First Road Trip of the Season

September 15, 2014 — The first road trip of the season is a strange one when you start the season so early. The foliage hasn’t blushed, the farm stands are half-hearted, the chances of accidentally passing through small-town fall festivals is low, and the weather isn’t always crisp enough. So you’re faced with this decision: Do you put off all the best routes until deeper into the season?

The answer is no, of course not. Just go see stuff. There will be plenty of places to go once Mother Nature catches up to you.

And we did just that on Saturday. Fortunately, we still got one out of four of the above, as the temperature never rose above 63 degrees the entire day. Say what you will about fading tans or looming snow, but the feeling of putting a sweater on after so long must be akin to a football player suiting up for the first game of the season or a priest frocking up for Easter Sunday. Suddenly, I was on a mission.

So we stuffed our console with mini candy corn-flavored Hershey bars and caramel apple Twizzlers, punched numbers into the GPS like we were about to attack the Death Star, and took off for what ended up being a seven-hour, round-trip jaunt that would take us south through Massachusetts and just over the Rhode Island border. We had five oddities to track down. We found four of them.

We started in Littleton, Massachusetts, where we stopped at a tiny, ancient Shaker cemetery surrounded by one of those quaint, low stone walls that I wish surrounded all cemeteries. Every autumn trip should include at least one cemetery. If you’re in New England, at least two. Some of the burials on this particular bit of historic dead-fed turf date back to the 16th century. In 1879, most of the stones were replaced with white metal plaques on sticks, which inspired its nickname “Lollipop Cemetery”—a delightful turn of phrase for a thousand reasons.

Next on the docket was a quick drive-by past the Southborough house that once belonged to the first actor to play a werewolf in a major motion picture, Warner Oland in Universal Studio’s Werewolf of London. He’s the guy who bit Henry Hull, who played the titular character. Of course, Oland is more famous for playing Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan, despite being Swedish and not at all Asian (his Werewolf of London character was also Asian).

But I covered this topic in detail already a few Halloween Seasons ago (with a video, in fact) when I visited his grave in the same town. I never got around to his house for whatever reason, but now I can turn that red dot green on the OTIS Map of New England Oddities. The road beside his house is even named after him.

From there, we were off to the centerpiece of the trip. I always try to have one thing on the itinerary that if we get to, makes the trip a success, regardless of flat tires or not being able to find an oddity or getting sick on fast food. For this trip, that centerpiece was the Pearson Stone Chamber in Upton. This one’s probably worth a full post, but suffice it to say now that it’s a large mysterious stone chamber set into a hill in what’s now a public park. Nobody knows how long ago it was built. The entrance is about 4.5 feet tall and opens into a 15-foot-long tunnel that expands into a domed chamber 11 feet in diameter and 10.5 feet tall.

If you ever visit, bring a flashlight. I didn’t, but fortunately we had the cell signal to download a flashlight app on the spot. We live in wondrous times.

Next was another cemetery, St. Mary’s Cemetery in Milford, just because I wanted to see the Irish round tower that was built there in 1894 to honor the many Irish buried thereabouts. Nothing much else to see in the graveyard, unless you count a funeral statue of a graduate or the place’s only mausoleum, which seemed to be tall enough to merit a helicopter landing pad.

From the Irish dead, we dipped just barely into Rhode Island, to Harrisville, our furthest point away from home. This was another drive-by site, if a more inhospitable one. It’s the house where all the demonic shenanigans took place that inspired the 2013 movie The Conjuring.

If I was slightly unsure I'd found the Perron house, the "no stopping" signs, security system placards, and "private property" notices plastered all over its fence confirmed my Internet searches. The current owners received a lot of unwanted and illegal attention when the movie came out. I’m assuming they’re about to get a fresh wave with Annabelle debuting next month. We didn’t stop, and of course we didn't trespass, but we did slow to mail-truck speed. The house was close to the road, but it was difficult to get a picture through the screen of trees lining the property.

On our way back north, we had one final stop before heading home, the grave of rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard at Hope Cemetery in Worcester. Not very Halloween-y, perhaps, but I’d promised him I’d stop by next time I was in town. Unfortunately, both my and my wife’s cellphones died ten minutes before arriving at the cemetery, and I was relying on online sources to find it in that large graveyard. The cemetery office is closed on Saturdays, and we didn’t chance across it in the ten minutes we allowed ourselves to drive at random looking for it. I don’t know if I jinxed us by prematurely declaring it a flawless victory about half an hour before or if the Conjuring house did, but I’ll just catch him next time. He’s always there.

Seven hours seems like a long time, but we were home by four, which meant plenty of time to top off the day by relaxing Halloween-style, with some spiked cider, "Treehouse of Horror" Simpsons episodes DVR’d from the recent FXX Simpsons marathon, and our new Halloween ritual of re-applying all the paper bats that pop off our walls throughout the day.

It was a great little trek. Although I do hope the next one will be a lot more orange, red, and yellow.