The Dunwich Horror – Part I


The Dunwich Horror – Part I

    "Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras--dire stories of Celæno and
     the Harpies--may reproduce themselves in the brain of
     superstition--_but they were there before_. They are transcripts,
     types--the archetypes are in us, and eternal. How else should the
     recital of that which we know in a waking sense to be false come
     to affect us at all? Is it that we naturally conceive terror from
     such objects, considered in their capacity of being able to
     inflict upon us bodily injury? Oh, least of all! _These terrors
     are of older standing. They date beyond body_--or without the
     body, they would have been the same.... That the kind of fear here
     treated is purely spiritual--that it is strong in proportion as it
     is objectless on earth, that it predominates in the period of our
     sinless infancy--are difficulties the solution of which might
     afford some probable insight into our ante-mundane condition, and
     a peep at least into the shadowland of pre-existence."--Charles
     Lamb: _Witches and Other Night-Fears_.


When a traveler in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork
at the junction of the Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean's Corners he
comes upon a lonely and curious country. The ground gets higher, and
the brier-bordered stone walls press closer and closer against the ruts
of the dusty, curving road. The trees of the frequent forest belts
seem too large, and the wild weeds, brambles, and grasses attain a
luxuriance not often found in settled regions. At the same time the
planted fields appear singularly few and barren; while the sparsely
scattered houses wear a surprizing uniform aspect of age, squalor, and
dilapidation. Without knowing why, one hesitates to ask directions
from the gnarled, solitary figures spied now and then on crumbling
doorsteps or in the sloping, rock-strewn meadows. Those figures are
so silent and furtive that one feels somehow confronted by forbidden
things, with which it would be better to have nothing to do. When a
rise in the road brings the mountains in view above the deep woods,
the feeling of strange uneasiness is increased. The summits are too
rounded and symmetrical to give a sense of comfort and naturalness, and
sometimes the sky silhouettes with especial clearness the queer circles
of tall stone pillars with which most of them are crowned.

Gorges and ravines of problematical depth intersect the way, and the
crude wooden bridges always seem of dubious safety. When the road
dips again there are stretches of marshland that one instinctively
dislikes, and indeed almost fears at evening when unseen whippoorwills
chatter and the fireflies come out in abnormal profusion to dance to
the raucous, creepily insistent rhythms of stridently piping bullfrogs.
The thin, shining line of the Miskatonic's upper reaches has an oddly
serpentlike suggestion as it winds close to the feet of the domed hills
among which it rises.

As the hills draw nearer, one heeds their wooded sides more than their
stone-crowned tops. Those sides loom up so darkly and precipitously
that one wishes they would keep their distance, but there is no road by
which to escape them. Across a covered bridge one sees a small village
huddled between the stream and the vertical slope of Round Mountain,
and wonders at the cluster of rotting gambrel roofs bespeaking an
earlier architectural period than that of the neighboring region. It
is not reassuring to see, on a closer glance, that most of the houses
are deserted and falling to ruin, and that the broken-steepled church
now harbors the one slovenly mercantile establishment of the hamlet.
One dreads to trust the tenebrous tunnel of the bridge, yet there is no
way to avoid it. Once across, it is hard to prevent the impression of a
faint, malign odor about the village street, as of the massed mold and
decay of centuries. It is always a relief to get clear of the place,
and to follow the narrow road around the base of the hills and across
the level country beyond till it rejoins the Aylesbury pike. Afterward
one sometimes learns that one has been through Dunwich.

