A bit of the spectral from early Gazette editions:
Near the north shore of the Island just inshore from Cedar Tree Neck is what is left of the Crying Swamp. Here today is a small cranberry bog, surrounded by swamp bushes just like a hundred similar spots on the Vineyard.
Years ago even grown folks hurried past the place with a feeling of dread after dark. To all the neighborhood the swamp was known in a queer, supernatural way.
At that time it was entirely wild; after dark, it was dense and foreboding. During wet times it was filled with black mud, and always it grew thickly with rank swamp vegetation.
Capt. Roland Luce, whose house was in the vicinity, was returning home one night from a social evening call. As he passed the swamp, the shrill cry of a child reached his ears. He listened and seemed to hear a baby wailing somewhere in the midst of the swamp. He quickened his step. A minute later the same agonized crying came again, this time just behind him.
Capt. Luce broke into a trot. His hat fell off. The piercing wails followed him as he ran from the Crying Swamp and reached his house breathless.
This was the first time the swamp had been heard to cry aloud. Many people afterward heard the wailing and for years the Crying Swamp was known and shunned after dark. Some of the neighbors venture the possible explanation that two trees may have grown close together, and that the wailing may have been caused when the wind made them chafe and rub.
Perhaps this was the cause. At all events the Crying Swamp may still be pointed out to the inquisitive searcher, and many tales have been told of the wails which come forth on dark nights when nothing human could have given them voice.
Chappaquiddick is thickly clustered with legend, much of it of a supernatural character. According to Benjamin W. Pease, owner of Tom’s Neck Farm, there are no hollows on Chappaquiddick, only “hollers . . . ” One of these is known as Prince’s Holler, and there you may go on midnight of Christmas Eve to hear the death cry of an old squaw. Near the holler is a depression in the ground where an Indian tepee once stood. The squaw was engaged in cooking a meal when she was murdered most grossly. Hence at midnight once a year, just as Christmas is coming in, you can hear the fearful holler of the dying squaw.
There is another holler with a flat rock where one may go at any time day or night and rap three times, repeating the words, “What are you doing?” The answer always comes, “Nothing at all!”
Edward T. Vincent recounted a story which concerned the great Parson Thaxter, perhaps the most famous of Edgartown ministers, and chaplain of Prescott’s regiment at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Mr. Vincent’s grandfather, as a boy, was employed by Parson Thaxter who lived across from the West Side Cemetery. There had been a burial in the graveyard, and the boy looked out at night and saw a white figure moving. He spoke to the clergyman, who also saw the spectre.
Grasping a Bible in each hand, with the boy at his back, Parson Thaxter marched out of his house and across to the cemetery. Bravely he approached the thing of white. It proved to be just an old woman, a wandering crank of the town, attired in a sheet. Mr. Vincent’s grandfather, in telling the story, stressed the lesson he learned from it. No matter what you may see or think you see, there is always a natural explanation.
Once upon a time, an old tale goes, a wizard of Menemsha called on a wizard of Gay Head and stayed until a late hour, detained by the hospitality of his friend. When the time came for the guest to depart, the Gay Head wizard said, “Here, I will give you a horse to speed you on your way.” With that, he handed over a stick, and as the Menemsha wizard mounted it, the stick turned into a fine horse on which he made his way home at a gallop.
Some time later, the Gay Head wizard returned the call, and when he was about to leave, the Menemsha wizard said, “I cannot give you a horse, but I will give you a cane that you may rely on.” The door was partly open, and a thin shaft of moonlight streamed in. The Menemsha wizard measured off a convenient length of the moonbeam, which became a staff wherewith the Gay Header could walk. “You are greater than I,” he said to his friend, “for you have power over the moonlight.”
There is no reason to apprehend that any visitor to Martha’s Vineyard will be frightened by a ghost, but all who are interested in stories such as these will find scores of them. And the tradition and legend which cluster about the countryside, unspoiled by modern life, will make it alluring and beloved to everyone who has imagination and a love of the misty things of the world.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner