Moodus Noises (North American Folk Tale)

The village of Moodus, Connecticut, was troubled with noises. There is no question as to that. In fact, Machimoodus, the Indian name of the spot, means Place of Noises. As early as 1700, and for thirty years after, there were crackings and rumblings that were variously compared to fusillades, to thunder, to roaring in the air, to the breaking of rocks, to reports of cannon. A man who was on Mount Tom while the noises were violent describes the sound as that of rocks falling into immense caverns beneath his feet and striking against cliffs as they fell. Houses shook and people feared.

Rev. Mr. Hosmer, in a letter written to a friend in Boston in 1729, says that before white settlers appeared there was a large Indian population, that powwows were frequent, and that the natives “drove a prodigious trade at worshipping the devil.” He adds:–”An old Indian was asked what was the reason of the noises in this place, to which he replied that the Indian”s god was angry because Englishman”s god was come here. Now, whether there be anything diabolical in these things I know not, but this I know, that God Almighty is to be seen and trembled at in what has been often heard among us. Whether it be fire or air distressed in the subterranean caverns of the earth cannot be known for there is no eruption, no explosion perceptible but by sounds and tremors which are sometimes very fearful and dreadful.”

It was finally understood that Haddam witches, who practised black magic, met the Moodus witches, who used white magic, in a cave beneath Mount Tom, and fought them in the light of a great carbuncle that was fastened to the roof. The noises recurred in 1888, when houses rattled in witch-haunted Salem, eight miles away, and the bell on the village church “sung like a tuning-fork.” The noises have occurred simultaneously with earthquakes in other parts of the country, and afterward rocks have been found moved from their bases and cracks have been discovered in the earth. One sapient editor said that the pearls in the mussels in Salmon and Connecticut Rivers caused the disturbance.

If the witch-fights were continued too long the king of Machimoddi, who sat on a throne of solid sapphire in the cave whence the noises came, raised his wand: then the light of the carbuncle went out, peals of thunder rolled through the rocky chambers, and the witches rushed into the air. Dr. Steele, a learned and aged man from England, built a crazy-looking house in a lonely spot on Mount Tom, and was soon as much a mystery as the noises, for it was known that he had come to this country to stop them by magic and to seize the great carbuncle in the cave–if he could find it. Every window, crack, and keyhole was closed, and nobody was admitted while he stayed there, but the clang of hammers was heard in his house all night, sparks shot from his chimney, and strange odors were diffused. When all was ready for his adventure he set forth, his path marked by a faint light that moved before him and stopped at the closed entrance to the cavern.

Loud were the Moodus noises that night. The mountain shook and groans and hisses were heard in the air as he pried up the stone that lay across the pit-mouth. When he had lifted it off a light poured from it and streamed into the heaven like a crimson comet or a spear of the northern aurora. It was the flash of the great carbuncle, and the stars seen through it were as if dyed in blood. In the morning Steele was gone. He had taken ship for England. The gem carried with it an evil fate, for the galley sank in mid-ocean; but, though buried beneath a thousand fathoms of water, the red ray of the carbuncle sometimes shoots up from the sea, and the glow of it strikes fear into the hearts of passing sailors. Long after, when the booming was heard, the Indians said that the hill was giving birth to another beautiful stone.

Such cases are not singular. A phenomenon similar to the Moodus noises, and locally known as “the shooting of Nashoba Hill,” occurs at times in the eminence of that name near East Littleton, Massachusetts. The strange, deep rumbling was attributed by the Indians to whirlwinds trying to escape from caves.

Bald Mountain, North Carolina, was known as Shaking Mountain, for strange sounds and tremors were heard there, and every moonshiner who had his cabin on that hill joined the church and was diligent in worship until he learned that the trembling was due to the slow cracking and separation of a great ledge.

At the end of a hot day on Seneca Lake, New York, are sometimes heard the “lake guns,” like exploding gas. Two hundred years ago Agayentah, a wise and honored member of the Seneca tribe, was killed here by a lightning-stroke. The same bolt that slew him wrenched a tree from the bank and hurled it into the water, where it was often seen afterward, going about the lake as if driven by unseen currents, and among the whites it got the name of the Wandering Jew. It is often missing for weeks together, and its reappearances are heralded by the low booming of–what? The Indians said that the sound was but the echo of Agayentah”s voice, warning them of dangers and summoning them to battle, while the Wandering Jew became his messenger.

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