Red Headed Hitchhiker of Route 44

People from New England survive on a history of oral tradition passed down by word of mouth in accents that sound funny to the rest of country. Whether it is the sports they play or the lives they live, the people are natural storytellers. Many things that happen within the Triangle become the subject of local lore, and in turn much of the mythos of the area seeps into the people’s collective consciousness, turning explainable shadows into ghosts. The truth might be somewhere in the middle, and at that crossroads lives the Redheaded Hitchhiker of Route 44.

015For as long as people in the area can remember, there have been claims of a red-headed man walking down U.S. Route 44 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and some have stopped to pick him up only to have him disappear on them. It sounds like an excellent story, giving people chills around a campfire, but the story might be more truth than legend and the ghost might be more supernatural than literary.

The description of the ghost is always the first thing that draws people in to the story. A driver is going along Route 44 at night, usually near the Seekonk-Rehoboth line when they encounter a well built man between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five. He has red hair and usually a beard and is dressed in a red flannel shirt with either jeans or brown work pants and work boots. Sometimes he is well kept, but other times he appears disheveled with an overgrown beard, dirty pants and an untucked shirt. Most times he appears solid to the drivers but not quite all there, but there are some stories where he is transparent throughout the entire encounter.

The biggest discrepancy in the physical description of the hitchhiker is with his eyes. Some say they look normal but just don’t feel right. Some say they are black and empty, others glowing and lifeless. Every color has been attributed to them at one time or another, from yellow and red to green, and it is this inconsistency that adds fuel to the skeptic’s argument against the existence of a genuine spirit on 44.

While the man’s look might draw people in, it is the stories of his exploits that keep people coming back. There is something about them that rings familiar, but like many things in the Triangle, there is a twist. There are many variations of the story, making him either a complex spirit or a subject of a town’s imagination. Someone is driving along the road, usually alone, when they see the man on the side of the road. They stop to pick him up and the hitchhiker gets into the passenger or the back seat. He remains silent, ignoring questions and often staring at the good Samaritan. He eventually vanishes before their eyes or is no longer there when they turn to look. This is usually followed by some type of audio finale where he laughs at them, yells or taunts them.

There are other tales attached to the mysterious man. Much like some of the stories from Freetown, there are also tales of people who drive through him, only to find no evidence of an impact when they stop. Others have seen him on the side of road, vanishing into the woods or waving and disappearing. Still others have been scared to see him outside their car window while they were traveling at high speeds or have had him suddenly be in their backseat.

Anyone who has driven that stretch of road at night can understand the uneasy feeling that pervades Route 44. A similar scene plays itself out in any rural towns across America where there are more legends than streetlights. It is a classic movie set up, which may have something to do with the appearance of the spirit.

The earliest written record of the occurrence was set down by Charles Turek Robinson in his 1994 book New England Ghost Files. In it he describes several encounters in detail. In one, the hitchhiker is seen outside the window of a fast moving car. Another person picked him up, only to have him vanish from the car. The most disturbing story in his book tells of a couple who broke down at about 10 pm. The woman stayed in the car while the man went to get help. They both suffered separate experiences. The man saw him on the side of the road and tried to talk to him. The red headed man began yelling at him and then disappeared, laughing from all directions as the man made his way back to the car. The woman heard his voice come over the radio, taunting her until she ran from the car.

 

People in the town have mixed feelings about their resident ghost. In a town known for its many hauntings, the hitchhiker is the most asked about. Law enforcement hates the attention, and the investigators, he brings to the town, but some residents embrace it. Asking a local merchant will get you another story, usually beginning with the preface that it did not happen to him and it was a few years back.

Not all the stories are told in the past tense. One woman claims she saw him walking into the woods on another road. She describes him differently and claims he never had red hair but rather died on another road with the color red in it, most likely, Redway Plain near Wilmarth Bridge Road. She says a local farmer died on that road after getting hit by a car changing a tire for a stranded motorist. None of this has been able to be confirmed.

Chris has an uncomfortable relationship with the ghost. He first read Robinson’s books when he was younger, and became so interested he contacted the writer to talk about the story. He eventually lost the book and recently bought it again when the price had come down on a website. He knew some of the history of the road, and had seen two people die on different part of it over the years.

 “I’ve made several attempts to try to reach the phantom but have come up dry each time, although strange things did happen. The first inspection resulted in a tire exploding when there was nothing visible on the road that could’ve popped the tire. The second instance was when my car stalling for a few minutes due to overheating.” He says there was nothing wrong with his car before reaching that stretch of road.

He has all but given up looking for the ghost because of what happened the first time after his tire blew. “While waiting for a tow truck driver we were hearing noises most of the night. There was rustling and we thought it was the wind. It didn’t sound like an animal and we heard walking. We didn’t want to turn the radio on because the story says he can talk through that. We turned the radio and our cells off. It was scary. I had read the story when I was 7 or 8 and it creeped me out enough. To be that close was too much. The truck came and then the rustling just stopped. We were eager to get going.”

While he can explain all of that away, another time driving down 44 makes him put more weight into the stories he hears from others. “I traveled down that strip of road again. It was late and I had fallen asleep as my other friend drove. She stopped short and was panicking. I woke up startled and confused. She said she thought she hit someone and we looked around to see no one in sight. Then I recognized where we were. I told her to get going and not to ask questions, to my surprise the car didn’t start right away and after the third try it did. We drove off and I explained to her about the Red Headed Phantom and she flipped, claiming the man she thought she hit looked like the ghost I had described.”

