I've just returned from a long research expedition in Massachusetts, connected with my past life as Mathew Franklin Whittier in the 19th century. I thought I'd set down some thoughts, and describe it while it's still fresh in my mind.
First, I have to flush a fresh cat turd, though, because its perfume is wafting this way. This is a good thing, believe it or not, as my aging cat, Gwendolyn, has been getting impacted, and I've been having to ply her with Miralax. That's right, the vet recommended Miralax.
So, (who says I'm not with the times, I can start a sentence with "So" with the best of them), I had three visits on my itinerary. They couldn't possible have been more diverse.
The first was a spot called Dungeon Cave, in Dungeon Rock. It's in Lynn Woods, a large, lovely nature preserve. This rock has long been held sacred by the Spiritualists (and perhaps by the Native Americans before them). I saw signs that people are still thinking of it this way, such as little carefully-placed piles of stones (I think these have a name, but it escapes me at the moment). If I had had time for photography, this place is teeming with fascinating shots. It's magical somehow. I've been studying fairy lore, lately; if I ever thought I might glimpse a fairy, it would be at this place.
But the cave, itself, is truly frightening. Mathew explored it with a friend, a few months before he died, in 1882. So I wanted to put myself directly in a place where I had been in 1882, to see whether such a relatively recent experience might be easier to remember.
What came through, as so often happens, was just the emotions. I have Mathew's somewhat understated description. Let me look it up (I quoted from the closing of this article last entry, but let me look specifically for his description):
The excavation is high enough and broad enough for two tall men to walk abreast, and on its winding way, screw fashion, doubling upon itself, it leads down one hundred and fifty feet into the bowels of the earth, all the way through solid rock that had remained undisturbed for centuries on centuries, until the work of this ill-directed Marble commenced. Down, down we went, out of the warm sunlight into this cold, damp subterranean passage, winding hither and thither, till we reached an ice-cold pool of water which is constantly being supplied from some hidden fountain, and, were it not removed by pumps, would fill the place to the brim.
This rock-hewn passage is lighted with lanterns hung at the various turns, so that the descent and ascent, notwithstanding the way is rough, can be made with safety. Though the day was warm outside, we were in a very short time chilled through and glad to make our escape.
Well, it must have gotten taller after the entrance, because what I saw was a tiny, rust-encrusted iron door, a flight of miniature stairs, and a small hole leading off to the right. There were no lights, and the stones were damp. Being alone, with no-one in earshot, even though I had brought hiking boots with good tread, a warm jacket, and two small flashlights, I was damned if I was going to go into that hole. I certainly wasn't going to go 150 feet to the bottom!
All his life, Mathew, being a stoic philosopher, would display an outward show of bravado in the face of adversity. I think this passage is no exception. Unless I was generating these emotions entirely on my own, I would guess he found it cramped, forbidding and downright scary. At least, those were the feelings which were assailing me, looking into that gaping hole in the rock, at the foot of the stairs. When I took photographs with my cell phone, as the flash prepared itself, one could see hoards of something flitting down past the lens, which one couldn't see with the naked eye. Mist, bugs, I don't know what it was. I didn't like it, and furthermore, I don't think Mathew liked it. Where he says they were "glad to make their escape," he isn't talking only about the cold.
I didn't reproduce the paragraphs before this description, but in the introduction, he says:
After a ride up hill and down over a winding road skirted by forest trees on either hand, we were left in the woods at the foot of a steep hill. The remainder of our way was by a path of the most primitive nature, something, we should judge, like that of the native Pawtuckets, with the exception of the rapid ascent, for the natives were wiser than we in laying out their highways, for they avoided both hills and swamps. Shortly we found ourselves in the immediate vicinity of Dungeon Rock, which is situated on the summit of a granite-capped eminence overlooking the surrounding country. Quite a concourse of people had assembled on this occasion, apparently to spend the day and have a "good time" generally. We should have said before that this is considered a kind of Mecca for those who hold to the Spiritual faith. There are several buildings which seem to have been dropped down without much order, and a large platform furnished with plank seats. An entertainment had been furnished, though for what purpose or by whom we knew not. There was some fine singing, in solos, duets, and quartettes, and a slender little girl showed a good lip, large lungs, and nimble fingers on a silver cornet, out of which she fired repeated volleys of sputtering jigs at the over-elated spectators.
