OTIS Miscellany VIII: Massachusetts Edition, Part 1

January 23, 2018 — Massachusetts hides the most oddity of any New England state, but the reason’s pretty straightforward. You get enough people together for a long enough time, and you get more and more oddity. The Bay State has gravestones dating back to the 1600s, and it’s in the top three states in the country by population density. So its oddity is sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder. Here, lemme show you in, this, the eighth edition of OTIS Miscellany.

1. Bancroft Tower (Worcester)

I’m at the point in my oddity hunting life that I know faux-medieval castles are a denarius a dozen. But that doesn’t make me love them less. Even when there’s less to love. Like Bancroft Tower, which looks like only the façade of a medieval castle set in a park. Or the overly embellished gate to the grounds of an actual medieval castle. Either way, the 56-foot-tall granite and stone edifice with its crenelated tower looks like it was built for a pretty hardcore purpose. But it’s merely a memorial. To somebody’s dad’s friend.

Built in 1900 by Stephen Salisbury III, a wealthy railroad scion, the tower is a monument to George Bancroft, a Worcester (pronounced Wuhstah) native who made a name in politics. According to the tower’s plaque, though, it wasn’t for Bancroft’s life of leadership that SSIII memorialized him with a castle. It was because Bancroft was friends with SSII. So, tax dodge, I assume.

But a great one for those of us who like random castle-inspired memorials to men we’ve never heard of.

2. Descendant of Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree (Cambridge)

The apple might’ve caused our fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, but it also helped us learn about falling in general, thanks to Sir Isaac Newton. He saw an apple fall from a tree on the grounds of his home at Woolsthorpe Manor and wondered why it always fell perpendicular to the ground. Next thing he knew, the Law of Universal Gravitation was getting him knighted.

Since then, Newton’s apple tree has become a holy relic in a field where nothing’s holy. It’s been named one of Britain’s greatest trees and cuttings have been sent all over the world, often to educational and scientific institutions, where they’ve rooted and grown gravity bombs above and memorial plaques below. Like the one at MIT in Cambridge.

You can find this descendant of Newton’s tree behind the Daniel Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory. Just walk around the building and take a right at the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel. There you’ll find a small, hidden garden. The apple tree has a plaque under it that tells of the tree’s auspicious arboreal lineage.

3. Druid Hill Stone Circle (Lowell)

It’s a tear-drop-shaped mound in Lowell with a cool name outlined by some dozen boulders on land that used to be a tuberculosis hospital and is now a ball field and a playground. No one knows why it’s there. It’s just always been there. With “always” meaning 1900, as discovered by an archeological dig in the 1980s that found some pavers beneath the stones and connecting them.

But you can walk among the mini-monoliths and ponder the mystery while you dodge foul balls and listen to your kids scream down angled planks of plastic and metal a dozen feet away.

4. Redemption Rock (Princeton)

It’s a giant rock ledge inscribed with the story of a 17th century hostage transfer. A minister’s wife named Mary Rolandson was captured by Native Americans During King Philip’s War. Three months in the forest and the death of one of her three captured children later, she was set free. They didn’t have bridges to meet on in the middle of the night back then, so It was at this rock that her safe return was arranged. She later turned her experience into a bestselling book, and the rock was turned into an historical site. It’s easy to find, right off the road. Its story is engraved into its face:

Upon this rock May 2, 1676 was made the agreement for the ransom of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson of Lancaster between the Indians and John Hoar of Concord. King Philip was with the Indians but refused his consent.

5. Grave of an Arsenic Poisoning Victim (Pelham)

I love it when an entire story can fit on a gravestone. And when said gravestone tells the cause of death. In this case, that loveable, informational epitaph marks the rot spot of Warren Gibbs in Pelham Hill Cemetery, Pelham. According to the epitaph, he was murdered in 1860 by his wife, who laced his oysters with arsenic sauce. The stone was prepared by Warren’s brother William, who never could prove the murder, but he could at least make sure that people hundreds of years later knew about his suspicions. Here’s the epitaph in full. The rhyming’s a nice touch, William.

Warren Gibbs
Died by Arsenic Poison
March 23, 1860
Age 36 years 5 mos 23 days
Think my friends when this you see
How my wife has dealt with me
She in some oysters did prepare
Some poison for my lot and share
Then of the same I did partake
And nature yielded to its fate
Before she my wife became
Mary Felton was her name
Erected by his brother
Wm Gibbs

Continue to Part 2 of OTIS Miscellany VIII: Massachusetts Edition.