OTIS Miscellany VIII: Massachusetts Edition, Part 2

In the first half of this OTIS Miscellany post, we talked about a faux-castle, a hill of druids, an accusatory gravestone, a hostage exchange rock, and a science tree. But Massachusetts has so much more easily overlooked oddity to offer, I could easily dedicate this entire site to it. But, for now, let’s do five more oddities. Come for the strange underground chamber, stay for the bearded grave.

6. Upton Stone Chamber (Upton)

Near the entrance of Upton Heritage Park at 18 Elm Street is a large tree. At the base of that tree is a 4.5-foot-high doorway lined with stones. It looks like a fantasy creature lives there. Not a hobbit. It’s too dirty, too rough for their refined sense of comfort. This is more like the home of an anthropomorphized badger or a crotchety gnome. It’s dark in there and there is no welcome mat, but you can walk right in. Assuming you have a flashlight. Or just a flashlight app. The hole continues for more than a dozen feet of rock-lined wall before opening up into a domed chamber. The ceiling of that chamber is about ten feet high, and the diameter of the room is about twelve feet. Sizable enough for a hole in the ground. It’s empty except for mud and stones and sticks.

Once inside, you’ll immediately wonder—unless you’re a professional spelunker or an Egyptian archeologist— what the heck am I doing in here? Should I be in here? Your mind will wander to theories of ancient Native Americans or pre-Columbian Europeans. After all, the site seems too mysterious, too magical to be a mere colonial vegetable cellar. But even that has its own magic. After all, you got an entire adventure out of it on a single Saturday morning. And unlike the explorers of old, you can hit up a Ruby Tuesday’s on the way back.

7. Plymouth Rock (Plymouth)

It’s been broken and moved and divvied up and yet, today, what remains of it still sits there, venerated (and scorned), as the granite foundation of our entire country. I’ve lived in New England almost a decade, so it’s about time I admit to visiting this thing. These days, Plymouth Rock is about the size of a household pet, has the year 1620 carved on it, and is sheltered by a Greek-inspired set of columns on the beaches Plymouth Bay. The rock has become mythical as the landing spot of the Mayflower Pilgrims, although most doubt that they actually set anything on it, much less their wet, buckled shoes.

But that doesn’t matter. When a claim lasts for centuries, the claim itself gathers, at the very least, the weight of years. Even if that claim revolves around a simple piece of stone, a stone that has become a cornerstone of tourism in both Plymouth and Massachusetts.

8. Winter Island (Salem)

How do you weather the witches of Witch City? By heading a mile north to the island park that is Salem’s Winter Island, at the mouth of Salem Harbor. Actually, it’s a peninsula these days since its connected to land by a thin causeway. But on that island-in-name-only are ruinous wonders or wondrous ruins or wonderuins.

The remains of the seventeenth century Fort Pickering dot the land. Old stone walls tower above forest paths and munitions bunkers form the skulls of grassy hillocks with stone doors, telling you in no uncertain terms that you’re walking across centuries of half-buried history.

There are also 20th century ruins on the peninsula—an old hangar and an abandoned coast guard barracks, the latter of which an sprawling, impressive building with all the heft (and broken windows) that abandonment issues give edifices. A 19th century lighthouse stretches into the sky almost within touching distance at low tide, marking your place as firmly in New England, while the sign for Waikiki beach muddies that message. And, if you read A Season with the Witch, this is where the Plummer Home is as well.

Even during October, this park is untrammeled by monsters, so if you’re seeking shelter, but don’t want to leave Salem, this is where you should point your broomstick. Ha. A witch joke. About Salem.

9. Joseph Palmer Beard Grave (Leominster)

This story is a metaphor for what miserable creatures we all are. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Joseph Palmer had the type of beard that would make Santa jealous enough to stone him with coal. Unfortunately, this was the early nineteenth century, when men religiously scraped blades across their faces. Beards were interpreted as slovenly and rebellious, the exact reason why my Christian college outlawed them. Control a man’s facial hair and you control the man. Like a mohawk in the eighties or stubble at corporate headquarters, Palmer was made fun of by neighbors, cajoled by ministers, physically attacked in the streets, and then, for all intents and purposes, jailed for his beard. But he kept it. And he refused to pay any fines over it, which kept him in prison longer.

Sounds like a fable, right? But it’s distressingly true. We hate people who are different from us, even if that difference is as minor as chin skin.

Palmer’s story does have a happy ending, though. He eventually got out of jail, dabbled in transcendentalism, hung out at a commune, rubbed elbows with the likes of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, and when he died in 1873 at the age of 84, had a beard etched right on his grave. His epitaph reads, “Persecuted for wearing the beard.” That’s right. THE beard.

I mean, if this man took a stand this staunch just for some chin pubes, we should all be ashamed of ourselves for the thousands of injustices that we ignore.

Or maybe he was just really embarrassed by his weak chin. In which, case, carry on.

10. Greenway Carousel (Boston)

My interest in carousels doesn’t come from riding them, although with two kids, I’ve experienced my share of looping fiberglass horses. Instead, I think it comes directly from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. That book imbued carousels with a mystery and a malevolence that would otherwise have gone right past me (to calliope music). But even if I hated shish-ka-horses, Boston’s Greenway Carousel would have won me over. This work of art [meant for kids’ butts] on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway was built in 2013, and it went deeper into the phylogenetic tree of the animal kingdom than mere equines. On this carousel, you can ride lobsters and whales and skunks and owls and other beasts in circles until you run of dollar bills (it’s like $3 per ride).

But all that said, the Greenway Carousel might not be OTIS-worthy were it not for one particular creature on the ride: An oarfish. That’s right. One of the most amazing and rare creatures of the ocean is sitting on a ride a couple of blocks from both the Boston Aquarium and Boston Harbor with its middle fin up. Unfortunately, you don’t technically ride it. It’s wrapped around a ship that you sit in, and that’s the only way this ride could’ve been improved: By removing every other animal on the ride, wrapping said oarfish around the loop, and then putting multiple saddles along its back.

More OTIS Miscellany!

OTIS Miscellany I: From Vampire Cemeteries to Bridge Robots

OTIS Miscellany II: From Shopping Mall Bridges to Giant Baby Heads

OTIS Miscellany III: From Abandoned Hospitals to Sea Serpent Sculptures

OTIS Miscellany IV: From Giant Stained-Glass Crabs to Dead Things in Boxes

OTIS Miscellany V: From Demon Horses to Possessed Houses

OTIS Miscellany VI: New Orleans Edition

OTIS Miscellany VII: From Elephant Bushes to Toynbee Tiles