Outsiders visit Dunwich as seldom as possible, and since a certain
season of horror all the signboards pointing toward it have been taken
down. The scenery, judged by any ordinary esthetic canon, is more
than commonly beautiful; yet there is no influx of artists or summer
tourists. Two centuries ago, when talk of witch-blood, Satan-worship,
and strange forest presences was not laughed at, it was the custom to
give reasons for avoiding the locality. In our sensible age--since
the Dunwich horror of 1928 was hushed up by those who had the town's
and the world's welfare at heart--people shun it without knowing
exactly why. Perhaps one reason--though it can not apply to uninformed
strangers--is that the natives are now repellently decadent, having
gone far along that path of retrogression so common in many New England
backwaters. They have come to form a race by themselves, with the
well-defined mental and physical stigmata of degeneracy and inbreeding.
The average of their intelligence is wofully low, whilst their annals
reek of overt viciousness and of half-hidden murders, incests, and
deeds of almost unnamable violence and perversity. The old gentry,
representing the two or three armigerous families which came from
Salem in 1692, have kept somewhat above the general level of decay;
though many branches are sunk into the sordid populace so deeply that
only their names remain as a key to the origin they disgrace. Some of
the Whateleys and Bishops still send their eldest sons to Harvard and
Miskatonic, though those sons seldom return to the moldering gambrel
roofs under which they and their ancestors were born.

No one, even those who have the facts concerning the recent horror,
can say just what is the matter with Dunwich; though old legends speak
of unhallowed rites and conclaves of the Indians, amidst which they
called forbidden shapes of shadow out of the great rounded hills, and
made wild orgiastic prayers that were answered by loud crackings and
rumblings from the ground below. In 1747 the Reverend Abijah Hoadley,
newly come to the Congregational Church at Dunwich Village, preached a
memorable sermon on the close presence of Satan and his imps, in which
he said:

     It must be allow'd that these Blasphemies of an infernall Train
     of Dæmons are Matters of too common Knowledge to be deny'd; the
     cursed Voices of _Azazel_ and _Buzrael_, of _Beelzebub_ and
     _Belial_, being heard from under Ground by above a Score of
     credible Witnesses now living. I myself did not more than a
     Fortnight ago catch a very plain Discourse of evill Powers in the
     Hill behind my House; wherein there were a Rattling and Rolling,
     Groaning, Screeching, and Hissing, such as no Things of this Earth
     cou'd raise up, and which must needs have come from those Caves
     that only black Magick can discover, and only the Divell unlock.

Mr. Hoadley disappeared soon after delivering this sermon; but the
text, printed in Springfield, is still extant. Noises in the hills
continued to be reported from year to year, and still form a puzzle to
geologists and physiographers.

Other traditions tell of foul odors near the hill-crowning circles of
stone pillars, and of rushing airy presences to be heard faintly at
certain hours from stated points at the bottom of the great ravines;
while still others try to explain the Devil's Hop Yard--a bleak,
blasted hillside where no tree, shrub, or grass-blade will grow. Then,
too, the natives are mortally afraid of the numerous whippoorwills
which grow vocal on warm nights. It is vowed that the birds are
psychopomps lying in wait for the souls of the dying, and that they
time their eery cries in unison with the sufferer's struggling breath.
If they can catch the fleeing soul when it leaves the body, they
instantly flutter away chittering in demoniac laughter; but if they
fail, they subside gradually into a disappointed silence.

These tales, of course, are obsolete and ridiculous; because they come
down from very old times. Dunwich is indeed ridiculously old--older by
far than any of the communities within thirty miles of it. South of the
village one may still spy the cellar walls and chimney of the ancient
Bishop house, which was built before 1700; whilst the ruins of the mill
at the falls, built in 1806, form the most modern piece of architecture
to be seen. Industry did not flourish here, and the Nineteenth Century
factory movement proved short-lived. Oldest of all are the great
rings of rough-hewn stone columns on the hilltops, but these are more
generally attributed to the Indians than to the settlers. Deposits of
skulls and bones, found within these circles and around the sizable
table-like rock on Sentinel Hill, sustain the popular belief that such
spots were once the burial-places of the Pocumtucks; even though many
ethnologists, disregarding the absurd improbability of such a theory,
persist in believing the remains of a person.

>>>>>>>>For Part II, please visit on June 23 2020 <<<<<<<<<<

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