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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Freaks and Curiosities at the Berkshire Museum

As part of its Circus-Themed Festival of Trees extravaganza this year, the Berkshire Museum is including an exhibit with some of the more "freakish" curiosities from their collection brought up from storage. I'm not posting a pic of the conjoined shark fetuses, because you should go see the exhibit. There is also a creepily delightful exhibition of Barnum & Bailey memorabilia, including a suit of Tom Thumb's, in addition to dozens of festive, eye-catching and innovative circus-themed decorated trees from artists and organizations all around the Berkshires.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Top 5 Pittsfield Crime Stories

Following the recent arrest at Rite Aid of a man sexually accosting a sunglass display, I have compiled & re-posted copies of my personal choices of TOP 5 absurd Pittsfield Crime Stories from the past couple of years...

"Reynolds cut through the courthouse parking lot and several Wendell Avenue lots before collapsing at a service station at the corner of East Housatonic and South streets, ... leaving a clear blood trail from the alley to the service station."

July 15, 2010
Charges for man who shot self
Conor Berry
Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD - A Pittsfield man who accidentally shot himself outside the Berkshire County Courthouse complex last month is now facing felony firearms charges, according to Pittsfield police.
Ricky Lee Reynolds, 26, of Cherry Street, is scheduled to appear Wednesday in Central Berkshire District Court, where he will be charged with carrying a gun without a license, discharging a gun within 500 feet of a building, improper storage of a gun, and possession of ammunition without a firearms identification card.
Police said Reynolds accidentally shot himself in the leg in an alley behind Patrick's Pub on the afternoon of June 24. The alley borders the parking lot of Berkshire Probate and Family Court and is only about 30 yards from the front entrance to District Court.
Reynolds cut through the courthouse parking lot and several Wendell Avenue lots before collapsing at a service station at the corner of East Housatonic and South streets, where he had attempted to flag down passing motorists for help. Police said Reynolds lost a lot of blood from the single gunshot wound to his left leg, leaving a clear blood trail from the alley to the service station.
Police recovered the gun - a loaded .22-caliber revolver with a black barrel and white handle - inside a shed at the service station. Police said Reynolds threw the weapon through a large crack in the shed's door.
Investigators initially were looking into the possibility that Reynolds, who's had past skirmishes with the law, may have been targeted by a rival. But witness testimony corroborated Reynolds' account that the wound was accidental and self inflicted, police said. Officer John P. Bassi, an investigator with the Pittsfield Police Department's crime scene services unit, said in a report that investigators were unable to perform a gunshot residue test on Reynolds, who underwent emergency surgery at Berkshire Medical Center.
Bassi said the residue test must be performed within three hours of a gun being fired, and it would have been too late for police to conduct the test by the time Reynolds was released from surgery.
Police said a female employee of Patrick's Pub was with Reynolds at the time of the June 24 shooting. Margaret Catalano, who works at the wellknown Bank Row pub and restaurant, told police she had briefly dated Reynolds, who also worked at Patrick's Pub.
According to police, Reynolds was on his way to pick up his paycheck when the gun discharged. It wasn't immediately clear if Reynolds is still employed by Patrick's.
Catalano, in a June 25 statement to Detective Dale M. Eason, told police that after she heard a loud pop, she turned around and saw a gun lying on the ground and Reynolds "bleeding very badly" from his left leg. Catalano said she initially contemplated calling 911. Instead, though, she asked Reynolds what he wanted her to do, and his reply was, "Just go to work," according to police reports now on file in istrict Court.
Catalano told police she was unaware Reynolds was carrying a gun.
"Ricky is a really nice person, and I am very surprised that he would even have a gun," she said.
The day after the shooting, Catalano told her boss, Dave Powell, an owner of Patrick's Pub, about what she had witnessed. Police said Powell urged Catalano to speak with investigators immediately and drove her to the police station to make a statement.

"Millard provided officers with various explanations for being naked before eventually admitting that he had been masturbating inside the van..."

