb”

G.P. Spencer died in 1908, and Lyndon locals immediately began fighting his headstone’s placement in the cemetery which today can be found at the end of a dirt driveway that the village boldly named “Heaven Lane”. They lost, and you can still observe it today. A monument to a man who stood up for his beliefs, and maybe a good example of an archetypal Vermonter; stubborn, not spiritually inclined, and having a sense of humor – depending on who you ask I guess.

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The interesting grave topped with a curious sleeping baby, which may be a metaphor, is located in the only cemetery in tiny Lyndon Center. It was just a short yet freezing walk down College Hill from my dorm at Lyndon State College to snap a few photos of it, then retreat back to my room in search of coffee.

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Vermont’s Immortal Man and Frozen Hill Folk?

There is an old Vermont anecdote that pertains to cemeteries. When passing a graveyard, the joke is to ask “how many dead are in this cemetery?”, with the correct answer of course being, “all of them”. But this “dad joke” of a punchline recently took on a new weight with me.

Not long ago, someone told me offhandedly that they found a peculiar grave in a cemetery near Montpelier – which according to this gravestone and a viral post in the Vermont subreddit page, there is a 157-year-old man (and counting) living somewhere in Vermont. What?

The Montpelier and Barre region seems to be a bulls-eye for some of the state’s most interesting memento mori, which may be one of the many reasons why some Vermonters refer to their capital as “Montpeculiar”. Included in this interesting region’s points of interest is Barre’s celebrity Hope Cemetery. Barre-ites discovered over a century ago that the city was literally built on top of a mother lode of a valuable granite vein that was so robust and unique, it’s incredibly resistant to deterioration, discoloration and great for construction projects. That stone made the town so famous that it drew sculptures and stone cutters from around the globe – a good chunk from Italy due to sour economics back home. As the city’s residents died, the locals did what they did best and sculpted some very interesting monuments in their honor that now proudly decorate the cemetery off Maple Avenue – the commemorations ranging from incredible works of funerary art to the kitschy.

Regardless, the thought of an “immortal” man in the capital region only amused me more, as this wouldn’t be the first time that this trope has played out in this part of the state. Over a century ago, it was sensationalized in the Washington County region in 1887 when an article was published in the defunct newspaper, The Montpelier Argus and Patriot, in which was a compelling and startling tale of poor Vermont hill farmers keeping their loved ones alive through the grueling winters by inducing forced hibernation, via some strange Yankee magic, which emanated like a contagion shotgun blast from the hills.

In the strange account told by a mysterious first and one-time only contributor known as A.M., he dug up the story in the pages of his uncle William’s journal that told a rather gothic and macabre series of events said to be practiced deep in the Vermont hills north of Montpelier. Wretchedly poor Vermont hill farmers had contrived a solution ensuring that the weakest and most vulnerable members of their family could survive the state’s grueling winters without straining the already meager food rations. Life in Vermont’s mountains was hard, and often death came early.

The chosen participants would drink a special potion – the ingredients a closely guarded secret – and would then be placed inside a large pine box that would be lined with straw, before a wooden lid was placed over it and weighed down by rocks to keep predators out. Once the winter freeze came, the buried family members would literally sleep out the winter in a frozen state. When the Spring thaw softened up the ground, they would be dug up, placed in a steaming bath lined with Hemlock bows, and as their muscles twitched and color came back to their pallor, they would be ready to face the summer with vigor. In theory anyways. And according to A.M., his uncle not only knew about it, he was invited to watch the process, and he transcribed all that he saw in his journal, documenting the bizarre.

At the time, The Montpelier Argus and Patriot had the most circulation of any of the state’s newspapers, meaning that plenty of Vermonters must have been horrified by it, but even more tantalizingly, no follow ups about the weird story were ever printed, nor were any letters to the editor. The strange tale probably would have vanished into obscurity if it wasn’t for a Bridgewater gentleman accidentally finding the newspaper article clipping tucked away in the scrapbook of Hannah F. Stevens,his mother, 52 years later.

On May 24, 1939, the Rutland Herald revived the old yarn and printed A.M.’s story word for word, and explained that no one knew it’s source. Interest immediately picked up. The Boston Globe published something on it 4 days later, and it was forever stuck to the flypaper of New England folklore. Yankee Magazine, The Farmers Almanac,  and Vermont Life soon followed, attempting to cash in on the public’s desire to satiate their thirst for this baffling story.

Eventually, writer and lecturer Roland W. Robbins had managed to track the story’s origins in the winter of 1949-1950, and was finally able to give A.M. an identity; Allen Morse, an untypical dairy farmer from Calais who was born in 1835 and died in 1917. Morse’s granddaughter, a Mrs. Mabel E. Hynes of Agawam, Massachusetts was able to reveal more of the mystery. She recalled him telling her that story several times growing up, perhaps influenced by his interest in spiritualism like many Vermonters of the time. Before the distractions of technology, Vermont farmers entertained themselves by “yarnin”, or, seeing who could tell the best lurid tall tale. Allen Morse had considerable talent, and his brother in law William Noyes, aka Uncle William, would often have rounds against one another and test run their tales at family picnics. Morse’s account of the frozen hill folk was his matchless achievement.

But it wasn’t him that submitted the tale to paper, he never even wrote it down. It was Mrs. Hynes’s mother, who in 1887 was working for the The Montpelier Argus and Patriot, and secretly arranged to have “grandpa’s yarn” published on Morse’s next birthday, December 21, 1887. Morse was delighted, and was glad that they had kept his identity a mystery, for anyone that knew him would have labeled it as a hoax immediately, which may have very well put a moratorium on this great regional folk tale. It became so compelling that even the highly respected journal Scientific American picked up on it around 1900. Other scientists were interested into researching just how peoples’ bodies would respond and survive to lower temperatures, and eventually, Cryonic Societies began forming around the country, all interested in the feasibility of resurrecting frozen humans entombed in capsules chilled to -321 degrees via liquid nitrogen.

Regardless of its faux origins, this cryptic fable left an enduring footprint on local culture that is still spoken about today, especially after being revived again when author Joseph Citro retold the great tale in his book, Green Mountains Dark Tales, and later in Weird New England, which was where I discovered it. But as for the grave of Mr. Edward McNalty, Could some Yankee mountain magic actually be at work here?

Taking a drive through the bustling crowds of Downtown Montpelier and up a pothole chocked road into the hills to the cemetery in question, I found the telltale gravestone. Edward McNalty. Born 1857. Died…

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There it was. So, what’s the story here?

As much fun as it might be to romanticize about an immortal being existing in the mortal grind somewhere in Vermont (after all, New England isn’t a stranger to disturbing tales of immortal men and their misdeeds – like New Hampshire’s dreadful Dr. Benton, one of my favorite regional narratives),  the actual story is planted firmly in logistics. As it turns out, according to the limited information I was able to dig up, the mysterious Edward McNalty was born in Moretown, Vermont in November of 1861, not 1857 – they made a mistake on the headstone but it was never corrected. He would eventually enter the workforce as a railroad section man. Edward would marry Illinois born Rosetta Smith on January 7, 1896 at the age of 44, and settled in Washington, Vermont, according to the census of 1930. For both, it was their second marriage, and this marriage produced no children.

Edward died of pneumonia in Montpelier on December 28, 1935. Because his second marriage never bore any kids, his children from his first marriage decided to bury him next to their mom as opposed to his second wife, which explains the missing date of death on the headstone.

And at the end of the day, this amusing gravestone at least offers a good story, and maybe will spark the most curious of imaginations.

A vignette into early Vermont life.