Another woman name Alice claims her and her friends saw the ghost. “Some of us snuck out one night and walked down that whole road all the way to the railroad tracks. We think that we saw him. We all did. Let me tell you, when we saw that misty figure in the shape of a man, we bolted down that road back to the house as fast as we could.” While Alice and her friends might have seen something, maybe even a ghost, it is only the location of the sighting that connects it to the hitchhiker. According to research, he has never been seen as just mist.

Wanda became interested in the history of the ghost after having seen him in her car one night. She was alone and saw him in the rear view mirror. The radio started to scan the stations and then became so loud it shook the car. The man disappeared and began to laugh on the radio. “I looked into it, but I found nothing about him. Who this guy is is a mystery. Why he is here is a mystery.”

Stories like this are not unusual. Like a highway boogeyman, the hitchhiker takes the blame for everything unexplained happening on the road. Then there are those natural things made to feel more supernatural given the history of the ghost. The explainable leaps into part of the lore, and witnesses become convinced before rational thought can enter the question.

It feeds the mythos of the story. Most of the modern stories about the phantom come from second and third hand stories. People retell them as true, almost as if they had happened to them. Recently reports have been posted on the Internet by people claiming to have seen the ghost. The majority of these can be discounted because the information seems to be a compilation of the rumors heard. Most do not get the town or physical description right.

 

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The stories also start to feel like urban legends. Melanie has never seen the ghost before, but she says the story travels with her and her friends when they drive around. “Here are some things I have heard from reliable sources about hitchhiker in Rehoboth. Apparently what happens is if you have three people in the car and one empty spot in the backseat he supposedly appears in the vacant seat for awhile, and then vanishes. The second thing is a bit more frightening. The driver will look over at the passenger in the front seat and see the hitchhiker. Upon his disappearance, the passenger will have no recollection of what happened. The second one happens more frequently than the first. Still, I haven’t heard enough information to be comfortable going there. I’m sure something does happen, I just don’t want to be put in a potentially dangerous situation.” The stories do not stop her from driving the stretch of road though.

One of the last stories told about the hitchhiker is almost textbook urban legend. John has never had an encounter with a ghost, but his brother’s friend had the air taken out of his lungs by something he saw on the road. “He had been driving alone when he saw him on the side of the road. He stopped and called out to the man who started to walk towards him. As he got closer, he faded until he had completely disappeared.” This sounds like it may be true, but John goes on to tell how to bring out the spirit. “See, he had driven to the town line. They say if you drive to the town line, turn off your lights and honk three times, he will appear in your car or in your headlights when you turn them back on. This guy had tried that, but it didn’t work. I guess the ghost was slow that night.”

Stories like this make the believer in us nod our heads and avoid roads. They make the skeptics laugh. Every state has something like this, they say, and despite dozens of sighting over the decades, there is no documented proof other than first hand stories of the encounters. There are psychological and physical alternatives to the hauntings, as well as entire cannon of myths and urban legends utilizing the basic motif of the lonely road and the hitchhiker or traveler. Yet just because something can be explained doesn’t mean it has been.

Most hauntings like the red headed hitchhiker have fallen into the realm of local legend, told as cautionary tales and local color. The most famous of these is Resurrection Mary in the Chicago area that has been reported in books and television shows such as Unsolved Mysteries. Mary was a teenage immigrant who was killed in a car accident while going home from a dance. She is still seen in her dress traveling the road between the hall and cemetery at which she is buried trying to get home. She is often picked up and has been known to interact with the people who do so. She asks to be dropped off near the cemetery and vanishes near it or vanishes from the car as it passes.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It has been adopted by most states and several countries on both sides of the ocean. There have been similar occurrences in other parts of the country including Kentucky, St. Louis, North and South Carolina and Arkansas. Hawaii has a long history of hitchhikers vanishing, and for a long time it was thought to be the volcano god Pele who stole rides with horsemen and drivers. All have some twist to unique to that area of the country and all are built upon first hand reports later spiced up and allowed to fall into myth and exaggeration.

These stories might be part of a broader tradition that continues to grow. Jan Brunvard, the most decorated folklorist in modern times, has written extensively on the topic of the vanishing hitchhiker, even naming one of his collections of urban legends after the tale. It is one of the most popular urban legends and seems to stretch across different times and cultures, and new variants are being added every year. Some stories have a man pick a girl up and drop her off at her house only to find her no longer in the car. When he approaches the door, he is told by the people inside that it was the ghost of their daughter that died years ago on that stretch of road. Often there is a picture the driver of the girl so the driver can identify her. Another has two men or a group of men pick her up and bring her to the prom. They dance with her all night, noticing how cold she feels before she vanishes. There is often proof left behind, like a scarf or a jacket left on a gravestone.

Another whole string, more in line with the hitchhiker on Route 44, has a man being picked up or just appearing in the backseat. He often has something prophetic to tell the driver that comes true and is sometimes Jesus himself.

One of the most disturbing tales is of a naked woman seen lying in the road in California. The driver gets out, but she is no longer there. Despite his searching and the help of the police, there is no one found. After three nights of sightings, they finally find her car off the road and hanging off of an embankment. She is dead inside, but her son is still alive, hanging on to the last moments of life.