December 3, 2009
Man cleared of indency charge
Conor Berry
Berkshire Eagle Staff PITTSFIELD -- What you do in the privacy of your own van is your own business. That was essentially the message sent by a judge who tossed out an obscenity charge against a man found naked inside a van at Bousquet Ski Area in September.
Attorney Elizabeth J. "Betsy" Quigley filed a motion in November to dismiss a charge of open and gross lewdness brought against Raymond S. Millard Jr., a 63-year-old Pittsfield man who disrobed inside a van whose windows were covered with black garbage bags.
The van was parked next to a pool where children were swimming, according to Pittsfield Police, who noted that the vehicle was rocking back and forth.
"He had no visibility of anybody outside," said Quigley, adding that Millard went to Bousquet to sleep after an argument with his girlfriend.
Millard placed the bags on the windows for privacy and to block out the sun, Quigley said.
The Sept. 2 incident occurred near the ski facility's "activity pool" -- a shallow pool favored by children -- where a Connecticut woman claimed she saw the van shaking back and forth, police said. The woman called 911, with officers arriving moments later.
According to a report by Pittsfield Police Officer David Potash, a fully naked man (Millard) was visible through a section of window that wasn't fully covered by a garbage bag. Once officers identified themselves, Millard asked them to wait while he quickly got dressed.
Millard provided officers with various explanations for being naked before eventually admitting that he had been masturbating inside the van, police said.
But that's not a crime, said Quigley, who argued in her motion to dismiss that police lacked probable cause to cite Millard for open and gross lewdness. Simply put, Millard's actions should not have triggered the criminal charge, she said.
For the government to prove open and gross lewdness, prosecutors had to show that Millard intended to publicly expose himself to one or more people in an effort "to produce alarm and shock." And that threshold was not crossed, according to Quigley.
"There was no exposure," she said. "Nobody saw anything. There was no evidence of any criminal activity whatsoever."
Central Berkshire District Court Judge Fredric D. Rutberg ultimately agreed with Quigley by dismissing the charge on Nov. 30.
Millard could not be reached for comment. The phone number he provided to police has been disconnected. Police were initially unsure if they could even charge Millard with a crime. But after consulting with the district attorney's office, a criminal summons was issued and Millard was arraigned on Sept. 15.

"As Belanger was test-driving the scooter, Cardona pulled out " what looked like a handgun..."

July 19, 2010
Thieves take scooter
Dick Lindsay

PITTSFIELD - Two city men and a Springfield resident were arrested over the weekend following a pair of thefts - one of them an armed robbery.
Douglas Belanger of Pittsfield and Gabriel Cardona from Springfield allegedly stole a two- wheeled scooter from two city residents while brandishing a BB gun on First Street on Saturday. Later that night, William Gary of Pittsfield allegedly attacked a male friend and took his money. Gary was also accused of choking his girlfriend, following an argument the couple had shortly after the alleged theft.
All three men were being held in the Pittsfield police lock- up, pending arraignments this morning in Central Berkshire District Court, police said Sunday.
Belanger, 22, of Tyler Street, and Cardona, 20, had approached a father and son - whom police didn't identify - about buying their scooter, which had a "For Sale" sign on it. Both parties agreed to meet around noon at the First Street Common to discuss a possible transaction. As Belanger was test-driving the scooter, Cardona pulled out " what looked like a handgun," pointed it at the victims and the two men fled the scene with the scooter, according to police.
The father called police and within 45 minutes, officers found Belanger and Cardona 200 feet away from the crime scene and arrested them.
" We had very good descriptions of the men to work with," said Pittsfield police Sgt. Matthew Hill.
Hill said the scooter and weapon, which was a BB gun, were recovered.
Cardona faces charges of armed robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon. Belanger is accused of armed robbery and disorderly conduct.
Saturday's second alleged theft was a falling out between two drinking buddies, police said. A city man riding his bike on North Street around 10 p.m. spotted William Gary, 44, near the Family Dollar Store and told him he had money to buy beer. The two went to Gary's apartment at 646 North St. where an argument ensued between Gary and his girlfriend.
The male friend, whom police didn't identify, decided to leave at that point, and that's when Gary punched the friend in the face and stole $100 in cash, police said.
The victim escaped and asked a passerby on North Street to call police. The man was taken to Berkshire Medical Center where he was treated for a broken nose and released.
Gary was arrested after he was found attacking his girlfriend, more than an hour after the robbery, police said.
Police investigating a car crash at the intersection of North Street and Maplewood at 11:15 p. m., were notified about the attack just outside Gary's apartment building.
"An eyewitness stated to police that [Gary] choked the female who fell to the ground," Hill said. Hill said once Gary was in custody, police determined he also was the one who allegedly attacked his male friend and stole the $100.
Gary faces charges of unarmed robbery and assault and battery from the first incident along with assault and battery and disturbing the peace for allegedly attacking his girlfriend.

