The Moodus Noises & Moodus Noise Cave

 

By Daniel V. Boudillion

14 December 2009

 

According to local legend, the Moodus Noises can be heard most clearly issuing from the cave on Cave Hill, which is adjacent to Mt. Tom.  The site is owned by the Cave Hill Resort in Moodus, Connecticut. 

 

Alison Guinness, a Moodus high school science teacher who did her master's thesis on the Moodus Noises confirms this legend and says, "The noise is most prevalent near the opening of a cave in a local hill called Mount Tom.  I believe the noise of shifting rock formations underground is amplified by the cave."  She goes on to say that the local Indians, the Wangunks, "had a religious cult based on the noises."  [Connecticut Town is Known for Its Mysterious Noises, 31 October 1985, Charles Hillinger]

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Entrance to "Moodus Noises" cave on Cave Hill, 1940s

 

Geologists claim to have solved the mystery of the Moodus Noises.  For example, the 19 October 1981 edition of the Harford Courant ran an article entitled "Seismic Detective Solves 'Moodus Noises' Mystery."  The cause, according to the article, are shallow "micro-earthquakes." 

 

Agreement with Guinness's theory of an Indian "religious cult based on the noises" is provided by David E. Philips in Legendary Connecticut, published in 1984.  Like Mavor & Dix concluded in Manitou, he feels that the Moodus area was a focal point for Native American religious activity revolving around Hobomock and the noises.  Similarly, he also feels it that it was a truce-zone and Sachems from all over New England visited Moodus to seek vision-quest, guidance, and appeasement of Hobomock, as follows:

"For the earliest inhabitants of this region, the people of the Pequot, Mohegan and Narragansett tribes, the thundering and quaking around Mount Tom were evidence of the living presence of the god Hobomoko, who sat below on a sapphire throne and decreed all human calamity.  The Indians called the area "Matchemadoset" or "Matchitmoodus" -- now "Machimoodus" -- meaning, literally, "Place of Bad Noises."  Since Hobomoko's thunder was sometimes loud and violent and at other times soft and gentle, it was said that Connecticut's Indians depended upon the local Machimoodus tribe to interpret the many voices of the evil deity.  Living, as they did, in the shadow of sacred Mount Tom, the pious men of the Machimoodus were thought by others to have direct access to the raging spirit beneath its slopes.

 

Thus, when Hobomoko spoke, the resident medicine-men listened.  Then, as chieftains from other tribes gathered with their offerings, the Machimoodus priests would engage in great powwows, finally emerging with the right formula for calming the angry god through sacrifice and prayer.  They say that many were the times when the Machimoodus medicine-men were kept very busy consulting with visiting sachems and preparing offerings to the underground deity."

George S. Roberts gives a lively account of the Moodus Legends in his 1906 book Historic Towns of the Connecticut River Valley.  This is particularly worthwhile as he quotes the 1729 Hosmer letter in full.  Robert's chapter on the Town of Moodus is as follows: 

 

The village of Moodus takes its name from an Indian word, Machirnoodus, meaning in English place of noises. The Indians occupying the territory now East Haddam, were given over to superstition, even more so than the majority of Indians in other parts of the Connecticut Valley. There was a fierce savagery in their superstition, resembling that of the African savage more than that of the New England savage, whose superstition was of a gentler, more poetic nature. As a result, the Moodus Indians were fierce, cruel and war-like. As early as 1729, the Rev. Stephen Hosmer wrote to a friend in Boston describing these strange noises, from which Moodus takes its name:

 

"As to earthquakes, I nave something considerable and awful to tell you. Earthquakes have been here, as has been observed for more than thirty years. I have been informed that in this place, before the English settlements, there were great numbers of Indian inhabitants, and that it was a place of extraordinary pawaws, or in short, that it was a place where the Indians drove a prodigious trade in worshipping the devil. Also I was informed, that many years past, an old Indian was asked the reason of the noises in this place, to which he replied, that "the Indians' God was very angry that the Englishman's God was come there." Now, whether there be anything diabolical in these things, I know not; but this I know, that God Almighty is to be seen and trembled at, in what has been often heard among us. Whether it be fire or air distressed in the caverns of the earth, cannot be known ; for there is no eruption, no explosion perceptible, but by sounds and tremors, which sometimes are very fearful and dreadful. I have myself, heard eight or ten sounds successively, and imitating small arms, in the space of five minutes. I have, I suppose, heard several hundred of them within twenty years; some more, some less terrible. Sometimes we have heard them almost every clay, and great numbers of them in the space of a year. Oftentimes I have observed them to be coming down from the north, imitating slow thunder, until the sound came near, or right under, and then there seemed to be a breaking, like the noise of a cannon shot, or severe thunder, which shakes the houses and all that is in them. They have in a manner ceased since the great earthquake. As I remember, there have been but two heard since that time and these but moderate."