Our time and place does not have exclusive rights to the hitchhiker tales. Mythology from England and Ireland has its own version of the tale that dates back hundreds of years. The Fortean Times has published dozens of accounts, sometimes with a supernatural creature such as a vampire, werewolf or black dog filling in. A famous British politician once saw his doppelganger on such a road. Irish fairy tales tell of people straying from the road only to fall into a fairy circle that causes disasters to befall them. There are tales from Roman days of walking along the road only to encounter some paranormal or supernatural being.

There is an account in the Bible and the Devil is known to appear at crossroads to strike deals for hapless victim’s souls. We are taught this connection between roads, crossroads and evil early. A recent children’s book explores the alphabet by using American traditions to go from A to Z. V is for Valley Forge and W is for the White House. X is for the Crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul.

The connective tissue of these stories is the lonely road and the unknown and there symbols resonate with the reader because they are common and universal. Roads have long been associated with life; the path of our lives, the journey we must take. They also imply the soul is still traveling, never able to get where it needs to go. Are these just motifs of our collective unconscious or is there some basis for these localized hauntings? Myths might point out the archetypes of the traveler trying to get home and the obstacles he must overcome, the lonely road, dark turns, isolation in the woods. The very locations of these hauntings allow our minds to wander and sends us crawling back to our bedrooms as children where we shrink back from the darkness of our closed closet and underneath our bed. We see the crosses on the sides of roads and maybe even know the names and this adds to our tension.

Michael White offers another theory in his 1999 book Weird Science: The Unexplained Explained by Science. He writes about hypnagogic and hynopomic hallucinations and claims it explains away the majority of the hitchhiker stories. During long drives at night, especially in dark, secluded places, we tend to fall asleep. The repetitive scenery, the lull of the motor and the constant yellow or white lines in the road put us in a hypnotic state that simulates the beginning and ending stages of sleep when we begin to enter a type of dream state. Our imagination is fed by the stories we hear about an area or the cliché environment we are in and we see things that are not there. People have even been known to interact and feel physical sensations from this stage of sleep.

Alan Alves describes the active mind and the creative mind. The creative mind is our subconscious where all of our memories are stored. This kicks in when we are driving though places we have traveled before, much like the local residence who represent the bulk of the reported sightings. We basically have this part of our brain take over, which is why we often get home and do not remember anything about the trip. During this time our imagination takes over. We can create very real monsters and ghosts to fill the time, although Alves also admits we may also be open to the paranormal that exists in this state.

With mounting evidence against the possibility of the existence of the red-headed hitchhiker is there any evidence that he does exist? Back roads are primed for paranormal occurrences. People often suffer tragic accidents or die in violent ways in these rural setting without streetlights and quick turns that can not be seen until you are on top of them. Does this particular legend just sound like an established bit of folklore, or is the folklore based on activity that is more common on roads than other places?

Folklorists look for similarities in stories when they create motifs and variants, but evidence of the existence of the hitchhiker in Massachusetts might be gained by looking at what is different in these tales. If you look at the reports before the area was modernized some things stick out. First, most of the people reporting the occurrences did so with no sinister motives, and most of the people Robinson interviewed were asked about a separate legend completely and offered the hitchhiker story. Next, many of the people had never heard the legend and did not know each other. At times, the phantom has appeared to more than one person which would make a hallucination like the one White talked about near impossible.

Then there is the ghost himself. He seems unworldly, unlike the people often seen in the urban legend. He offers no advice or prophetic promises. In fact, he doesn’t talk. His goal does not seem to get home but to scare and taunt. He also has appeared outside cars moving over fifty miles an hour, which shows up in none of the urban myth research. Lastly, he comes from an area long known to have paranormal activity.

The first encounters may be true. The stories date back longer before the Internet and before people from the outside started to come in looking to pick him up. The stories were probably met with a half nod when they were told. The original accounts were not farfetched and told by friends. Then the stories started to mix with movies and something someone had heard somewhere before. They became part of the town and people no longer remembered where they had heard the story from. There is a ghost on the patch of road leading into Seekonk, but he is no longer the man people would recognize. Now only the legend of the ghost haunts the town.

Profile Rock

Some places are home to solitary ghosts, lone figures trapped in time who appear dark against the landscape, telling everyone they do not belong. They are not the scary monsters of out nightmares, but tragic figures, often replaying the moment of their deaths and inspiring empathy instead of fear. They are unexplained, but more than that, they are physical moments of history, reminding us what once was and forcing us to remember a past we try to put behind us.

The Freetown State Forest is bursting at the seams with violent places. There are monsters in this section and bodies found in that, but one location keeps the spirit of a noble diplomat turned warrior. Philip, the last leader of the Wampanoags before the dismantling of his nation, once stood high on the rocks there, watching his land slowly slip away. He now returns, unable to let go and still hoping he can somehow keep his people together.

006The most recognizable feature within the forest, and perhaps the most noticeable natural landmark in Massachusetts, might be the rock formation on Old Joshua’s Mountain. Named after the first permanent settler in the area, Joshua Tisdale, it is the state’s own Old Man in the Mountain. Most people in the area know it by its more descriptive name, Profile Rock, and the people who visit there know the man immortalized in the stone attracts spirits the way he once drew in his people.

Although formed by natural means, people have felt for centuries the perfect profile on Joshua’s Mountain is that of Massasoit, Wampanoag sachem during the early days of English settlement and father to Alexander and Philip. The fifty foot high rock is surrounded by woods on all sides, with paths cut out mostly by foot traffic. The entrance off Slab Bridge Road is accessible to the public, and the park rangers identify it as one of the most popular spots in the area. The rock is not physically within the woods, but the property is now considered part of the state forest.

