Category Archives: Hallowe’en

Another ghost witch, overlooking Montego Bay

Rose Hall before restoration

So far, this year’s Hallowe’en story (link and link) has focused on an eighteenth century New England woman, Elizabeth Blachford, whose neighbors caricatured her as the witchy Liza Tower Hill, a fictional character which survives to this day. Elizabeth’s case raises a follow-up question: Is that rare? Have long-lived supernatural tales constellated around other ordinary people?

Meet Rosa (Kelly) Palmer, 1718-1790, Elizabeth Blachford’s contemporary. Rosa lived in Jamaica. Her alter ego is named Annie Palmer. Annie was a wicked slave mistress, a sadistic sexual glutton who murdered two or three of her husbands. Her fourth fled for his life. Annie was herself murdered, strangled by her righteously vengeful slaves. And then the story got better! Annie ruled her plantation by witchcraft until she was defeated by a local adept in Obeah (Jamaica’s African-derived folk magic, comparable with Haitian Voodoo), but not before Annie had killed his granddaughter with the help of a blood-sucking demon. Now Annie’s ghost haunts a Jamaican tourist destination, soon to be the setting for a major motion picture (maybe, the project’s been in development for years).

Spoiler alert: Rosa’s real life story can’t compete with Annie’s legend.

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The ghost witch of Barnstable, continued

lady and devilThe previous post (link) told how Elizabeth (Lewis) Blachford, 1712-1790, had acquired notoriety among her neighbors in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She kept strong ties with the local church, was an exemplary wife, mother and grandmother, and enjoyed neighborly involvement in the life of her community. Despite that, a delusional accusation, a few marginally mysterious events around town, her own assertiveness and a residence literally off the beaten path (if only by several dozen paces) combined to launch a local cottage industry of spinning tall tales about her alter ego, the powerful and vengeful Liza Tower Hill, the Witch of Halfway Pond.

In part because the prime audience for such folk stories included children, the tales survived into the next generation after Elizabeth died. One of those children who heard the fables grew up to be the premier Barnstable genealogist, Amos Otis. Seventy years after Elizabeth’s death, Otis published in the local newspaper some of what he had heard as a boy, with the intention of entertaining a new generation. He also published many facts about the real Mrs. Blachford, whom he believed (mistakenly) to have been a distant relation of his wife.

Otis notes in passing that something he’d said about Elizabeth had soured his relationship with one of her grandsons. The grandchildren stuck up for their beloved grandmother, but they were dying off as Otis was writing in the early 1860’s. By 1900, it was no longer seriously possible that anybody who had actually met Elizabeth was still alive. The stories about Liza Tower Hill had long since detached themselves from anything that really happened. With nobody left to distinguish Elizabeth Blachford from the vivid folk character Liza, the stage was set for a twentieth century woman single-handedly to make church lady Elizabeth over into the devil’s very own femme fatale.

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The ghost witch of Barnstable, Massachusetts

pond view

Mary Dunn Pond

In the charming Cape Cod district of Yarmouth Port, a street actress entertained patrons of a twenty-first century haunted house tour. She played Elizabeth (Lewis) Blachford, 1712-1790, who lived just across the town line in Barnstable. Michael Feist (link) describes the performance:

… satanic Elizabeth Lewis … invited us to watch her stir fish scales into an already merrily boiling pot sporting ear of warthog and eye of newt. “My mother died when I was young,” she explained, to furnish living proof of why she had lived in the woods of those days alone with her father. Now, she cackled, she stays totally alone on Mary Dunn Road, next to Halfway Pond, where strange dancing lights are wont to hover.

Ms. Lewis unwound the yarn of how she had turned herself into a cat for swimming across the ocean. “All witches wear red shoes,” she hissed in near-feline abandon…

However, about 140 years earlier, Cape Cod historian Frederick Freeman wrote of this same woman,

[William Blachford’s] wife was of good order of mind, connected with the best families in town, and 53 years (to the day of her death), a member of the Barnstable church, ” exemplary and pious.” Thirty-five years she was a widow, and, left with a young family and small estate in an obscure portion of the township, contrived by rare industry, uncommon energy, and good management, to bring up her children respectably, she at last going to her grave under the weight of nearly four-score and ten years, 1790, honored and commended by her pastor.

How could a pious church lady and community pillar in real life be remembered in death as a reclusive shape-shifting minion of Satan? Could it be because her ghost seduced a midnight visitor to her former home who’d unwittingly summoned the devil?

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St Aspinquid, meet St Tammany

Paul Revere "Obelisk" panel

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.

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Whom we remember atop Agamenticus

view from the top

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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.

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Practical magic for you and a friend this Hallowe’en


Charlize Theron as a famous scryer in Snow White and the Huntsman

Last year’s Hallowe’en post here at the Uncertaintist described how turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century middle American adults celebrated the holiday with solitary dark-mirror scrying. Few of the novice scryers realized that it might really work, rapidly causing vivid worldly or otherworldly hallucinations.

Scrying’s fast, reliable and dramatic effectiveness, even for casual inexperienced users, was experimentally demonstrated by Giovanni Caputo in 2010. A few months ago, Caputo published new research on a related, two-person method of easily altering consciousness. Variations on the technique which Caputo studied are used by cults like Scientology and have been shown to work as a love charm as well – the ultimate two-person team activity. This is not just a way of seeing something that isn’t there, but it may also promote changes in thought and behavior as well.

Real magic, then, lurks a mouse click away, just in time for your holiday enjoyment…

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