Massachusetts has its share of legends:
Lizzie Borden and her infamous ax;
The captain of the Mary Celeste; and
But what about legendary creatures? I don’t mean animals that are merely strange, like the moving pincushion that whistles like a porpoise and chews canoe paddles to indulge its perspiration craving. Porcupines cross the weird threshold, but nobody doubts they’re real. Ask any dog that encounters one—and the veterinarian who has to pull the needles out of its nose. No, I mean beasts that MIGHT exist… but might not. Scotland’s Loch Ness monster comes to mind. Do we have an equivalent in our state?
Coastal Legendary Beasts in Massachusetts
We may be small, but we lie next to a humongous water body: the Atlantic Ocean. Some of our most enduring cryptids come from its depths. According to Loren Coleman’s MONSTERS OF MASSACHUSETTS, sea serpents have frolicked off our coast from the 1600s through the 2000s, with the greatest number of observations from 1817 to 1819. (As you can tell from the dates, I haven’t delved into Native American sightings.)
Interestingly, colonists described the sea monsters as snakelike, but as long as 90 feet. Modern boaters in 2007 described one as a cluster of floating trash bags that swam away when approached. How far we have fallen.
Sadly, the number of reports is dwindling. Perhaps these denizens of the deep saw the movie Jaws and fled for safer waters.
Inland Legendary Beasts in Massachusetts
I’m interested in inland beasts because the fictional small town in my manuscript is landlocked. (Remember the children’s story I’m supposed to be revising and researching?) So let’s move away from the coast, toward the smaller towns nestled amid the cities. In Ware, an alligator was allegedly spotted in a wetland (according to Jeff Belanger’s WEIRD MASSACHUSETTS) close to 100 years ago. No eyewitnesses came forward after that first year, though, which suggests that the reptile didn’t survive the winter.
A general observation: wetlands seem to be a wonderful source of beasts. The next time you see a damp spot covered by poison ivy, red maples, a cloud of mosquitoes, and abandoned shopping carts (all accurate wetland indicators, in my opinion), look for Bigfoot hunkered behind a buttressed tree trunk. Better yet, search for him in the Hockomock Swamp in southeastern Massachusetts. Also known as “The Bridgewater Triangle,” this forested region contains 6-foot-tall birds, horse-killing black dogs, cattle-killing mountain lions, enormous snakes, a giant moose, and the afore-mentioned Bigfoot (who lifted the rear of a patrol car in one memorable story). Be forewarned before you visit; Coleman’s book mentions that this area has had an unexplainable number of accidents and disappearances. Beware!
According to Jeff Belanger’s writing, Bigfoot has appeared in Cedar Swamp in central Massachusetts, too. In the western part of the state, he’s branched into higher ground on October Mountain and Witt’s Ledge.
The Dover Demon
Finally, there’s the Dover Demon. Alien? Demon? Animal? Human? Larger than a raccoon, with a head as large as its body, eyes that glowed in headlights, and long-fingered hands, this upright humanoid snuck into the lives of several teens in a small town in eastern Massachusetts over the course of two spring nights in 1977. Loren Coleman interviewed all the witnesses and still has no idea what they saw.
In sum: tread cautiously and look carefully whenever you’re in the woods. If my densely populated state, settled by European adventurers 500 years ago, has its mysteries—so does your town.
Information for this post came from
Jeff Belanger. 2008. Weird Massachusetts: Your Travel Guide to Massachusetts’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling, New York.
Coleman, Loren. 2013. Monsters of Massachusetts: Mysterious Creatures in the Bay State. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.