Tripping the Devil’s Tree

Natalie Crist and Christopher Balzano went out in search of the Devil’s Tree at Oak  Hammock  Park in Port St. Lucie.

We’ve got a full write up of the context and what happened coming later this week, but you can catch the two podcasts they did on the topic.  The first is a trek down different Devil legends and the second is their field report on the Devil’s Tree.

Epsiode 7…Tripping the Devil

Epsiode 8…Tripping the Devil’s Tree


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Horn Pond’s Little Demons


100_0203Most of the locals who walk along the picturesque trails  circling Horn Pond know little of its history. They do not know how it was once used to carry supplies in and out of nearby Boston. They look across its empty surface and do not know that boats and swimmers used to sail and play and laugh.

They do not know it is haunted.

Horn Pond has been a source of mystery since before it was settled. Native Americans in the area stayed away from the pond. Their legends tell of a great battle between the gods of light and the gods of darkness. The bad guys were winning victories all across the land, forcing the good guys to run and hide and try to regroup.   Finding a hiding place in Woburn, they made the mountains of Woburn their home until they got word the bad guys had found their hiding place.  They dug out a trench, waited for the evil ones to enter it and then filled it with water, trapping the demons beneath the surface but not killing them.

It’s not a new story.  In fact, there are several similar references to this kind of battle, including one in Lakeville, Massachusetts, where the legend is attached to Pukwudgies.  There the curse was responsible for the sketchy murder of  John Sassamon, the spark of King Phillip’s War.  The backstory is also responsible for haunted ponds and lakes in Minnesota, Michigan, and Oregon.

It may be the demons that have taken the lives of the people on Horn Pond, but it the human spirits people believe they see at night. In the past two hundred years the body of water has taken the life of over forty-five people, an amount made even more outrageous by the size of the pond. Most of the accidents involved boating errors or small children. There have been some reports of falling through the ice, but what is unusual is that there is no curse or negative Native American-settler story attached to the area. Most bodies of water considered this haunted in New England have a story of a settler taking the life of a Native and the pond becoming a source of death as revenge. Natives and modern Americans seem equally affected by the forces.


The haunting happen at night and during the day. The pond is used for nature walks and has foot traffic even on the coldest day. Some people have said the mood changes when they reach certain spots. They have feeling fine and then need to stop walking and turn around. They often feel as if they are being watched. Dogs have been known to bark or whimper and then become normal again.

At night lights have been seen above the water. They have been described as bright blue, round, several feet tall and hovering above the water. Several people have seen people walking on the water, always with their back to the viewer. One local tells of a canoe she has seen several times. The canoe always is seen sailing to the middle of the pond and then fades away as she watches. The water itself is closed to both boats and swimmers.

Holiday’s Ghostly Pants?

picture courtesy of iHorror

This story originally appeared in the book Ghostly Adventures.  I edited it slightly for modern consumption, but this seems like a great day trip for the Legends Project.


Check out the audio from the episode…

Laurie’s work as a paranormal investigator sometimes forces her to keep quiet around people she does not know. Many investigators are fine among their own kind, but the outside world is not so accepting. Spending too much time with people who believe in the paranormal makes you think everyone is open about that kind of thing. It only takes a few people giving you that look, the one where you know they will not invite you over for coffee sometime, to keep your stories and your ideas to yourself.


Holiday, Florida, is like that. On the west coast of Florida, halfway down the state but a world away from the lights of Orlando or the history of St. Petersburg, the town is bursting with untold ghost stories and legends. It just takes time, and the right questions, to get them out of people.


Laurie was not sure how her neighbors would perceive her experiences when she moved there. “When I first moved to this neighborhood I kept a low profile. No one even knew I was a ghost hunter for ten years. Over those ten years I heard lots of stories from neighbors about strange happenings around there, and since my ghost hunting pastime became known I have heard even more endless reports.”


One story stays with her. “About twenty years ago I went to a barbecue at a neighbor’s home, a fisherman who had lots of local yokel buddies. Someone started telling a story saying that he had seen a pair of pants with shoes, like a man from the waist down, run across a nearby road on a rainy night. Another man jumped in to say that he saw it too and pretty soon they were comparing notes, and even with all I have seen and heard myself, I chalked this up to just too much beer and a bunch of tall-tale fishermen telling yet another ridiculous tale.”