Sometimes, cemeteries can give us clues into our past. Three barely discernible graves deep within the national forest of Chittenden greet you by surprise within the weeds, and are the only things left to tell whoever is passing by that there was once a town here over a hundred years ago.

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This impressionistic headstone found in the vanished town of West Bolton tells the observer how dangerous childbirth, or being a young child could be in Vermont over a century ago, and how much death early Vermonters were actually accustomed to. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, people are living longer lives nowdays.

To finish this entry off, I wanted to include one of my favorite cemetery tombstones I’ve came across so far. Embarking on a random road trip with friend and talented local artist Sam Balling, we traveled the beautiful state route 125 up over Vermont’s green mountain spine which brought us through tiny Ripton, which local lore says its name comes from its land being “ripped” from other Addison County towns to form the new town, but it’s name less interestingly comes from Connecticut, relating to the first named grantee. The town averages an elevation of near 3,000 feet and is surrounded by mountains. Heading towards Middlebury Gap, a pass between the mountains that allows motorists to drop down the other side into Hancock, there is an old cemetery near the Robert Frost Wayside Wilderness of the Green Mountain National Forest. The small burial ground is interspersed with old gnarled trees and centuries-old gravestones that jut from the pine needle fallen earth like broken teeth wearing the different hues of aging. In the background, stark gray ridge lines barren and almost foreboding in their late autumn death, hemmed in the cemetery in isolation.  I loved it.

This simplistic headstone illustrates the tragic demise of two brothers and strangers in detailed brevity. Winfield H. was killed by an overturned load of lumber, and Perley H. was killed by the explosion of a cannon, a vignette into how different, and deadly life was for Vermonters settling up in the mountains over a century ago.

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Ripton, VT

Sometimes having a peaceful, out of the way location can also be a place’s undoing, especially when for whatever reason, it inspires spectral fodder and monstrous legends. But I’m always very interested in these tales that surpass strange. If you’re curious about more local lore involving cemeteries (or indirectly involving cemeteries), check out an older blog post I wrote up years ago, featuring two stories that saw the glow of a computer screen for the first time when I wrote them down.

While we’re on the topic of cemeteries, here’s a link that I thought was very cool; Atlas Obscura’s Guide to Cemetery Symbolism

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations throughout the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

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The Cold Spring House

It’s hard to describe a place like the deteriorating ruins of The Cold Spring House, especially if you’ve never had the experience of visiting it yourself. The remaining residue of The Catskill Mountains and their heyday as a resort destination – hotels such as this one once catered to primarily Jewish clientele during the 20th century, looking for a little relaxation from the turbulence of New York City in the scenic Catskills. Driving through the gripping, winding road through the Kaaterskill Forest, with wild rivers cutting through steep hardwood shrouded peaks that resembled saw teeth, it wasn’t hard to see the allure.

This is the first time I had ever been to the Catskills region before, and my target village of Tannersville made an attractive first impression, which I was incredibly relieved with after the problematic start to my day. It almost seemed like I would never make it to the Catskills, as numerous setbacks, construction projects and traffic jams kept delaying travel time, each hour of precious daylight being swallowed by the oncoming October evening. Because we were making a 5 hour drive down from Vermont, I was determined to make this count.

Navigating the highways of New York, we passed by many derelict structures and sordid towns that were more depressing than anything, reminders of the decreasing amount of tourists in the area. A passing visitor to the area, I admittedly knew little about it apart from conversations with friends who grew up around there, and a few things I’ve read. I definitely had no local insider information, so anything I took in was most commonly coming through the view of the windshield.

The road through Kaaterskill Forest
The road through Kaaterskill Forest
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Catskill Glory

As we approached Tannersville, the comedown daylight was filtered through a black sky foreshadowing fury that never seemed to come. The air was crisp, carrying the smell of dead leaves, as chilly mists began to settle on our faces. It felt like it was going to rain, but it never came, and the mists continued to be misleading. There we were, staring up at the imposing ruins of the Cold Spring House, and it’s various stages of decay. The slumping roofs and bending wooden frame ripped open several holes in the building, giving off dead weight that popped out windows and pushed various items through the glass. It was well into the evening now, but we had made it, with just enough light to photograph and do a little exploring. But the question was, where do I even start?

From what I know about the place, it was one of the earlier Catskills hotels, on the outskirts of the Borscht Belt, an area once a dazzling vacation-land now reincarnated as a collection of behemoth and storied abandonments. The Cold Spring House was a grand showpiece, which was very different from the closet cottages and revelrous resorts the area was known for at that time.

Built on what is now Spruce Street in the 1890s, it was the second largest hotel in Tannersville, as well as the first Jewish hotel in town – able to accommodate 200 guests at the base of mountains rising to around 2,200 feet. It started as a hotel called Bieber’s Cold Spring House, but was sold in 1922 to Saber Khouri, and re-branded simply as The Cold Spring House.

According to a 1904 advertisement I was able to find online, the property featured expansive lawns, offering tennis and croquet grounds, surrounded by old trees offering comfortable shade on summer days. There were farms on the property that supplied the hotel with fresh milk and vegetables everyday, which were pared with what the ad boasted as excellent table service in the form of German and Hungarian cuisine. And of course, fresh spring water was offered – from the springs which the hotel derived it’s name from. The hotel was also widely regarded for it’s popular classical concerts on the lawn. Two signature towers at opposite ends of the building, now slumping dangerously, were once observatories, giving guests extensive views of the mountains. Today, that view would be worth the price of your life.

What I found interesting about the advertisement was that it boasted such amenities as “sanitary plumbing and fire extinguishers on every floor” – items that we take for granted today, but around that time period, were new features and were only beginning to be enforced by laws. I’m sure that was a selling point – definitely a plus when I choose a hotel. But it makes sense. The time period was a time of transition. There was a nationwide push that required to implement such systems, but it was a costly expense to outfit these old buildings, and many old hotels couldn’t afford keeping up with the competition.

The advertisement also stated that the hotel was continuously expanding as it’s increasing popularity was luring more and more people to stay there each season. Older photos showed a much different building, with only one tower, and most of the western wing not yet added. The final product was a much larger and grander property – the brooding structure you see today.

But times certainly have changed. During the late 20th century, much of the region fell out of favor as a vacation destination. With an increase of automobile travel and an ever burgeoning highway system, more Americans were driving, and could travel farther distances and see more places,. Now, they no longer had to settle for the closest area available – a trend that I’ve seen so many times in humbled abandonments I’ve visited. Tannersville was no exception. Many vacation homes eventually were abandoned and hotels were shuttered. The Cold Spring House fell into the trend, and was abandoned in the 60s, leaving quite the compelling ruin in it’s wake.

It literally hunches over Spruce Street in it’s old age, leaning in all directions. A symbol of human progress and the change of the times, something inevitable that tends to leave growing pains on the often bumpy road of advancement and the fodder of bandwagon fads. In an ironic sense, this more off beat form of tourism can also serve as a poignant melding of public awareness, a chance to learn from our past.

Today, Tannersville is more known for it’s proximity to Hunter Mountain Ski Area than a summer destination, but while many Borscht Belt towns are still struggling, Tannersville seems to be in the middle of some sort of revival. As it was explained to me, people started to rediscover the town and were taken by it’s natural beauty. Old vacation homes began to be fixed up at expensive costs because of the bad shape they had deteriorated to, and more businesses have opened up on Route 23A.

As for the Cold Spring House though, I had the pleasant chance to speak with photographer Linda O’Donnell, who has been researching and documenting the building’s deterioration for the past several years. She informed me that the place has been scheduled for demolition since 2012, but demolition by neglect may happen before any actual bulldozers arrive on the property. It makes you wonder, when will the familiar become just history?