Once inside the park, visitors notice the profile as they turn up the rock trail, set off on both sides by medium sized, irregular stones. Bikes and motorcycles often stop off to view the mountain, and from that distance the face still appears noble, solid and strong and still watching over the forest.

Despite attempts to keep it clean and restore its beauty, it is still a meeting place for the youth of the town, a place to get drunk and let loose, and the many niches constituting the sides of the mountain make it more attractive to people doing no good. Unlike the Assonet Ledge, a good pair of shoes will allow you to climb from the bottom up to the head of Massasoit, and people have been known to climb halfway up to break off pieces.

History does not tell when Massasoit became connected to Profile Rock, but it is known the mountain was considered sacred long before the chief came into power. For generations preceding his birth, the Wampanoag met there to discuss tribal issues and to protect themselves against their enemies. It was a vital part of their culture, easily accessible and high enough to see much of the surrounding land. It provided an excellent defense, but there was a positive energy they felt and were attracted to.

Looking back, Massasoit might have felt like a savior to many within his tribe. He kept the people together in the face of disease, tribal warfare and the English settlers. It is understandable they would associate the stone with him, but it was this recognition that may have trapped his son, Philip, to remain at Profile Rock. After the death of his father Philip was forced to deal with intensifying problems with the English, other tribes and his own people. He often came to the mountain to seek guidance. During the war it is said he went to the rock to mediate and meet with his war general, Anawan. No doubt he felt some connection to the place many claimed looked like his father, but he may have also used it to remind the people of his bloodline.

ghostbridgeMassasoit had formed a tentative alliance with the English of Plymouth Colony, brokering the peace for decades before his death. He was known as a wise man and a resource, even in the next life, for policy and strategy and would have made a good counselor, even in death. This might account for the reports today of a man sitting in a praying position on the rock. Perhaps the intensity of Philip’s prayers there imprinted themselves and we see the fallen sachem replaying his futile attempt to save his people from massacre.

Patrick knew of Profile Rock from an early age. Aside from seeing it on the patches of the police in town, his father would bring him to the mountain when he went to paint landscapes of it. His father would sit for hours, trying to capture the perfect emotion of the place, and Patrick would play with the rocks and try to climb the trees.

 “My father was not an artist. He had taken some classes before, but he was a cook. Not at all what you would think of as a painter, but he loved that place.” Patrick says his father would talk about being drawn in by the stone, but he could never communicate why. “He felt something there. He painted other things, but he always went back to Profile Rock. I don’t think he ever got it right. He didn’t know what he felt, he just felt it.”

It meant nothing to Patrick to climb the face of the stone. He had done it for as long as he could remember. In late 2001 the climb felt different.

 “I think it was the first time I knew what my father felt. All those times with him and I always used the place as a playground. That day though, I think I felt what he was trying to say with those paintings.”

As he made it way up the rock, carefully placing each foot as he went, He felt the air change around him. It became very warm, almost humid, and he found it hard to breath. He looked up to see someone looking down at him. He said the man had dark skin and no hair. The man extended his arm as if to help Patrick up, but when Patrick looked down to make sure his feet were secure, the man vanished.

 “I don’t know what I saw, but the whole thing seemed wrong. Well, not wrong as much as out of place. I never felt threatened, but I knew I had seen a ghost.

Rich saw Philip one afternoon while walking his dog back in 1987. He lived nearby and would take Jingle across the street and into the woods. He approached the rock, all the time looking at the profile. A figure slowly appeared, faint at first and then becoming solid. The man was sitting on the top and stood, extending his hands and then bringing them back to his chest. He sat back down and slowly faded away.

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 “Jingle saw him too. He can’t tell his story, but I know he saw something. He’s always moving his head side to side and pulling me forward. I saw that Indian and he [the dog] stopped and just stared at the guy.”

Most of the sighting follow the same pattern, and the experience leaves the observer with a profound sense of sadness. They never feel threatened, but they feel they have somehow touched Philip’s grief.

It is said Philip spent the night before his death at Profile Rock, maybe even knowing his fate. After early successes in hit and run battles, the Wampanoag were feeling the momentum of the war shift. Philip must have seen this himself, and it is almost certain he knew he would not live much longer if the English continued to win the war. If it was not the next day, eventually he would fall, and the realization of this might have been enough mark the rock with his anxiety.

The story of the hauntings may be the story of two soldiers and their final meeting with each other. It is also said he had a meeting with Anawan right before this, and it might be this meeting connecting the two allies over the centuries.

After Philip’s death, Anawan was left to continue fighting, and shortly after he saw no other solution than surrender. He officially submitted to Captain Benjamin Church in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and was taken prisoner by the English. Although he and his troops were promised amnesty, Anawan was executed upon his arrival in Plymouth. It was the final betrayal in a war that prided itself on backstabbing and atrocities.

The area of Rehoboth where he surrendered became known as Anawan Rock, and has a rich history of folklore and hauntings attached to it. According to Charles Turek Robinson, author of The New England Ghost Files, the site has been the subject of rumors almost since Anawan’s death. Some residents report seeing lights at night in the swamps near the rock. Chanting and voices have been heard, the most disturbing of which seemed to be saying, “Stand and fight,” in an Algonquian language. A fire was also seen burning on the rock and then mysteriously disappearing.