The story was a legend in the town, but like many legends, there was an air of truth to it. While many accounts came secondhand, there were also people who saw the mysterious pants with their own eyes, making the other stories more believable. Laurie saw the story as legend, but a while later she was confronted herself. “About two years later, I was coming home from a friend’s home. It was late and it was raining, there was a slight fog but nothing blinding. I saw my neighbor’s eighteen-year-old son on the side of the highway near the road that leads to my road. His motorcycle had broken down and he was soaked to the gills. I picked him up to give him a ride home as he lived four houses down from me.


“We were driving down the road that eventually dead ends to my road, and as we came over a rise and into the dip that followed I could not believe what I saw. I was driving my old Bronco, which was very tall, and I had my high beams on, which illuminated the road for quite a distance. There are no streetlights here and the road is very dark at night. The rain was still coming down but only a light drizzle now compared to the earlier downpour. There, about thirty yards in front of my truck, was what appeared to be a man from the waist down, crossing the road into a nearby trailer park.” The ghost had no upper body and she could not see its feet. There was only a pair of pants, suspended in midair.


“I locked my brakes and sat in disbelief and looked over to the boy beside me. He looked scared to death. The youth asked her if she had seen what he had seen. I said that of course I had and he replied, ‘I am so glad. I have seen it before and no one would have believed me so I never told anyone.’”


The clothes matched the description given by the men at the barbeque. “The pants were brown, uniform-style pants, with shoes and a belt, but there was absolutely nothing visible of the man above the belt.”


Although it seems most towns in America have some kind of highway haunting, they are usually full-bodied apparitions, not just a pair of slacks. In fact, it is unusual to see only the clothes of a ghost. While many people feel spirits can exists after death, one of the questions always asked is why they have clothes. That question cannot be answered except to say somehow their remaining energy consists of how they viewed themselves in life. Regardless, the phantom pants are a rarity in the field, even to someone with Laurie’s resume.


The experience made Laurie more open to legends and local folklore. “That evening I learned that no matter how ridiculous something sounds to me, I have to give the benefit of the doubt to people. I have heard several bizarre claims since. I can honestly say that even though I scoffed and shook my head when I heard the tale, I now have to eat my words on the ghost of the traveling pants. I have no explanation for what I saw that night. I haven’t seen it again even though others claim to have.”


Venice’s Phantom Train

If the folklore of a town is both a reflection and the building block of that community, what does it say if a local legend can’t be confirmed, embarrassed or even really defined.  Venice is a strange area of Southwest Florida, not unique in its complexion or population from its neighbors, but a more of a mix of the personalities of the surrounding towns.  Like  the places that neighbor it, there is a balance struck between the old and the new, between generations of Venetians and recent transplants who seem in search of something the coastal towns of the Gulf promise.  Businesses drift between a touch of rundown quaintness and neon glitz, giving the whole area a sense of identity crisis.  However, anyone who is not new to the scene understands this is an identity, a bit manufactured based on what tourists expect but at the same time thumping with a heartbeat that connects the communities up and down the coast.

Listen to our first ever episode of Tripping on Legends where we went there…

The story of the Phantom Train of Venice had that feel.  It was referenced in a book, but no one seemed to know about it.  Last year I spent the weeks leading into Halloween trying to track down the details and sent feelers out to the writer of the book and the historical society who maintained the site.  As I reported last year, no one was forthcoming with information or knew what I was talking about.  I still can’t make sense of the e-mail I received from Kim Cool when I asked her to allow me to walk in the footsteps of her research to try and track details down.


I had given up on it and moved on to other ideas.  The legend was not done with me, however.  In the weeks leading up to Halloween this year, some odd tumblers fell into place and seemed to draw me to Sarasota County.  The first was born of my own paranormal confusion.  Frustrated by what I was working on, I challenged the universe to give me a sign.  What followed was a series of random song generator moments.  In other words, I would start thinking about wanting to hear a song, and my Ipod would randomly play just the song I was looking for.  Hardly the concrete research of the Rand Institute, but it got my mind moving.  In the few days leading into the holiday, this happened so often I could not overlook it.  I was also seeming references to trains and Venice all over the place.  Cognitive bias to be sure, but the fact my mind wanted to see these things felt like a sign in and of itself.