Dying Light

This was truly one of the most spectacular places I’ve had the chance to photograph (and a great change of scenery from Vermont!), but with it’s awe inspiring profile came very tangible dangers. As I walked around and got to know the place better, I was able to recognize something very quickly. The building was far too dangerous to venture inside, and because of our late start, there was little daylight left. Peeking in through an opened window, I was met with an interior of collapsing floors, wooden walls intended to support the structure were crushed into an accordion like resemblance, and various artifacts collected in indistinguishable piles of fragments covered in dust and lead paint speckles. The weight was so great in some places that many things had actually been pushed through the floor, which was already cracking on the added weight of my body. That musty old building smell wafted out from the opening, mixed with a heavy damp musk. To my far left, a staircase, illuminated by the dull light of broken windows, climbed above the wreckage and into the mysterious upper floors. Or what was left of them. Though I ached to go inside, that would have been an idea that probably would have been counter productive to my travel plans, which were to leave intact and alive.

For a relatively rural back street, the traffic was thunderous, a constant roar of pick up trucks going by, and slowing down when they noticed me with my camera. Because New York State has very unforgiving rules against trespassing, and with me being in such a surprisingly public area where I would no doubt be trapped should I be caught, the odds were stacked against me.

I had no choice but to keep a safe distance. But the exterior alone was worth the drive. The tops of the building still wore it’s yellow paint job, the original color of the hotel, while the lower levels were weather worn into a dull grey and showed signs of various stages of rotten cavities that completely ate through the walls. Older photos showed a sign that read “Cold Spring” that hung over the porch near the front entrance, but when I visited, that was also long gone, the last clue to it’s identity.

Signs of human presence were everywhere. Graffiti was found on many of the upper windows, and not the good kind of graffiti – instead, it was the almost expected profanity and unoriginal racial slur sort of stuff. But, it also meant that some adventurous intruders made the trip to the upper floors…

I often find strange items left behind when I explore – and this was no exception. There was an interestingly large collection of abandoned records found all around the hotel, most on the front lawn, tangled in tall grass and cedar trees. Some of them were arranged specifically, with various items such as kitchen utensils and bottles filled with suspicious colored liquids in them, propped purposely around the sides. I didn’t recognize any of the artists – but some looked like they would have been right at home in some embarrassing 70s porno.

Just gazing up at the place and looking in the numerous windows offered many things to see. Radiators that had fallen out broken windows. A glimpse of a bed post. Dark rooms with holes in the ceiling letting in the dying daylight. Old glass bottles left on windowsills. Then the wind blows, and the eerie creeks of a shutter can be heard, before it bangs loudly against a wall several stories above you – you see the movement, and your pulse quickens as you jump to conclusions. Despite the reliable hum of noise outside, closer to the hotel, things faded into an uncomfortable silence that was almost loud in itself. It was quite startling considering it was just a short walk down the lawn that offered such a fast transition.

Not wanting to draw attention by staying too long, we left and began the journey back to Vermont, the Cold Spring House leaving a lasting impression.

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These are some great historical photos of the Cold Spring House in it’s heyday, which I found online accidentally and was kindly given permission to re-link by Flickr user Linda O’Donnell. Not sure of the dates, but it really gives you a sense of what this place used to be like.
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Used with permission from Flickr user Linda O’Donnell
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Used with permission from Flickr user Linda O’Donnell
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Used with permission from Flickr user Linda O’Donnell

  The Cold Spring House Today

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Information:

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information on this place. Most of what I was able to compile in this post came from speaking with various people, and a good article I found online from the Register-Star 

There is also a group on Flickr I found, dedicated to sharing memories and photos of it.

This is one of my favorite things I came across while researching. Here is a fascinating article and photographic journalism piece about the Borscht Belt

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

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Of Mountains and Men; Legends of Bristol’s Cliffs and Hills

I gotta hand it to teenagers, they always seem to find the coolest places to hang out. The Bristol Cliffs will verify that.

I was heading to my old roommate’s parents’ place near Lincoln to help him do a little farm work, and he was pointing out cool terrestrial hangouts he used to haunt when he was a kid. If you’re a Vermonter, chances are, you spent a lot of your youth outside, and Bristol denizens might just have one of the best towns in the state for inspiring geography. That’s also because the entire eastern charted part of the township is cliffs and mountains that are gruelingly steep, which annoyed early settlers quite a bit. Today trends have changed and now it makes for desirable real estate because people want views.

We turned up near Bristol Falls, a hugely popular swimming hole with crowds so thick in the summer that it makes a trip there not worth it at all, at least to me. But the draw is completely understandable, especially viewing the place on an off season day when you’re the only one there.

Hemming in the falls are a set of craggy cliffs that are the side of a 1,825-foot rise known by the Vermont geographical place names board as Deer Leap. Locals just call it Bristol Cliffs, because they’re cliffs, in Bristol.

It’s a win-win for Bristol-ites, because you can admire the eye magnetic precipice from almost any point in town, and also get extraordinarily cool views of Addison County from the top of the to-the-point named ledges if you know which unmarked trail will get you up there.  It seems like most area teens do.

Local lore spins a yarn about Abenaki hunting parties chasing deer to the cliff sides and running them off the edges, where more hunters waited at the bottom to collect the carcasses.

But there is another tale that may offer an explanation, and it seems like sort of an archetypal tale that many small towns across America have in their own particular cast.

In the vague timeline of the 1800s or early 1900s, 2 love struck teens decided to commit suicide here by jumping because their families forbade them from being together, for reasons that never made it into the story. The guy held the girl’s hand, and allegedly said “Ok, dear. Leap!”. But that much of a precise detail would have had to involve a witness, and to my knowledge, none have ever came forward. I think that would make it into conversation at some point.

Today, the almost grueling hike gives you terrific views of Bristol village and Addison County and a sweat soaked shirt. It’s also a Peregrine Falcon nesting area, which can dive bomb at speeds of 200 mph.

The Ledges of Deer Leap in Bristol
The Ledges of Deer Leap in Bristol
The trail up Bristol Cliffs. I love finding tree carved screed.
Hiked above the haze today up to Bristol Cliffs, not to be confused with the other Bristol Cliffs one mountain over. Made it up just in time to feel a change coming up and a storm rumbling in.

 

“The Money Diggers”

It was one of those first great spring days of the year where having fun sounded better than my adult responsibilities, and I set out towards Bristol with an adventure in mind. My only obstacle was how to get there, which was at least 80% of that aforementioned adventure.

My plan was to bushwhack up towards a remote and grueling area of the Bristol mountainscape spitefully called “Hell’s Half Acre” by silver miners over a century ago. An area with an incredibly gothic ledger of tales affixed to it.

There are no trails here. No signage or public access. Just a giant mountain as a general compass point, which was a huge part of this wild area’s appeal to me. With a photocopied town tax map in hand, I studied the property boundaries and saw my portal; a narrow sliver of land between two lots that was owned by the national forest. That would be my way up to a miserable elevation called South Mountain.

Parking the car off a no trafficked gravel backroad, I simply entered the woods and walked in the direction of the mountain. I knew as long as I was going up, I was technically going in the direction I wanted.

My feet began finding numerous pine needle covered holes in the ground that are easy to slip into while walking, and roll an ankle if you’re lucky. Others are more unfortunate I suppose, and leave with broken limbs.

Eventually, the topical Quartzite rock slide loomed before me as I trekked through the budding woods in bloom, as the sun was already baking their chalky white surfaces. Undoubtedly, this is some of the most inhospitable land in Vermont.