Lynn's first historian, who dealt somewhat in tradition, among other things, says, in substance, "early in 1658, on a pleasant evening, a little after sunset, a small vessel was seen to anchor near the mouth of the Saugus River. A boat was presently lowered from her side, into which four men descended and moved up the river a considerable distance, when they landed and proceeded directly into the woods. They had been noticed by only a few individuals; but in those early times, when the people were surrounded by danger and easily susceptible of alarm, such an incident was well calculated to awaken suspicion, and in the course of the evening the intelligence was conveyed to many houses. In the morning the vessel was gone, and no trace of her or her crew could be found." He further states that on going into the foundry connected with the then existing iron-works, a quantity of shackles, handcuffs, hatchets, and other articles of iron, were ordered to be made and left at a certain place, for which a return in silver would be found. "This was done" (so says the historian), and the mysterious contractors fulfilled their part of the obligation, but were undiscovered. Some months afterward the four men returned and made their abode in what has, to this day, been called Pirates' Glen, where they built a hut and dug a well. It is supposed that they buried money in this vicinity, but our opinion is that most of the money then, as now, was kept above ground. Their retreat being discovered, one of the king's cruisers appeared on the coast, and three of them were arrested and carried to England and probably executed. The other, whose name was Thomas Veal, escaped to a rock in the woods, in which was a spacious cavern, where the pirates had previously deposited some of their plunder. There the fugitive practised the trade of shoemaking. He continued his residence here till the great earthquake of 1658; when the top of the rock was unloosed and crashed down into the mouth of the cavern, enclosing the unfortunate man in what has been called to this day Pirates' Dungeon or Dungeon Rock. We cannot vouch for the complete truthfulness of this historian's statements.
I had to walk most of the way that Mathew was able to ride; probably about two miles in and back. I have photographs; but per standard procedure, I don't want to give away everything that will be added to my second book. So once I get this material in there, you may see my photos in the book.
The second stop in my itinerary was the elegant American Antiquarian Society, in Worcester, Mass. Sound that name out--did you get "War-chester"? Nope. It's "Wooster," or if you're a native, "Woosta" (because in New England, they decided by agreement to stop pronouncing the letter "R"). If you want to make a fool of yourself, make a reference to War-chester, Massachusetts.
When I say, "elegant," this place is really a hall of learning. Near the front desk, are two magnificent marble columns. I don't think these things are laminated--I think they are solid marble, and the most beautiful marble you've ever seen. Far above your head is a classic dome. And there is protocol--lots of protocol. One registers; then one provides two types of ID, reads the instructions, gets a personal orientation, in a separate room, about said instructions, and then one waits 20 minutes for the requested ancient volumes to be produced. Each is put, one at a time, onto a large wooden holder. One may not have a pen at the table (for obvious reasons--see Mr. Bean at the library), nor may one have any closable notebooks (via which someone might try to spirit away a sheet or two).
I was looking through the 1827/28 "New-England Galaxy," to see whether young Mathew, just turned 15 years old, might have written any other articles for that paper. He did. He wrote a whole bunch of them, I'm pretty sure. I have to go through them carefully, but I can tell you this much--by mid-1827, he was already writing faux letters to the editor from a character, and that character's relations, in phoentic, intentionally horrific spelling. He was the one who pioneered this genre in America. Not Seba Smith, not Thomas Chandler Haliburton, and certainly not James Russell Lowell. Mathew is only known, by historians, for his character "Ethan Spike," which was launched in January of 1846. Therefore, they think he was a relative latecomer in this style. But he was writing it much, much earlier. Earlier than Seba Smith, whose "Major Jack Downing" began in 1830.
And there's more--but, again, I have to key all these in, and compare all the clues with what I already know about Mathew at this age.