Then came the dance.  I had written previously about the connection between Ringling and the two dollar bill.  To show the people of Venice his employee’s impact on the town, it is said he paid them all with two dollar bills.  At the end of the day, count them up and see how much they were pouring into the local community.  I became enamored with the idea of making that part of my trip there.  I would use the money as a type of offering or tulpa to jump start the activity.  Problem was, in the past I had a hard time getting my hands on one.  During my schools Halloween dance though a student paid for their candy and soda with a two dollar bill.  I pocketed it, making sure to stick two ones in the drawer, and was convinced this was the last sign to go out.

img_1243img_1209   After I had said goodbye to my kids and their candy haul, I met up with my partner for the Legends Project, Natalie Crist.  It was an hour ride out to Venice, and we were cutting the time extremely short.  I gave her a recap of the legend and a brief outline of what we were going to do.  Natalie has an amazing passion for research and is a sponge for information, so speaking with her often allows me iron out the details of what needs to be done.

We got to the Venice Train Depot around 11:30 and decided to tour the area around it, including the nearby bridge that goes over Highway 41, a major freeway through Southwest Florida.  Our purpose was to get into character, but also to understand the sound complexion of the train station.

We were unsure of what we might see and hear and wanted to be able to tell the difference between a train blast and a siren or an elephant trumpet and any geese in the area.

We went live on Facebook counting down the moments leading into midnight.  We placed the two dollar bill in between the rails of the track, in between us, and placed our hands on the rail to notice any change in vibrations.  In retrospect, this would have also been a good time to do an EVP session, but I had not planned the night too well due to its suddenness. After about 10 minutes we left that area and walked the tracks before touring the whole area again, shooting a second Facebook live video, and heading home.

img_1233Here’s where the story gets exciting and I tell you about the lion who jumped out of the ether and the train lights that threatened to run us down.  Only, that’s not this story goes.  We did hear unexplained train whistles and later confirmed that no trains were running at that hour in Venice or the surrounding cities.  Natalie did get an odd scent of cinnamon at one point which was out of place, sudden, and fleeting.  But that’s about it.


…and also not really the point.  As an investigation, the trip would have been a failure, but as a legend trip, it was a complete success.  The difference between the two is hard to tell at times, like trying to split hairs over whether something is a legend or folklore.  The main separation might spring from the intention and what is considered a victory.  Tripping is about the journey and the moment, both of which were rich and satisfying.  Nothing happening is not a notch in the paranormal investigators movement to determining whether someplace is haunted.  Something did happen.  We touched a local legend and become part of it.


Haunted Tradition: Ghosts, Legends and Tradition at Smith College

Ghost stories have their roots in the tradition of oral storytelling.  Told around the fire to explain the unseen, they evolved and changed with people’s culture and taught generation what to fear.  The way the stories were told influenced them as much as the words spoken and those tales became the bonding force of the society.  Listening was not passive.  The weight of remembering and retelling helped to form identity.  The relationship between those that spoke and those that heard connected the group and signaled an informal initiation.

The tradition is not dead.  The passing of ghost stories, whether they are true or not, still has the same effect.  No longer is the telling crucial to maintaining the social structure, but its value as part of an initiation lives in sleepovers, camp outs and in the spreading of local legend.  To believe is to belong and to be part of the tradition means to be part of a group.

At Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, tales of lost love and ghosts forge a special relationship between those that search today and those that found generations ago.

In 1700 John Hunt built a house for his family outside of the main military complex in Northampton.  The area was still a prime location for attacks from the Native Americans in the area, so like most houses of its time, it was built with a secret passage to hide the family from any invaders.  The passage perhaps was also designed get them out of the house safely.  Some say the passage leads to a nearby pond, but few know for sure. Those that do keep the secret well.

eccentric-hidden-passage-6-1The house passed through different hands over the decades and was finally purchased by Ruth Session in 1900.  To earn extra money for her family, she rented out rooms to the students at nearby Smith College until she finally sold them the property in 1921.  Sometime before then she is said to have found the secret passage and the legend of what had happened there was born.  In the next few years the story grew, and although peopled with actual figures of the day, the truth of what lives in the darkened hallway is only hinted at.  The young women who now use Session House as their dorm fully embrace the legend and participate in passing it on to the next generation.