"He was just having a bad day."

Berkshire Eagle, April 24, 2009
Man goes on Walmart smashing spree

Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Friday, April 24 PITTSFIELD — A summa cum laude college graduate wielding a baseball bat smashed the screens of 17 television sets inside Walmart before employees were able to calm him down. After the incident, which several employees called "terrifying," the man expressed anti-government sentiments and complained about being unemployed.
According to police, Nicholas Adornetto, 26, of East Street, walked into the Hubbard Avenue Walmart shortly after 1 p.m. and headed for the sporting goods area. There, he picked up an aluminum baseball bat and made his way to the electronics department, where he began taking rips at three rows of flat-screen TVs — Vizios, Sonys and Sumsungs.
$13,000 in damage
He connected on 17 swings. Estimated damage: $13,000.
Adornetto was heard saying, "I'm not going to hurt anyone. I'm mad at the government. I'm sick of it all. I want to go to jail."
Pittsfield Police Detective Sgt. Marc E. Strout said several employees were able to "talk him down" and take the bat away.
Police were called. Adornetto was arrested and charged with 17 counts of willful and malicious destruction of property. He was being held on $3,000 cash bond at the Pittsfield Police Department overnight and is scheduled to be arraigned in Central Berkshire District Court this morning.
Employees at the store declined to speak with a reporter.
Ashley Hardie, a Walmart spokeswoman based in Bentonville, Ark., said she hasn't heard of an incident like this taking place at the large discount store, which operates nearly 4,000 locations across the United States.
Incident still under investigation
"We appreciate the quick response of the police department," she said.
Hardie declined to speak further on the issue, as it still remains under investigation.
Meanwhile, questions remain concerning Adornetto's motive. The 2001 Pittsfield High graduate received a history degree from Skidmore College in Saratoga, N.Y., in December 2004.
He was accepted into the international honor society Phi Alpha Theta and graduated summa cum laude — the highest college honors reserved for the top 1 percent of students.
His father, Gerald Adornetto, died a suspicious death in January 2005. His body was found inside a van parked on Circular Avenue.
The 45-year-old owner of Gerald Adornetto & Son Plumbing Co. suffered stab wounds, but an autopsy determined that it was a heart attack due to cocaine ingestion that led to his death. District Attorney David Capeless dropped charges against 23-year-old Anthony Carnute, who admitted to selling drugs to Adornetto and stabbing him during an altercation.
When Strout arrested Adornetto on Thursday at Walmart, he said the man was "peaceful, calm and cooperative.
"He was just having a bad day."

#1 The Turkey-Baster Incident
Jennifer declined "to go forward with charges of assault with intent to rape" because she did not believe "Stephanie was going to sexually assault her with the syringe."

