Archive for October 28, 2010

A Visit to Dudleytown

Did you know that in a dark corner of Connecticut lies the “scariest place in New England?” Of all of the New England folklore about witches, hauntings and hangings, Connecticut’s own Dudleytown is the scariest!
Since the release of movies like the “Blair Witch Project,” the cursed forest has been closed to visitors. Fortunately, I had a chance to visit Dudleytown before doing so was considered trespassing.
There are many stories that surround the ancient New England town, and I can only pass on my version of what befell the tiny town.
In the year 1510 Edmund Dudley was beheaded for plotting to overthrow the King of England, King Henry VIII. It was then a curse was placed stating all Dudleys from Edmund Dudley’s lineage would be surrounded by horrors. Not to be outdone, Edmund’s son John Dudley also tried to overthrow the king by marrying his son to Lady Jane Grey. They were both beheaded. John Dudley’s third son decided to get the heck out of there and headed for America.
Descendents of these Dudleys eventually settled in a small part of Cornwall called Dudleytown. The entrance to Dudleytown is off Dark Entry Road, so named because of the bleak forest that surrounds it. The area is surrounded by three larger mountains, and the forest lies in the shadows of those mountains. The forest is high, about 1,100 feet, and the soil is filled with rocks. Isaac Stiles lived in the area and said: “Nature out of her boundless Store, Threw Rocks together and did no more.” Therefore cultivating the land took lots of work, as shown by the many stone walls built throughout the area. Early settlers felled timber which was used to make wood coal for the Litchfield County Iron Furnace. Most of the mills closed since it was so hard to get the timber down the hill and into town.
The families of Dudleytown were cursed, and many suffered bad luck or death. General Herman Smith was the most famous resident of Dudleytown. He served in the Revolutionary war under George Washington. In 1884 his wife was struck by lightning on their front porch. She died, and he reportedly went mad a short time later.
Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and most famous for his quote “Go West Young Man,” married a former resident of Dudleytown. His wife took her life one week before he lost his bid for president.
Nathaniel Carter lived in Dudleytown for a short time then moved his family near Binghamton, New York. While he was out hunting, Indians came to his house, killed his wife, abducted his children and scalped him when he returned.
Crops failed, people went crazy or died unexplained deaths, and animals went missing. By 1880 everyone had left except John Brophy. His children disappeared (though some say they ran away after being accused of stealing), his wife went crazy, and he set fire to his home, walking away never to return to Dudleytown.
In 1920 the town was reborn when a cancer doctor from New York City purchased a summer home in Dudleytown. Dr. William Clark began the Dark Entry Forest Association. In the mid 1920’s Dr. Clark was called back to New York for an emergency. When he returned three days later, his wife had gone mad and spent the rest of her life in an institution. There are many explanations for the bad luck that befell the town. The rocky area was found to have a high lead content and may have contaminated the drinking water. The main crop for the town was rye; and when rye is left to decay, it becomes a hallucinogen. This would explain the stories of strange hoofed creatures in the night. “Demons due to bad bread” as one researcher said. Although these same tragedies in a larger population may have gone unnoticed, the fact that so many happened in such a small community is, at the least, odd. Coincidence or curse, we may never know.
One thing I noticed as I walked the long road uphill was the quiet. There was not a bird chirping, a squirrel scampering, or any other sign of life in the forest. I brought along a map of the old town, and as we walked along the old foundations read the stories of the demise of each family. Just as we crossed a small stream and followed a stone wall, there was a loud noise to my left. I hit the ground, scared to death, as a ring neck pheasant flew across the path. That’s the only thing that got my heart pounding in the haunted town.
We do know that Dudleytown is now closed to the public and may cost you a trespassing fine of $75.00 if you decide to try and enter. It is said that Satanists and black witches started having ceremonies in the area of Dudleytown, and cases of animal sacrifice have been cited.
You can’t travel to Dudleytown, but you can experience its lore through books. We have several books on ghosts and haunted places, so check out “Connecticut Ghosts,” “Ghost Hunting,” “Haunted New England” or “Ghost Tracks.”

The Life of Keith

guitar.jpg Mick Jagger may not be happy with Life the autobiography of Keith Richards but fans should be. One of our greatest musicians is also a natural storyteller reflecting with insight and candor on a life like no other. The constant throughout the book is Keith Richards’ passion for the music from the time he was a little boy listening to the radio with his mother.
Keith is also fond of books. There’s a great photo in Life of him in his home library. He tried to organize his book collection using the Dewey Decimal System but gave up in frustration. He needs to hire a librarian. Many of us would apply for that job.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There is a great new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which has been written by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer was a seminal figure in German history. He was an outstanding theologian, pastor, spy and martyr. He became an implacable opponent of the Nazis and Hitler in the 1930s and remained so until his death in 1945. He was a member of the German intelligence service (the Abwehr) during World War Two and a member of the Nazi resistance while working there. His activities were discovered by the Gestapo and he was arrested in 1943 (quote) and executed just one month before the end of the war.
Eric Metaxas is a renaissance man of many talents. He was born in New York City but grew up in Danbury and is a 1980 graduate of Danbury High School. He is also an acclaimed children’s author.

A. S. Byatt

In 2009 the Man Booker Prize was won by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and it was a very good choice. But also on the shortlist for the prize was A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book which I have just finished reading. I have been a fan of Byatt since reading her novel Possession which won the 1990 Booker Prize. I think that The Children’s Book is a worthy successor to Possession and in some ways is an even better novel. It is a sprawling family story which does an excellent job of covering the important artistic and historical events in England and on the continent from 1895 to the Great War. Byatt weaves a perfect Victorian story of a writer of children’s stories and the dark secrets which lie just below the placid facade of her life. The story is complex and riveting. For more on Byatt check on the New York Times website.