It’s the traditions and rich lore of the campus each student experiences that the online universities of today are lacking.

The story of the hauntings differs depending on the source, but the most accurate account comes from the play put on every Halloween in the dorm.  General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne fought against the colonist and was eventually caught and held prisoner in the house, then still owned by Hunt.  The war raged on, but the general found comfort in Hunt’s daughter Lucy.  The young girl quickly fell in love, but the Generals motives are hinted at as being more out of boredom than passion.  Her family was strongly opposed to Burgoyne’s political and military alliances and they were forbidden to see each other.  Lucy knew of the secret passage though and encouraged him to meet her there.

Eventually Gentleman Johnny was sent back to England, promising to return for young Lucy.  Upon his return he was returned to active service and sent to Ireland never to return to her.  Lucy was heartbroken.  She eventually married into a passionless marriage but never got over her first love.

grandma3Ever since, the ghosts of the two lovers has been seen and heard from the passageway.  There is not much detail about the nature of the hauntings, but what is interesting is not the ghosts that might exist in the hallway but the ceremony that has evolved around the them.  Every Halloween the young women at Session House are allowed to search for the hidden passageway and the souls that are suppose to haunt there.  They are presented with the figures of their past and are invited to become part of the story as actresses dressed as the ghosts that preside in the dorm perform a play of the tragedies that have become legend there.  Then for twenty minutes on that night only they search the nooks and crannies of the house without any light looking for the passage that contains the spirits.  If they find it, a senior who has found it in one of her previous years is there with a flashlight to congratulate her.  She must tell no one that she has found it and must sneak downstairs unseen during the night to tell the house mother.  Her accomplishment is announced at the Thanksgiving dinner and for the rest of her college days she cannot reveal the location to anyone who does not know yet.  If she has not found it by her senior year she is told where it is.

The unlucky lovers are not the only ghost said to live in the dorm.  Another tale tells of a mother and her two children who were alone in the house one night telling ghost stories and scaring each other.  The mother thought she heard a noise and grabbed an ax to protect her family.  She began to search the house, eventually making it back to the room her children were in.  Thinking they were intruders who had broken into the house, she chopped them up.  When she saw her mistake, she killed herself in a room on the third floor of the house.

The other famous tale from Session House takes place after it had become a dorm and the passage hunt had already become part of its tradition.  Two girls found the secret passage but fell into a hole in the staircase and either broke their necks or injured themselves and starved to death.  They are said to be heard as you near the staircase and might also try to push or drag you into the hole.

All of these stories add to the aura of a classic site for a ghostly haunting.  The college dorm has been the set of ghost stories as long as there have been underclassmen for upperclassmen to tell stories to.  The older the college, the more tradition contained within its walls, the more colorful and powerful the story becomes.  If you were looking for a set for a Gothic story you would search the campuses in New England in the wall when the leaves are starting to change and the grey skies match the masonry.  They are often isolated and in rural settings.

Taking a walk through these campuses in late summer when the students have gone reinforces the weight of the power of these buildings.  They are larger, more overwhelming versions of the classic haunted house seen in every town.  In fall the students arrive from all parts of the country bring the tales of their hometowns with them.

These stories feed into the already active minds of people on their own who have been forced to start taking responsibility for their actions.  The fear and pressure of the situation becomes fertile ground for ghost stories.  Add the architecture of older college buildings, the mystic of secret societies and the already charged atmosphere of fall, the start of the school year and the season of Halloween, and those anxieties manifest themselves as scratches on the wall and ghostly visions.  A quick check of most college students usually finds at least one story of a famous haunting on campus.  That fear gets more intense when the dorm is used by women.

There is an entire section of urban legends that focus on females at college.  Most people have heard of the student who comes home to the darkened dorm room and thinks that her roommate is engaged with her boyfriend.  Not wanting to disturb them she slips under the sheets and pretends not to hear them.  When she wakes up she finds her roommate dead and the word, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the lights'” written in blood on the wall.  There are also several tales where one girl goes out and the other stays in.  Later she begins to get scared and hears a scratching on the door.  She locks herself in but in the morning she finds her roommate dead outside the door with her fingernails broken off.  They are extensions of legends involving younger girls who become victims of murders while babysitting and older women who lose their children because they leave the house for their own benefit.