March 12, 2009
Insemination fight ends in wife's arrest
Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Thursday, March 12 PITTSFIELD — A woman who allegedly intended to artificially inseminate her wife with her brother's semen has been charged with domestic assault and battery. Pittsfield police responded to a call shortly before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the city's Morningside neighborhood, where the assault allegedly occurred.
Stephanie K. Lighten, 26, was released on personal recognizance after denying the allegations in Central Berkshire District Court Wednesday morning.
Jennifer A. Lighten, 33, told police that Stephanie Lighten, her wife, was "all liquored up" when she returned to their Lincoln Street apartment, where the defendant then allegedly tried to use a syringe to inseminate her, according to a police report.
Jennifer told investigating officers that Stephanie "has been talking about trying to impregnate (her) for some time," police said.
According to a report by Pittsfield Police Officer Kipp D. Steinman: "Jennifer said that Stephanie had a 'turkey baster and her brother's semen in a sealed container.' Jennifer said she told Stephanie that she didn't want to get pregnant." The device was actually a large syringe with a catheter tip, police said, and it was still in its original package when officers confiscated the item.
That's allegedly when Stephanie threw Jennifer on the couch, grabbed at her clothes and threatened to impregnate her, police said.
Jennifer broke free, ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Stephanie "then broke the bathroom door down," police said, hurting her wrist in the process.
When Stephanie went to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer, Jennifer bolted from the apartment and attempted to get away in the couple's sport utility vehicle, police said.
As Jennifer pulled away from the scene, Stephanie "jumped on the side of their vehicle, swung the door open and made (Jennifer) stop," Steinman said.
According to Officer John Bassi, a witness at the scene claimed Stephanie "was hanging on the SUV door handle, trying to get into the car." Amber Hunt told Bassi that Stephanie nearly caused an accident when the vehicle narrowly missed hitting a tree in the front yard of Hunt's Spring Street home.
Police arrested Stephanie Lighten near the intersection of Spring and Curtis streets in Morningside.
Police also confiscated the container of semen and some aluminum foil, which was originally used to hold the semen. Nicholas Lighten, Stephanie Lighten's brother, was the donor, according to police.
Detective Thomas H. Harrington said Jennifer Lighten declined "to go forward with charges of assault with intent to rape" because she did not believe "Stephanie was going to sexually assault her with the syringe." However, Harrington informed the alleged victim that attempted rape charges could be filed if she changes her mind.
Stephanie Lighten was represented by attorney Thomas J. Donahue Jr. at Wednesday's arraignment.
Judge Rita S. Koenigs ordered Lighten to "refrain from abuse" and to return to court for an April 29 pretrial hearing.

Para-Tourism in the Berkshires

These Mysterious Hills: A New Kind of Tourism is Coming on

And in the North Adams Transcript:

Lecture: Berkshires could capitalize on ‘paratourism’
By Jennifer Huberdeau
Posted: 10/31/2011 08:47:45 AM EDT

Monday October 31, 2011

North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS -- Apparitions in windows, phantom footsteps on the stairs and a host of mysterious happenings could translate into bigger tourism dollars for local cultural venues with a haunted history, according to Joe Durwin, local folklorist and columnist.

"We’ve reached a new era with the haunted history of the Berkshires -- I call it the ‘paratourism’ chapter," he said Saturday during a talk at the Houghton Mansion on Church Street. "I feel like we have all these new haunted places popping up. Ventfort Hall in Lenox was just featured on ‘Ghost Hunters,’ making it now the fifth or sixth place in the Berkshires to make it onto national television."

He added, "Paratourism seems to be a growing demographic in travel, with people staying in haunted inns and visiting haunted mansions and things. It seems to be a non-seasonal type of tourism, which something we could use more of around here Š It’s big tourism in places like Salem and Savannah, Ga."

But while paratourism could bring ghost seekers to the Berkshires, it could "muddy the waters" for folklorists like Durwin, the author of the local column, "These Mysterious Hills."

"There are many pros and cons," he said to a group of about 60 ‘paratourists’ who flocked to the Houghton Mansion from as far away as Boston, with the hopes of capturing one of its famous specters on their digital cameras
and voice recorders.

The Houghton Mansion, home to the city’s first mayor, A.C. Houghton, is home to the Lafyette-Greylock Masonic Temple. The spirits of Houghton, his daughter, Mary, and the family’s chauffeur, John Widders, are supposed to roam the house -- the result of a tragic car accident that killed Mary and a family friend. Widders, who was driving the car, shot himself. Houghton died 11 days later from internal injuries.