After the publication of the book in 1994, people began traveling to Anawan Rock to see the ghosts for themselves. Local teens often hung around as well, getting drunk and hiding in trees, waiting for the curious to come and then giving them the scare of their lives. Some have come forward with more evidence of activity, but it becomes difficult to sift through the stories once a site is known and well traveled to. Often the lore built up around a spot affects the people looking for ghosts. They see lights because they have been told they should. Pictures get over analyzed, and any speck of dust becomes the ancient warrior.

There have been other reports from Anawan Rock which seem genuine and truthful. They mostly involve lights and fires, although a few have heard the chanting and drums Robinson describes. One of the more odd reports involves a teenager who hid himself in the woods to scare people on Halloween back in 1998. While waiting for people to show up, he and his friends were driven out of the woods by a large, red ball of light about the size and shape of a man, which produced an intense heat. Many of the same kinds of reports come from Profile Rock. It does seem the two souls are connected, looking at each other from two battlefields of the war, perhaps trying to warn the other of his fate.

While the anxiety, betrayal and death both suffered is more than enough to explain any ghost at their rocks, there might be another reason their spirits cannot find rest. It may be this connection that explains the curse which continues to plague both towns.

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In another book, True New England Mysteries, Ghosts, Crimes and Oddities, Charles Robinson tells the tale of the Wampanoag wampum belt. The belt, a collection of woven beads telling the history of the people, disappeared after the war. The belt stands as the old true history of the Wampanoag, untouched by the Bible or Puritan influence, and its vanishing is symbolic of the Native American of old in New England. Robinson tells how the belt was passed to Anawan and then taken into custody when he was arrested. It fell into the hands of Governor Winslow from Plymouth who sent it back to England as proof of his victory over the Native Americans and his power in the New World. The king never received the prize.

Attempts have been made to trace the history of the belt after its departure from Rehoboth, but none have succeeded. Robinson puts forth several theories to the fate of the artifact, but none have ever been verified and the belt remains missing, destroyed or forgotten in some depository. The history of the Wampanoag remains lost with it.

It has been said Philip might have relinquished the belt to Anawan during one of his meetings at Profile Rock, causing the loss of the history of a people he had sworn to protect. This grief might also force him to perch on his father’s head, leaning towards Rehoboth, waiting for the return of the relic. Some have even said the curse of Bristol County might have been sparked by the removal of the Wampanoag wampum belt, and its return is the only thing that will bring peace to the spirits. It seems unlikely the belt will ever be returned, so the secrets held by the ghosts in the forest, and at Profile Rock, will remain hidden.

And Philip will also continue to appear at Profile Rock.

The Freetown State Forest, The Reservation

Most of the Freetown State Forest is a maze, and tracking down haunted locations can be like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles. The area is often off the path and usually intimidating, even when the sun finds its way through the trees. It adds to the fear many feel just being inside the forest and only increases as you learn more of what has happened there.

004The exception is the Wampanoag Reservation off of High Street and Ledge Road. In a collage of mixed and matched puzzle pieces, it is the one constant, recognizable thing people agree on. Located right off the main road, someone spends more time walking around, marveling at the trees and high grass than stomping through the woods trying to find their way on the map. It is not just the location drawing people to the spot though.

The reservation is the most peaceful place within the forest. There are man-made structures in the main area just off the road, but almost immediately after leaving them, you come to paths cutting into the forest. Most are no more than hints of a way to go, worn down by foot traffic and not machine, and crossroads lead to other crossroads. It would be easy to get lost jumping from one trail to the other, following the trees growing straight with no hint of changing light and passing other trees slumping down, almost blocking the route in front of you. With its natural beauty and palpable positive energy, it might not be a bad place to get lost.

Keeping in line with the traditions of reservations throughout the country, it is its own place, part of the forest and the history there, but reserving its own identity and shunning the reputation of other spots in Freetown. For the most part, bad things do not happen there. Some have experienced negative spirits, and despite the graffiti found throughout the woods, it remains virtually untouched. When vandals hit it, they are isolated instances and the spray painted writing and paintball hits look more like the work of one or two people.

It is not the most organize or fashionable place. In many ways it looks like a broken down campsite. People find it a calming place however, a small part of the forest to reflect on spiritual ideas instead of demons and cults. The reservation touches people more profoundly, whether it gives them time to reflect on the calmness of the scene or their own relationship to religion.

There is an odd dichotomy existing on the hundreds of acres set aside for the Wampanoag. On a map its boundaries are clearly defined by paved and unpaved roads and natural features, but the soul of the place extends beyond, pushing out whatever might be negative. For all of that peace, there is something still unsettling about its place within the forest, like a diamond in the mud or a tree root cracking through the sidewalk. Among the beauty of nature and gentle sounds of birds and crickets, the buildings of the reservation are a stark reminder of the uneasy relationship between the town and the Wampanoag.

For the Native Americans who use it, the reservation is much like the summer home Freetown was before the arrival of the British. No one lives there, but rather they travel, sometimes through several states, to attend meetings and religious gatherings. There is no full time staff for the buildings, and there is no authority given to the rangers to protect it.

The buildings therefore are broken down, victims of harsh winters and pounding rains. The damage is not so much from human hands as the forces of nature, hitting the wood over and over again, trying to break the spirit that offers so many people enlightenment. The visitor’s center is boarded up, welcoming no one and looking more like the abandon shack of a woodsman. Most of the structures are leftover camps from the CCC, including the main structure used for many of the gatherings they host. It looks like a covered bridge and is filled with old appliances and covered piles of damaged brick and wood. The beams look sturdy, but there is a lived-in feel to them, a moisture coming off them that causes people going through to start scratching. The cracked, concrete floor has grass growing through it in spots, like the forest trying to reclaim what belongs to it.

