Friday, June 10, 2005
The Enchanted State Forest
Among the most extraordinary and curious places in Berkshire County, as far as I'm concerned, is October Mountain State Forest.
The name 'October Mountain' was apparently first coined by Herman Melville in a short story from 1853 entitled "Cock-a- doodle-doo." He referred to it as such, he explained, "on account of its hampered aspect in that month." He later wrote another, fairly unremarkable short story called "October Mountain" for Putnam Magazine.
The largest state forest in Massachusetts, it consists of over 11,000 acres of land in Washington, Lenox, Lee and Becket. Most of this land was once the estate of William C. Whitney, who served as Secretary of the Navy under President Cleveland. It was purchased by a group of individuals in 1915, and donated to the state.
Long before Whitney, though, it was here that Gideon Smith, one of Berkshire County's most determined Loyalists, fled after it was learned that he had harbored a British prisoner-of-war. There he hid out in a gorge which hence became known as Tories Glen. There, legend has it, Indians from the settlement at Stockbridge brought him food and kept him protected from the zealous Berkshire patriots until the end of the war.
Also on the mountain is a small cemetery from the 19th century, which has long been said to be haunted. Stories have been told of people hearing strange humming noises and of seeing a ghostly young girl in a white dress. If these tales are true, the most likely candidate for the identity of this ghost would have to be a girl named Anna Pease. According to her headstone, Anna died on January 22, 1829 at the age of 10. The daughter of one Olivea Pease, who died in 1850, she appears to be the only female child in the small graveyard.
More than ghosts may be lurking in the dense woods, however. In 1983, two Pittsfield men were picnicking near the site of Camp Eagle, an old Boy Scout camp on Felton Lake, when they saw what they claimed was some strange anthropoid creature in the woods. They described it as dark brown, and standing erect at between six or seven feet tall. They said that it appeared to have glowing eyes, though this could have been due to the fact that it was standing in the path of their headlights when they saw it. A similar sighting was reported to have occurred in 1989. A hiker nearing the top of the mountain saw something large moving in the brush, about a hundred yards away. He at first thought it might have been a bear, until he stopped and looked at it through binoculars. What he beheld then was an extremely tall animal standing erect, covered all over in reddish hair or fur. It had a very human face, and extremely long arms. It appeared to be grubbing for roots or insects in a very methodical way- stacking the rocks that it moved upon each other in a neat pile.
Perhaps these creatures have even attracted some attention beyond that of humans. Some time around 1970, when Camp Eagle was still open, a scout there witnessed two unusual lights hovering in the sky. They appeared to be checking a certain spot over and over again. At no time did either object make any noise at all. After about five minutes of this, they shot off vertically into the sky, one after another, at incredible speed.
To top off this list of weird happenings, the forest has even, in recent years, had sightings of the elusive and controversial eastern panther, according to an article in last year's Berkshire Eagle. I cannot help but wonder, what other strange sightings may not have been reported, and what other unknown mysteries might this dense, sprawling forest hold?
Melville, Herman. Great Short Works of Herman Melville Perennial Press, 1970
Skinner, Charles M. Myths and Legends of Our Own Land J.P. Lippincott, 1896
The Berkshire Eagle August 23, 1983; February 23, 2004
National UFO Reporting Center