The house has been featured on numerous national television shows, including "Ghost Adventures," and has hosted numerous ghost-hunt events with members of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), who make up the cast of the SyFy Network’s popular "Ghost Hunters" television series.

However, Durwin wasn’t on site to relate the tragic Houghton tale, instead he wove tales about other haunts in the Berkshires and related how several legends are suspect.

"In the 1800s, the Shakers in Stockbridge reported a lot of paranormal activity," he said. "Interestingly enough, the accounts are well documented in letters of visitors and travelogues, but not their own historical records."

One famous account coming from Stockbridge has a female member falling into a melancholy. The pastor of the group then convinces the membership that the devil is among them. The story continues that the men meet in the iconic round stone barn, where they are armed with the "Sword of Righteousness" and go out to do battle with the devil. The group surrounds the devil, trapping it on their holy mount, where it disappears with a horrible shriek and the stench of sulfur.

"Interestingly enough, I’ve found identical versions of this tale associated with the Shaker Villages in Tyringham and New Lebanon, N.Y.," Durwin said. "I’ve talked to Shaker researchers about this and they can’t locate it in the history of any of the communities. I have a feeling it was a story they told at their revivals, when they were recruiting new members."

He also told stories about the Pittsfield ghost train and floating ghostly silhouettes at Clapp Park in Pittsfield, and about the Passetto House in Lee, which made headlines around the county in 1981, when its owners called in Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous ghost-hunter demonologists from Connecticut, who investigated the Amityville Horror house in Long Island.

"There were reports of steel bookcases that were bent in half and the wife said she had scratches on her body from an imp," Durwin said. "The Warrens declared the house to have a demon and called in a renegade Catholic priest to do an exorcism. The family eventually moved back in and even appeared on the ‘Geraldo’ show."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tragedy Stained New Ashford's Haunted Homestead

"May the same hour take us both. May I neither see my wife’s tomb nor be put in mine by her."
— Ovid, 'Metamorphoses'

NEW ASHFORD, Mass. — It was the haunted house in New Ashford, and tales of its horrors scared schoolchildren for the decades it stood empty at the edge of Mallery Road, just off Route 7.

Ghoulish apparitions and menacing skeletal figures were said to wander its decaying rooms, and could be seen peering out its windows in the night. Neighbors walking down that road at night gave it a wide berth, shuddering at the eerie howling sounds that could be heard within.

It was the first homestead, built in 1794 by the town's first settler, Uriah Mallery, a captain in the Revolutionary War. Surprisingly little else is known about him, except that he and his wife arrived from Connecticut in that year, fathering his first child, George, in 1797. In 1811, he fathered Uriah Jr., who inherited the house and passed it to his son, Van Ness Mallery. It was during this latter's ownership that the homestead acquired its greatest notoriety.

The many-hearthed chimney and stone foundation are all that remain of the Mallery home, the scene of a scandalous murder in 1861.
In June 1861, 21-year-old Henry Pratt and his wife, 17-year-old Eunice Vanderwalker, traveled to Pittsfield from Osceola, N.Y. They walked from there to New Ashford, where they found work as servants for the Mallerys. They were newlyweds honeymooning on the run, they explained, as Eunice's parents disapproved of the match.

Mrs. Mallery, known for her shrewdness, doubted their story, and soon confirmed that they had actually not been married at all. This would not do, and a quick ceremony was promptly performed by a justice of the peace.

All the while, though, Eunice's father had been searching for her. Upon hearing word of her whereabouts, John Vanderwalker arrived in Pittsfield on July 29, determined to return home with her. He hired Selden Y. Clark to drive him the 15 miles to New Ashford.

Upon his arrival, another fact omitted by the couple was revealed: Pratt was in fact the brother of Eunice's mother, the girl was his niece.

The exchange began quietly enough. The elder Vanderwalker calmly asked Eunice to return home with them, for her mother's sake, if nothing else. She protested, telling him, "I am married. Henry treats me kindly. I cannot go." Her father pleaded with and berated her as they stood outside the doorway of the Mallery house.