 

In the year 1831, or '32, about one hundred years after Mr. Hosmer's, the following account was given by a gentleman who had heard the noises.

 

"The awful noises about which Mr. Hosmer gave an account continue to the present time. The effects they produce are various as the intermediate degrees between the roar of a cannon and the noise of a pistol. The concussions of the earth, made at the same time, are as much diversified as the sounds in the air. The shock they give to a dwelling house, is the same as the falling of logs on the floor.  But when they are so violent as to be felt in the adjacent towns, they are called earthquakes. During my residence here, which has been almost thirty-six years, I have invariably observed that an account has been published in the newspapers, of a small shock of earthquake, in New London and Hartford. Nor do I believe, in all that period, there has been any account published of an earthquake in Connecticut, which has not been far more violent here than in any other place."

 

On the night of May 18, 1791, about ten o'clock, there was an earthquake so violent that it was felt in New York and Boston. The first shock was followed by another in a few minutes that was felt at a distance of seventy miles. In Moodus and the neighboring places, the roaring noises and shaking of the earth were great. Walls were thrown down and the tops of chimneys were thrown to the ground. And while but two shocks were felt at a distance, there were in Moodus and the surrounding country between twenty and thirty shocks felt. It was found the next day that the earth was cracked in several places and that great boulders weighing many tons had been moved.

 

There is a tradition in regard to a certain Dr. Steele and the Moodus-noises, which goes to show that the white settlers were (when their superior enlightenment, education, and Christian faith is considered), as superstitious as were the Indians. Dr. Steele was an Englishman, but where he came from, how he beard about the noises, or what reason he had for believing that he could remove from their pockets to his, the shillings and pence of the trusting and superstitious white-men, by means of the art of enchantment, has not been recorded.

 

This Dr. Steele told the people that the noises and disturbances were caused by a great carbuncle that was confined in a large rock in the bowels of the earth and that he, by his magic, could remove the carbuncle and so stop the noises. Dr. Steele, being a man of " much book-learning " the people absorbed his words and entered into some kind of agreement with him. The doctor then secured a blacksmith's shop, plugged the windows, cracks, holes and doorways so that no light could enter, nor the prying gaze of the awe-inspired people discover his secret. He worked at night, as all such mysterious persons do, and when the people saw the vast cloud of smoke, lighted by flame and thousands of sparks, they felt sure that Dr. Steele and Satan were raising Hell, and that the great carbuncle would come up with it.

 

While his dread work was going on, Dr. Steele told the people, on the rare occasions when he consented to let himself be seen, that he had located the great carbuncle and that he could remove it and so stop the worst of the shakes and noises, but that he had discovered some smaller carbuncles which would, as time went on, cause more noises but not nearly so terrible. At last the cause of the trouble was removed and Dr. Steele immediately disappeared, never to be seen again by Moodus people. It so happened that the noises ceased for a time and were never again so violent. The people were convinced that Dr. Steele was a wizard, if not a close relation to his Majesty of the nether world. Mr. J. G. C. Brainard, editor of the Hartford Mirror, wrote a poem of thirteen verses (fatal number) on the subject of Dr. Steele and the great carbuncle, from which the following are quoted:

See you upon the lonely moor,

A crazy building rise?

No hand dares venture to open the door

No footstep treads its dangerous floor

No eye its secret pries.

 

Now why is each crevice stopped so tight?

Say, why the bolted door?

Why glimmers at midnight the forge's light?

All day is the anvil at rest, but at night

The flames of the furnace roar.

 

Woe to the bark in which he flew

From Moodus rocky shore

Woe to the captain and woe to the crew,

That ever the breath of life they drew,

When that dreadful freight they bore.

 

Where is that crew and vessel now?

Tell me their state who can,

The wild waves clashed o're the sinking bow

Down, down to the fathomless depths they go

To sleep with a sinful man.

 

The carbuncle lies in the deep sea,

Beneath the mighty wave;

But the light shines up so gloriously

That the sailor looks pale and forgets his glee,

When he crosses the wizard's grave.

 

 

Back to Nashoba Hill: The Hill that Roars

 

Copyright 2009 by Daniel V. Boudillion

 

 

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