My favorite holidays are the American holidays: Independence Day and Thanksgiving. You don’t typically think of Halloween as an American holiday, but it’s as vigorously celebrated here as anywhere.
If you live in New England, there’s a wealth of tall tales to feed the Halloween impulse. And around these parts you don’t have to look far.
There’s the Black Dog of West Peak, for example. The legend has it that the dog haunts the Hanging Hills that cradle Meriden, particularly the westernmost, the one with all the radio towers. The saying is that if you see the dog once it will be for joy, twice for sorrow and the third time for death. The small and black dog leaves no footprints and is silent, even when it tries to howl.
At the turn of the 20th century, a geologist from New York City noticed the dog when he was studying some rocks on the Hanging Hills. The dog followed him all the way to West Peak and on to Southington.
A few years later the geologist, W.H.C. Pynchon, returned to Meriden. He had with him a friend who had also seen the dog, on two previous occasions. They were looking for the dog during a climb up West Peak on a chilly winter day but couldn’t find him anywhere.
I did a little poking into this story about a decade ago. Pynchon wrote about his experience in the 1898 “Connecticut Quarterly.” He said the two climbed through a dark pass in the snow and saw the small black dog as they were approaching the top of West Peak. As they were making their final push to the top, the companion slipped on the icy rocks and fell to his death.
It was his third sighting of the dog.
A few years later, Pynchon returned to West Peak and fell, also to his death, though no one was around to record whether it was the result of a third spotting of the black dog.
That tale can be found in a couple of publications, including “Weird New England,” part of a series of books devoted to the bizarre. There’s also the tale of the Wet Lady in White, a young woman left at the altar in the 1930s who is said to have thrown herself into a pond in Wallingford. The legend is that on rainy nights she makes her way along Whirlwind Hill Road, soaked and weeping in her wedding gown.
There’s clearly an appetite for these stories. When I was reporting on them, years ago, one of the creators of the “Weird” series told me there’s also no end to them. And that you can find these tales so close to home, so to speak, is also part of the allure.
Weird tales are everywhere, if you’re interested in finding them.
Something to keep in mind while you’re trick-or-treating.