Tracking Satan: The Devil’s Hoofprints

September 25, 2015 — Sometimes the Devil really puts his foot down. You can tell because it leaves a mark.

Devil’s footprints (or hoofprints, depending on your personal beliefs regarding the biology of Satan), are rock indentations that are vaguely foot- or hoof-shaped and at some point got a story of damnation attached to them. Often, it’s a story about a deal with the Devil and every once in a while of his defeat (not a pun), each one ending with, “And the next day, all that was left was the Devil’s footprint.”

And they’re all over New England, which probably says a lot about the place.

I’ve heard of maybe a dozen of these demonic rock divots, and have seen two so far in my treks around the six states.

The first one I saw was in Manchester, Maine, near Augusta. It was a drizzly day at the end of August. You could almost feel the Fall fighting with the Summer. We found ourselves at an old rock wall dividing an old cemetery from an old church. There, within that rock wall, was the evidence philosophers and theologians and heavy metal acts have striven ages for.

The old church is the North Manchester Meeting House at Scribner Hill Road. It was built in 1793 at the location of what is now Case Cemetery in nearby Readfield and moved to its current spot in 1839 where it got a new graveyard. And then it got the Devil’s autograph.

The story goes that during a construction project to lay, I guess Scribner Hill Road, the crew hit a boulder that couldn’t be removed. One of the workers jumped up on it and said he’d sell his soul to get rid of that thing. Everybody laughed and made jokes about overtime and then punched out for the day. The next day that worker who was so casual about his soul was gone. Disappeared. And that rock? Moved right out of the path of the roadway. Basically, in a modern analogy, the guy sold his soul because his Outlook froze.

Oh, and all that was left was where the Devil had set his foot.

Well, actually, there might be a couple of footprints. One looked like a pair of human feet close together, the other was suspiciously angular. I've seen different accounts call either one the Devil's footprint. I guess it really doesn't matter.

The fossilized chase scene is still in the rock. It forms a section of the cemetery fence that faces the church, as do the evil indentations themselves. On our visit someone had spray-painted them demon red, to help stragglers like me know for sure that I was seeing more than just a couple of random pockmarks. The rock was probably five feet wide, three feet tall, so certainly big, but not of a size that couldn’t be moved—not counting spiritual shenanigans, of course.

The second time I found myself on the Devil’s cold trail was in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Again, near a church.

The site of Ipswich’s first meeting house is on a rocky hill in the historic Meeting House Green downtown. Today, the First Church of Ipswich stands atop it, the fifth building to do so, in fact, after the fourth was struck by lightning in 1965 and burned to the ground. And on that ground, off to the side in front of the church, is a large section of exposed bedrock. There, there is the tell-tale toeprint.

This mark, too, was spray-painted. Circled in green with a green arrow pointing to it. The shape of the hoof is a long rectangle, like the Devil wears thick ice skates. And it was a single print, like the Devil went Rumpelstiltskin at the end of this particular forked tale.

And I guess that’s sort of what happened, although instead of stamping his foot in disappointment, it was more out of fear. In this story, the famous Reverend George Whitefield was preaching at a previous incarnation of the church on the hill. Apparently, he raised such hell that he Devil was driven right up to the roof of the church, leaping from it to escape like the whole thing was on fire. Or whatever the Devil is scared of. Like the whole thing was on charity, maybe. Where he landed is that strange narrow depression.

And all that was left was where the Devil had set his foot.

You know what I love the most about these Devil’s footprints? That mere dents in rocks can rise about their stations and become mythic. You know what I hate about them? That they always seem to just be a single print, instead of a pair.

Maybe the devil’s a pirate.