Paul Revere “Obelisk” panel, 1766; click to enlarge
In the recent Hallowe’en posting (link), the Uncertaintist introduced you to a regional legend of Nova Scotia and Maine, Saint Aspinquid, the “Native American Saint.” He has some attributes of the real Seventeenth Century New England chief Passaconaway. His name might be a variant of another real Seventeenth Century chief’s, Abenquid, about whose life little is known. A lingering question is whether Saint Aspinquid refers to any specific real-life hero or only to an imaginary character.
The prospects for a powerful, pious and real Aspinquid are dim. The earliest extant published mentions of him, in the 1770’s, emerge among English colonists in northern British America just when other English colonists farther south also adopt Native themes in their own public festivities. Conspicuously similar to the peace-preaching religious-minded Aspinquid is the character built upon the Seventeenth Century Lenape (Delaware) chief Tamina, Tamanend or Tammany, who dealt with William Penn.
“Tammany” is a household name today because of the spectacularly corrupt political machine that once ran New York City. How Chief Tammany’s renown took that turn is a good story (told in detail by Edwin Patrick Kilroe’s 1913 Columbia University dissertation, link), but our present concern is to examine how Chief or “King” Tammany became a frankly imaginary “Saint.” The conjecture is that something similar happened to Chief Abenquid-Saint Aspinquid, at about the same time, farther north.
click to enlarge
The middle panel above looks easterly from the highest of the three hills that are Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine. The current signage dates from 2009 when the rock pile in the picture was instituted after an older nearby pile was summarily dismantled, to the displeasure of local Native Americans.
Our subject for this Hallowe’en is the legend told by the left-hand sign, and by its predecessor at the earlier pile that had proposed its own version of the Native hero Aspinquid. The right-hand placard is shown only for the record. It has no predecessor. It scolds about a “leave no trace policy” amid cell towers, a former ski lodge, ample parking, a newly installed semi-paved walking trail, a fire watch tower, a memorial to a deceased fire watchman, picnic tables and bird-watching platforms. There are portable toilets, but not public trash cans. Carry in, carry out, sure enough, but leave no trace? Traces have been left, oh gentle bureaucrats.
On September 26, 1859, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal (volume 30, page 20),
The savage in man is never quite eradicated. I have just read of a family in Vermont– who, several of its members having died of consumption, just burned [?] the lungs & heart & liver of the last deceased, in order to prevent any more from having it.
“Consumption” is tuberculosis, from which Thoreau died a few years later, decades before the bacterial cause of the disease was identified. Until then, macabre incidents like Thoreau’s happened in New England. When a living person seemed to have their life force gradually sucked out, then family and friends might look to the graveyard to find someone who’s responsible.
With Hallowe’en upon us, it’s an apt time to investigate Thoreau’s report. Your Ob’d Uncertaintist set out to hunt a vampire in Vermont. Who could resist that? Something unusual happened there long ago, suggesting the essential truth of Thoreau’s story, but also hinting that a tale about superstitious caution may have improved in the retelling.
About ten years ago, a little girl living in the comfortable Boston suburb of Newtonville began talking with a nice grandmotherly lady upstairs whom nobody else in the house had met and whose feet always floated above the floor.
The girl’s parents researched the imaginary friend’s name, Mrs Woodman, along with another name they’d heard from their daughter, Gridley. They discovered that a real Jane Gridley Woodman had lived in their house at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The little girl’s Mrs. Woodman had seven children, as had Jane, with the same number of boys and of girls as Jane’s children.
The visits lasted for years. At some point, the apparition began to ask the little girl for a favor. It was just a hint at first, but Mrs Woodman became more and more insistent as time went on.
Here’s the link:
For a few comments on what happened, please read on.