The rocks were still retaining some of their winter moisture and snow runoff and were surprisingly damp and cool underneath where the sun couldn’t reach. It was a surreal world up there on those slopes. I could only imagine what the miners of yesteryear had to endure here. Some of the old shafts were still visible underneath toppled boulders and through drifts of decomposing leaves and pine needles, but were far too dangerous to venture down into without more planning on my part. And alas, no silver to be found.

What’s this about silver? This formidable landscape of boulders is where Vermont’s most well-known treasure tale once conspired a few centuries ago, and is practically a ghost of an occurrence nowadays that can barely be traced with a bit of optimistic scrutiny.

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Trekking through the woods, the land soon became strewn with boulders and loose rocks that tumbled underneath your feet as you climbed higher up the slopes.
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Closer to the rock slides, trees have long adapted to the rough area and have grown up, around and even on top of large boulders.
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The sun baked Quartzite surfaces of Hells’ Half Acre

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For a landlocked state, I was surprised and pleased to hear that Vermont had quite a few buried treasure stories through years of folklore research. And a rough area south of Bristol village seemed to be Vermont’s most notorious and alluring. Mostly because this one enticingly remains unclaimed under inexplicable circumstances- if it ever existed to begin with.

Could there still be a huge load of unclaimed silver up there waiting to be uncovered by a passing woods person?  Clambering my way around the dark holes entering into the bowels of Hells’ Half Acre that validated these claims, I wanted to know more about what happened here.  So I took to researching it, and it’s a terrific story, even if some of it may be nothing but fabrication. I’ll try to condense everything as best I can.

We can begin with this whole treasure hunting business with an outsider appearing in Bristol in 1800, a Spaniard named DeGrau. Because Bristol, Vermont was a small, insular town at the time, the locals took notice to a nonnative wandering into the general store to purchase mining supplies, of all things. He kept to himself, never asked for any favors, and didn’t hang around long enough to socialize.

But it wasn’t until bewildered and frightened kids began telling their parents that a strange gentleman had been threatening them in some unfamiliar tongue when they were playing up South Mountain. They had heard some strange clout and other noises and when they went to investigate, they ran into him and he chased them off. The description matched the fellow folks saw in the general store.

His violent attitude and secretive demeanor was all the reason fathers and older brothers needed to form an angry mob. They armed themselves and marched up onto the mountain with two clear choices for the man; explain his business here, or get driven out of town. Or, maybe both if he was really unlucky.

There, they heard the collision of metal against rock – the same noises that attracted their kids before –  and creating the noise was the oddly dressed Spaniard who was already out of place in the hardscrabble Bristol of the 19th century.  The mob surrounded him and gave him their ultimatum.

Seeing no other way out, he dropped his ax and exhaustively told his accusers that his name was DeGrau, and proceeded to enlighten the curious group with quite the tale.

Many years ago, his father, who was a miner, traveled the area with a group of Spanish explorers in search of precious metals and they found a rich vein of silver near the area he was digging, when Bristol was nothing more than a crude collection of cabins called Pocock.

They procured the mining equipment and a larger crew and began operations. Almost immediately, they found great success – the ore was rich and easily smelted into silver bars. They mined throughout the summer and into the fall and when they were ready to leave, they found that they couldn’t carry everything back with them – they had too much! So, they hid the remaining silver in a cave and hid the entrance. They all agreed they would come back for the rest of the silver, on the condition that they would have to be together. But, complications prevented them from coming back, until years later when DeGrau, who was now a very old man, was the only survivor of the original group.

The residents of Bristol not only believed his tale – they were fascinated by it! But there was a problem. DeGrau couldn’t find the treasure, the mountain looked different now, he didn’t remember where the cave was. It was probably covered by some rock slide that is the trademark feature of this unforgiving landmass. But, the locals who were now doing some scouting of their own,  were able to find evidence of old mining operations around the area, which validated his claim to them. Soon, he faded out of the picture, and eager Bristol residents took his place, digging around the base of the mountain, hoping to strike it rich.

Soon, he faded out of the picture, perhaps more grumpy and disheartened than he was before his last arrival in town,  and eager Bristol residents took his place, digging around the base of the mountain, hoping to strike it rich.

The rock slides and cliffs of Hells' Half Acre and South Mountain, as seen from Route 116. via Google street view.
The rock slides and cliffs of Hells’ Half Acre and South Mountain, as seen from Route 116. via Google street view.

Over time, people from beyond Bristol’s borders made their way to the mountain slopes to seek their fortunes.

Small-time operations existed in the area until around 1840, when a group of Canadians lead by a mysterious “Uncle Sim” trekked down to Bristol and began more intense mining operations. Uncle Sim was said to do no work himself, but instead, would direct and control the operations in idiosyncratic ways. He was said to be very charismatic, and incredibly persuasive, which I guess most hucksters are. He raised all his investments by promising $100 returns for every dollar raised.

Instead of doing the traditional scouting and digging, which relied on methodology and wisdom, Uncle Sim had a better idea, and hired a fortune teller, a clairvoyant Calais woman named “Sleeping Lucy” Ainsworth, Vermont’s most infamous spiritualist, to guide them and tell them where to dig mine shafts.

Stories of miners hiding behind rocks and in caves and making bear noises to scare local kids were also told. When that didn’t work, the diggers also made up terrifying folk tales about ghosts and vicious dogs that haunted the mine.

In just a half acre,  they dug numerous shafts into the rocky mountain soil, some that were said to reach 50 feet down, and then travel hundreds of feet directly under the mountain. The area was honeycombed with so many shafts that were said to be miserable, dark and cold that the area was given the nickname, Hell’s Half Acre. And the name couldn’t have been more fitting.

With months of back breaking labor yielding no results, tragedy and bad luck seemed to be the only thing the ambitious crews were discovering. Mine shafts had to be abandoned due to “foul air”, flooding issues and snow drifts. More work went into reclaiming the shafts than digging them. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was hard to haul food and supplies up into the mountains, so a lot of men were close to starving after a while.

By 1852, Uncle Sim begrudgingly gave up, packed up his crew and headed back to Canada. But he was apparently a determined or foolish man, and a decade later, he returned to the site. With the aid of a new conjurer, he was assured that all he had to do was move a few rocks, and he would discover the elusive passage which contained the treasure. But his effort was shorter lived than his first one. An old man by now, he eventually swallowed the taste of defeat and left Bristol, vanishing into obscurity.

A few other attempts at mining were made throughout the years, but no success ever came out of it, and as far as we know, there is a large treasure of silver still waiting somewhere within the foul depths of Hells’ Half Acre.

Is There Truth Here?

I’m not sure now, after researching this intriguing series of events more closely.

The problem here is that silver isn’t native to Vermont, according to the state geologist- and the idea of Spanish parties trekking down through the out of the way wilds of Vermont’s green mountains and finding veins of silver here is a little, well, unbelievable, considering they really had no reason to be here during that time frame. Unless of course, that silver was brought here and stashed for safe keeping that was all too successful? More interestingly, a few other Vermont towns have their own treasure tales, which are pretty similar to this one. But they all happen to be inspired by Silver, as opposed to Gold, which can be found in Vermont.

About the one thing I can confirm without a doubt is that the mining attempts did happen, and we have the old mine shafts and odds and ends still found underneath loads of pine needles on the forest floor to prove it.

Even the ubiquitously used term “Money Diggers” is a misnomer. They weren’t digging for money, but rather, a precious metal. At least they thought they were.

