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.
The 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.
“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.
Gabe 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.
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.