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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Stone Throwing Devils" A Problem in Early Berkshires

We've all become accustomed to some hectic weather in the Berkshires, from early blizzards to sudden micro-bursts to hail stones on a sunny day, but in a few instances the meteorological conditions have become downright peculiar.

In August of 1892, a crowd of Pittsfield residents was baffled by a strange cloud formation that came up suddenly out of a thunderstorm, splitting apart violently over a group of poplar trees, the tops of which, they said, were cleanly cut off, as though by a giant razor.

On March 27, 1960, Mrs. Roche of Dalton heard what sounded like an explosion in her front yard. Running out to see about the commotion, she found a large hole containing three pieces of what had been a chunk of ice weighing over 30 pounds. Subsequent inquiries could find no record of any airplanes over the area at the time, and the ice bomb appeared to have fallen riout of a cloudless sky.

An occasional hard object raining down is jarring enough, but what to do when such bombardment is ongoing, for days or even months?  This was the predicament of local residents at two different ends of the county during the 19th century. 

According to records of the time, from November 8 to November 14 of 1802, hundreds of pieces of stone, mortar and wood pelted at least two buildings along the ravine area that straddles the border between Salisbury, Connecticut and Sheffield, Mass.  

The trouble began one night when a clothier's shop at the spot called Sage's Ravine was peppered with a rain of these little missiles, shattering windows and badly frightening the owner and two apprentices.  They called on their esteemed neighbor, Simeon Sage, but neither they nor he could determine the source of the objects.  Over the following days, this and the nearby home of Ezekiel Landon underwent recurring periods of bombardment, where stones and other such bits of shrapnel would rain down constantly for a period of hours throughout the day and night.  

Hundreds of onlookers, neighbors, clergyman and learned men,  came to see this bizarre attack, but none could determine from whence the stones were thrown... if thrown they were.  Curiously, witnesses spoke of never seeing the rocks in flight, until they struck.  Stones would strike from multiple directions at once, ruling out the possibility of a single perpetrator, and some would drop neatly on the sill within the window, as though set gingerly there by unseen hands. 

Three persons were struck by the flying debris, and 56 panes of glass were broken before the assault ended forever, as mysteriously as it began.  Some blamed witchcraft, while others maintained that it must be the work of vandals, though none was ever revealed.

72 years later, just over the northern county border in Pownal, similar strife befell a farmer named Thomas Paddock.  Paddock, described by newspapermen as "a respectable farmer, of excellent character," found his house at the center of a sporadic stoning that lasted more than two months.

Witnesses described rocky showers that ensued intermittently, apparently out of the clear sky. They were said to fall randomly at all hours of the day and night, and varied in size from tiny pebbles to five inches in diameter. At one point, one fell that weighed more than twenty pounds, and left a three-inch crater in solidly frozen ground. A number of people tried to duplicate this incident by hurling similar boulders, but made scarcely any impression at all.

Nor was this the strangest aspect of it all. The stones did not behave at all as falling stones ought. When they hit the ground, they did not bounce or skip; instead, they just rolled calmly along the ground. They also tended to be warm to the touch. Worst of all, witnesses reported that on occasion they would make contact on the roof near the eaves, then, as if possessed, roll slowly up the roof and back down the other side.

Reporters from the many newspapers who covered the story claimed that  Paddock's house was situated that no human prankster could have possibly thrown the stones without being seen.  One medium from Hoosac Falls claimed that the spirit of a local woman was responsible, and would not stop until the stones were removed from the coffin in which her body lay. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle half-jokingly hypothesized that perhaps a new style of catapult had been invented, and was being tested on a nearby mountain.  A group of anonymous investigators from North Adams blamed the farmer's hired servant boy, despite the fact that he had been accounted for during many of the stone hurlings.  

Descriptions of such stonings are not confined to the region- similar incidents have been investigated throughout history, from a case in 1980s Tucson to an account by the Chief Physician to the Ostrogoth King Theodoric in 540 A.D.  Lithobolia, or "stone-throwing devil," was the name given to them by royal Secretary of the Colony Richard Chamberlain, who documented a case he observed in New Castle, New Hampshire in 1682.

Some parapsychologists believe that incidents of this type are poltergeists, and may be caused by natural telekinetic operations not yet understood by science, unknown facets of the mind acting upon matter through some complex subatomic process.  For the die-hard skeptic, there will always be some hypothetical rebellious youth on which to pin the blame, if nothing else will do.  Whatever the nature of these stone throwing devils, most would prefer they stay in the realm of Berkshire history, or at least well clear of our own neighborhood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We've all become accustomed to some hectic weather in the Berkshires, from early blizzards to sudden micro-bursts to hail stones on a sunny day, but in a few instances the meteorological conditions have become downright peculiar.