And “Uncle Sim” was real too. In a few additions of the defunct Bristol Herald, printed circa 1888-89,  newspaper writer Franklin S. Harvey recalled personal accounts of a run in with him in 1860, when Uncle Sim was at that point, a feeble old man. The sight of him digging around the rocks and cliffs looking for that silver was apparently so pitiful, that Harvey forgave him for jumping out behind rocks and making bear noises that scared him so badly when he was a kid investigating the diggings for himself. Harvey even claimed to speak with reliable Bristol old-timers who still remembered DeGrau, so we know he was real too. But the fact DeGrau dug and labored and found nothing also brings a little flimsiness to the story. Later on, Harvey’s accounts were collected into a now out of print book called The Money Diggers

The venerable Joseph Citro thinks that the story may be bunk, and brought forth some great validating research on this story.  Through Citro’s research, he uncovered an interesting thought by New England folklorist and historian Edward Rowe Snow, who speculated that the silver may have found its way into Vermont because of the plundering of a distressed ship off the coast of New London, Connecticut.

In November of 1752, the Spanish ship Spanish ship Santa Elena y Senor San Joseph was on it’s way from Hondorous to Spain. Its hold was loaded with at least 40 chests filled with silver. But on November 24th, the vessel ran into some trouble at sea and was forced to dip in towards New London where it anchored. It should have been a straightforward repair if the requests for aid weren’t met by thievery instead.  Most of that silver somehow vanished while in port, and the whereabouts are a mystery that probably will never be solved. Maybe the stolen loot somehow found its way up into the far-flung wilds of Vermont to be stashed, or maybe the party was on their way to Canada. Maybe. If that’s the case, what about the other Vermont towns and their similar treasure tales?

Another theory is that the local Indians may have put it there, but that also lacks validation.

Ghastly Tales

I guess the laws of buried treasure state that when you have one, you also have the supernatural. In Bristol’s instance, a ghost or two.

The original and more morbid of the tales is that when the mysterious Spanish prospectors were mining the base of South Mountain, they sacrificed a local boy and his dog under the moon, its light burning their blood on the stark white boulders. I guess it’s no secret that avarice brings out the worst in people and our monsters often say the most about humanity.

Anyways, this grim act was supposed to supernaturally bound the boy to protect the mine for all eternity, shambling through the shadowy woodlands around tree stumps and near caves, with a smoldering hot branding iron and a frightful gash across his throat, chasing away anyone who gets too close to the fabled mine. His dog turned hell hound is said to join him, growling and threatening to tear the throats out of anyone who ventures too close. Strangely enough, Harvey once wrote that some of those miners, who were gray-haired, aged men, actually admitted to hearing weird howls and groans at dusk.

The more modern version turns the boy and his dog into sympathetic figures. One fall afternoon, a boy and his dog went hiking in the woods around Hell’s Half Acre, exploring the abandoned mines and cavities and rotting wooden platforms. And perhaps maybe, something flickered in the back of the boy’s mind as he continued with his dog, something about a lost fortune of silver that was never found…

But as night fell, they never came home. His worried parents soon launched a search party, and plenty of neighbors and volunteers combed the woods and found nothing. After weeks of searching, they reluctantly gave up, and the cold Vermont winter rolled in. The next spring, a passing woodsman was walking through the woods, when he noticed something peculiar at the edge of a mine shaft. As he got closer, he recognized it as the skeleton of a dog. Then it clicked. If he was looking at the remains of a dog, sure enough, that vanished boy had to be nearby.

At the bottom of the 50-foot shaft, the skeleton of a little boy was found. The boy had fallen into the mine shaft and broken both his legs, unable to get out, he starved to death. His faithful dog refused to leave his side, and died at the edge of the hole. And then, supernature happened.

For years after, and maybe even today, folks up around Bristol Notch would say that when the weather was just right on certain nights, they could hear something coming through the woods. Something that may have sounded somewhat like a lonely cry for help.

Regardless if any of this is true or not, it was a great area to bushwhack up to none the less, and the landscape, which is strangely alien and dangerous, makes for a great elixir for your imagination.

Sources:

There was some great material to aid my research here; including:

The Money Diggers by Stephen Greene ( in the compilation book; Mischief in the Mountains)

Green Mountains, Dark Tales by Joseph Citro

The Money Diggers, by Franklin Harvey

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

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The Hidden Cave

The awkward transitional period between the death of winter and the explosion of spring is a rough one. Looking at the cracked surface of a grey Lake Champlain, the landscape seemed warn down and tired. But there was something different. A warbling, trembling uncertainty rumbled below the atmosphere as the lake surface cracked and groaned, and the distant sounds of water tumbling down dirty cliffs meant snow melt. It meant Spring, and everything was fragile.

Walking along a cold cobblestone beach underneath sentinel cliffs, amazed at how all the trees above me were growing and surviving from their strange perches amidst crumbling stone, I let my cabin fever get the best of me, and started climbing up ledges and over trees, enjoying the “warm” afternoon.

My hands and feet slipped constantly in the muddy banks, a sure sign that mud season is right around the corner. Gripping onto the skeletons of exposed tree routes and getting filth all over my jacket, I found myself staring up at a frozen waterfall of snow runoff, and behind it, the telltale blackness of a crevice in the cliff face. I decided to get closer.

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As I got closer, and decided it was safe enough to approach without falling down what I had just climbed up, I realized it was more than just an indent in the rocks, I was starting at the mouth of a cave.

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Of course, when you stumble upon a cave, natural instinct is to go inside and check it out, and that’s what I did. This cave was a constant surprise. What I had assumed to be small was actually a very decent sized chamber that went far back underneath the ledges. Greeting me almost right away was a very cool site, a makeshift bench made from driftwood hauled up from the nearby beach, and a DIY fire pit, with the scatterings of ash still inside.

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Further behind the sitting area, some artifacts had been left behind. A wicker basket was placed on a rock table, with a pair of Zebra striped glasses left inside.

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Now the cave was getting narrow and the ceiling was getting lower, ice water was dripping down the back of my neck. For an awkward section, I had to crouch down on my knees to get back further, and just when I thought I had reached the end, the cave suddenly opened back up again and created a sort of second chamber, with a rock seating area along the back wall, and some cool stand alone ice formations on the frozen cave floor.

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It was definitely a cool place, something I’d most likely build myself if I had more ready access to a cave. I wondered, who put the effort into making this cool cliff side hangout, when and why? And maybe the best question, how many people know about it? But all was a mystery. Even the few marks of cave graffiti very neatly painted on the walls offered no incite.

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At the top of the waterfall
At the top of the waterfall
Looking up the ledges
Looking up the ledges

The cave was an awesome discovery, and I can imagine it being the perfect place to hang out on cool summer nights. I know when I left for a walk today, I never expected to find a hidden hangout spot underneath a cliff. You never know what you’ll find if you don’t venture off the beaten path.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

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Roadhouse Blues

This abandoned house is lost in between the lines of the blur of traffic and the pensive solitude of the woods it sits in. Only a stones throw away from the nightmare that is 5 corners, this house sits alone on the threshold of suburbia, licking its wounds in dense woods that serves as its sanctuary. Time seems to have been forgotten by the modern world here, whose motorists pass it frequently 10 feet beyond its rotting doorstep.

The modest 6 room wooden structure has succumbed to its slow death, refusing to make a sound, allowing mother nature to reclaim it at her own rate.

This house tells an ambiguous story. Its age is evident, most likely preceding most of the development around it, and now a symbol of how good times come and go, and how anything can be broken. Inside are various keepsakes littering the dirty floors in knee-high mounds, most indistinguishable as the years and the weather mold everything together in soiled masses of soggy decay. Vines and trees snake their way into the kitchen and furniture sinks its way into the rotting wooden floors.