Henry came out, and angry words were exchanged between the brothers-in-law. Onlookers said Pratt shook his fist in the older man's face; there was considerable shouting. Yet, it seemed that both he and Eunice were gradually losing the argument, and the protective father would not be dissuaded.

After a great deal more shouting, Pratt took his young wife aside and the two whispered for a moment. Looking miserable and resigned, the two walked arm in arm upstairs to their room, ostensibly to say their farewells before Eunice returned to her family.

Her father said he did not wish them to be left alone, so Mrs. Mallery, Selden Clark and a couple of others went upstairs. Eunice was crying into her apron. Mrs. Mallery kissed her on the forehead and bade her go home to her mother, but Pratt asked them all to leave, giving their employer such a look that she became frightened. They returned downstairs.

After another couple minutes of silence, Vanderwalker again became irritable, asking her to check once more on his daughter. Mrs. Mallery, recalling something Eunice had said to her earlier, hesitated.

"I dare not," she said, her face gone pale.

Clark went back upstairs and knocked. There was no answer. Listening closely, he heard a peculiar gurgling sound. Thrusting open the door, he beheld the couple. Both were laid out on the floor, their throats cut with Henry's pocketknife.

Eunice was already gone, but Henry still drew breath, despite a 4-inch gash across his throat. They managed to keep him alive, and when he eventually came to in a room of angry men, his face fell in despair.

"She wished us to die together," he moaned.

Phoebe Jordan, eminent in New Ashford history as the first woman to vote in a presidential election, clearly recalled the events as told to her by her aunt, who was present at the time. "There were woodchoppers on the mountain back of our house," Jordan later told The Republican of Springfield. "When these woodsmen heard of the murder they threatened to lynch Pratt. He was finally locked in a room to protect him from the angry mob until the sheriff arrived."

Jordan said she herself remembered the stain on the floor of that upstairs room, which could never be removed.

Pratt was tried for murder in Lenox on May 19, 1862, in the old courthouse that is now the library. His defense was deftly helmed by prominent Pittsfield attorney Samuel Bowerman, whose son Samuel Jr. built the Wendell Hotel, where the Crowne Plaza now stands.

Mrs. Mallery testified that Eunice, prior to her death, had told her that she would sooner die than return home. Much was made of the position of their bodies when found, as Bowerman attempted to make a case that Eunice could have cut her own throat while Henry proceeded to cut his after.

The Mallerys were the first settlers in New Ashford.
When he was brought in to hear the verdict, Pratt was so beside himself that he had to be supported by the guards. He refused to take his hands away from his eyes to face the jury in the customary fashion.

When the verdict was read, guilty of murder, Pratt fell completely apart.

"His agitations and sobs and utter prostration moved the court and spectators to the deepest sympathy," one of the reporters covering the trial said. "Men used to all the scenes of a criminal court say that they never witnessed one like this and hope to never witness another."

Pratt was sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to life in prison. After this, he falls out of historical record. Eunice was buried in the little New Ashford cemetery on the hill, but no stone marks her grave.

The house itself became a source of discomfort and uneasiness for the typically sleepy town. Some said the howling noises of wind through the chimney became peculiar after that ... that it was the agonized moaning of Eunice and Henry drifting through the house.

The Mallerys abandoned the house, with its Macbethian stain, some years before their deaths, in 1905 and 1906 respectively. It gradually fell into disarray, further feeding the sense of mystery and foreboding around this landmark to the village's darkest incident. It burned to the ground on the night of Dec. 16, 1930, leaving only a foundation and abbreviated chimney.

The dark allure of the place lasted on, though, and kids were still said to be crossing to the other side of the road to skirt the crumbling ruins in the years that followed. The story seems to have still been in circulation locally as recently as the 1960s.

The remnants of New Ashford's blood-stained first home have not only held up well, they appear to have undergone some slight restoration by the current owner of the property. I was not able to speak to the owner, but a plaque there commemorates the ample cellar hole as the site of the Mallery Homestead, the first in New Ashford.*

It was a windy day when I last visited the bones of that ill-fated house, but I heard no howling sounds from the dilapidated chimney and its five hearths.