My third and final stop was at the Tenney Gate House in Methuen, Mass. From several clues, both paranormal and scholarly, I had theorized that Mathew and Abby stayed with the original owner, a farmer named Richard Whittier, in his stone farmhouse there. I thought that Richard was probably an extended relation.
This old farmhouse (later remodeled into the gatehouse for a wealthy mansion, and then allowed to fall into disrepair), has been turned into the local historical museum. They are doing a fabulous job. I was able to explain my research (all except the reincarnation part of it), and hopefully, I will learn more. I did confirm one thing--Richard and Mathew were second cousins. So Richard was, in fact, extended family. Mathew and Abby would have stayed with him after their first child, a son almost one year old, died of scarlet fever in August of 1838.
Of course, I wanted to see whether there was any past-life memory associated with it. I felt nothing in the ground floor, but upstairs, there are two bedrooms in the original (front) portion of the house. One is quite large, with a large central fireplace. (All of this was remodeled by the wealthy man who bought it for his gatehouse.) But the second bedroom is quite small. It still has the original floor, fireplace, and window moldings. It was the shape of this room, and the fireplace, which immediately struck me. As I photographed it, the clear feeling came to me, that I didn't have time to grieve my young son. There was a real risk I could lose my wife, Abby, as well. She was struggling; I had to find a warm "nest" for her to recover, and to find her way through her grief, in. This room was that nest. Richard, I felt, was very understanding. He didn't disturb us in any way. I had explained to him that I needed...I'm at a loss for words. I had to be free to support Abby in the ways I thought she needed. I couldn't be interfered with in this treatment. She needed a warm, safe place, a "cocoon," and constant support; to be permitted to curl up and gaze at the fire, or take long (chaperoned) walks by the river, or sleep; eat or not eat--whatever she felt she needed to do--while I looked after her health as best I could. Richard was unusually accommodating.
That's what came to me--as I felt, almost cognitive memories, the feelings were so clear and precise. The wide, blond floor boards of uneven width; the little brick fireplace; the shape of the room, and its small size...
All I need, if the historian complies, is a brief mention of Mathew and Abby in Richard's journal. Just one little entry. This won't confirm any past-life memories--but it will confirm that a medium, who contacted Abby late in 2010, and who said, toward the end of the session, "I hear M, M, M, Mathew, Messuen" (as written in my notes), was quite genuine. That, in turn, would mean that what he said about Abby's personality and character was also probably genuine. Actually, I already have confirmation through Abby's poetry and short stories, and through Mathew's tribute poetry. But confirming this one would be a feather in the study's cap, so to speak. Because nobody knew that Mathew and Abby had lived in Methuen. Nobody--that is, until I stumbled upon a disguised mention of it in a humorous story Mathew wrote (as "Quails," which signature was claimed by someone else). But I knew nothing of this when the medium said, "I hear M, M, M, Mathew, Messuen." (I wrote it that way, because his voice trailed off and I couldn't understand what he was saying. I asked him to repeat it, and he repeated it the same way. But later I learned that he worked out of a Spiritualist church in nearby Swampscott, so he probably thought he was making it up.)
All of this is going to keep me very busy, especially keying in all those new pieces from the "New-England Galaxy." This will require revising my sequel. Should I take it off the market? I have half a mind to. Nobody has bought it, yet, so I might as well. There are a couple of new touches to add to the novel, too (as for example, what I remembered about the room in the farmhouse).
That may be my last research trip to Massachusetts, I don't know. I like it there. Lynn, when I first entered the town, seemed very familiar. I think most of the houses there, near the roundabout, go back to the early 1800's, at least. The entire section I saw first, is probably original and just as Mathew would have remembered it. It's a lovely town.
So is Methuen--and as for "Woosta," it looks like a sort of Mount Olympus of high culture, the whole thing. Probably too rarified an atmosphere--and too expensive--for me. But it would be a fascinating place to live.
All-in-all it's been a magical day--I even saw two chipmunks in Lynn Woods, something I always took as a sign when I was younger. And just now, there was a rainbow out my window:
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Song for Lynette,"
by Eric Johnson, from the album, "Venus Isle"