Local lore tells that a local boy made good, who today owns an area sports team and a huge local transportation company, grew up here, and the reason of the house’s disintegration is because he couldn’t bear the thought of his childhood home being torn down, and would rather have it in a state of decay than the alternative of it not standing on the increasingly busy route it’s fading on.

To some, a small farmhouse might be a boring place to explore, opting for the dreamier abandoned asylums or hotels of neighboring states. But it seems every town has a forsaken property of some caliber. And it’s here in these forgotten and neglected spaces that incubate some of life’s most poignant stories, falling on those with open ears and minds.

Only time will tell what will become of this place, as years go by and the woods grow thicker.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

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The Reading Abduction Stones

Propped inconspicuously off a no-frills stretch of state route 106 in Reading, south of the attractive little village of Felchville are a curious set of stones that are too easy to miss. If you were to take a look, you might be perplexed at the strange, enigmatic hieroglyphs found on them, with pictures of a bow an arrow, people, trees and what appear to be pick axes, what do these curious images mean? Underneath is faded scrawl, scribed in eighteenth-century English. These stones are certainly vexing. So what are they?

These are actually a monument, chiseled and erected in 1799 that mark an older occurrence, an Indian abduction.

Susanna Johnson and her family were abducted by a party of Abenaki in 1754 from Charlestown, NH, and were marched by their captors across Vermont towards Canada. But when they reached the banks of Knapp Brook, Mrs. Johnson went into labor and unceremoniously gave birth to a daughter, before being forced to continue the trek shortly after.

During their years in captivity, her son assimilated into the Abnaki culture, while her daughter was sold to a French Canadian family from Montreal. The details are vague here, but Mrs. Johnson would eventually return home.

But years later, through a series of contacts, the three family members were briefly united. However, they were unable to communicate with each other linguistically or culturally.

Mrs. Johnson had the abduction stones monument made and put in their current spot, both where she gave birth and where they still sit today, and are the oldest such monument in the country. But while the 18th century English is translatable, the weird assortment of carved pictures are pretty peculiar. Perhaps we’ll never know.

In 1918, someone encased the stones in a larger stone monument, to preserve them forever, and today they rest on the side of Route 106, barely noticed by passersby.

If you wish to find them, look for the dirt pull off on Route 106, near the junction of Knapp Brook Road in Reading. dsc_0375_pe-2

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As seen driving down Route 106. What’s in a name anyway?
As seen driving down Route 106. What’s in a name anyway?

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

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The Indian Footprints; Woodbury Oddities In Stone

Within the deep bogs and silent forests of Woodbury, along nearly impassible back roads when the weather is just right, is another world entirely. People live up here in palpable solitude. Marshes gently bleed into immortal evergreen forests that are bounded by jagged slate cliffs. The Green Mountains are the oldest mountains in the world, and Woodbury is a good look into the haunting archaic beauty and amiable stillness of the region.

It is here off one of these jarring back roads that winds around bogs and through cliff lined gulfs that two footprints stare at you on a crumbling ledge that seems to vanish into a dark forest above you. That is, if you happen to notice them. And if you do notice the fading, waist high footprints, you might become puzzled over their seemingly random existence in the middle of nowhere.

Why are they here? Who’s footprints are they? From what I know, no one really has any definite answers, but there is a local legend that works to uncover the mystery.

As what was told to me, most people who grew up in town called them The Indian Footprints, and have been there as long as anyone can remember. On both sides of the road are tall slate cliffs, and thousands of years ago, the road used to be a riverbed, and the cliffs the walls of a hungry gorge. When the water was low, you could easily cross the river, but when it was high, it rose to the top of the cliffs.

The river acted as a boundary between two rival tribes, thousands of years ago. As the story goes, in a classic Romeo and Juliet scenario, a young man and woman from the opposing clans fell in love, but their different circles forbid them to see each other.  So they planned to elope secretly at the gorge. But when the woman jumped in the river to swim over and meet her lover, the water was higher and rougher than she could put up with, and the rushing currents swept her away. The man jumped in to save her, but upon doing so, broke his legs on the rock ledge and drowned in the process. Their bodies would later turn up in present day Nelson Pond, just down the road.

The tragedy brought the two fighting tribes together at the river’s edge. The two grieving chiefs decided to commemorate the tragic event, and carve the footprints of the brave man on the ledge where he suffered his fatal fall. This act symbolized the ending of a long running feud, in hopes that no one else would ever die again because of it.

The footprints have been there ever since, or as the story goes. Over the years though, weather and water have long worked on eroding the footprints, and in 1958, a local resident took it upon himself to hand chisel the footprints back into the rocks in fear of them getting lost forever.

But perhaps a greater mystery than the origin of these stone carvings is just how to find them. Making our way through the worn village of South Woodbury amidst ponds with ink black surfaces that reflected snow dusted forests – my friend’s car slid and spun its way up and down hill top dirt roads far from the safety of cell phone reception. Miraculously, with only the aid of 2 wheel drive, we made it to the right area, and with a lot of searching amongst indistinguishable evergreens and cliffs covered with moss and snow, somehow, their outlines stood out of the rock surface.

Regardless of the authenticity, standing on that back road in Woodbury with snow tumbling down on the ground was simply beautiful, and could easily inspire a love story such as this.

The placid waters of Nelson Pond today, where their bodies were discovered by their grieving tribes-mates.
The placid waters of Nelson Pond or Forest Lake today, where their bodies were eventually located.

Not related to the Indian Footprints, but related to the area; I really dig this aesthetically prime rural town in Central Vermont. Woodbury has more lakes than any other Vermont township, and around those waterbodies are tons of rocky glacier gouged hills etched with scenic gravel back roads.

Like Chartier Hill Road, which has a barn that was built in 1903, that was also built over the road.

Woodbury’s Medevil Tower 

What to do with a defunct quarry and lots of rocks? You could build something like this medieval looking cylindrical watchtower tower on the shores of Sabin Pond, located off a thin back road in a quarried depression. It even has gargoyles perched sentinel around the top rim with faces rictus with gloom.

Property owner Scott McCullough, who also fittingly owns a rock crushing business, decided to begin building the inconspicuous 24-foot cylindrical quasi-mythical structure in 2009, partially in an effort to clean up the eyesore patch of land which locals began to use as a garbage dump, and partially for something to do on weekends. But be warned – trespassers aren’t welcome. And there are several signs to make the point. But I’m told he’s a friendly fellow who is pretty enthusiastic about striking up a conversation about it. Just as long as he’s around and you have permission to be there.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

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Vermont’s Mysterious Stone Chambers

New England is an old region. But we keep finding unexplainable oddities in our woods that make us wonder just how old. The great north woods that stretch across the northeast successfully hold many unsolved mysteries and intriguing curios. Seriously. Though parts of New England have become characteristically developed over the last century, the varying topography here and it’s fluctuating inaccessibility makes it hard to have a complete idea of exactly what is out there still. For example, a plane that slammed into Jay Peak in 1943 was just found in September of 2016.

Many of our curiosities have been made possible thanks to something ubiquitous to the northeast; rocks. There is “America’s Stonehenge” in Salem, New Hampshire, a strange site featuring exoticisms of stone construction whose builders and purposes are pretty obscure. There is the mysterious Gungywamp in Connecticut that has rock placements that may date back to 2000 BC, the vulnerable Upton Chamber in Massachusetts, and tons of stone tunnels, chambers and monoliths found all over this weird part of America. Many have yet to be discovered, and some are vanishing into the past tense.

Vermont adds to that list of eccentric finds with mysterious stone chambers scattered in the deep forests and rocky highlands around the state.

These strange beehive structures have incredible craftsmanship, using several ton stones put together with dexterity and without the use of machinery or mortar. The question is, wtf are they? Who built them, and why?