The traditional interpretation of these tales is that the woman deserves what she gets because she should not be at college in the first place.  They reflect people’s subconscious objections to the woman’s leaving the home and rejecting what has been her role for generations.  She should be in the home learning to become a good mother and wife and not learning to become a professionals and leader.  This may only be part of the inspiration of these stories though.  Society does not frown on a woman getting an education like it did during the genesis of these urban legends.  There is still a prejudice acting in the subconscious and the stories have already taken on a life of their own, but similar tales were alive and well before women even started to attend college.  For hundred of years men at college have shared their classrooms with the supernatural and the bonding experience of telling of these stories serves the same purpose no matter what the sex.  It would seem the role of women outside the

house might add to the depth to the legends and act as a variation, not just the cause.


sessions_367What purpose does it serve for the women of Session House and is it a genuine haunting or a localized legend?  The first hint is that it is probably only a legend is the fact that it is not localized at all.  While there may be historical people mentioned throughout, and it might involve an actual location, the themes talked about are seen in other stories since the beginning of oral and written history.  Here we have the ageless story of two people kept apart who return from the grave to live out their love.  In some of the tales, Lucy is the only ghost, searching the passage for Gentleman Johnny and unable to rest until they are reunited, searching for in death what she could not have in life.  Some stories say that she killed herself, one of the most common elements to cause a spirit to not rest peacefully.  They set the table perfectly for a haunting and draw us in because we can feel the passion for a lost love and enjoy the romantic notion that their love could exist even in the afterlife.

It also is common to have secret passages where ghost may be. There are several stories throughout the country of hauntings in passages that used to be used to hide runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad.  The Winchester House in Seattle is known for its hidden hallways and the ghosts that walk them.  In Massachusetts, there is the House of Seven Gables and other historical buildings that either are known to be haunted or have inspired ghosts stories from the people that have seen them.  It is not unusual for the dark areas of our house to produce fear.  In the safest place for a person, the one place where everything is thought to be secure, there is something secret and foreign invading that peace.

It might be unfair to say something has not happened because it reflects a theme seen in other hauntings, but there are other elements to the story that make it seem more like legend.  There are glaring inconsistencies in the story of the hauntings as well as the ritual the girls play out.  Some accounts say both ghosts haunt the site while others say it is just Lucy.  Some say Gentleman Johnny returned and found her married and went back to England.  Some say she immediately killed herself while others say she married, left and only returned after her death.  Some sources say the women are allowed twenty minutes and others fifteen.  One account has Martha, another daughter of John Hunt, as the woman who loved the wrong man.

The other hauntings in the dorm raise an eyebrow as well.  It seems highly improbable that a mother searching a house would come in through the room she came from and attack her own children.  There is however many legends where a person, often a parent, mistakes an ally for a foe and accidentally kills them.  There are also no records of students dying in a hole in the passage at Session House.  If it had happened there would have been an investigation that would have revealed the location of it.  The most common response for this is that the college covered it up to avoid negative publicity.  That excuse always comes at the end of a good urban legend and offered as the reason the story is known to only a few.  This is in conflict, however, with how the students tell and retell the story.  It is the details that are somewhat mysterious, but the deaths are stated as fact.  And why where the screams of the girls or the fall not heard by the senior hidden in the passage?  Let us not forget there are also conflicting stories of how the girls died from the voices inside the house telling the tale to the girls on Halloween, something unusual when you consider the story is fairly recent and not likely to be forgotten.

It is important to note all three stories involve places the young women come into contact with over the course of the night.  The lovers haunt the hidden passage and the ghosts of the former students are there waiting for them.  This heightens the excitement and anticipation as they look for it with no lights.  The mistaken woman kills her children in the same room where the students sit hearing the story.  One can imagine the story being told by candlelight and the shadows dancing against the wall looking like axes and nooses.   How many good ghost stories begin, “It was a night just like this,” or, “It was three years ago tonight?”

None of these elements alone prove the story false.  Tales often change over time and each teller adds their own personal slant to the story.  Several different newspaper articles written at different time use the same language and terms to describe the story at Smith College.  It seems likely one paper used the other as research and one error in reporting led to new facts presented as fact.  With the invention of the Internet the information is spread to countless people who tell the story to their friends and distort the details even more.  People make the stories their own and there is something to creating an aura when telling a story.  When everything is taken together, though, you have to start to wonder about the truth of the story.