This is one area people have seen what they believe is the replay of a ceremony that took place years before they arrived at the forest.003

 “I stepped back to another time,” says Gabe when asked about the ceremony. “They didn’t belong here. I don’t think they minded us being there, if they knew we were there at all, but they weren’t of the twenty-first century.”

Gabe and his wife were driving along the edge of the woods, trying to figure out where one of the entrances was, in the summer of 2000 when they noticed the sign marking the Reservation. They drove to the visor’s center and parked the car. Immediately they knew something was odd.

 “We heard the drums as we got out of the car. It was weird. We didn’t hear anything, even when our windows were down, but as soon as we got out the drums started. My wife had been studying Native American traditions and religion, so she wanted to see if there was a powwow going on.”

They followed the sound to the meeting place, noticing the drums getting louder as they approached. Gabe describes the day as slightly overcast, but with no rain expected, yet despite summer temperatures everywhere else, they both begin to feel cool, like they had hit a wall of wind.

“They got louder. The drummers were getting faster and there was the sound shoes make when they kick up sand on cement, but there was no one there. We turned the corner, but there wasn’t a soul in the place.”

The phantom drums continued, and Ilene noticed something odd in the corner. “Right in the corner there were five columns of smoke. They looked like dark rain clouds, but the height of a person. They weren’t moving or anything. They were just there.”

Gabe was scared and wanted to run, but Ilene grabbed his hand and slowly escorted him back to the car.

 “To her there was something spiritual. I was scared as hell, but she thought we had disturbed a meeting of sacred energy and she wanted to be respectful. She felt honored to see it, but I wanted nothing to do with it.”

While Ilene felt enlightened by what she had witnessed, Gabe was not so soothed. Until that moment he had not believed in ghosts, and to him the five spirits in the corner had not been positive. He felt they were separate from the drummers, drawn to them for some reason and observing them. He also felt they were watching he and his wife as they came into view.

There are several reports throughout the forest of a known haunting or a report of monsters accompanied by a dark human-like figure. Popular media has named them shadow people, but  existence is almost always tied to other supernatural occurrences. In most cases, these shadow people are described as being male and having less form than the ghosts seen around them. Many believe these dark men to be a form of demon or negative, nonhuman spirit that finds other paranormal spots and feeds off the energy they produce or attract. The more negative spirit they are feeding off of, the darker and more solid the figure. They have been seen more in recent years, begging the question; are people noticing more or does their appearance mark something else.

002Gabe might have been frightened by what he saw at stage, but others have walked the area and felt a very positive feeling come over them. It is easy to assume the change is from a sense of tranquility there, but it is something much different.

Tim felt the woods actually spoke to him. He had been having a bad week when he walked through the forest in the fall of 2004. He had been disciplined at work for a dumb mistake he had made and his girlfriend had asked him to move out. He connected the two somehow, even going so far as to think there was a curse on him. As his bank account went down and his prospects slowly faded, he needed air to sort out his thoughts and escape the world. Living in Fall River, he had spent time in the forest and had gone with his friends to the reservation. When he was younger, they would try to sneak in and watch ceremonies and had once gone there at night with flashlights and a book of Native American legends. They had all left, and they had never seen anything before, but Tim remembered the place as being very quiet.

That was just what he needed, and as he rode his bike out to the spot, he was thinking about the mistake he had made at work.

 “It wasn’t like me at all. It was stupid, but I my mind was on anything but work. I remember I was rolling around in my head whether I even wanted to stay at my job. Just after the center there is a circle of rocks. It looks like a big figure eight with stones all around it. I was sitting on the ground, not noticing the flies eating me alive, just thinking.”

Tim, who describes himself as a very non-spiritual person, remembers looking at his watch and noting it was three-thirty, almost time to go home. He closed his eyes, but could still hear the birds nearby and feel the wind blowing against his face. At no time, he claims did he fall asleep and he was not praying or looking for guidance.

“I heard this voice. It was a deep male voice and he was speaking in a foreign language. The only thing I can relate it to is when they have Indians speaking in movies.”

His feet began to tingle and he felt a hand on his shoulder. Although he did not understand the words, he felt them. “I had never felt that before. I can’t understand it, but my life became clear right in that moment. I can’t remember what I understood even, but I was jarred to do something different.”

The whole experience took only a minute or two, but when Tim finally opened his eyes, it was after five o’clock and the sun had almost set. He went in the next day and gave his notice even though he had no job lined up and no money to afford a new apartment. Over the next few months, the tumblers began to fall for him. He moved in with a friend, got a better paying job and eventually found a woman he proposed to in the spring of 2006. He credits his time at the reservation for the turnaround, and while he cannot explain anything that happened that afternoon he knows something beyond himself intervened and showed him a different path.

freetown

The Wampanoags now using the forest find it a deeply spiritual location. The site is used for business, but it is also a place where they can come together as a community and share a piece of themselves. Unlike other sacred grounds, there is both a secular and a holy purpose for the setting. Even those people who are not from this area or who do not share ancestors with the Native Americans from Freetown feel the power. Perhaps some of this is left behind after the ceremonies are finished. There may be energy left behind by those who pray there. Many of the religious ceremonies call upon the leaders who have died to communicate with them and offer them guidance. There maybe a direct line open now and a non-Wampanoag in need can find his way there as well.