One hopes that nothing of those desperate youths still clings to those lonely stones.


*The site of the Mallery house ruins is privately owned but viewable from the street, near the base of Mallery Road off Route 7. I can't see any harm in anyone pulling over to take a look or snap a few photos, but please be respectful of the owners living in the nearby house.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Early August UFO flap

UFO SIGHTING - Pittsfield, MA 8/10/11

[I received this report from a reliable Pittsfield resident a couple of days. While not reported to me until a week or so after it occured, this incident took place in the wake of several noted unexplained aerial sightings over Berkshire County in early August, which were reported on WAMC on 8/10/11: ]

"I've been kind of embarrassed to admit this. VERY late at night on August 10 / early AM of August 11, I went out to have a cigarette. In the sky above my neighbor's house across the street, I saw what looked like a very big and bright star. I wondered about it being a planet or something and watched it for a while. I became aware that it moved in a peculiar pattern - if you put your index finger in the air and draw a U and then have your finger revers direction and do this several times, then that's something like how it moved.

I got my camera and opted to forgo the tripod because it's in the bottom of my closet (buried!) and didn't want to miss it altogether.

The attached picture isn't a great representation of it - it really looked kind of circular like a star but bigger and brighter. To get a picture, I had to use a slow shutter speed and I think the m otion of the object and perhaps my makeshift "tripod" (the wooden handrails of my front steps) might have conspired to make it blurry.

Do you have any software of means of getting a better look at what this really is? I wondered about a helicopter, but really think it's a stretch.

I took a puff of my cigarette, looked up and it was gone altogether so I have no idea where it went or how it went or anything.

Again, I am really embarrassed about this but I think curiosity is trumping the embarrassment."

Friday, July 01, 2011

TMH the Book- Sneak Preview

These Mysterious Hills: History, Mystery and Lore in the Berkshires
Excerpt from Chapter 1
The Barrier Reconsidered

The Berkshires, the Berkshire Hills, the Purple Hills… these terms are evocative, and there are many different connotations of what they mean, widely varying perspectives even within the various participating demographics of residents, students, tourists, summer dwellers, and so forth.

Walter Prichard Eaton, one of the area’s most under-celebrated geniuses, once observed, “Probably many in the outside world think of them chiefly as the hills which ring Stockbridge and Lenox- an idea not infrequently entertained by the inhabitants of those distinguished villages.”

Indeed, just the slice of land that encompasses those towns has produced many tomes worth of history, literary and cultural, economic, and even revolutionary. Several volumes have been devoted just to the architecture of its many Gilded Age cottages.

The entire land that has come to be regarded as the Berkshires, as Eaton pointed out, is actually a rolling plateau that extends from the southern reaches of the Green Mountains and Taconic Range down into Connecticut, filling western Massachusetts from the New York border to just shy of the Connecticut River to the east. This plateau encompasses the southern Green Mountains, Hoosac and Taconic ranges.

Once called the Berkshire Barrier, these hills did not appear so idyllic to early European travelers and settlers. The first written description of the land comes from Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth, later President of Harvard, who while crossing en route from Boston to Albany in 1694 calls it a “hideous, howling wilderness,” through which ran “a very curious river.”

Nearly twenty years before that, our first colonial encounter with the area was steeped in bloodshed. At the conclusion of King Philips War in the summer of 1676, Major John Talcott became the first known Englishman in the Berkshires, pursuing an escaping band of Wampanoags from Westfield to the Housatonic. At dawn he surprised them camping near the river ford in Great Barrington, in what became a massacre.

In the early years of settlement, there were even campfire stories of things that Massachusetts colonists found more noxious and foreboding, of human sacrifice by the local natives to the dark spirit Hobbomocco, up in the place they called Wizards Glen.