What the truth is does not seem to matter to the young women involved in the ceremony.  It is hardly the point in this setting and the truth is not what the students need.  We know most of the ghost stories we hear are not true and yet that does not diminish our enjoyment of them.  We doubt the things we hear could happen, but we still sleep with the lights on.  It is the possibility of the improbable; the fact that we do not know for sure that awakens our imagination and turns the things around us into apparitions.

The students at Session House take it one step further though.  The telling and retelling of the stories that happened there bonds them as much as singing a school fight song or remembering the long list of past presidents of a sorority.  While most colleges shy away from any ghost that might be rumored on their campuses, Smith College embraces them.  A check of their website finds several references to the ghosts at Session House and pictures of the play are displayed with pride.

This has an impact on the student inside the dorm and forms their belief in the spirits and their likelihood of seeing things other college students might deny.  To dismiss the story is to be on the outside looking in among your peers in a small community during a time where it is difficult to fit in.  To not look for the passage is to be isolated from your friends and roommates.  Who wants to be the one not to find the passage, especially when those that do are praised?  To believe in them means instant belonging, which might account for the added stories of paranormal happenings inside the house.  The tradition creates an environment where seeing a ghost is not only accepted, it instantly burns a place for you in the lore of the house.

When the story of Lucy Hunt is told and the young women of Session House listen they are tapping into a larger tradition of the college and the dorm.  Candles replace a fire and upperclassmen replace the elders pressed to preserve their ancestors.  It gives them an automatic past, a legacy to be a part of.  Their stories become part of the myth and will be told as legend to generations that follow them.  They become the heroes and villains of a living, breathing history book.  The women are also part of a larger play, one that continues whenever we hear or read or watch a ghost story and feel the skin on our arms start to rise.

Pukwudgies: Myth or Monster

The first seeds of this story were posted in 2004 on my original site, Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, which was taken down a few years ago.  It is the first major published writing on the Pukwudgie other than in The Good Giant and the Bad Pukwudgie and The Narrow Land, which acted as a basis for much of my early historical research.  Most of this appeared in my first book on the Bridgewater Triangle, Dark Woods.

Since then, the supernatural creature has taken off, even becoming one of the houses in the new cannon of Harry Potter.  As the stories have grown, they have become further and further away from what my early research was, which makes the folklorist in me happy and allows me to sit back and watch things get twisted until the Pukwudgie becomes what we need it to be.

Hopefully, Tripping on Legends will be able to add to the story by looking into those stories that have been coming out of Indiana for years.

If you’ve had a pukwudgie experience, please contact us at

Listen to Tripping on Legend’s episode chronicling the history of the Pukwudgie.

In the Southeastern corner of Massachusetts lies Bristol County, an area known locally as the most haunted place in New England. The energy that sleeps there has been rumored to cause haunted schools, ghostly armies and unexplained suicides and murders. Forested areas of the county have long been known to contain a litany of unexplained animals, from Bigfoot and thunderbirds to large snakes and odd bear-like monsters. For the past forty years cults have flocked there, and their activities, often criminal, have filled the blotters of local law enforcement. Of all the unknown horrors that live in Bristol County, the most feared is not a animal or a ghost or the members of Satanic cults that walk the forests, but a demon only two feet high, and if the history of the area represents the history of our America society, these Pukwudgies are the gatekeepers of our darker side.

puk1The Pukwudgies have haunted the forests of Massachusetts since before the first European Settlers ever thought about setting out for a new land. For centuries they tormented the local Native Americans and crept their way into their creation myths and oral history. They could easily be passed of as legend, and in fact, their physical description is much like mythological creatures from other cultures in other times. The difference is these demons jumped from the page and evolved as the people around them changed, changing from reluctant helpers to evil tormentors. The difference is these demons are still seen by people today.