Alice feels she is connected to that line as well, but her experience, while positive, left her wanting less proof of life after death. The stories of the potential of the reservation made it an ideal location for a Wiccan prayer service she was planning. She is a solitary practitioner, gaining most of her knowledge from books and websites, but to her the religion was more about listening to nature than actually tapping into forces she could manipulate.

Gathering some branches nearby, she built a small alter and began whispering short prayers she had written. They spoke mostly of opening herself up and experiencing the power around her, and as she continued under her breath she got the feeling she was being watched. Instead of a general sense, she felt the eyes on one side of her and then on the other. She was growing more scared and decided to leave, but before she did she had to bless and reopen her circle and disassemble her alter, all of which felt like it was taking hours.

She had just finished when she saw the figure of a young boy walking in the field about thirty feet in front of her, hands held out, skipping over the grass. Alice says the boy looked to be about fourteen, and had short hair. He was wearing brown pants, which she says looked like dirty khakis, and no shirt, but what she really noticed was the green light all around him. He was solid, but there was something about him that did not belong in this world.

As he walked the grass did not move and there was no sound at all. He looked at her, smiled and turned away. As he walked away, he slowly faded until there was nothing left of him.

Looking back on the experience now, Alice feels moved by what she saw that day. She had felt the forest at almost a run, leaving several books and material she had brought it there, but now wishes she had tried to talk to him or followed him into the field.

There are many things at the reservation not fully understood by those who do not use it. A large circular structure made of logs and dried out braches appears to be used as a gathering place. There are homemade benches and wood stumps set out around it and flashes of light and quick movements out of the corner of the observers eyes have been seen there. There are several stone structures, not more than rocks piles together, but there is no logic to their placement near the main buildings. One of the oddest sites at the reservation is the small pile of branches placed on the paths leading from the main reservation out to the woods. Measuring no more than a foot in width, they are made out of intertwined branches tied together to form a square or arranged like Lincoln Logs. They may be used to light fires, but again, they are not part of the main ceremonial area and are placed in random spots.

Not all encounters are profound or even understood. Two different people have experienced a man they describe as looking like a Native American but who wears jeans and a black t-shirt. Both were looking around the visitor’s area when he appeared and asked if he could help them. When they asked when the center would be open he shrugged and asked if they had seen the fireplace in the woods. They followed his hand to where he was pointing, but when they looked back he had disappeared.

The fireplace itself is an unusual thing to see in the middle of the woods. Originally used in the CCC days, it looks as out of place now as a burnt out car. Made of stone and cement, it is covered with vegetation, another example of the forest reclaiming itself. There have been several reports of smoke coming from the stack when no fire is lit and of observers seeing wood burning inside that mysteriously disappears when they approach.

Not all of the ghosts at the Reservation are human. Perhaps as a part of Wampanoag spirituality, there have been numerous reports of phantom animals seen in and around several of the spaces near the main area. Seeing animals in the state forest is not unusual. There are many species of animals not yet been classified, and places within the Bridgewater Triangle have a history of unexplained beasts, but the encounters people describe defy even the usual supernatural explanations. They instead paint a picture of a lost moment trapped.

“I’ve hunted before,” says Adam, a frequent hiker on the trails within the Freetown Forest. “I know what it looks like when an animal gets hit. This deer was not supposed to be there and it died right in front of me.” The problem with Adam’s story the animal could not be found after it was hit and there was no one alive in the woods with him.

One winter morning in late February of 2002 he was walking through the woods near the reservation taking pictures. He was stunned to see a deer cross twenty feet in front of him. The animal did not react to him, but instead stopped and began picking at the snow. Adam noticed the deer was almost translucent, like a picture being projected against the trees. The animal also had an orange glow around it and made no sound as it went through the snow.

“I wish I had had a gun with me. I sometimes spend three days trying to find a deer like this.” Instead Adam grabbed his camera and focused, but as he prepared to shoot, the animal disappeared. “I didn’t even think to take the picture. I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts, so why would I take a picture of something that’s not there.”

Adam decided to leave, packing up his camera and lighting a cigarette. As he turned he saw the animal come out of the woods from the same location and move the exact same way, leaning down to poke at the snow. It was as if he were seeing a replay of the entire experience. If the whole scene was confusing, what happened next left Adam wondering if the animals he had hunted and killed so freely had a soul.

“Something hit it. I saw it jerk like it had been shot, try to run away and then fall. Then it disappeared again.” When Adam walked to the spot, he noticed no tracks, blood or evidence any animal had even been there. By the reaction of the animal, whatever hit it came from his general direction, but he heard no gunshot and saw no arrow hit the deer.

“I think it was my fault. That animal was killed a long time ago, and for some reason it’s trapped there. I took me, a hunter, so see it die again.”

While it was not a positive experience, it forced Adam to reevaluated his stance on hunting. While he still believes hunters have the right to kill deer, he no longer tracks them himself.

There is another aspect to the energy of the reservation. While so many places in the forest, especially ones easily accessible, have been the sight of crimes, there have been few if any reports of that kind of activity from the reservation. There have been only a few reports of dumping there as well. It is as if the criminals stay away or are not attracted to it. It could be the locale is protected by something other than state and federal law.