Most of these structures are igloo-shaped, burrowing into a hillside with a door like opening. Inside, the walls are made from perfectly placed stones and the ceilings encompass giant stone slabs weighing several tons. Some have enigmatic inscriptions etched into the stones that have baffled people since they have been discovered. Any information seems to have long ago vanished in some sort of cultural hiccup, ensuring the answers were never handed down, leaving this as one of Vermont’s greatest lingering mysteries.

But there are theories, and depending on who you ask, are the subject of much debate. An accepted theory by the powers that be of state historical research is that these stone igloos are nothing more than colonial root cellars, as old as 200 years. A Google search on them showed me several similar structures all tagged under the same label. But from what I was seeing, these constructions involved more modern planning or construction, often with brick or mortar and more defined delineation. Many of the alleged ancient chambers, weren’t, and were more naturally but impressively put together. Some of these stones weigh several tons, and would have most likely had to be dug up and transported to the building sites. Why all that labor for a root cellar?

More mystique has affixed itself to the masonry of these chambers, sort of debunking the root cellar notion the historical society stubbornly upholds. The Native Americans knew of these chambers as well, denied building them, and seemed to be just as puzzled. So it could be possible that these stone chambers were here long before the first land grabbing Europeans set foot in the hills of Vermont. And apparently, one of them has been carbon dated before, and the results concluded that these may have existed more than 2,000 years ago.  So what are they, and who built them?

Another explanation that is gaining popularity is that these mounds are a product right out of Atlantic coast area Europe, and were built by ancient Celts or Vikings, who during seafaring explorations, landed over here in northeastern North America.

While here, they discovered copper deposits, which Vermont is loaded with. Could these mounds be the product of ancient copper miners? And if so, that would further support that Celts or Vikings were here far before Columbus set foot in the western hemisphere. But that still leaves out a revealing detail; what were these stone chambers used for? Some speculate they were tombs, a place to leave the dead to be returned to Mother Earth.

Many of these constructions have some sort of astronomical significance and have been savvily placed to align almost precisely with the vernal equinox or winter solstice.

They’re also pretty similar to traditional Celtic dwellings in Ireland or the British Isles, minus the thatched roof and instead, New England-ized. Some were found to even have chimneys, or, openings in the stone roofs. Could they have been Celtic explorers attempts at homesteading here?

Other chambers offer ways that the past can speak to us in the modern world, but their messages are often hard to decipher, raising more unanswerable questions and scrutiny than not. Ogham/Ogam, a dead ancient Irish language, has been found etched in the very stones that these chambers were constructed from. One inscription was translated as; “Precincts of the gods of the land beyond the sunset”. Could this be Vermont’s original name?

We’ve already debunked the conventional unwisdom of Columbus and later the Pilgrims being the first to set foot around these parts, and are continuously finding evidence of Viking settlements, so why not add the Celts to our visitor roster?

In Vermont alone, there are a reported 200 of these stone structures scattered around the state, with possibly more that have yet to be discovered, and others which have already shook hands with their mortality.

I was on some message boards doing some research on ancient Vermont stuff, and one commenter from Windsor County had written that there was a stone chamber on his property, but some rowdy kids trespassed and pulled a stone out of the wall that they thought had Ogham on it, and later, the whole structure collapsed. I can see why some people aren’t into the idea of these oddities being ancient, because of the disrespectful visitors they can draw. As an oddity-hunter and explorer myself, this is why I almost never give out the locations I visit, because sadly, you can’t trust people not to ruin things. But the biggest cause of death for these sites is actually by construction projects. Often, they have been purposely razed to make way for cheap cookie cutter housing developments or a farmer wanting to expand their hayfield.

But despite all this, their existence remains largely unknown to most Vermonters, and more shockingly, it seems not many are interested in studying them, creating roadblocks to discovering exactly what they are. And any assumptions a curious adventurer may come up with in the throes of wanderlust are meant with the silence of the forests, and the chilly winters coming down your neck. But despite the chills, the fires of my imagination were inspiring me that day when I headed down towards Southern Vermont to see if I could find some answers for myself.

It were these winter chills and the harsh glow of the dying November sun that slipped under my skin as I stepped out of the car. My feet crunched across field grasses and around muddy stream beds as I made my way up the hill. I knew the location of one of these mysterious stone chambers, and I was on a mission to find it. But it seems while I was seeking one mystery, I stumbled into another one. Just where the heck was it? I had vague directions, but underneath the brown leaves that coated the forest floor, everything was indistinguishable. There was no large mound and no doorway. The sun was beginning to sink behind the looming shadow of Killington Peak, and it was getting colder. After awkwardly combing the woods for 20 minutes, I decided to head back to the car, feeling my stomach sink a little.

Not wanting to admit defeat, I decided to utilize a great Vermont resource; the town clerk’s office. And I seemed to be in luck, as my question raised enthusiastic responses from the people inside, as they crowded around the front desk. As one person created a hand drawn map for me, another was passionately giving me directions in a fashion that can only be described as Vermonty.  “Head up the road a ways until you get to the old McIntosh Farm, not sure who owns it now…anyways, you’ll notice a field is on your right-hand side after you pass where the schoolhouse used to be, but if you hit the old snowmobile trail, you’ve gone too far and have to turn around…”

Heading back up into the hills with my new directions, I was going to give it another shot. And as it turns out, I was almost right on top of it to begin with. This time, I noticed it, barely. A small hole in a rolling mound of earth just at the edge of a field. As I walked over, it became clear what had happened. The “hole” was actually the entryway I was looking for, filled in with years of erosion and leaves that had fallen in front of it. A few kicks with my foot widened the claustrophobic entrance, but not by much. It was just enough for me to crawl into. But I was hesitant. Were there animals inside? And just how stable was this place? But perhaps what was unnerving me the most, was the weird feeling it was giving me.

As I watched the clouds overwhelm the evening sun, It was strangely bittersweet. I was happy I had managed to find it. It seems like in a few years, this dome is in danger of becoming buried by mother nature, another thing long lost. It seemed so simplistic, a simple stone igloo structure, and yet, the work that went into making it was incredibly labor intensive. I felt like I had a brief connection with something that was much bigger than me, and yet, it seemed vacant, like a tomb – nothing breathed there in the cold.

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You can see just how small the opening was next to my cold and intrigued self.
You can see just how small the opening was next to my cold and intrigued self.

In 2016, I tracked down another chamber with a good compadre, and made a 2-hour drive to do a little investigating. Ancient Vermont enthusiasts know this particular chamber pretty well, and as we found out, so do other people. The earth floor was uncommonly flat with a chimney-like opening towards the back surrounded by notable stone slabs that made up the ceiling with hefty masses, that were aligned together and supported almost precisely. I read that some explorers and archeologists had found subterranean chambers, or spaces underneath some of these chambers, their entrances hidden by stone slabs on the floor. There was a debris pile in the back below the chimney that I started to pluck a few stones from, just to see if this was one of those chambers. It wasn’t.

Many of the stones were carved up with prior visitors in modern day English, but we did find a few obscure linear patterns and scribings that, may have been done by a previous tourist, but seems a little weird in terms of what is normally graffitied in these sort of locations. We were able to pull up Wikipedia on my friend’s phone and tried to dabble in cryptography for a bit, seeing if any of these hieroglyphs were anything close to Ogam, but there were no confident matches I could make.