Most cultures’ mythology has some reference to small monsters that have a strained relationship with humans. In many ways it makes sense. While large monsters have their place in our fears, diminutive creatures find their way into the shadows of our rooms and under our beds. Their names and nature change, but there are always common threads that link them together. Some are called monsters and roam the land looking for human food and kidnapping anyone they can find. Other are called demons, foul spirits that feed of the negative and expose the sins of man. When referring to one, its classification gets blurred and these two words become interchangeable, perhaps showing us how closely associated these monsters are with evil.

puk2Veterans returning home after World War II talked of gremlins tearing apart their planes or getting into jeep engines and causing havoc. The Hindus speak of the Rakshasas or the “Night Wander” who eats human skin and jumps into the dead to possess them. Africans tell stories about the Eloko who lure people with beautiful music only to devour them after they have been bewitched with an ever expanding jaw.
Although passed off as works of fiction and imagination, trolls and dwarfs have existed in people’s fears for centuries. They have become lovable and noble now, but the original stories recorded of these monsters are anything but fairy tales with happy endings. Trolls were notorious for ambushing travelers and destroying whole families on a whim. While some are described as giants with humps and one eye, many older cultures, especially in Scandinavia, described the being as the size of a plump child.

Dwarfs have always been small and their manners much better, but the end result seems to be the same. Like the troll, they are known as metal and stone workers, but unlike their flesh-eating counterparts, dwarves seem to avoid human contact. While they would prefer to be left alone, if impeded upon their work, they become like caged dogs. One variation of the dwarf is the Tommy-Knocker who lives in mine shafts and is sometimes said to be the ghost of miners who have perished in the line of duty and are doomed to work for eternity. They are known to cause cave-ins and fires in the shafts.

Perhaps the most famous of the small nightmare are seen by the Irish. Fairies patrol the roads in Ireland causing problems for any traveler who strays from the path. They live in hills or mounds and dance around fires. If a human comes across their mound or sees their dancing, they are caught and held captive. Even the beloved leprechaun was once a malicious spirit before he was Americanized and transformed into the gold keeper he is today.

puk8Exposure to nature seems to feed these tales, and the more a society depends on the earth for its needs, and the closer the relationship a people have with the natural world around them, the more these stories pop up. In this country, the people the first settlers found had a close, if not friendly, view of small dangers around them. The Cherokee have a mirror image demon known as the Yunwi Djunsti, or little people, that look and talk like Cherokee but are only a few feet high and have long hair that touches the ground. Although most people cannot see them, they are known to throw objects, trip up hunters and abduct people who wander off. In Canada they are known as Mennegishi and look much like the classic alien grey.

The Wampanoag Nation, the dominant Native America tribe in Massachusetts and Southern New England, had a monster who still dominates the landscape they once roamed.  The Pukwudgie made its first appearance in the oral folklore of the people of Cape Cod, but recent sightings have forced people to rethink this mythological creature.  Standing between two and three feet tall, the Pukwudgie looks much like our modern idea of a troll.  His features mirror those of the Native American in the area, but the nose, fingers and ears are enlarged and the skin is described as being grey and or washed-out, smooth and at times has been known to glow.

What makes these monsters dangerous is the multitude of magical abilities they use to torment and manipulate people.  They can appear and disappear at will and are said to be able to transform into other animals.  They have possession of magical, poison arrows that can kill and can create fire at will.  They seem to often be related to a tall dark figure, often referred to in modern times and shadow people.  In turn the Pukwudgies control Tei-Pai-Wankas which are believed to be the souls of Native Americans they have killed.  They use these lights to entice new victims in the woods so they may kidnap or kill them.  In European folklore these balls of energy are know as Will-o-the-Wisps and are said to accompany many paranormal occurrences.  Modern paranormal investigators call them orbs, and catching one on film is the gold standard of field research.

puk5Legends of the Pukwudgie began in connection to Maushop, a creation giant believed by the Wampanoag to have created most of Cape Cod.  He was beloved by the people, and the Pukwudgies were jealous of the affection the Natives had for him.  They tried to help the Wampanoag, but their efforts always backfired until they eventually decided to torment them instead.  They became mischievous and aggravated the Natives until they asked Quant, Maushop’s wife, for help.  Maushop collected as many as he could.  He shook them until they were confused and tossed them around New England.  Some died, but others landed, regained their minds and made their way back to Massachusetts.