Even for some later settlers, and descendants of settlers, the Berkshire Barrier retains some of that sense of forbidding wilderness, of mystery, and even the potential darkness. Within this knobby plateau is a mad labyrinth of criss-crossing roads, boxed in all around in deep woods and nestling 40 some odd distinct towns, villages, and a small city or two. Even after years in the area, it can seem foreign and impenetrable. At the end of a lifetime there, one is often still discovering parts of it they never knew existed.

As one elderly woman whose name I never caught once said to me, a wild speculative gleam in her eyes, “These hills sure are mysterious!”

She was right, of course. From between and quite often within its most historic sites, acclaimed cultural venues, and postcard-perfect mountains, come stories that portray other, more complicated facets of the Berkshire legacy. It was genteel oddities that allegedly caught the attention of Leonard Bernstein and John Williams on the grounds of Tanglewood, not far removed from the playful gentleman in 301 that guests occasionally complain disturbs their sleep at the Red Lion Inn. More accounts of gruesome unease and terrified running are to be had from the Hoosac Tunnel and Becket Quarry, perennial reminders of another history of the Berkshires, where men died in droves punching railroads through the Barrier and cutting out the fine marble for all those marvelous cottages. Even at Hancock’s recreated Shaker Village, it’s just a short walk to the hill where those simple-living folk were said to have battled the Devil himself… and dispatched him.

The decision to include a smattering of Bennington county strangeness in this collection happened fairly organically, for two reasons. The Advocate Weekly, where at least half of this material was first published in the column These Mysterious Hills, covers an area that includes both Berkshire and Bennington County. The second reason is an evolution of that first; that it has always made sense to me to cover the region that way: communities as overlapping as the hills that intertwine them.

In many ways they share more, culturally and historically, with each other than they do with their respective states. For much of their history it was easier to travel between them than it was to travel east and west to and from the rest of settled Massachusetts, and their native sons intermingled. Ethan Allen has now become so strongly associated with Vermont it is almost forgotten that he was for years a farmer in Sheffield, near the southernmost corner of the Berkshires. His brother Thomas, who legend has firing the first shot against the English at Bennington, commanded the first pulpit in Pittsfield and his name still adorns sites across one corner of the city. Centuries before that, the indigenous Mahican who came to be called the Stockbridge Indians are believed to have occupied this southern tip of Vermont before being pushed south.

From the parallels of Edith Wharton and Shirley Jackson to the sometimes nefarious social interactions between Williams and Bennington Colleges, this shared cultural territory seems as palpable and natural to me as the winding stretch of Route 7 connecting them.

I think that you will find this common ground plays out particularly clearly in the character of the shared history of ghosts, monsters, and lingering mysteries presented here.

Of course, this collection cannot hope to offer every legend, every haunted house, UFO report, cult, or colorful eccentric dotting the centuries of local history and tradition. It aims just to present a thorough representative sampling of this richly weird legacy. There are plenty of ghost stories, however, if that’s your thing, even a dozen or so about places you can sleep in, provided you have the financial means to do so. There are “Indian” stories, earliest colonial yarns depicting the indigenous past as the new settlers saw it. There are “monster” sightings, and media hiccups over unidentified creatures, and improbable wildlife darting about the forests. There’s a befuddling pile of everyday people describing unusual objects in the sky in an array of shapes and sizes… sometimes in long, unsettlingly detailed encounters.

There are poltergeists, a spectral train, an exorcism, and even a vampire-slaying. The birth and early growing pains of several major American religious sects will be examined. Disappearances, murders, and scandals crop up throughout.

Most importantly, there are the stories of some of the unsung epic characters of this land: heroes, villains, charlatans and lunatics whose actual lives read like legend. The amazing, almost-forgotten stories of Lyndon Bates Jr. and the Monument to Sacrifice, wandering Old Leather Man, of the Weather Prophet Levi Beebe and General Lutz’s Palace of Dreams, along witches, dowsers, seers, ghost-hunters and other assorted fascinating folk, will be paraded out for consideration alongside the more well-studied aristocrats, the castle-crazed Edward Searles, and the “Bottle King” Edward Hamlin Everett.

It is there, I think, in the minds of some of our most unique citizens and visitors, that we will find the deepest, most engaging mysteries.