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There are plenty of different theories and research compilations done about these stone chambers. Here are a few good ones if you’re interested in further research:

Vermont’s Stone Chambers: An inquiry into their past 

Vermont History: Stone Chambers

Lost History: The story of New England’s Stone Chambers

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

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Mysterious Snake Mountain

Fog shrouded the barren farmlands as icy winds sputtered and spinned outside the car as we moved down Route 22A through the flats of Addison County. There is something about late Fall, the odd transition period of old and the rebirth of Spring that is strangely ideal for adventuring. There is a certain melancholy about this time of year that rides the winds that blow in off the lake, something that a good adventure can temporarily alleviate. Things are more vulnerable in the Fall, and more raw. These thoughts were confirmed as the hulking and lengthy form of Snake Mountain loomed ahead in the fog and cold rain.

There is something mysterious about Snake Mountain that is conjured by its isolation. Sitting right in the middle of otherwise pancake flat farmland in the heart of Addison County, the sprawling monadnock raises a lofty 1,287 feet above the valley below – its craggy ledges the only surface that managed to capture the sun’s warming gleam. It’s not a widely recognized area. As a matter of fact, not many seem to know you even can hike the mountain, making it all the more alluring.

Snake Mountain is the focal point of the 1,215 acre wildlife management area of the same name, forever protecting the mountain and a 9500-year-old kettle lake known as Cranberry Bog, which according to the fish and wildlife department, formed shortly after the retreat of the last glacier in Vermont. But it’s a discrete area, one that isn’t clearly marked and still remains uncongested by mobs of tourists.

When I was younger, I was told that the dense and disparate patch of wilderness used to be called Rattlesnake Mountain, and its ledges and boulders were home to the only venomous reptile in the state (which isn’t true – Fair Haven’s Rattlesnake Ridge is bestowed that honor). But if the strange urban legends are true about this enclave of no man’s land in the middle of the county, then there are far more sinister things that haunt the wooded slopes and bogs. Snake Mountain is also reportedly home to a strange cryptid dubbed as “The Black Beast of Snake Mountain”, which supposedly stalked the slopes and terrorized unsuspecting farmers back in the 1920s and 1930s.

Though I couldn’t find a description of this brazen creature, it was said to lurk behind barns and houses that surrounded the mountain, and if encountered, its said to be savage. According to The Vermont Monster Guideone woman was attacked by this elusive creature one night while driving home after a visit with a neighbor.  It began to chase her vehicle as she panicked and began to pick up speed down a winding road that carved along the base of the mountain. To her surprise, not only was this thing managing to keep up with her car, it was catching up! Not wanting to get in a car accident, she pulled off into the first farm she saw, and it wasted no time in jumping on top of her car and began to claw at the roof. Now in hysterics, she did the only thing she could think of; she wailed on her horn. The noise grabbed the attention of the family who owned the farm, who soon appeared on the front porch in curiosity. But as soon as the floodlights were turned on, the women ran back into the house screaming at the first sight of the terrifying encounter. The men ran in shortly after to grab their guns, but when they came back outside, the animal had vanished into the Addison night.

The stories continue. Another account reported it would also jump down from tree limbs and scare children working on nearby farms. Every attempt to shoot at it was a failure, it would always vanish successfully, leaving nothing but shaken onlookers and a terrifying memory. It seems the mysterious Black Beast faded into memory and folklore, and to this day no evidence exists of what exactly was terrifying isolated residents back in the 1920s.

And now, here I was underneath gloomy grey skies battered by chilly winds and rain, staring up at my destination. The summit appeared more distant and forlorn underneath the shifting clouds that wouldn’t open up the sky. My only thoughts at the moment were how my coffee didn’t seem to be working. Although the lore about the mountain was wondrous, that wasn’t why I was there. There is also a human mystery about Snake Mountain, one that was palpable underneath shedding foliage and autumn stillness.

At the entrance to the hard to find Wilmarth Woods trail, sits an old building that looks like it may have served a nearby farm at one point, or perhaps a very tiny one room schoolhouse. Though it has been boarded up, the strange urban legends I’ve heard still swirled in my head. Stories of people peaking through the windows and seeing dusty mason jars filled with odd colored liquids and cryptic contents floating lazily inside them were alluring and most likely far fetched. Regardless of the accuracy behind that claim, the boarded windows ensured I wouldn’t be finding any answers today.

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Embarking up The Wilmarth Woods Trail, it winds its way through thick brush, past the remnants of ancient mangled farm machinery and eventually follows the rather broad and rocky remnants of an old carriage road that snakes its way up the rocky hills and silent forests – the pungent smell of wet leaves and mud hung heavy in the air. Though my starting point was sluggish, I soon couldn’t help be taken by the beauty and therapy of the forest.

While trekking through the woods, they begin to tell a seperate story, adding to the mountain’s cryptic reputation. The birch stands at the base of the mountain are covered in ambigious tree carvings – it seems that every bored teenager in Addison County has made it to Snake Mountain to carve the name of their loved on into a tree, or to tell the world that they were there. Some carvings were remarkably old, dating back almost 30 years. These youth hieroglyphics are cool to see and read as you make your way up the slopes. 

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The carriage road continues to playfully climb the mountain and dip through shadowy dales until it reaches a particular point of interest at the summit – the reason for the carriage road’s existence. Sitting on top of magnificent views of Addison County and the rugged Adirondacks in the distance lies a crumbling concrete slab that buts right up to dizzying ledges. This is the foundation of the former Grand View Hotel. Built in 1870 by Jonas N. Smith, this hotel was built during an era when many mountaintops across the Northeast were being developed into resort properties, offering fresh country and and grand views to its eager clientele. Some even claimed that fresh country air would be an ailment to whatever health issues that were plaguing you. Because of the hotel, Snake Mountain became briefly known as Grand View Mountain. In 1925, the hotel was ravaged by a fire, leaving a smoldering pile of ruins scattered along the wind swept summit. Today, the foundation and steel rods that held the building in place are still visible, along with some of the best views anywhere.

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The weather worn foundation of the former Grand View Hotel and Champlain Valley splendor in the background.
The weather worn foundation of the former Grand View Hotel and Champlain Valley splendor in the background.
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One of the original pipes, its jagged stump still protruding from the foundation surface
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The small town of Addison, visible through the mists upon Snake Mountain.
Snake Mountain Panorama
Snake Mountain Panorama

From up here on the top of Addison County, a strange silence climbs into your head. Your thoughts become more lucid, and you get a strange sense of scale as you look at the patchwork fields and gleaming silos below you. The strange connection of you being apart of this uncertain game called life which is played at the bottom of the ledges at your feet, and loneliness up there in the deep. Snake Mountain offers a great excuse to get out for a easy and rewarding day hike. And there is no better therapy to what ails you than nature.

Links:

More about Snake Mountain via The Fish and Wildlife Department. 

How to get there:

From either approach on Route 22A, make a turn on Wilmarth Road. Follow it the short distance until it intersects and ends with aptly named Mountain Road, which runs along the base of the mountain. Take a left, and follow Mountain Road a short distance until you see a dirt parking lot to your left. The Wilmarth Woods Trail head is just before the parking lot on the right side of the road. Look for the dilapidated red building.

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To all of my amazing fans and supporters, I am truly grateful and humbled by all of the support and donations through out the years that have kept Obscure Vermont up and running.

As you all know I spend countless hours researching, writing, and traveling to produce and sustain this blog. Obscure Vermont is funded entirely on generous donations that you the wonderful viewers and supporters have made. Expenses range from internet fees to host the blog, to investing in research materials, to traveling expenses. Also, donations help keep me current with my photography gear, computer, and computer software so that I can deliver the best quality possible.

If you value, appreciate, and enjoy reading about my adventures please consider making a donation to my new Gofundme account or Paypal. Any donation would not only be greatly appreciated and help keep this blog going, it would also keep me doing what I love. Thank you!

Gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/b5jp97d4

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