Satisfied he had done his job and pleased his wife, Maushop went away for a while.  In his absence, the Pukwudgies had returned.  They again changed their relationship with the Wampanoags.  They were no longer a nuisance, but began kidnapping children, burning villages and forcing the Wampanoag deep into the woods and killing them.  Quant again stepped in, but Maushop, being very lazy, sent his five sons to fix the problem.  The Pukwudgies lured them into deep grass and shop them dead with magic arrows.  Enraged, Quant and Maushop attack as many as they can find and crush them, but many escape and scatter throughout New England again.  The Pukwudgies regroup and trick Maushop into the water and shoot him with their arrows.  Some legends say they killed him while other claim he became discouraged and depressed about the death of his sons, but Maushop disappears from the Wampanoags mythology.

puk3The Pukwudgies remained however, but something odd happens.  The timing of the tales of the monster are a map through the history of the Native Americans relationship with the European settlers.  The death of the five sons lines up with the very first settlers, and the flight of Maushop is told along side the changing of attitudes about the new neighbors.  The Pukwudgies, always seen in a negative light, become the foot soldiers of the Devil, which may explain their modern connection to shadow people.  As more Native Americans began to convert to Christianity, their myths evolved, until the Pukwudgies were responsible for the evil in the village, and the hand of Satan on the tribe.
People who spend time in the forest of New England will tell you Pukwudgies are not symbols, but a real horror that still stalks people.  They continue to see them, and as the world develops around them, the monsters remain unchanged and as dark as ever.
Joan was walking her dog through the state forest in Freetown, Massachusetts, on a cold Saturday morning in April when she saw the monster.  As she and her dog, Sid, walked down the path, Sid became anxious and strayed a few feet into the woods.  Joan followed him in, and stopped short.  Her dog was lying completely flat in the leaves, and on a rock ten feet away was a Pukwudgie.  She described him as looking like what she would describe as a troll; two feet high with pale gray skin and hair on his arms and the top of his head.  The monster seemed to have no clothes, but it was difficult to tell because his stomach hung over his waist, almost touching his knees.  His eyes were a deep green, and he had large lips and a long, almost canine nose.

puk6The Pukwudgie stood watching her, staring straight at her with no expression, almost like it was stunned to see her.  Joan froze and remembers thinking the air in her lungs had been pushed out.  Sid finally came to and ran back towards the trial, dragging Joan who was still holding the leash tightly.

Although the whole exchange took less than thirty seconds, it remains with Joan ten years later.  She has not gone back to the forest, but feels that might not be enough.  Three times since the event she has woken up to find the demon looking in on her.  It has never attacked her or spoken to her, she has merely seen it looking through her bedroom window, staying just long enough for her to notice him.  All three times she claims she was fully awake and could move if she had to.

Another man in Framingham, Massachusetts had a experience that forced him to remain away from the woods.  Tim was in a forest when he saw a bright orb in front of him.  Having investigated the paranormal he was excited and tried to snap a photo with his digital camera.  The ball of light disappeared and reappeared a few feet further into the woods.  Tim followed, losing the spirit several times before he realized he had traveled more than thirty feet off the path into a thickly wooded area.  He became scared and slowly made his way back to the path, only to find a two foot man standing there, walking towards him.  He turned and ran, and looking back saw the figure move back into the woods.

Tim reported that what he saw had walked upright and had used its arms to push something aside when he fled to the forest.  He had moved with a slight limp, but “like a human”.

puk7The second time Tom saw the Pukwudgies was a few years later in a parking lot near the same forest.  He was listening to the radio at almost a whisper and checking his rear view mirror for the friend he was waiting for when he saw the same small figure of a man.  Every detail was identical, and the Pukwudgie just stood there watching him.  The car turned on by itself and his radio began to get louder.  Tim pulled out of the parking lot and took the long way home to try and stop his hands from shaking.
puk4Although the monster seemed content to only frighten Joan and Tim, there are still physical attacks happening.  Several people have been assaulted and one person came down with a mysterious illness after seeing them in a cemetery in New Hampshire.  Another woman suffered scratches on her arm after following an orb in a forest in Taunton, Massachusetts.

The most disturbing reoccurring attacks might be taking place at the Pukwudgies favorite hunting ground.  In the Freetown State Forest there is an hundred foot cliff overlooking a quarry known as the Ledge.  There have been many hauntings at this sight, but the most frequent experience is an overwhelming feeling to jump to the rocks and water below.  In the folklore of the Wampanoag, the Pukwudgies were known to lure people to cliffs and push them off to their death.  There have been several unexplained suicides at the Ledge, often by people who had no signs of depression or mental disease before entering the forest.