 

Anawan Rock

 

Most of the Native American ghost stories heard in New England are quick glimpses of something unknown, over before they can be thought about. Most are peaceful. There is another type of haunting where the spirit is not so happy to see you. Whether it is leftover guilt for colonial injustices or a misunderstanding of the culture, angry Indian ghosts are everywhere, and when no reason can be found for the disturbance, people fall back on the classic “Ancient Indian Burial Ground” excuse. Even in places where the Native American culture was once dominant, the reason is often a shot in the dark.

The hauntings at Anawan Rock are more than just an educated guess. If any place should be haunted by a Native American spirit, it would be here where the ultimate betrayal played itself out. The closing days of King Philip’s War were bleak for the Wampanoags. Philip was dead, turned on by one of his lieutenants he had wronged, and his war general, Anawan was left to try and win the war 006or negotiate peace. Their final surrender was at a rock in Rehoboth where Captain Benjamin Church promised fair treatment for the agreement that would end the war. Once they were removed and shipped to Plymouth, Church’s orders were trumped and the band of Wampanoags were beheaded. Taken at the same time was a special belt of wampums that held the history of the people, the closest thing they had to a written history. It is said Philip gave the belt to Anawan at Profile Rock before his death, and according to Charles Robinson, there are records Church received the belt. Much like the vow made to the Native Americans that day, the belt and the tribes link to their past vanished.

The rock is not much to look at now. Often covered with graffiti, the rock was describe by one person as a place where a dump truck had just emptied out its load. Others find the stone beautiful and the surrounds woods a peaceful place to go. The general sense is the rock likes some people and wants others to leave and never come back. It is not the granite that decides, but the ghosts that live there. Investigators and sightseers, inspired by the tales told in Robinson’s book, have gone there to experience their own taste of activity, and many are not disappointed. They join the residents of the town who have known the place was haunted for years.

“It’s the fires that do it for me,” says Tom, a local resident who has read the book but began going there long before that. “I first went there because of the history. You know, somewhere famous in our town. People forget that war, even in this area, but not me. I like history.” The first time he went he was unimpressed by the rock itself, but found the air had a dirty smell to it. “Like garbage, but not. Then there was the electric smell. A thunderstorm smell. That’s when I noticed the fire.”

Tom remembers there was a fire at the base of the stone, maybe ten feet from him. He watched as it grew bigger despite the fact it made no sound and gave off no heat. He says he got larger and then faded away.

“It didn’t put itself out or smother. It vanished, like when a movie fades in and out. I don’t know what it was, but I keep coming back expecting to see it again.” Tom is not a paranormal investigator, but enjoys the scene for it natural beauty and for the rush he gets as he waits for the next fire. ”I’ve been there a hundred times. Each time I look for fire, but nothing. Sometimes I see something out of the corner of my eye. I know the woods, so I don’t think it’s anything natural. Supernatural, I don’t know.”

Fires have been seen all over the Triangle, usually in places with some connection to Native American culture. There is really no reason for these fires to appear unless they have some older, now forgotten meaning to the spirits who remain. They never try to burn or touch the witness and they happen often enough that local firefighters joke about them.

“I love that place. I always get evidence from there.” Luann is a local paranormal investigator from New Bedford who founded Whaling City Ghosts after years of having unexplained experiences in her house. She has been to several places in Rehoboth, but finds Anawan Rock to be the most active. She went there once as part of a special radio broadcast for Spooky Southcoast, a local show that features paranormal topics and guests. She went to several places that night, reporting her findings live on the air, but it was the stone she felt most connected to. She feel the area wants her there. “I think they know I’m part Native American. They can sense that and they like that I’m there.”

ghostbridge

That night her partner recorded at types of goings-on. “Soon after arrival, we began to hear swishing noises in the forest around us. As time progressed, it seemed as if they were pants, swishing together, as figures flitted behind trees. I did not mention this feeling, but then my partner related to me, and I agreed.” In addition to the sound, Luann reported seeing other figures in the dark.

“At one point, as I turned from snapping shots where I’d heard the swishing noise again, I thought there was a tall, thin, older Indian man standing against a tree. He was grey and wrapped in a blanket or fur, but then he vanished so fast, I wasn’t sure I’d seen him, I was not quick enough to catch him with my camera, he was that quick. At one point the woman she went out with was touched by an unseen hand

These sightings are not common for the location, but Luann heard the noises reported by others at the rock. Many people report hearing drums being played, chanting, or words being called out, usually not understood because of the language people hear it in. The most famous quote, written about in The New England Ghost Files and then repeated by others near Anawan Rock, is man yelling “Iootash, Iootash” which is Algonquin for “stand and fight.” Luann got another conversation.

“I had learned a bit of Wampanoag for the occasion, and had related some words to Gabby, my partner for Whaling City Ghosts. ‘Neetomp’ was to me the most important word we could know with possibly hostile Indian spirits. It means friend. The Wampanoag language is extremely difficult, so I only learned simple words and may not have been using them in proper context, or pronouncing them correctly. As we moved about we repeated the word ‘Neetomp’ many times, we wanted them to know we were friends.” As they left the woods, they recorded an unseen voice repeating “Neetomp.” In addition, they also recorded someone saying the “Kinsman” in Algonquin.

Other people’s experiences might not be as dramatic, but the feeling is much the same. “Something is definitely watching you in there,” says Justin, another investigator. “I’ve tried to get any find of evidence I could, but all I can say is there’s something watching you. You hear these deep voices, but I can never record them.”

Anawan Rock is part of our history. It does not point out a pleasant time in this country’s history, but the stone does not lie.

This article first appeared as part of Ghost of the Bridgewater Triangle by Christopher Balzano

 

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