The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ghost Story

Tale of the Ludlow Witch

The first time I heard about the Ludlow Witch was around the campfire at Boy Scout camp. I was never much of a Boy Scout, the organization seemed too religious oriented and militaristic in style for a free spirit like me. But I did like to go camping, so whenever news reached me through the boyhood grapevine (more efficient in its own way than the Associated Press) that the Boy Scouts were preparing for their annual camping trips, I would hurry over to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church and join.

I took absolutely no interest in their merit badges, paper drives or assorted good deeds, and never participated in them. I joined the scouts strictly to go camping, fishing, swimming and to goof off with my buddies far from the dull hot mean streets of Springfield. When the camping trips ended for the summer, I'd quit the scouts until the next year.

On many nights on those campouts we would participate in what may well be the oldest continuous communal activity in human history. I'm talking of course about sitting around a campfire telling stories. Besides being the most ancient, it may also be the most human of activities. An anthropologist once defined human beings as "story-telling animals."

Many of the tales told around the crackling flames were creepy ones. The scary story is believed to be the oldest of all the literary forms. The ancient cave drawings of the Stone Age show stick figures being attacked by monsters. Psychologists have theorized that the scary story persists because it fulfills a deeply essential socialization need, which is the necessity of acquiring courage. Being frightened in the safe environment of an imaginary tale, and learning to handle that abstract fear, is practice for how to handle fearful emotions in real life.

In everyone's life will come moments of physical and psychological danger. As Ayn Rand once said, "Courage is not a mere virtue, it is a purely practical necessity."

Once upon a time, in Eastern Massachusetts during the colonial era, a terrible hysteria broke out in which several innocent people were tortured and killed as witches. One of the accused, a harmless, nature worshipping Pagan who came under suspicion as a non-Christian, escaped the Boston area and resettled in the tiny town of Ludlow in Western Massachusetts. The tolerant citizens of Ludlow left the Pagan woman alone, which was easy to do since she bothered no one and kept to herself. However one day a small child went missing and could not be located. A panic arose that focused on the superstition of witches stealing children for use in their supposedly unspeakable rituals and recipes for stews.

Panic soon led to hysteria in which a mob marched on the Pagan's home and set it afire. Fleeing the inferno she was chased screaming through the streets, until finally arriving at the area where the bridge now stands connecting Ludlow with Indian Orchard. In a last desperate attempt to escape the bloodthirsty mob, she threw herself into the river. But instead of escaping she hit her head on some rocks and drowned. Her body was never recovered.

The next day the missing child showed up alive, he had simply gotten lost in the woods. The people of Ludlow realized too late that the Pagan woman had been completely innocent all along. But the soul of the Pagan demanded vengeance. If she was driven to her death by false accusations of attacking children, then she would show them through supernatural means what real danger to their young could be! Therefore it is said that forever after she has haunted our Valley, looking for wayward children that she can snatch away to some mysterious realm where they are never seen again, each time causing the community to grieve in guilt over how their false accusations had now come true.

Of course I don't believe that any of those stories really happened, but I'll admit it's easier to say that now, sitting in my well lighted den surrounded by modern luxuries, than it has been on some nights alone on the Connecticut River. I'd be a liar if I said I haven't occasionally heard things that sounded strange, or thought for a moment that I saw something that was more than just a shadow. But I simply remind myself that logic dictates that it is really nothing. Of course. Really.

There is a great scene from the movie The Shining where the character played by Scatman Cruthers is telling a small boy (who is about to be left in a hotel full of ghosts) what he believes ghosts actually are. Scatman says that they are the traces of things that once happened, sort of like when you burn toast. You may throw the burnt toast in the garbage, and put the toaster away, but the smell will linger in the air as evidence of what happened for a long time afterward. He told the boy that ghosts are like that, leftover traces of what happened.

So who knows?

Hellraiser Howie

Boston media legend Howie Carr was at the Holyoke Mall signing books, as seen here with blogger Bill Dusty.

I've read Howie's The Brothers Bulger and recommend it highly. In fact there is much about the mentality of the Bulger Brothers that is very similiar to the mindset of Valley political machines such as in Springfield, where Howie's guide to political conduct definitely applies:

1) Nothing is on the level
2) Everything is a deal
3) No deal is too small

In Springfield I would've added this rule - the bigger the scoundrel, the higher the honors.

Hamp Today

The Green Bean in downtown Northampton is becoming the essential Sunday morning hotspot for Hamp hipsters to meet to discuss the night before.

I've seen this painter all over downtown Hamp, even on arctic cold days, painting Northampton landmarks.

I'd say he stroked the historic Calvin pretty damn good.
(click photo to enlarge)

Today's Video

Recently at The Elevens in downtown Northampton they had a Wes Anderson night which was described thusly:

A tribute to the soundtracks from Wes Anderson's films. (The Darjeeling Limited (2007), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Rushmore (1998), Bottle Rocket (1996) - Each performer will play at least one song from one of the movies and probably a song of their own.

Here Henning Ohlenbusch displays his whistling skills.

henning by dwight


Anonymous said...

You're a great storyteller, Tom! You should try your hand at fiction.

Anonymous said...

Good story, but total BS about Lord Jeff, as he never set foot anywhere near the Pioneer Valley, and certainly had absolutely nothing to do with the demise of local indigenous populations.

Mary E.Carey said...

Is that a photo or a painting of the Connecticut River? We lived near the Housatonic River in Pittsfield and I was afraid of crossing the bridge about 25 yards from my house at night.

Tommy said...

Although Lord Amherst was an asshole who wrote approvingly about the idea of giving the Indians disease infested blankets, there is no conclusive historical evidence that he actually did so.

However, that has not stopped local Columbus Day demonstrators from demanding every year that the town's name be changed because of Amherst's crimes against the Indians.

But why let the facts stand in the way of a good demonstration - or a good ghost story.

Tim said...


Have you seen "Darjeeling Limited?" I love that movie. It also has two songs in the soundtrack from what I think is one of the greatest Rock albums of all time, the vastly underrated "Lola vs Powerman and The Money Go Round" by The Kinks. I was doing some gardening on saturday morning about 10am and had that thing absolutely cranking on my Bose wave. Neighbors must have been thrilled. 51 yrs. old, refuse to grow up.

RebeccaMA said...

Your stuff about the river goes well with the headlines in the news today about bodies being found in the river in Northampton. Great story!

I'm guessing that was a photo, taken from Mount Sugarloaf. Am I right?

Tommy said...

Yes Becky you are completely correct about the photo!

marginalutility said...

Can you please not claim that the homeless people who live along the river are killers simply b/c some of them do dope? Homeless people are much more likely to be victims of violence, and indeed, knowing a lot of these people you say would kill for twenty bucks, I've heard of a lot of people hurting them but have never heard of them hurting anybody else (aside from maybe the occasional picked pocket.)

Tom said...

Bless you Caty for always sticking up for the homeless.